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St Mary's Priory: an alien Benedictine priory 100m east of St Mary's Church

A Scheduled Monument in Higham, Kent

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Latitude: 51.4409 / 51°26'27"N

Longitude: 0.4701 / 0°28'12"E

OS Eastings: 571764.407241

OS Northings: 174211.412714

OS Grid: TQ717742

Mapcode National: GBR PP0.RMW

Mapcode Global: VHJLM.31CS

Entry Name: St Mary's Priory: an alien Benedictine priory 100m east of St Mary's Church

Scheduled Date: 9 August 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1010241

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23022

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Higham

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Higham St John the Evangelist

Church of England Diocese: Rochester


The monument includes the alien Benedictine Priory of St Mary, situated on
level ground c.2km from the south bank of the River Thames.

This includes the church, the cloister, east, west and south ranges, the rere-
dorter and drain, the cemetery to the east of the church, the footings and
foundations of asociated monastic buildings and the ground in between.

Abbey Farm farmhouse is situated in the south west corner of the cloister and
has incorporated the standing remains of the west range and the north and west
walls of the frater. These lie to the south of the cloister garth, or
courtyard, and are built of stone and flint up to 0.9m thick. Part of the
south wall of the church is upstanding on the north side of the cloister garth
and measures 0.7m thick, 4m long and 1.5m high. To the east are the buried
foundations of the chapter house, warming house, rere-dorter and covered
drains which were all noted during partial excavation in 1966.

To the south of this area, chalk footings of other medieval monastic buildings
have also been noted, all within the area of the precinct.

The priory, originally built to house 16 nuns, was founded c.1148, when Mary,
the daughter of King Stephen, became the first prioress. As an alien priory,
St Mary's was originally dependent on St Sulpice, Rennes. This was the
monastery from which Mary had come, bringing with her a number of the nuns.
The priory, however, became independent at some time around 1227 when the King
granted the priory a yearly fair at Michaelmas. The house was suppressed in
1521-2 when it was granted to St John's College, Cambridge.

In 1965 a resistivity survey was undertaken in order to identify the position
of any surviving foundations. The following year partial excavation of the
site took place which revealed the plan of the medieval priory buildings. A
stone coffin in the east alley of the cloister is the earliest datable
evidence from the site, while a late 13th century brass jetton was found
embedded in the mortar of a covered drain. None of the buildings can be dated
unequivocally to the period of the founding of the priory, but some appear to
have been built or possibly rebuilt in stone during the 13th century.

Excluded from the scheduling are the occupied buildings, garden sheds, aviary,
other outbuildings, gates, fences and fence posts, but 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

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.

St Mary's Priory survives comparatively well, with upstanding fragments of
masonry as well as extensive below ground remains. Documentary sources,
combined with the archaeological remains and environmental evidence
demonstrated by partial excavation to be contained within the monument,
provide an insight into the economy and way of life peculiar to a Benedictine

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County, (1926), 145
Tester, P J, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Excavations on the site of Higham Priory, , Vol. 82, (1967), 143-61
Ordnance Survey, TQ 77 SW 8, (1969)

Source: Historic England

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