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Slapton chantry college

A Scheduled Monument in Slapton, Devon

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Latitude: 50.2935 / 50°17'36"N

Longitude: -3.6555 / 3°39'19"W

OS Eastings: 282175.634977

OS Northings: 45032.053625

OS Grid: SX821450

Mapcode National: GBR QP.92JK

Mapcode Global: FRA 3878.1QR

Entry Name: Slapton chantry college

Scheduled Date: 22 January 1948

Last Amended: 8 March 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011672

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24844

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Slapton

Built-Up Area: Slapton

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Slapton St James the Great

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes a chantry college situated on the northern edge of the
village of Slapton in a prominent position on the lower slopes of a south west
facing hillside. The village is less than 1km from the coast and the
freshwater lagoon of Slapton Ley. The monument consists of the known extent of
the upstanding and buried remains of a chantry college in occupation from 1373
until 1547.
The visible remains consist of a ruined tower that formed the western end of
the chantry church of the college. The church was aligned east-west and lay
within a level area of land, of irregular shape, terraced into the natural
ground slope. The buried remains of the college are more extensive and are
believed to extend throughout the terraced area, the southern part of which is
currently occupied by a large house.
The tower is constructed of dressed and coursed rubble utilising local
slate, brownish in colour, with greenish coloured quoins. It stands to a
height of about 25m, in three stories, the lower of which is equal in height
to the two upper stories together. It is square in plan with an octagonal
stair turret forming the south west corner, and with massive diagonal
buttresses, set back steeply above the first storey, projecting from the other
four corners. It is decorated with two moulded string courses and has numerous
putlog (scaffolding) holes. At ground level the overall dimensions of the
tower are some 9.2m square. The walls are up to 1.2m in thickness, enclosing
an interior space of 3.75m square.
The tower is entered on its east side through a high pointed arch that spans
the entire east wall, and which originally linked the tower with the nave of
the church. The ground floor room had a groined vault of which only the
springing survives in the north west and south west corners. The entrance to
the stair turret is in the south west corner. In the west wall there is a
large window with a pointed arch and internal splays. At some point the wall
below the window was removed to form a large entrance passage through the
tower which has subsequently been completely blocked.
The stair turret gives access to the upper floors and the roof; it is lit by
five small rectangular windows evenly spaced in its south west face.
The upper rooms are each lit by four windows, one in each wall. The windows
have pointed arches and internal splays, and some retain fragments of moulded
stone. In the south and east faces the windows are not in vertical alignment,
and the lower windows have been modified into rectangular openings. The beams
supporting the floor of the upper room were secured by socket holes and
corbels located in the north and south walls. The upper room has a small plain
rectangular fireplace set within the north wall to the east of the window.
Around the top of the tower there is a complete row of substantial moulded
corbels projecting from the walls between the buttresses. These appear to have
formed the base of a machicolated parapet. The stair turret is higher than the
walls and contains a door to the parapet. The top of the turret also has a
course of projecting corbels and a steep stone spire. The internal faces of
the walls of the upper room narrow-in at a steep angle, either to create a
wider parapet walk or to support a stone spire.
It is evident that the tower was not intended to be a standard church tower
in that the upper rooms were constructed as apartments, and the top appears to
have included a machicolated parapet. The tower was also constructed
independently of the church; it is entirely free-standing and devoid of any
wall scars to show where it was structurally bonded to the nave. The line of
the roof of the nave however, is visible as a deep chasing in the east wall of
the tower and across the east faces of the adjoining buttresses. Both
buttresses have a small niche set into their east faces just below the
chasing. The lawned garden on the east side of the tower has parchmarks in the
area of the nave extending for some 25m from the tower, which broadly outline
the location of the foundations of the church. The external width of the
church would have been at least 9.2m. The north west buttress of the tower is
now abutted by a tall garden wall.
In addition to the church, chantry colleges traditionally also consisted of
buildings to house the priests and other staff, in a similar manner to formal
monastic communities. These buildings could include a hall, apartments,
service ranges and stables. At Slapton the chantry church is situated on a
relatively small area of terraced ground, bounded on the east by a steep hill
slope, and to the south west by the graveyard of the parish church. It
therefore seems probable that the main collegiate buildings were in close
proximity to the chantry church.
The Chantry, the present house on the site, is an early 19th century
(Georgian) remodelling of an earlier, possibly 18th century house. It is
thought that the house incorporates the remains of parts of the collegiate
buildings. The house is of complex plan and is linked to stables and a coach
house to the rear. The front of the house faces south and is three stories in
height. To the rear it is terraced into the natural ground slope so that the
second floor lies at ground level, and this is in part only one storey in
height. This part of the house includes a Gothick facade with a small
octagonal belfry tower.
The chantry college was founded in 1373 by Sir Guy de Briene, an influential
figure in the court of Edward III (1327-77), within his manor of Slapton. The
college was attached to an existing chapel of St Mary, built by the founders'
family as their burial place. The foundation charter of the college states
that the chapel was rebuilt at considerable expense, and that endowments were
provided for a rector, five priests and four clerks, all of whom had to remain
in residence. One priest was the minister of the adjacent parish church. The
college was endowed with lands in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Other
documentary sources state that in 1498 it had a chapter house within which a
new rector was elected. In 1536 there was a rector, four priests, two clerks
and four choristers in residence.
The college was dissolved in 1547, in the reign of Henry VIII, following the
suppression of the monasteries and the passing of the Chantries Act aimed
specifically at colleges. A condition of the subsequent sale of such
properties was that they were to be rendered unfit for ecclesiastical use, and
this was greatly assisted by the Crown's sequestration of the roofing lead.
Following their disposal by the Crown, the more domestic parts of the
buildings were often converted to habitable use, and this pattern appears to
have been followed at Slapton.
In 1546 the college was sold by the Crown to Sir Thomas Arundel. The
inventory describes the property as consisting of, `..the house and site,
together with houses, tenements, buildings, structures, barns, stables,
dovecotes, lands, meadows, pastures, orchards, gardens, ponds and fishery..'.
In the early 17th century the site appears to have been in the ownership of
Edward Ameredeth, a local landowner.
In the mid 18th century the ruins of the college were described by Milles as
consisting of the tower of the church, part of the nave with a small chapel on
its south side, and an arched gateway that formed the entrance to the college.
In the later 18th century the gateway was destroyed by the villagers who
removed the stone to rebuild their houses. By 1878 the tower itself was in
use as a gateway. The public road which divides the house from its garden to
the west was constructed in the 19th century, and prior to that, a road passed
around the east and north sides of the tower and along the north side of the
It is understood that Lt Col Palmer, a previous owner of the Chantry,
undertook excavations within the gardens of the property.
The tower is Listed at Grade I, and the Chantry at Grade II. Three sections
of garden walls associated with the Chantry are listed at Grade II, all of
which are of 18th or 19th century date.
The monument comprises what is currently recognised as the full extent of the
chantry college. Within the designated area the following are excluded from
the monument: the house and out-buildings and the public highway although 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

