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Croxden Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Croxden, Staffordshire

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Latitude: 52.9552 / 52°57'18"N

Longitude: -1.904 / 1°54'14"W

OS Eastings: 406547.784429

OS Northings: 339763.627418

OS Grid: SK065397

Mapcode National: GBR 37X.RFZ

Mapcode Global: WHBD4.QZJB

Entry Name: Croxden Abbey

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1925

Last Amended: 15 April 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011448

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21531

County: Staffordshire

Civil Parish: Croxden

Traditional County: Staffordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Staffordshire

Church of England Parish: Croxden with Hollington St Giles

Church of England Diocese: Lichfield


The monument is situated within the village of Croxden in the valley of the
Croxden Brook. The core of the site of St Mary's Abbey, Croxden, a foundation
of the Cistercian order, is in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State and
includes the ruins of the conventual buildings which are also Listed Grade I.
The monument, which consists of two separate areas, is more extensive and, in
addition to the standing remains, includes the earthwork remains of buildings
and other features and parts of an associated water management system.
Croxden Abbey was founded by Bertram de Verdun in 1176 and was colonised by
monks from Aunay in Normandy. The first settlement was established at Cotton
but, by 1179, the monks had moved to Croxden. Construction work was started
under the first abbot and the church was dedicated in c.1254. The 13th and
14th centuries were evidently a time of great prosperity for the abbey.
Croxden Abbey was dissolved in 1538 and, by 1539, the site was leased to
Francis Bassett, a servant of Archbishop Crammer.
The monastic church is situated near the centre of the precinct and was laid
out on a plan copied from the church at Aunay, the mother-house. It is more
elaborate in plan than most Cistercian houses in England. A road which dates
from the 18th century runs diagonally across the site of the nave and the
south transept. To the south of the road, much of the southern walls of both
nave and south transept stand to heights of up to 20m and the nave wall
retains evidence that the nave aisles were originally vaulted. The west wall
of the church is also approximately 20m high and has two surviving doorways
and three tall lancet windows within its fabric.
The conventual buildings are immediately to the south of the church and are
laid out around a square cloister. A large proportion of the ground floor of
the east range of the cloister survives as standing remains, whilst its upper
floor, which would have been occupied by the monks' dormitory, is now very
fragmentary. The doorway of the night-stair, which provided access directly
from the dormitory into the church, survives in the south transept wall.
Documentary evidence indicates that the dormitory was extended during the 14th
century. Projecting eastwards from the south end of the east claustral range
are the remains of the monk's latrine, the reredorter, where a stone-lined
drain is visible. The south range of the cloister was occupied by the
refectory and its associated rooms and, as was usual in Cistercian houses, the
refectory was built on a north-south (as opposed to an east-west) alignment.
The standing remains of this range retain evidence for several alterations,
thought to have taken place during both the 15th century and following the
monastery's dissolution. The Abbey farmhouse, a Grade II Listed Building, and
its outbuildings occupy the western end of the south claustral range and are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. The
remains of the west claustral range, which lies to the north of the farmhouse,
are visible as ruins attached to the south west corner of the church. The
southern end of the west range is thought to survive as buried features
beneath the farmhouse complex itself.
To the south east of the abbey church, beyond the claustral group, are the
standing remains of further masonry buildings; the abbot's house and the
monastic infirmary. The former was originally a large building of two storeys
which was constructed in 1335-6. Internally it measures approximately 19m by
8m. The two floors communicated by means of a stair turret which survives in
the north west angle. The thickness of the walling and the size of the
buttresses suggest that the lower floor was vaulted. To the north of the
abott's house are the ruins of the monastic infirmary which was originally of
seven bays and partly vaulted. The northern part of the infirmary complex
extends beneath the road which crosses the site, but its plan was obtained by
excavation during the last century. The remains of a fireplace, incorporating
re-used medieval glazed tiles, suggests that the infirmary was converted for
secular uses after the abbey's dissolution. A major vaulted extension to the
east of the infirmary is thought to mark the site of the infirmary chapel.
The conventual buildings were originally set within the central part of a
large rectangular precinct which defined an area of approximately 28ha. The
