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Bisham Abbey: a monastic and manorial complex

A Scheduled Monument in Bisham, Windsor and Maidenhead

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5569 / 51°33'24"N

Longitude: -0.7788 / 0°46'43"W

OS Eastings: 484755.491903

OS Northings: 184931.871222

OS Grid: SU847849

Mapcode National: GBR D62.7X7

Mapcode Global: VHDWJ.G439

Entry Name: Bisham Abbey: a monastic and manorial complex

Scheduled Date: 1 June 1977

Last Amended: 21 February 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007934

English Heritage Legacy ID: 19021

County: Windsor and Maidenhead

Civil Parish: Bisham

Traditional County: Berkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Berkshire

Church of England Parish: Great Marlow with Marlow Bottom, Little Marlow and Bisham

Church of England Diocese: Oxford

Details

The monument includes the remains of Bisham Abbey, a monastic and manorial
complex located on the south bank of the River Thames. It was founded as a
preceptory of the Knights Templars during the reign of Stephen (1135-54) and
was occupied by the order until their dissolution in 1307. In 1337 an
Augustinian Priory, dedicated to Jesus Christ and St Mary, was founded on the
site and the monastery remained Augustinian until its dissolution in 1536. It
was then briefly refounded in 1537 as a Benedictine Abbey but again
surrendered in 1538, subsequently becoming the home of the Hoby family. No
trace of the Augustinian priory buildings can normally be seen although they
are visible as parch marks on the lawns in dry summers and therefore are known
to survive as buried features. Various parts of the original Templar buildings
survive, including the great hall of the Templars preceptory with its
braced rafter roof and screens, stone roofed porch and kitchen block. This
remains largely intact and is Listed Grade I. Buildings of late medieval
date which survive and are protected by Listing include a circular dovecote,
tithe barn and grange (Listed Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II respectively).
Earthwork remains consist of the surviving part of a surrounding rectangular
moat, enclosing an area some 300m-400m square. Though most of the moat has
been infilled, where visible it is up to 10m wide and is steep sided with an
earthen inner bank. The age of the moat is uncertain, but it is possible that
it belongs to the post Dissolution occupation of the site. The archaeological
remains of timber buildings are known to exist within the interior of the site
and large amounts of medieval pottery have also been recovered from time to
time. All modern buildings and structures, Listed buildings, roads and
metalled surfaces, including new tennis courts and an artificial hockey pitch,
are excluded from the scheduling, though the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT
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.


Bisham Abbey is a rare example of a religious house occupied successively by
three different monastic orders. Despite conversion of the site to a sports
complex, archaeological remains survive both as buried and standing features.
The location of the monument on the floodplain of the River Thames provides
conditions for the survival of environmental remains relating to the economy
of the site and the surrounding landscape.
Four main periods of occupation are represented at the monument: The site was
founded as a preceptory during the period 1135-54. Only 57 preceptories are
recorded as having existed in England, all of which were founded to fund the
12th and 13th century Crusades to Jerusalem. After the site's abandonment in
1307, an Augustinian Priory was established. Of some 700 monasteries founded
in England, about 225 belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians
were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of canons and
priests who, from the 12th century onwards, undertook much valuable work in
the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining
parish churches. Following its dissolution in 1536, the monument was briefly
refounded as a Benedictine Abbey, finally surrendering in 1538. Although only
in existence for a short time, the Benedictine Abbey was part of a wealthy
order and this wealth may have been reflected in the scale and flamboyance of
building work conducted on the site.
After 1538 the site became a private manor. It was probably at this stage that
the moat was constructed to enclose the site.
Bisham Abbey therefore represents a sequence of monastic development and the
later establishment of a manorial complex unique in the region and possibly in
the country. Its location in an area where waterlogged material may survive
gives the site great archaeological potential for the investigation of the
internal layout of the monument, its changing fortunes through time and the
economy of the communities who lived there.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Other
SMR record no. 492.00000,
SMR record no. 492.01000,
SMR record no. 492.01100,

Source: Historic England

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