Following the reformation, Nuneaton Abbey was left to decay. Over the centuries the carved stonework, the interior fittings and the timber were plundered by the local people of the town and re-cycled into new homes, and other buildings then being built. In the 19th century it was reported in the local papers that certain buildings in Abbey Street incorporated some recognisable elements of this ancient stonework. When the old Newdigate Arms hotel, which stood at the bottom of Abbey Street until 1914, was being demolished, together with adjacent buildings, it revealed stone that had clearly come from the Abbey.
Until the 1870’s the Abbey was a picturesque ruin. Not all of the stone had been removed. What was left had been covered with ivy and mellowed into the derelict ground around it. As you can see it was a popular picnic spot for local people. Thomas Botterill (1781-1869), a prosperous silk merchant, a native of Nuneaton , who lived in London (in 1828 he was listed as being of Abbey Street, Nuneaton and Wood Lane, London), left £2500 in his will to build out of the ruins of the Abbey a new church. This is what we know today as St. Mary’s Abbey church. The architect was Clapton Crabb Rolfe (1845-1907). Mr Rolfe, practicing at Reading at the time, and styled himself as an ecclesiastical architect. He fashioned from the old stone works and foundations a plain but elegant Norman style church. Today you can see this old stonework incorporated into the (new) building. The carving for the new church was by Harry Hems of Exeter. Mr Rolfe was also the designer of the rectory next door. He then designed Nuneaton Grammar School, built between 1879-1880. Much of Mr. Rolfe’s work was carried out in his native Oxfordshire, and surrounding counties. The land that had formerly belonged to the Abbey was owned by the lord of the manor – James Tompkinson – who gave one and a half acres encompassing the abbey site, for the construction of the new church. The foundation stone was laid by Lord Leigh, Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire. The first vicar was the Rev. James Dunne Parker LL.D of the Queen’s University, Dublin.