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Alcester Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Alcester, Warwickshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.219 / 52°13'8"N

Longitude: -1.8728 / 1°52'22"W

OS Eastings: 408782.64449

OS Northings: 257870.802056

OS Grid: SP087578

Mapcode National: GBR 3JW.TK6

Mapcode Global: VHB08.HH88

Entry Name: Alcester Abbey

Scheduled Date: 15 June 1972

Last Amended: 14 October 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008545

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21562

County: Warwickshire

Civil Parish: Alcester

Built-Up Area: Alcester

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Warwickshire

Church of England Parish: Alcester St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Coventry

Details

The monument is situated in the north part of the town of Alcester and
includes the earthwork and buried remains of Alcester Abbey, its associated
water management system and the earthwork remains of ridge and furrow
cultivation.
The Benedictine abbey of Alcester was founded between c.1138-40 by Ralph le
Boteler. The financial fortunes of the abbey suffered through the negligence
of later abbots, culminating in a formal alteration of its status to that of a
cell of Evesham Abbey in 1465. The cell was dissolved in 1536. After the
Dissolution, the site passed into the hands of Fulke Greville who used the
site as a convenient source of stone for the remodelling of Beauchamp Court,
situated to the north of the monastery. By the 18th century, Alcester Abbey
had reverted to agricultural use.
Alcester Abbey occupies a naturally elevated site on the south floodplain of
the River Arrow and is bounded along its north and east sides by the river,
and on its west and south sides by two shallow connecting channels which were
described as waterfilled moat arms in the 18th century. These features and the
River Arrow are thought to define the precinct boundary of the monastic site.
The site is bisected by a stream which flows west-east across the site. It is
considered to be monastic in origin and served a double purpose, as a
tail-race for a monastic mill and as an integrated water management system to
provide a water supply to the conventual buildings in the south part of the
site. Map evidence indicates that the alignment of the south east end of the
tail-race was altered during the 18th century.
The southern half of the site was known as The Priory Meadow in 1754 and
includes the core of the monastic buildings. The earthworks in this part of
the site form a raised area which is bounded along its north west, north and
north east sides by the tail-race stream and, to the south west and south east
by two connecting channels which also define the south precinct boundary of
the monastery. A low bank is visible along the north side of the south west
channel. Located in the north part of Priory Meadow, adjacent to the
tail-race stream, is a sub-rectangular platform, measuring 29m north-south and
19m east-west. The south side of this platform is marked by a well-defined
scarp which can be traced for approximately 27m. Partial excavation of this
central area, during the 1930s, recovered evidence for several monastic
buildings, including what are considered to be the refectory, a bake-house and
the chapter house. These structures exhibited a number of different phases and
remodelling and are thought to illustrate changes made when the site's status
was altered at various times.
To the south of the conventual buildings, in the southern part of the site, is
a low-lying platform which forms part of the monastic site and has been
identified as the site of a building. The position of the building indicates
that it originally exploited the water supply for power and other purposes.
Immediately to the east of the platform, but separated from it by a shallow,
linear depression, is a raised area which retains evidence of ridge and furrow
cultivation, orientated south east-north west. A scarp visible along the west
side of this area of cultivation is probably the remains of an associated
headland. Further traces of ridge and furrow are visible to the east but the
earthworks here have been partly destroyed by a housing development and the
construction of a flood protection bank and they are not included in the
scheduling.
The earthworks within the northern half of the site appear to be of two
phases. The later phase is represented by ridge and furrow cultivation,
beneath which, earlier features are discernible. The underlying features in
this part of the site are also dominated by a centrally raised area, standing
1m above the surrounding ground surface. This levelled platform is similar in
size to the raised area of the conventual buildings in the south of the site
and is thought to mark the site of ancillary buildings belonging to the
monastic community. To the south west of the platform is a low bank running
north-south, and parallel to a hollow depression. The hollow feature can be
traced continuing southwards in the south half of the site but it has been
severed by the present course of the tail-race stream. The north west side of
the levelled platform is adjacent to a well-defined linear hollow or pond
which is aligned north east-south west. The pond is now dry and measures 55m
long and 15m wide. Approximately 45m east of the linear pond is a seasonally
waterlogged sub-rectangular pond which is defined by a low earthen dam along
its west side. It is overlaid by ridge and furrow cultivation.
The earthwork remains of ridge and furrow cultivation in the northern part of
the site overlie the earlier monastic features and are divided into two
separate areas by the sub-rectangular pond. A low bank along the lip of this
pond represents the west headland of the south east furlong.
All fence posts, the timber sheds in the north part of the site, the portable
hen coops in the south part and the telegraph poles and support cables are
excluded from the scheduling, the ground beneath all these features 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.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Alcester Abbey is the site of a small to medium-sized Benedictine house,
surviving in good condition and uncomplicated by post-Dissolution occupation.
The monastery's reduction in status from an independent house to a dependent
cell in the 15th century will also be reflected in buried archaeological
deposits. Partial excavation of the site has indicated that structural and
artefactual evidence will survive beneath the ground surface, particularly
within the area of the conventual buildings. Organic material will be
preserved in many of the water control features on the site and this will be
of value in understanding the environment and economy of the site's
inhabitants.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
RCHME, , Alcester Abbey, (1992), 6
RCHME, , Alcester Abbey, (1992), 10
RCHME, , Alcester Abbey, (1992), 11
Toulmin-Smith, L, The Itinerary of John Leland, 1535-43, (1908), 51
Styles, D, 'Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeology Society' in The Early History of Alcester Abbey, , Vol. 64, (1941), 20-38
Other
WRO 2120 (U),

Source: Historic England

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