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Site of medieval nunnery and settlement, Orford

A Scheduled Monument in Brookenby, Lincolnshire

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Latitude: 53.4335 / 53°26'0"N

Longitude: -0.2003 / 0°12'1"W

OS Eastings: 519656.925173

OS Northings: 394475.138716

OS Grid: TF196944

Mapcode National: GBR WX1Q.FX

Mapcode Global: WHHJ9.WYSP

Entry Name: Site of medieval nunnery and settlement, Orford

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007809

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22605

County: Lincolnshire

Civil Parish: Brookenby

Built-Up Area: Brookenby

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Stainton-le-Vale St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln


The south west part of the monument includes the earthwork remains of the
medieval nunnery of St Mary, Orford, a Premonstratensian nunnery founded in
the 12th century and dissolved in 1539. The remains of the nunnery are
overlain by earthworks of post-dissolution features including a house, formal
gardens, a watermill and a farmyard. Adjacent to the nunnery precinct, to the
north east, is an area containing the earthwork remains of the deserted
settlement of Orford. The monument therefore comprises two main areas of
earthwork remains within a single constraint area, mostly set on the
south east facing slope of a hill above a small stream.

The first group of earthworks lies within an area approximately 180m square,
south of and including the present Priory Farm yard. This area, bounded on
the north east by a hollow way, on the south east by a former course of the
stream, on the south west by a modern ditch and on the north west by the edge
of the farmyard and field, corresponds to the area of the conventual precinct.
In the southern part of the area is a group of flat building platforms and
low banks, some revealing stone, which appear on aerial photographs as
parch-marks. These represent the foundations of the conventual buildings,
which would have included the church and ranges of buildings around a cloister
to the south. Immediately to the north of these remains is a large mound,
approximately 30m long and 20m wide, containing a series of rectangular
depressions representing basement rooms. Exposed stone and finds of tile and
brick indicate that this is the site of a secular house which occupied the
site after the dissolution of the nunnery. To the north east of this is a
rectangular platform of similar dimensions, surrounded on three sides by a
ditch and surmounted by a rectangular mound approximately 10m by 8m; yet
further to the north east is an enclosure approximately 100m square containing
linear banks and scarps. These features, together with further mounds and
platforms north of the house site, are considered to represent the remains of
formal gardens connected with the post-dissolution occupation of the site.

Other identifiable earthworks within the area of the conventual precinct
include a group of ponds in the western corner and, adjacent to the
north east, the foundations of barn-like structures. A medieval water channel
enters the precinct at the western corner and is cut by a later mill leat
running south west to north east to an 18th-19th century watermill which still
stands in the south of the present farmyard. The tail race channel, running
south east from the watermill, cuts across the garden earthworks to an outfall
in the stream in the valley bottom. Ten metres to the south of the leat,
which supplied the 18th-19th century mill, are the earthwork remains of an
earlier, parallel, leat system. The area of the scheduling extends to the
south west of the conventual precinct to include the surviving earthworks of
both of these parallel leats, which can be traced as far as Cherry Holt Wood.

Further water control features are visible outside the precinct area. Most
notable is a substantial group of fishponds to the south east, cut through by
a modern stream channel and partly covered by spoil. These ponds are
considered to be contemporary with, and related to, the medieval nunnery. On
the hillside south of the stream, running northwards from a medieval headland,
is a series of drainage channels and a rectangular embanked pond which feed
into the fishpond complex across the original course of the stream. The
earthworks of a medieval cutting of the stream are discernible running between
the fishpond group and the conventual precinct.

Immediately to the north east of the nunnery site, and separated from it by a
hollow way, are the remains of the deserted settlement of Orford. A series of
rectangular depressions along the north western boundary of the field
represents the remains of houses ranged along one side of a medieval street
which formerly ran along the south eastern edge of the adjacent field. Many of
the house platforms are accompanied by small closes, marked out by small banks
to the south east, some of which have been cut into by later ploughing
indicated by ridge and furrow. There are two further hollow ways running
south eastwards down the slope, each with building platforms. About 270m from
the south western edge of the field is a linear bank running north west to
south east down the slope. This feature separates the main part of the
village from a distinct group of building platforms representing a late
medieval farmstead complex. Approximately 130m from the first bank is a
second, running parallel down the slope, with a ditch on its outer side, which
marks the edge of the settlement area. On the eastern side of the bank is a
small triangular-shaped area containing the remains of the ridge and furrow of
the village's medieval field system.

The Premonstratensian canonesses at Orford first appear in documents of the
period 1155-1160. The nunnery church and land were traditionally granted to
Newsham Abbey by Ralph de Aubigny in the time of Henry II (1154-1189). At its
dissolution in 1539 the nunnery was granted to Robert Tyrwhitt who, in common
with his successors, let the site.

Excluded from the scheduling are the farm buildings at Priory Farm including
the mill building, and all fences, but the ground beneath these features
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.

The remains of the Premonstratensian nunnery of Orford survive as a
substantial group of earthworks. These, together with finds of building
materials and the evidence for the survival of stone foundations revealed by
aerial photography, indicate a good level of below ground preservation.
Waterlogging in the valley bottom may also allow the recovery of important
organic deposits.

The monastic remains are overlain by an impressive group of earthworks
relating to the post-dissolution house and garden on the site, and the
relationship between the two, the earlier monastery and the later house,
provides evidence of the economic and social effects of the Dissolution of the
Monasteries. The remains of the house and garden themselves survive well and
display several unusual features, such as the use of the mill leats to provide
water for ornamental ponds. The importance of the monastic and post-monastic
site at Orford is enhanced by the partial survival of the earthworks belonging
to the associated settlement. The settlement remains within the area of the
scheduling survive in good condition with the possibility of some waterlogging
of deposits in the valley bottom. The close proximity of the monastic site,
the succeeding house and the settlement permit the study of the complex
economic and social relationships between these various elements, both before
and after the Dissolution.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Knowles, , Haddock, , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1953), 283
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906), 209
'White's Directory' in White's Directory, (1856), 474
AP located in Lincolnshire SMR, John East, TF195945,
located in Lincolnshire Archives, Ex.8/7/14,
RCHM(E), Everson, P L and Taylor C C and Dunn, C J, Change And Continuity: Rural Settlement in North-West Lincolnshire, (1991)

Source: Historic England

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