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Site of Swine Cistercian nunnery

A Scheduled Monument in Swine, East Riding of Yorkshire

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Latitude: 53.8063 / 53°48'22"N

Longitude: -0.2825 / 0°16'57"W

OS Eastings: 513197.023542

OS Northings: 435817.371959

OS Grid: TA131358

Mapcode National: GBR VSGF.M8

Mapcode Global: WHHGJ.MLPB

Entry Name: Site of Swine Cistercian nunnery

Scheduled Date: 29 July 1964

Last Amended: 25 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007750

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23804

County: East Riding of Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Swine

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Riding of Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Swine with Ellerby St Mary

Church of England Diocese: York


The remains of Swine nunnery are situated on the plain of Holderness at the
west end of the village of Swine. The monument includes a single area
containing part of the medieval nunnery precinct. Little of the nunnery
remains upstanding although the present parish church includes elements of the
main church building. There are extensive earthwork remains across much of the
monument which indicate the layout and land-use within the precinct and in
particular how water was managed within it. The area also includes Giant Hill,
a large earthen mound.
The core of the nunnery, in which the church and attached buildings were
situated, lie at the eastern side of the site. The present parish church
includes elements of the nunnery church; both church and churchyard remain in
ecclesiastical usage and are not included within the scheduling. The nunnery
church, known to have been 76 feet (25m) long, is thought to have extended
beyond the western end of the present church into the area of the modern
farmyard. The church follows the usual layout of a Cistercian nunnery and is
aligned east-west. Antiquarian sources confirm that it formed the north range
of a four-sided complex of buildings known as the cloister. Much of this
complex is thought to have been disturbed by the construction of later farm
buildings and is not included within the scheduling, although the western
range of the cloister is considered to lie beneath the present farmyard and is
These claustral buildings would have lain at the heart of the nunnery precinct
which was defined, at least in part, by a large moat-like ditch between 5m and
10m wide and up to 2m deep. This survives as a waterlogged feature along the
northern, western and, in part, the southern boundaries of the monument.
The greater part of the monument comprises the outer court of the nunnery;
that area given over to agricultural and industrial processes, which would
have provided economic support for the nunnery, rather than the spiritual
functions and activities more commonly associated with key religious
The area to the west of the modern farmhouse and outbuildings is crossed by
three drainage ditches which sub-divide this part of the precinct. One of
these drains, which is 1.5m wide and 0.5m deep, runs from east to west. This
feature carried water from the area of the church to the western boundary
ditch and is culverted where it runs beneath the modern farm and churchyards.
Another drain runs to the southern boundary from this east-west drain. It is
5m wide and 1m deep. A second east-west drain of similar dimensions drains
into this north-south drain from the east. These ditches served both to define
various enclosures and to supply and drain water to and from various parts of
the precinct.
The area to the north of the first east-west drain was largely given over to
agriculture, indicated by ridge and furrow earthworks and associated drainage
works, but also includes a complex of six fishponds and Giant Hill.
The fishponds are orientated east-west, allowing gravity to carry water
through the ponds from the higher ground to the east. The easternmost pond is
22m long, east-west, 9m wide and 1.5m deep. Immediately to the south lies a
second pond 8m long, east-west, 7m wide and 0.5m deep. Slightly further west
is a T-shaped group of 3 interlinked ponds. The main arm of the T formation,
which is orientated north-south, is formed by 2 ponds, each being 20m long.
The northern pond is 12m wide and was subdivided by earthwork banks 3m wide
and 1m high which lie 10m from its north end. The southern pond is 6m wide and
0.5m deep. The east-west arm of the T is formed by a pond 40m long, east-west,
15m wide and 1.75m deep. All three ponds are inter-connected by short, silted
channels. The sixth pond in the wider group is 30m long from north to south,
20m wide and is up to 1.75m deep though it has been partially infilled at its
northern end. These ponds were used for the breeding of fish which formed an
important part of the medieval diet of the inhabitants of the nunnery.
Giant Hill is 3.5m high, 60m long, east-west, and 32m wide. Although tradition
suggests it is a prehistoric burial mound, excavations in 1919 and 1960 proved
that it was constructed between 1350 and 1450. Its exact function remains
uncertain though it may be a lookout for a deer park which is known to have
lain to the south of the nunnery.
The area south of the main east-west drain is divided into three by the drains
described above. It includes the earthwork remains of ponds, platforms and a
moated enclosure. This enclosure is situated immediately to the south of the
main east-west drain and immediately to the east of the north-south drain. The
platform defined by the moat is 16m square, while the surrounding moat is up
to 12m wide and 1m deep. The rest of this area was used for agriculture,
indicated by ridge and furrow earthworks. This area also includes one further
fishpond which is 30m long, north-south, 6m wide and 1m deep.
The nunnery at Swine was founded c.1150 by Robert de Verli and was dedicated
to the Virgin Mary. At its foundation it had 14 nuns and a prioress. Later
male Premonstratensian canons were introduced to the site, although they were
removed sometime before 1287 following complaints of lax behaviour. Much of
the site had to be rebuilt in 1308 following a fire at the nunnery. The
nunnery was dissolved in 1539, the 19 nuns were dispersed and the land passed
to the Constable family.
Little excavation has been carried out at the site. Tom Sheppard of Hull
Museum carried out trial works in 1919, concentrating largely on Giant Hill.
In 1960 W Varley of Hull University also investigated the hill.
Fishponds to the south of the farm are not included in the monument as it is
not yet known whether they were actually part of the nunnery complex. The farm
house and the surface of the farmyard are excluded from the scheduling
although the ground beneath them is included.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women.
Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship,
accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic
buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be
accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct
wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field
systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries
were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use
by the ninth century. A small number of these were later refounded. The tenth
century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of
medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards.
Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time,
including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and
Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries
existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites
are known. Few sites have been examined in detail and as a rare and poorly
understood medieval monument type all examples exhibiting survival of
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Despite limited damage caused by the construction and use of the modern farm
and from drainage works the monument survives well as a series of earthwork
and below ground remains. It will retain evidence of the buildings which
formerly occupied the precinct, and the fishponds and other water-management
features will retain archaeological and environmental remains in the silts
which have accumulated in them.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Allison, KJ, The East Riding of Yorkshire Landscape, (1976), 93
Bulmer, T, History and Directory of East Yorkshire, (1892), 518
Dugdale, W, Monasticon, (1817), 494
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 272
Loughlin, N, Miller, K, Survey of Archaeological Sites in Humberside, (1979), 60
Loughlin, N, Miller, K, Survey of Archaeological Sites in Humberside, (1979), 60
Midmer, R, English Medieval Monasteries, (1978), 0
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire - York and the East Riding, (1972), 352
Thompson, T, History of the Church and Priory of Swine, (1824), 12
Varley, W, 'Yorks. Arch. Journal' in Giant's Hill, Swine, , Vol. 45, (1973), 142-148
Sheppard, T, Giant's Hill, Swine, 1920,

Source: Historic England

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