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St Mary's Abbey: a Benedictine abbey north and east of Water Lane

A Scheduled Monument in West Malling, Kent

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Latitude: 51.2929 / 51°17'34"N

Longitude: 0.411 / 0°24'39"E

OS Eastings: 568198.322234

OS Northings: 157619.330104

OS Grid: TQ681576

Mapcode National: GBR NPC.W5R

Mapcode Global: VHJM5.2RMR

Entry Name: St Mary's Abbey: a Benedictine abbey north and east of Water Lane

Scheduled Date: 31 May 1948

Last Amended: 27 October 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008030

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23019

County: Kent

Civil Parish: West Malling

Built-Up Area: West Malling

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: West Malling St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Rochester


The monument includes the known extent of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary's
situated in the town of West Malling. Much of the medieval abbey, which
survives as upstanding masonry, has been incorporated into the post-
Dissolution buildings which have been reused by, and purposely built for, the
modern nunnery which began at the end of the 19th century.
The upstanding medieval remains include the 14th-century gatehouse and chapel
positioned on the north side of the precinct, the Norman tower, the 13th-
century arcade of the south cloisters, the south wall and south transept of
the church and various other upstanding remains of the east range comprising
parts of the chapter house and dorter undercroft. These are situated in the
northern part of the precinct which, when founded, covered an area of
4.8ha. In the southern part of the precinct is a medieval tithe barn converted
in 1936-7 for use as a chapel.
To the west of the main claustral complex lies the site of the 15th-century
guest house. This is believed to have had an associated outer court of which
no above-ground remains survive. Further buildings to the south include what
are believed to be an infirmary or abbess's apartments, which survive as
buried foundations. A stream runs from south to north through the precinct and
feeds a fishpond to the south of the guest house.
The nunnery was founded c.1090 by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester. Two earlier
dates for the foundation of an abbey at Malling have been put forward, 688 and
944, the latter by King Edmund, but neither has been proved. The land is
known to have been in the possession of the Bishop of Rochester in 945 but was
then lost to the Church and recovered by Lanfranc in 1076. The church was
dedicated in 1106 but in 1190 the abbey and nearly all the town buildings were
burnt down after which extensive rebuilding was undertaken. Dissolved in
1538 and granted to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the abbey later became the
property of the Crown. In 1620 it was granted to John Rayney whose son sold
it to the Honeywood family. During the 18th century the surviving ruins of the
abbey were incorporated into a new house built mainly on the site of the south
Partial excavation of the abbey was undertaken in the 1930s and in 1962 prior
to the construction of the new church. The excavations at the east end of the
medieval church showed that it had been square-ended, not apsidal as had
previously been thought, with a rectangular chapel projecting from the centre
of the east wall.
All the medieval masonry is listed Grade I and the 18th-century cascade and
the abbey barn are listed Grade II.
Excluded from the scheduling are all the nunnery buildings presently in use
which incorporate all of the listed medieval masonry (except for the tower
which is included in the scheduling), all the other buildings within the
precinct area, specifically the sheds, greenhouses, houses, barn, conventual
buildings, the precinct wall and all other post-Dissolution walling,
footbridges, fences and sundials; however, the ground beneath all these
features is included except for the area of the present burial ground which is
totally excluded from the scheduling.

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.

Malling Abbey survives comparatively well and, despite damage caused by
partial demolition and rebuilding, substantial sections of the medieval
masonry are still upstanding. Partial excavation has shown that the
foundations and layout of the other conventual buildings survive below ground
level as buried features, with the site containing archaeological remains and
environmental information relating to the construction and use of the abbey as
well as the economy and way of life peculiar to a Benedictine nunnery.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Kent: Volume II, (1926), 146
Oakley, A M, Malling Abbey 1090-1990, (1990)
Elliston-Erwood, F C, 'Journal of Antiquities' in Malling Abbey, , Vol. 55, (1954), 55
Fairweather, F H, 'Archaeologia' in Malling Abbey, , Vol. 88, (1932), 175
MGHL, 2227/11/A, (1950)

Source: Historic England

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