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Site of Meaux Cistercian Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Wawne, East Riding of Yorkshire

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Latitude: 53.839 / 53°50'20"N

Longitude: -0.3415 / 0°20'29"W

OS Eastings: 509230.283087

OS Northings: 439363.168807

OS Grid: TA092393

Mapcode National: GBR VS11.WK

Mapcode Global: WHGF5.QRLS

Entry Name: Site of Meaux Cistercian Abbey

Scheduled Date: 23 March 1927

Last Amended: 3 January 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007843

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21183

County: East Riding of Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Wawne

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Riding of Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Wawne St Peter

Church of England Diocese: York


Meaux Abbey, also referred to in records as Melsa, is situated on a slight
rise in the valley of the River Hull, almost opposite Beverley. Its name
meaning `lake with a sandy shore' indicates its former watery situation.
The monument comprises a single area containing the whole of the medieval
abbey precinct. None of the abbey buildings now remains standing, but
extensive earthwork remains visible across the whole of the precinct indicate
the position of most of the key monastic buildings.

The core of the abbey, in which the church and attached buildings were
situated, lay towards the centre of the site. These buildings follow the
usual layout of a Cistercian monastery with the church orientated east-west
and forming the north range of a four-sided complex known as a cloister. The
church, which is identifiable on the ground by its grassed-over wall footings,
was a major building 80m long which had an aisled nave of nine bays, a short
choir, a central bell tower, and transepts with eastern chapels. Internally
it is known to have been paved with fine mosaic tile floors, as at nearby
Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys. Many of these tiles are known to have been
removed; examples can now be seen in the British Museum and other collections,
whilst a section of flooring is also preserved in Meaux Abbey Farm. This
stone church was begun in 1207 and was dedicated in 1253; it replaced a
smaller stone and wood church built in 1160 which had been constructed from
materials from the demolished motte and bailey castle at Mount Ferrant near

The cloister lying to the south of the church is also identifiable on the
ground through its earthwork remains. It measures 37m by 34m. Its eastern
range is known to have housed a library of over 300 books; this lay between
the south transept of the church and a rectangular chapter house. The chapter
house was an official meeting-place within the abbey where the monks met in
council. As at other abbeys and monasteries it was used as a place of burial
for leading ecclesiastics associated with the abbey. The south range of the
cloister was formed by the refectory, or monks' dining room; The west range
housed the lay-brothers accommodation. These four ranges surrounded an open
space, roughly square in plan, which was surrounded by a galleried and covered
passageway used by the monks for study and exercise. To the east of the
claustral buildings other earthworks have been identified as the remains of
the infirmary, chapel, and hall. Originally the infirmary complex would have
been more extensive and may have included its own cloister as at Rievaulx
Abbey. Attached to the infirmary hall was a wing built by the thirteenth abbot
for his retirement. To the east of this wing are the grassed over footings of
a brick hall measuring 19m by 8m which has been identified as the abbot's

These buildings lay at the heart of a large monastic precinct which was
defined on all sides by large moat-like drainage ditches. The area thus
defined is roughly 34ha (85 acres) in extent. The surrounding moats range
between 5m and 10m wide and are up to 1.5m deep; they remain water-filled
today and drain in a south easterly direction; it is likely that this was the
pattern followed by the medieval system. This precinct was entered at its
north west corner through a great gateway. A `Capella extra Portas' or `chapel
outside the gates' is known to have stood immediately to the north of the
Great Gate. Slightly further north of the chapel was the Puleynghat (Poultry
Gate) which was reputedly kept closed when the Great Gate was open to prevent
the abbey chickens escaping. Other lesser gateways may have provided access
into the precinct at other points, the position of any such access points has
not been firmly identified.

The large precinct thus defined was subdivided into several smaller
enclosures. The main monastic buildings described above lay within an inner
precinct; this was surrounded by a series of outer courts or enclosures. The
boundaries between these enclosures were formed by an extensive series of
drainage ditches. These are visible throughout the precinct and vary between
2m and 10m wide and are up to 1.5m deep. Although now much silted many remain
waterlogged; some retain running water. These ditches served not only to
define the various enclosures, but also, with the enclosing moats, to supply
water to those parts of the precinct where it was needed and to drain it from
areas where it was not. Additionally these complex water-management earthworks
are known to have had other functions. In the Chronicle, one of the main
documentary references to the abbey, three channels, the Markdyke,
Lamwathdyke, and the Eschedike (a canal which connected the abbey to the River
Hull) are named. The Eschedike has been identified to have run through the
western part of the precinct, dividing the Great Court from the Outer Court,
before running south in the direction of Hull. The course of this canal is now
visible as a deep drainage ditch. The exact location of the other named
channels is unknown, but Abbot Richard (1221-35) is credited as having `had
ditches made in many places to convey provisions to the Abbey' and as being
the first to begin wells and conduits in the monastery.

The Great Court of the monastery lay immediately to the west of the church.
The south side of this court was formed by the New Guest House which is known
to have replaced the earlier lay-brothers infirmary. This building still
stood, albeit in ruins, in the 18th century, and was the most prominent
feature of the site then. The western boundary of this court was formed by a

The Outer Court lay to the west of the Great Court, separated from it by the
course of the Eschedike and bounded to north, west, and south by a ditch 10m
wide and 2m deep. This area contains ridge and furrow earthworks indicating
its use for arable cultivation, although this court is also known to have
contained the common stable and a lay infirmary. A postmill mound was later
constructed in the court; the mound on which it was set remains visible
overlying the ridge and furrow. This mill may have been a replacement for an
earlier horse-powered mill constructed by Abbot Butler, which is known to have
been unsatisfactory.

