Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Gisborough Priory Augustinian monastery: late Saxon settlement, cemetery, monastic precinct and dovecote

A Scheduled Monument in Guisborough, Redcar and Cleveland

More Photos »
Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 54.536 / 54°32'9"N

Longitude: -1.0486 / 1°2'54"W

OS Eastings: 461660.610166

OS Northings: 516055.940396

OS Grid: NZ616160

Mapcode National: GBR PH3Z.SQ

Mapcode Global: WHF8D.V7WY

Entry Name: Gisborough Priory Augustinian monastery: late Saxon settlement, cemetery, monastic precinct and dovecote

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1915

Last Amended: 3 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007506

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23223

County: Redcar and Cleveland

Civil Parish: Guisborough

Built-Up Area: Guisborough

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Guisborough St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes the standing remains and part of the precinct of the
Augustinian priory of St Mary at Guisborough, an early 16th century dovecote
and the sites of the late Saxon settlement and early Norman cemetery that
preceded the monastery. Further monastic remains exist to the south of the
area but have not been included in the scheduling as their extent and state of
survival are not sufficiently understood.
Partial excavations have been carried out at Gisborough Priory in both the
church and the west cloister range. The earliest took place in the ruins of
the church in 1865 and 1867, under the supervision of Captain Thomas Chaloner
and William Downing Bruce. Between 1947 and 1954, the west range was cleared
as far as the most recent remains by Roy Gilyard-Beer for the Ministry of
Works, and, more recently, in 1985 and 1986, the nave and west end of the
church were partially re-excavated by Cleveland County Archaeological Section
prior to consolidation work. In addition, the latter carried out geophysical
surveys of the areas west and east of the west cloister range, where their
findings indicate the widespread existence of further monastic buildings
surviving as buried features within parts of the precinct that no longer
include standing remains.
The earliest features, located during the most recent excavations in the
church, are of a late Saxon settlement and an early Norman cemetery. The
former is indicated by a number of postholes representing the site of a
timber-framed building or boundary wall roughly aligned with modern Church
Street. These were associated with fragments of late Saxon pottery, including
a cooking vessel typical of the period, and an eighth century coin known as a
sceat. Further remains of the settlement will survive in the unexcavated areas
of the later monastery. This phase of Saxon occupation was followed by a
period during which soil built up over the deserted remains of the settlement
and was subsequently ploughed, as indicated by the remains of ridge and furrow
found beneath the nave of the earliest stone church. This agricultural phase
can be no later than the priory's foundation in 1119 and is either slightly
earlier than or broadly contemporary with a number of burials, also found
underlying the early church at its north west corner. These burials indicate
the existence of an early 12th century cemetery north of the church, roughly
aligned on the current parish church which lies immediately north of the
priory. Also found, beneath the south aisle of the priory church, were the
stone foundations of an insubstantial early Norman building which included
three burials against its north wall. One possibility is that the building was
a temporary church built for the newly founded priory.
As is usual, at Gisborough the priory church formed the north range of an open
square of buildings known as the cloister. Excluding the possible temporary
structure, there were three successive churches. The first, a building in the
Romanesque style constructed prior to 1180, was aisled and included an axial
tower at the west end. A door opened northward, away from the cloister,
indicating that the church was also used by a secular congregation who were,
perhaps, patrons of the monastery. Several graves were set into the floor of
the south aisle and against the north wall. During the second half of the
12th century, the Romanesque church was demolished down to the first ashlar
course and the Norman floors were removed to level the surface. New
foundations were laid and a piped water-supply installed. The water came along
lead pipes from the cloister area, running under the south wall and aisle of
the church, and was designed to supply buildings or standpipes to the north
and west of the church. The rebuilding of the church continued during the
13th century and included the casting of a copper-alloy bell, indicated by the
survival of metallurgical debris in a pit within the church.
Reconstruction was interrupted, however, by the fire of 1289, recorded by
Walter de Hemingburgh who was a sub-prior of the monastery in the early
14th century. He states that, as a result of the fire, the whole church,
apart from the west front, was replaced during the 14th century.
However, the devastating effect of the fire may have been exaggerated since
much of the excavated stonework of the latest church is stylistically datable
to no later than the mid-13th century and is typical of the early Gothic
architecture of the north of England. Moreover, although in the south aisle,
13th century paving stones and grave slabs were found shattered by fallen
masonry, the lack of burnt material in the graves implies that the collapse
was not due to fire. Certainly, fire-damage has been noted during
archaeological work, particularly in the north west area of the church where
it was not cleared away, but the question must remain open as to the impetus
for the 14th century rebuild. Possibly the damage was far greater in the east
end of the church, which has not been excavated in recent years. Here the
east wall of the presbytery stands, surviving to its full height of 29.6m and
largely intact but for the complex tracery of its great east window. This was
the earliest part of the post-1289 church and is the only section left
standing. While the east end was being rebuilt, the west end of the church
entered a period of non-ecclesiastical use associated with the installation of
a new piped water-supply fed by a cistern which was filled from a well in the
central aisle. The precise nature of this temporary phase is not yet fully
South of the church lay the remaining three cloister ranges of which only the
west range has been excavated. Its standing remains date to the later 13th
century, with 15th century cross walls, and include a vaulted ground floor or
undercroft which would have been used for cellarage. Between the undercroft
and the church was a narrow room which served as the main entrance into the
cloister while, on the first floor, would have been the quarters of the
monastery's conversi or lay-brothers. The unexcavated south range would have
included the canons' frater or refectory and the priory kitchens, while the
east range would have included the dorter or dormitory and the chapter house.
A wide range of ancillary buildings stood outside the cloister and would have
included, for example, an infirmary, a brewhouse and bakehouse, workshops and
barns dating to all phases of the priory's use.
Records indicate the existence of two gatehouses, one of which survives as a
ruined feature in the precinct wall north west of the church. Both gatehouses
contained lodgings which, in the early 16th century, were occupied by two
knights of the Bulmer family and may have been the 'guesthouses' recorded in
documents of c.1600, though these may have been separate buildings. The
surviving gatehouse to the north dates to the late 12th century and includes a
single large, rounded arch leading from the town and two arches opening onto
the outer court of the priory, one of which was for pedestrians. In the west
wall is the shaft for the garderobe or privy that served the lodgings above
the gate. The same group of documents that mention the guesthouses also note
that the priory church had a steeple and that there was 'a most pompous house'
for the prior. The remains of these too will survive as buried features. Also
in the outer court, in an area rich in buried foundations, is a dovecote. This
building was constructed by the priory at the beginning of the 16th century
and is a Grade I Listed Building.
The priory was founded by Robert de Brus as part of the early 12th century
religious revival in the north of England. Walter de Hemingburgh states that
the date of foundation was 1129. However, this was the date of the deed of
confirmation and the actual foundation was between five and ten years earlier,
during the pontificate of Pope Calixtus II. The priory was richly endowed
from the onset and continued to be supported by the benefactions not only of
large landowners but also of relatively humble people. During the 12th
century it had a reputation for strict observance and was the final home of St
Malachy. By the end of the 13th century, however, visitors noted a degree of
laxity amongst the canons and poor accounting indicates that the bailiffs
employed to manage the priory's outlying estates were, in fact, lining their
own pockets. The fire of 1289 also had a serious financial effect, as did the
Scottish Wars of the 14th century when the priory became a refuge for canons
driven from the monasteries at Brinkburn, Jedburgh and Hexham. In 1328 the
priory claimed to be unable to pay the tenth voted by the Northern Convocation
and was petitioning to be relieved of certain financial burdens. Its finances
must have recovered, however, because in 1344 it was granted permission to
crenellate (fortify), and by the time of the 1535 Act of Suppression affecting
lesser monasteries it was found to be the fourth richest monastery in
Yorkshire. At about this time, the king's sympathiser Robert Pursglove was
made prior, replacing James Cockerell who, like many people in the north, was
opposed to the religious changes brought about by Henry VIII and was
eventually executed after being implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace. In
1538 Pursglove was made Suffragan Bishop of Hull and the priory was formally
dissolved on 8th April 1540. Subsequently, there was a scheme to found a
college of secular canons in the former priory, but this came to nothing. In
1550, the site and buildings were sold to Sir Thomas Chaloner and are now part
of the estate of Gisborough Hall. The gatehouse and priory ruins are Grade I
Listed Buildings while the precinct walls are Grade II. The monument has been
in State care since 1932.
A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling; these
are all English Heritage fixtures and fittings including the ticket office,
the surface of all paths, and all modern walling and fencing, but the ground
beneath all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