extent of this precinct is known from field and cartographic evidence and it
extended both west and east of the central core of the site and south beyond
the Croxden Brook. The precinct boundary is thought to have originally been
defined by masonry walling, parts of which remain standing. To the north and
north east of the monastic church, the precinct wall survives to a height of
2m and is up to 1m thick. It is faced on both sides with dressed stone and a
300m length of the north precinct wall is included in the scheduling.
Documentary evidence establishes that the main abbey gatehouse, originally a
major stone building, was sited across the line of the present road to the
north west of the monastic church. It is known to have been 'almost entire' in
1719. There was a chapel directly to the east of the gatehouse and this was
constructed in the mid-13th century. This chapel survived as Croxden parish
church until 1886 when it was replaced with the present church on a site
approximately 30m to the north. The remains of part of the gatehouse, the
chapel and associated ancillary structures, such as stables, will survive as
buried features in this area and are included in the scheduling.
In the field to the south and east of the present churchyard there is evidence
for a water-management system, thought to be associated with Croxden Abbey.
Water was originally held behind the dam situated 300m to the west of Abbey
Farm (which is also included in the scheduling), and was brought along a leat
which followed a similar alignment to the present water channel visible here.
It was then held in a small mill pond which is indicated on the 1881 map and
situated to the north west of the abbey church. This pond and an associated
mill pre-date the foundation of the monastery and the local people were
allowed access to the pond and mill after the abbey's construction. Although
now infilled, the pond is included in the scheduling. From here it is thought
that water was piped through the site along a series of channels eventually
flowing into a group of fishponds and breeding tanks located to the north east
of the monastic church. These ponds and their associated inlet and outlet
channels survive as impressive earthworks and are included in the scheduling.
Recent excavations in the area between the churchyard and the backfilled pond,
north west of the abbey church, have produced evidence of medieval metal
working at the site and the stone foundations of a large building are known
from excavations further to the north east.
In the field to the south east of the conventual buildings there is evidence
of low earthwork remains which are thought to be associated with the monastery
or with immediate post-dissolution use of the area and they are included in
the scheduling. North of this field, and to the east of the abbey church,
there has been a great build-up in the land surface. Evidence from parallel
sites would suggest the monastic burial ground is located in this area. There
are now six modern houses and gardens here but it is considered that their
construction will have caused little damage to the underlying monastic
deposits and, therefore, the ground below them is included in the scheduling.
Approximately 280m west of the abbey church is a large earthwork retaining
bank or dam which stands up to 4m high and over 12m wide at its base. To the
west of this dam there would once have been a large pond over 100m wide and
several hundred metres in length. The pond, which is now dry, would have been
the principal source of water for the monastery. The earthwork dam and a
sample section of the floor of the adjacent pond are included within the
second area proposed for scheduling.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are Abbey
farmhouse, situated at the south west corner of the cloister, its associated
outbuildings and tennis court, the six houses and their outbuildings in the
north east part of the site, the surface of the modern road which runs north
west-south east through the site, all fence posts and modern walls, the
surfaces of all paths and driveways, the modern visitor centre sited to the
east of the east claustral range and the electricity poles and their support
cables; 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. Some 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians 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.

Croxden Abbey is a well documented example of a Cistercian monastery with
historical records dating from its construction in the 12th century, through
to its dissolution in the 16th century. The extensive earthwork and standing
remains of the monument reflect not only the secular activities of a monastery
but also the agricultural, industrial and domestic elements of Croxden Abbey's
history. Limited excavation in parts of the site have confirmed the presence
of important buried remains.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Duggan, A P, Greenslade, M W, Croxden Abbey, (1970)
Gardiner, R , The Natural History of Staffordshire, (1844)
Lynham, C, The Abbey of St Mary Croxden, (1911)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Staffordshire, (1974)
Wardle, G Y, 'Archaeologia' in The Gatehouse Chapel, Croxden Abbey, , Vol. 49, (1886)

Source: Historic England

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