To the north of the church and the Great Court, a triangular enclosure
contains, on its northern side, three interlinked fishponds. These lie
parallel to the main enclosing moat and are linked to it, each other, and
adjacent drainage ditches by well-preserved sluice channels. The westernmost
pond measures 24m by 9m and is 1m deep; the middle pond is slightly smaller
and measures 27m by 10m by 1m deep; the easternmost pond measures 27m by 7m
wide and is 0.75m deep. These ponds would have been used to rear fish which
formed an important element of the medieval monks' diet.

East of this enclosure and in the north eastern corner of the precinct is a
large rectangular enclosure which is known to have been a monastic orchard. It
retains the grassed over foundations of a chapel known as `the Chapel in the
Woods' founded in around 1238 as a chantry chapel endowed so that masses could
be sung for Isabella de Mauley, its founder. Later this enclosure was given
over to arable cultivation, as indicated by visible ridge and furrow
earthworks, although the date of this change is uncertain.

To the south of the refectory and infirmary two triangular enclosures include
ponds, platforms and the sites of various buildings; together these various
remains indicate that industrial processes such as iron-working and tanning
were carried out here.

In the south western corner of the monument a large enclosure is full of ridge
and furrow earthworks, indicating its former use for arable cultivation.
In addition to the above, the abbey is also known to have owned water-mills
constructed in the 1260's. These were located at the junction of the
Eschedike and River Hull. These appear to have lain outside the main monastic
precinct, but their exact location has yet to be fully ascertained.
Additionally a vacary, or monastic cattle ranch, known as Felsa, lay to the
north of the Abbey at Fewsome Hill.

Meaux Abbey was founded circa 1150 by William le Gros, Count of Aumale, on a
site originally intended as a hunting lodge. A daughter house of Fountains
Abbey, with extensive endowments in Holderness, it prospered during the 13th
century, draining the surrounding marshes and founding the port of Wyke, later
Kingston upon Hull, as an outlet for the wool of its flocks of sheep. By
1249 there were 60 monks and 90 lay brothers, but all but 10 of the community
died in the Black Death (1348-49), and there were only 28 monks in 1393 and 25
at the Dissolution. Details of the abbey's endowments, building history, and
disputes with neighbouring landowners were chronicled by Abbot William Burton
in circa 1430.

The buildings were almost entirely demolished in 1542 to provide materials for
Henry VIII's blockhouses and western wall at Hull. A note of 1542 mentions `20
masons, some of the Mewesse to see it taken down, to plumbers to take down and
roll the lead...300 labourers taking down stones and brick.'

During the 18th and 19th centuries there were sporadic antiquarian excavations
at the site, including the opening of graves and the removal of mosaic tiled
floors. The first systematic excavations were carried out between 1925 and
1935. During these years G K Beaulah and W Foot Walker dug trenches to
establish the position and plan of the monastic church; a large culverted
drain was also located and recorded during this work. In 1925 the curator of
Hull Museum, Tom Sheppard, also carried out limited excavations, including
excavation of the drain, finding late medieval pottery and leatherwork. A full
survey of the earthworks was carried out by the Royal Commission for Historic
Monuments in 1980.

A derelict cottage on the site is excluded from the scheduling, though the
ground beneath it 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 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.

Meaux Abbey is an important example of a wealthy Cistercian monastery; it was
one of the most important of the Yorkshire monasteries along with Rievaulx.
This importance is indicated by the scale of the monastic precinct and the
scale and quality of its buildings. Although no buildings survive above
foundation level, extensive remains indicating their position and extent
survive as earthworks across the whole of the site. The functions of some of
these buildings have been confirmed by excavation, this work also confirmed
that considerable information on their architectural style and detail

Unusually the monastic precinct was largely abandoned after being robbed for
building stone following the Dissolution and it remains unencumbered by later
buildings, a factor which has contributed to the good survival of the below
ground medieval remains. The survival of the wider monastic precinct with its
complex system of water-management earthworks is also unusual. These remains
will retain considerable 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


Books and journals
Donkin, R A, The Cistercians: Studies in the geog. of Med. England & Wales, (1978), 55ff
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 122
Le Patourel, H E J, Moated site of Yorkshire, (1973), 114
Midmer, R, English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540, (1979)
Oliver, , History and Antiquity of Beverley, (1829), 534-542
'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Archaeology, , Vol. 3, (1959), 325-326
'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Archaeology, , Vol. 5, (1961), 137-8
'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Archaeology, , Vol. 1, (1951), 171
Butler, R, 'Arch. J.' in Meaux Abbey, (1984), 48
Butler, R, 'Proceedings of the Royal Archaeological Institute' in Meaux Abbey, (1984), 146-8
Shephard, T, 'Pamphlets' in Meaux Abbey, , Vol. 32, (1930), 1-ff
Shephard, T, 'Pamphlets' in Meaux Abbey, , Vol. 31, (1929), 1-ff
1513, Humberside SMR,
1513, Humberside SMR,

Source: Historic England

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