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Bradwell Abbey: a Benedictine priory, chapel and fishpond

A Scheduled Monument in Bradwell, Milton Keynes

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Latitude: 52.0482 / 52°2'53"N

Longitude: -0.7953 / 0°47'43"W

OS Eastings: 482711.547694

OS Northings: 239551.237893

OS Grid: SP827395

Mapcode National: GBR D01.HRZ

Mapcode Global: VHDT0.5SD7

Entry Name: Bradwell Abbey: a Benedictine priory, chapel and fishpond

Scheduled Date: 16 June 1948

Last Amended: 27 November 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009540

English Heritage Legacy ID: 19062

County: Milton Keynes

Civil Parish: Bradwell

Built-Up Area: Milton Keynes

Traditional County: Buckinghamshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Buckinghamshire

Church of England Parish: Stantonbury and Willen

Church of England Diocese: Oxford


The monument, which falls into two areas, includes the remains of
Bradwell Priory, a Benedictine priory which was dedicated to St Mary and
founded circa 1154 by Meinfelin, Baron of Wolverton. Originally a cell of
Luffield Priory, it became an independent house c 1189-90. Today the
priory remains include a considerable range of buildings and associated
earthworks. The only unquestionable medieval building to remain standing is a
small chapel of mainly 14th century date with surviving wall paintings. This
originally lay against the west wall of the 13th century priory church which
has since been demolished. Once used as a store, the chapel is now restored.
The positions of other monastic buildings have been identified by recent
research and excavation. These include the buried remains of the priory
church in the north-east of the complex with the cloisters to the south.
Arranged around the cloisters were, to the east, the chapter house, to the
south the frater and to the west the king's chamber and prior's chamber. The
main gateway to the complex lay at the north-west corner astride the main
approach road from the north. Various other buildings including barns, a
malt/kiln house building and a tithe barn were ranged around the west and
south sides of the complex. Today none of these buildings are immediately
recognisable though modern farm buildings incorporate various elements into
their fabric.
Surviving earthworks associated with the monastic complex include a large
fishpond some 60m east to west by 38m north to south with a central island.
This pond tapers to the north into what may be a part of a former surrounding
moat, vestiges of which have been identified as slight earthworks averaging
11m wide around the western extent of the complex. Other ponds on the site
are identified as later landscape features. Various surface undulations in
the pasture field to the west are thought to be earthwork elements of the site
relating to past land use. Excavations in the area to the immediate south-
east of the railway line have demonstrated the survival of associated medieval
remains in this area also.
The history of the site is not a particularly happy one, it seems to have
prospered during the 12th and 13th centuries but declined rapidly following a
period of plague in 1349. Many of the monks perished at this time including
the prior himself, their numbers being so depleted that the successor to the
prior was of illegitimate birth, a state which would have normally precluded
such high office. By 1361 the house was still suffering ill-fortune, the
prior being reprimanded for allowing the buildings to fall into disrepair.
This diminished state seems to have continued throughout the 15th century so
that, by 1504, when Prior Thomas Wright resigned, there were insufficient
monks to hold a proper election for his successor. The last prior was John
Asheby who was in office at the suppression of the priory on the 27th of July
1524. The estate site then passed into the hands of Cardinal Wolsey who had
the assets surveyed by William Brabazon in 1526 before endowing the lands to
St Frideswide's College Oxford.
All modern buildings, structures, modern boundary features, roadways and
metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath
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. 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.

Bradwell Abbey is an important element in the historical development of the
area and, although little remains above ground of the original buildings, test
excavations carried out by the Milton Keynes Archaeological Unit in the early
1970s have demonstrated the survival of below ground archaeological remains
across the site. There is also potential for environmental evidence,
particularly in ditch fills, with organic survival likely in the waterlogged
levels of the fishpond. Such evidence can provide a clear indication of the
wealth and economy of such a community and of the surrounding landscape in
which it existed.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bradwell Abbey Report, (1988)
Bradwell Abbey Report, (1988), 2
Mynard, D C, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Excavations at Bradwell Priory (Pag 35-37), , Vol. 3, (1974)
Mynard, D C, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Excavations at Bradwell Priory (Pag 35-37), , Vol. 3, (1974)
Mynard, D C, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Excavations at Bradwell Priory (Pag 35-37), , Vol. 3, (1974)
Rigold, S E, Woodfield, P, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Bradwell Priory Chapel, , Vol. 3, (1974)
Milton Keynes Arch Unit Survey, (1976)
Ordnance Survey, Ordnance Survey Card No. SP 83 NW 1,

Source: Historic England

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