FROM medieval priory to genteel Nash-designed residence to life as a memorial hospital, the current Cardigan Hospital building has a rich history that is nearly as old as the town.

It has links with the castle, the church and the development of the town as we know it today – but what will happen to this historic site when the hospital finally closes at the end of the year?

Historian Glen Johnson has extensively researched the site’s history.

We know that it was a medieval priory, the original building probably established by Roger de Clare around 1160 (50 years after the foundation of Cardigan) as the Benedictine Priory of St Mary.

Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis) the famed medieval scribe, noted the presence of a small priory of Benedictine black monks when he visited Cardigan in 1188. A century later the monks were presented with “the Croft at the Great Ditch Field” – the piece of land that later became Priory Street.

At the time of the Dissolution it remained standing – John Leland notes “there is a priory in Cairdigan toune but in it was but ii religioise menne, black monkes. It stondith yet….”

On John Speed’s map of Cardigan in 1610, the Priory is marked as ‘The Colledg’ meaning a community rather than an educational establishment. Six years later it was granted by King James to the Phillips family of Tregibby.

During the Civil War, James Phillips was a colonel in the Parliamentary army and received a pair of Charles I silver communion cups from Oliver Cromwell to thank him for his efforts. Those cups are still in use today as part of the town council ceremonial maces.

Col Phillips’ second wife Katherine Fowler was feted in national literary circles and known as “Orinda”. The couple lived at the Priory from 1648 to 1664.

Orinda wrote of the Priory:

“In this retir’d and humble seat

Free from both war and strige

I am not forced to make retreat

But choose to spend my life…”

In 1663 she produced her first dramatic production – a translation of ‘Corneille Pompey’ at the new Theatre Royal in Dublin. Her translation was the first rhymed translation of a French tragedy in English and she became a major figure in Irish literary circles. She died of smallpox in London at the age of just 33.

At the time of her death it was said: “She died having not left of her sex, her equal in poetry. She justly found her admirers among the greatest poets of the age.”

In the 18th century the Priory changed hands many times and in 1789 Elizabeth Johnes of Croft commissioned a new Priory House designed by celebrated architect John Nash. Newly-completed, the house features in a painting by Sir Richard Colt-Hoare in 1793.

John Bowen – who built Castle Green House in 1808 – lived at the Priory before moving into his new home in the castle. The Priory was described in 1804 as “The well selected seat of monks is at present occupied by an elegant villa, commanding the first reach of the Teifi with its bold scenery towards Kilgerran. But this spot has attained a high celebrity, and cannot fail to interest every visitor from the circumstances of its having been the residence of Orinda.”

The house continued to change hands and in 1845 was advertised to let:

“The very desirable and genteel residence called the Priory, Cardigan. The house was built by the late Mr Nash and comprises an entrance hall, drawing room, dining room and breakfast parlour, together with a suitable number of bed rooms and dressing rooms, specious kitchens, underground cellars and other convenient offices, stable, coach-houses, walled garden and pleasure grounds with rich meadow and pasture land conveniently attached…”

Like Castle Green House, the Priory was the home of notable town citizens including Richard David Jenkins who was mayor for a record successive five years as well as being elected to the role 13 times. He fought for the enclosure of Cardigan common and was also behind the erection of the new market, slaughterhouse and other public buildings.

By the end of the 19th century, the priory was sold to Dr John Walter Pritchard, the son of the late John Pritchard of Long Island, USA. Born in 1842, he was educated at Philadelphia College, Pennsylvania and served in the American Civil War. A dentist to the Prince of Wales he lived at the Priory until his death in 1911.

On August 13, 1915 the Priory was advertised for sale. Three years later a public meeting at the Guildhall resulted in the setting up of a fund for establishing a War Memorial Hospital. Lady Webley-Parry-Pryse of Noyadd Trefawr used her influence to get the Red Cross Society to contribute £2,150 towards the purchase of the Priory for use as a hospital.

On November 9, 1920 it was announced that the Priory had been purchased for £4,250 and was placed in the hands of a trustee board.

A report in the Tivy-Side stated: “When the committee visited the house every member was charmed with it and the opinion of all was that never was such a chance given to Cardigan and no worthier place could be imagined as a memorial to our fallen heroes.”

It added: “The Priory has very historic and romantic associations with the town which is an added reason why we should be proud of its acquisition.”

The six-bed hospital opened on March 29, 1922 but it was stressed that ongoing public subscriptions were important for its future survival.

The first patient was Mr Glynne Williams of St Dogmaels, aged 18, who was suffering from acute peritonitis.

It was officially opened on July 29, 1922 by Dame Margaret Lloyd George.

On July 5, 1948 the hospital passed to the National Health Service and a few months later an extension was opened to serve as a maternity ward. By the early 60s there were 35 beds at the hospital and the interior had been gutted and rebuilt.

By the late 1990s closure threats were being reported and in December 2013 Hywel Dda announced that Cardigan Hospital was to be permanently closed to in-patients, ending more than 90 years of in-patient care.

The new community integrated care centre is on schedule to open by the end of this year with the Priory site being put up for sale, not for the first time in its centuries-old history.