The term college is used to describe a variety of different types of
establishment whose communities of secular clergy shared a degree of common
life less strictly controlled than that within a monastic order. Although some
may date to as early as the tenth century, the majority of English colleges
were founded in the 14th or 15th centuries. Most were subsequently closed down
under the Chantries Act of 1547.
Colleges of the prebendal or portional type were set up as secular chapters,
both as an alternative to the structure of contemporary monastic houses and to
provide positions for clerics whose services the monastic establishment wished
to reward. Some barons followed suit by setting up colleges within their
castles, while others were founded by the Crown for the canons who served
royal free chapels. Foundations of this type were generally staffed by
prebends or portioners (priests taking their income from the tithes, or other
income deriving from a village or manor). After 1300, chantry colleges became
more common. These were establishments of priests, financed from a common
fund, whose prime concern was to offer masses for the souls of the patron and
the patron's family. They may also have housed bedesmen (deserving poor and
elderly) and provided an educational facility which in some cases eventually
came to dominate their other activities.
From historical sources it is known that approximately 300 separate colleges
existed during the early medieval and medieval period; of these, 167 were in
existence in 1509, made up of 71 prebendal or portional colleges, 64 chantry
colleges and 32 whose function was primarily academic.
In view of the importance of colleges in contributing to our understanding of
ecclesiastical history, and given the rarity of known surviving examples, all
identified colleges which retain surviving archaeological remains are
considered to be nationally important.

The college at Slapton is one of only four chantry colleges recorded in the
south west. The quality of the masonry in the surviving ruins indicates that
the college was a structure of some status in what was an isolated part of the
country in the medieval period. Documentary evidence states that the church
was rebuilt in the late 14th century and that the college had a chapter house,
which is an unusual feature in this class of monument, although it appears to
be more common in collegiate buildings in the south west. The buried remains
appear to be extensive and relatively unharmed by subsequent activity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Stanes, R, A Fortunate Place, (1983)
Laithwaite, M, 'Devon Religious Houses Survey' in Slapton College, (1987)

Source: Historic England

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