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 225
of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The
Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of
canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they
came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to
distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th
century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running
almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in
parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their
revenue. The Augustinians 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.

Gisborough Priory was one of the first 20 houses of canons regular to be
founded in this country and was one of the earliest in the north. It was the
largest northern foundation and played an important role in the first wave of
medieval monastic settlement, and it remained one of the wealthiest
monasteries right up to the Dissolution. Although it has few standing remains,
excavation and geophysical survey have shown that a wide variety of monastic
buildings and features survive extensively throughout the open areas of its
precinct. Moreover, the surviving east end of the priory church is extremely
well-preserved and is one of the finest examples of early Gothic architecture
in existence. The east window is one of the largest of its date in the
country. Of equal importance is the large body of documentary evidence
associated with the priory.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Brown, ?, Gisborough Chartulary, (1889)
Brown, ?, Gisborough Chartulary, (1891)
Coppack, G, Abbeys and Priories, (1990)
Gilyard-Beer, R, Gisborough Priory, (1984)
'Middlesbrough Weekly News' in Middlesbrough Weekly News, (1865)
'Middlesbrough News and Cleveland Advertiser' in Middlesbrough News and Cleveland Advertiser, (1867)
Downing Bruce, W, 'The Building News' in Antiquarian Discoveries at Guisborough Abbey, (1867), 719
Cleveland County Arch. Section, Daniels, Robin, (1991)
Heslop, D H, Excav. Within The Church At The..Priory of Guisborough, 1985-6, Draft report
Heslop, DH, Excav. within the church at the..priory of Guisborough, 1985-6, Draft report

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.