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Earls Colne Priory

A Scheduled Monument in Earls Colne, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9278 / 51°55'39"N

Longitude: 0.7105 / 0°42'37"E

OS Eastings: 586464.355562

OS Northings: 228944.165211

OS Grid: TL864289

Mapcode National: GBR QJW.0GT

Mapcode Global: VHKFP.8TH1

Entry Name: Earls Colne Priory

Scheduled Date: 14 June 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009434

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20642

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Earls Colne

Built-Up Area: Earls Colne

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Earls Colne St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


Earls Colne Priory is situated 500m east of Earls Colne village on the west
bank of the river Colne. It is identifiable as a low earthwork and can be
clearly shown from aerial photographs to cover an area of c.1.7 hectares.
Excavations carried out in 1929-34 by F H Fairweather revealed part of the
church and the chapter house. The church was a Norman structure 68m in length
and laid out on the lines of a cathedral. In the centre was a tower of flint
and freestone and at the west end were a pair of smaller towers. The
presbytery terminated in a central apse and had north and south aisles which
also terminated in apses. The transepts also had apsidal chapels to the east
of each limb. The nave had seven bays with a north and south aisle. The
church was modified during the second half of the 12th century when the
presbytery had square additions attached to its eastern end. In the 15th
century a Lady Chapel was added south of the presbytery. The church was
constructed with flint and the occasional pieces of Roman brick and floored
with glazed, unpatterned tiles in the choir and chapels. Within the church
are the graves of the 7th and 13th Earls of Oxford. The excavations also
revealed the slype, chapter house and the northern wall of the dorter house.
The slype (covered way or passage) was 2.7m wide and ran between the south
transept and the chapter house. The chapter house was apsidal-ended in shape,
13m in length by 7m in width with flint walls 1.2m thick. During the 12th
century, at the same time that the eastern end of the presbytery was squared
off, the chapter house was also squared by a solid wall on the chord of the
apse. The internal width of the dorter was 9m and although the rest of the
room was not excavated it was visible during the drought of 1934 and could be
seen to have been 18m in length. The remainder of the complex was also
visible during the drought. The cloister was a square measuring 21m and had a
series of other rooms on its southern and eastern sides.
Historical documentation shows that the church was begun in c.1105 by the
first Aubrey de Vere and was completed in 1148 when it was dedicated by the
Bishop of London to St Mary and St Andrew. It was built for Benedictine monks
as a cell to Abingdon Abbey. It was demolished in 1536.
Excluded from the scheduling is the drain which runs north-east to south-west
through the monument, although the ground beneath it is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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.

Earls Colne Priory is a well documented example of a Norman priory with
historical records dating from its construction in the 12th century to its
destruction in the 16th century. It has important associations with the Earls
of Oxford. Partial excavation has confirmed the unusually large size of the
Benedictine complex and established that the site contains archaeological and
environmental evidence relating to the monument, the landscape in which it was
constructed and the economy of its inhabitants.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Fairweather, F H, 'Archaeologia' in Colne Priory, Essex, and the Burials of the Earls of Oxford, , Vol. 87, (1937)

Source: Historic England

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