Ancient Monuments

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Site of St Mary's Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

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Latitude: 51.9898 / 51°59'23"N

Longitude: -2.1609 / 2°9'39"W

OS Eastings: 389049.562847

OS Northings: 232382.485993

OS Grid: SO890323

Mapcode National: GBR 1JR.6HG

Mapcode Global: VH93T.H7HZ

Entry Name: Site of St Mary's Abbey

Scheduled Date: 19 March 1973

Last Amended: 11 May 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009317

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21704

County: Gloucestershire

Civil Parish: Tewkesbury

Built-Up Area: Tewkesbury

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Gloucestershire

Church of England Parish: Tewkesbury St Mary the Virgin (Tewkesbury Abbey)

Church of England Diocese: Gloucester


The monument includes the known area of the main precinct of the Benedictine
Abbey of St Mary's and earlier 8th century priory, delineated by the River
Swillgate to the south and east and by Church Street and Gloucester Road to
the north and west, but excluding 33-48 Church Street. It may also have
extended beyond the present line of Church Street but the survival of remains
in these areas is currently unknown. The monument survives as both
above-ground and buried remains.
Above ground, remains of the north side of the cloister survive in the south
wall of the existing church. These remains are of 15th century date. Below
ground, the monument includes the remains of the east, west and south of the
cloister, the chapterhouse and infirmary, along with other buildings to the
east and, to the west, parlours and other ancillary buildings. The ground
slopes away to the south to the banks of the River Swillgate, a stream forming
a tributary of the River Severn which it meets half a mile downstream. This
area between the church and the Swillgate contains a number of visible
earthworks while the outlines of buildings have shown up on aerial photographs
of the site.
The history of the site is comparatively well documented. There was a priory
founded here by the end of the 8th century. In 980 AD the Benedictine cell at
Tewkesbury was subordinated to Cranborne Abbey in Dorset and it was 1102
before the abbey was refounded in Tewkesbury. This abbey was consecrated in
1123. Records suggest that the abbey played a key role in the development of
Tewkesbury up until 1540 when it was dissolved.
The site contains a number of listed buildings which are: The Abbey Church of
St Mary (Grade I), churchyard gates north west of the abbey (II*), remains of
a cross in the churchyard (II), Abbey House (I), the gatehouse to Abbey House
(I), Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Abbey Cottages including a wall on the east side (II),
Abbey Barn, stables and wall (II), St Mary's Lodge (II), St Marys Cottage (II)
and the Russell Almshouses (II). These features are excluded from the
scheduling; also excluded are all recent buildings on the site, their services
and all paths and carpark surfaces, although the ground beneath all these
features 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.
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.

St Mary's Abbey has a well documented history as a Benedictine House. There
was a Benedictine cell in Tewkesbury as early as the 8th century although the
majority of the known remains surviving within the precinct today relate to
its refounded form in 1102. The site has survived because the land was
purchased by the town after the Dissolution in 1540 and, while stone was
removed from the site for building, the site itself was only partially built
The existence of below ground remains in the southern part of the site is
supported by aerial photographs. The site is bounded by the River Swillgate
on its south and east sides and environmental evidence relating to the economy
of the Abbey and the contemporary town may be present as a result of
waterlogging. Such evidence can provide clear indications of the wealth and
economy of the community and details of the landscape in which they lived.
Although the documented history is extensive, understanding of the full plan
of the buildings and the relationship of the site to the rest of the town
depends heavily on the survival of the archaeological deposits.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fowler, P, Miles, D, Tewkesbury: Archaeological Implications, (1972)
Cannon Shannon, During a visit to No. 1 Abbey cottages, (1986)
Site of St Mary's Abbey: SMR 567, (1986)
St Joseph, Cambridge AP, (1976)

Source: Historic England

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