- relating to monks, nuns, or others living under religious vows, or the buildings in which they live.
Following the recent listing of the unusual site of the ‘correrie’, or lower house to Hinton Priory in Freshford, near Bath, Joe Flatman, Head of Listing Programmes at Historic England takes a look at 7 of the most intriguing monastic sites on The List.
Hinton Priory, Freshford, Bath
The Carthusian priory at Hinton was founded in the early 13th century by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, a wealthy heiress who was married aged 9 following the inheritance of her father’s estates. It is said that, following her father’s death, Ela was imprisoned in a castle in Normandy by her uncle who wished to take her wealth and title for himself. Ela was rescued by a knight who, in his search for Ela in France, sang ballads under the windows of castles to encourage her response.
Between 1536 and 1541 Henry VIII disbanded Catholic Monasteries and reappropriated their funds and people, in a legal process often referred to as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In March 1539, Hinton Priory surrendered to the Crown.
Waverley Abbey, Surrey
Atmospheric Waverley Abbey was the first monastery founded in Britain by the Cistercian religious order, which emphasised manual labour and self-sufficiency, often through brewing ales.
The site is on one of the natural routes up the River Wey to South London, and surrounding the ruins are numerous WWII defensive remains including anti-tank gun emplacements, pillboxes and anti-tank roadblocks and ditches. The nearby ‘Mother Ludlam’s Cave’ is said to have once been home to a white witch.
It has been frequently used as a film set, for such blockbusters as 28 Days Later, The Huntsman and Elizabeth, The Golden Age.
Featured Image also Waverley Abbey © English Heritage
St Catherine’s Chapel, Dorset
St Catherine’s chapel stands in a dramatic coastal location on top of a hill overlooking Chesil Beach in Dorset. It was commissioned during the late 14th century, and is a notable sea mark: a structure visible from long distances when on board a ship at sea, and is thought to have operated as a lighthouse during the Middle Ages. The site was maintained by the monastic community and designed to warn seafarers of the treacherous steeply shelving beach and strong currents.
As St Catherine is the patron saint of spinsters and virgins, until the late 19th century the Abbey was used for a local tradition in which young women would pray for a handsome, rich and kind husband. Not much to ask then.
Meare Fish House, Somerset
Associated with the nearby and more famous Glastonbury Abbey, said to be the final resting place of King Arthur, the listed Meare (or Abbot’s) Fish House is an unusual and rare survival of a monastic industrial site. The medieval Fish House is believed to have been the home of the chief fisherman, constructed in 1322-35 with the purpose of supplying fish to the abbey. Fish was a staple food of the Monks, and a freshwater supply signified high status, understandable since Glastonbury Abbey is considered to be the home of the first Christian community in England.
Denny Abbey, Cambridgeshire
Denny Abbey is unusual in having housed three very different religious orders successively: The Benedictine Monks, Knights Templars (who were imprisoned in the 14th Century for alleged heresy), and the Franciscan Nuns.
The Domesday Book records that the site was once owned by Edith the Fair, who was the consort of King Harold in 1066. Edith is remembered for having identified Harold’s mutilated body at the Battle of Hastings, by marks on his chest known only to her.
Castle Hill, Thetford, Norfolk
Castle Hill is an unusual example of a medieval monastic site (an Augustinian friary) that includes the remains of a motte-and-bailey castle and Iron Age earthwork enclosure. The castle remains in particular is one of the most impressive examples of this type of monument in the region; the motte is the highest in the county of Norfolk, and the surrounding earthworks, including those parts which have been levelled, are second only to those of Norwich Castle in extent.
There are several legends associated with the site, one of which links the sizeable mound with nearby Devil’s Ditch. When the devil had finished creating the ditch, he made Castle Hill by scraping the excess dirt from his boot. It is said that you can summon the devil by circling the mound at midnight.
Have you visited any unusual monastic sites? For the first time ever, the National Heritage List for England (The List) is now open for your contributions. You can now add your images, insights and secrets of England’s special places on this national database, capturing them for future generations.
Make your mark on history, and help us to Enrich the List #ListEngland
Tells the story of Catholic church architecture in England and Wales. This book demonstrated that the many Victorian Catholic churches were masterpieces, that the Catholic built churches and chapels of astonishing confidence even in the 18th century, and that in the 20th century Catholic church builders grasped architectural opportunities.
Use code BLOG16 for 20% off any Historic England publication.