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Beauchief Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: inner precinct and three fishponds

A Scheduled Monument in Beauchief and Greenhill, Sheffield

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Latitude: 53.3326 / 53°19'57"N

Longitude: -1.4999 / 1°29'59"W

OS Eastings: 433403.18956

OS Northings: 381861.84504

OS Grid: SK334818

Mapcode National: GBR KYZX.22

Mapcode Global: WHCCQ.XHYH

Entry Name: Beauchief Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: inner precinct and three fishponds

Scheduled Date: 4 June 1957

Last Amended: 24 August 1993

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011390

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13376

County: Sheffield

Electoral Ward/Division: Beauchief and Greenhill

Built-Up Area: Sheffield

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): South Yorkshire


Beauchief Abbey is situated on an eastern tributary of the River Sheaf in what
is now the south-eastern outskirts of the City of Sheffield. The monument
comprises two separate areas which together include the inner monastic
precinct of the Premonstratensian abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr
(Thomas Becket) and a line of three fishponds lying east of the inner
precinct. Additional features, which will include the remains of such
ancillary features as barns, a gatehouse, workshops and stockpens, will
survive in the outer precinct which lies in what is now Beauchief Park. The
extent and state of survival of this outer precinct, however, is not at
present fully understood and so it has not been included in the scheduling.
Parts of the remains of the inner precinct were exposed during partial
excavations carried out between 1923 and 1926 by W H Elgar and in 1953/4 by
Peter Stiles. These were seen to conform to the typical monastic plan,
consisting of the church, which formed the north range of the cloister, and
the south, west and east cloister ranges arranged round a central garth or
open area. Elgar's interpretation of the foundations he exposed may not have
been entirely accurate but the ground-floor buildings seem to have been
arranged in the usual manner, with the frater or refectory lying in the south
range, north of the kitchen, and undercroft or storage cellar in the west
range, and a chapter house with an apse or semi-circular end in the east range
south of a chantry or chapel. First floor rooms would have included the
monks' dorter or dormitory in the east range, lay brothers' quarters in the
west range, and possibly the abbot's lodging, though the latter may have lain
outside the cloister in an unexcavated area. Other features of the inner
precinct which will survive in unexcavated areas are the infirmary, cemetery,
gardens, and ancillary buildings such as a brewhouse and bakehouse. Important
to monastic life was the control and diversion of a local water supply to
provide not only drinking and household water but to flush the kitchens and
reredorter or latrine. This was usually accomplished by running channels to
and from a nearby river or stream and so monastic drains are another feature
which will survive at Beauchief. Water management also included the creation
of fishponds by damming local streams. East of the abbey are three monastic
fishponds created for the monks by William de Grenlyf who died in 1411. In
addition to the building the dam which provided the ponds, he also financed
the construction of a building for the abbey which became known as Grenlyf
The abbey was founded between 1172 and 1182 by Robert fitzRanulf, lord of
Alfreton and Norton. Because the abbey was dedicated to Thomas Becket,
tradition said that fitzRanulf had taken part in the murder of Becket and was
trying to expiate the sin by his foundation. There is, however, no evidence
for this. The history of the abbey appears largely uneventful. It was a
small house of twelve to fifteen canons and their abbot and a small number of
lay-brethren. It was dissolved with other minor religious houses in 1537,
when its estates were granted to Sir Nicholas Strelly. Passing by marriage to
the Pegge family in 1648, it was eventually sold to Frank Crawshaw in 1923 who
then gave it to the City of Sheffield. A number of features within the area
are excluded from the scheduling: these are the buildings of Abbey Farm,
(Listed Grade II), the surfaces of all paths and yards, all modern walling and
fencing, the bridge over the fishponds and the modern concrete dam of the
south fishpond, a tank east of the farm buildings, and the graves in the
churchyard which occupy the site of the nave, quire, transepts and crossing of
the monastic church; also excluded, as they are still in occasional
ecclesiastical use, are the west tower of the abbey church and the 17th
century chapel of ease (Listed Grade B) which was created out of part of the
nave. The ground beneath all these features is included in the scheduling.

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. The
Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense
but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first
Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but
later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian
order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and
founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

Beauchief Abbey is an important example of a small Premonstratensian house
founded for a group of men. Although its standing remains do not survive
well, having been systematically quarried after the Dissolution of the
Monasteries, the foundations of a wide variety of monastic buildings are still
in place and provide a good illustration of the layout of this type of
monastery. The buried remains of further buildings and features survive in
Beauchief Park which has suffered very little disturbance or development in
the centuries since the Dissolution. Together, these will provide important
evidence of the economy and way of life peculiar to Premonstratensian canons.
In addition, organic and environmental material will survive in the
waterlogged deposits of the three fishponds.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Addy, S O, Historical Memorials of Beauchief Abbey, (1878)
Pevsner, N, Radcliffe, E, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The West Riding, (1967)
Elgar, W H, 'Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society' in Beauchief Abbey, , Vol. 3, (1929)
Meredith, R, 'Derbyshire Archaeological Journal' in Beauchief Abbey and the Pegges, , Vol. 87, (1967)
Potter, G R, 'Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society' in Beauchief Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, , Vol. 11, (1981)
(PRN 0127), Beauchief Abbey: handwritten notes on SMR file,
In SMR (PRN 0127), Hart, CR, Beauchief Hall and Abbey: Telecom Cable Trench Works, (1989)
Local Studies Leaflet, Beauchief Abbey, Past and Present, (1975)

Source: Historic England

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