Ancient Monuments

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Robertsbridge Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Salehurst and Robertsbridge, East Sussex

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Coordinates

Latitude: 50.9878 / 50°59'16"N

Longitude: 0.4992 / 0°29'57"E

OS Eastings: 575500.379311

OS Northings: 123911.253822

OS Grid: TQ755239

Mapcode National: GBR PVH.T7P

Mapcode Global: FRA C6YH.L96

Entry Name: Robertsbridge Abbey

Scheduled Date: 1 May 1951

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1002295

English Heritage Legacy ID: ES 134

County: East Sussex

Civil Parish: Salehurst and Robertsbridge

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex

Church of England Parish: Salehurst St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Chichester

Summary

Robertsbridge Abbey, 230m NNW of Ivy Cottage.

Source: Historic England

Details

This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 27 November 2014. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.

The monument includes the Cistercian Abbey and monastic precinct of St Mary, Robertsbridge surviving as upstanding and below-ground remains. It is situated on flat ground in the River valley of the Rother, east of Robertsbridge. The upstanding remains include the south range, which incorporate the Refectory or Frater. This is a rectangular stone building, which features a pointed recess and three round-headed windows. At the east end of the range are what is thought to be the calefactory or warm room and a 14th century vaulted passage. Further below-ground remains and foundations of several other buildings also survive. These include the church and east range, which are visible as crop marks on aerial photographs. Also surviving as buried remains and earthworks are the moat that probably delimited the precinct and fishponds near the River Rother to the north-west.

The Abbey of St Mary was founded in 1176 and suppressed in 1538. It is believed to have changed site in the 13th century as a charter dating to 1314 refers to ‘the chapel in the said vil (of Salehurst) on the spot where the abbey was originally founded’. The remains of the abbey were later incorporated into Abbey Farm. The site of the abbey was partially excavated in 1935, 1959 and 1966. The finds from the site included a large quantity of hand-painted medieval tiles. The demolition of an old farm cottage at the south-east corner of the site prior to 1970 revealed the foundations of a gatehouse.

To the west of the Scheduled Monument is the Abbot’s house dating from about 1250, which is incorporated into a Grade I listed residence. It includes a medieval undercroft with quadripartite ribbed vaulting, a pointed doorway, an ogee headed window and a king-post roof.

The remains of the south range of the abbey are Grade II* listed.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75 of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or ‘white monks’, on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen, dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Robertsbridge Abbey survives well with a significant amount of original upstanding masonry. Documentary sources provide testament to its considerable influence over the surrounding area during the medieval period. The monastic precinct has been largely unencumbered by later development which has contributed to the good survival of the below ground archaeological remains including a complex system of water-management earthworks. These remains will retain information on the range of religious, agricultural, and industrial activities which took place within the precinct and helped support the monastic economy.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Sussex: Volume VI Part 2 , (1986), 71-4
Other
NMR TQ72SE1, TQ72SE93, TQ72SE26. PastScape 414725, 536942, 968367

Source: Historic England

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