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The priory barn: remains of the Benedictine priory at Saint Ives

A Scheduled Monument in Saint Ives, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.3221 / 52°19'19"N

Longitude: -0.0723 / 0°4'20"W

OS Eastings: 531478.474358

OS Northings: 271081.194119

OS Grid: TL314710

Mapcode National: GBR K4C.DJH

Mapcode Global: VHGLY.PWMR

Entry Name: The priory barn: remains of the Benedictine priory at Saint Ives

Scheduled Date: 13 October 1977

Last Amended: 11 August 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1011722

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24433

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Saint Ives

Built-Up Area: St Ives

Traditional County: Huntingdonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: St Ives All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Ely


The monument includes the remains of a medieval barn, the standing walls of
which provide the only visible evidence of the Benedictine priory at Saint
The barn lies in the southern part of the town, to the west of Priory Road,
and about 60m to the north of the confluence of the Old River and the River
Great Ouse. Place names recorded on maps since the early 18th century,
together with occasional discoveries of masonry from the priory buildings,
have enabled this area of the town to be identified with the location of the
monastic foundation; although, with the exception of the barn, the precise
positions of principal buildings remain unknown.
The barn (a Grade II Listed Building) is considered to date from the 14th
century, and remained largely intact until 1859 when the northern wall was
demolished to make way for the construction of Priory House. The foundations
of this wall will, however, survive buried beneath the southern edge of the
later building and the surrounding car park, and are therefore included in the
scheduling. The house itself is not included. The remaining three walls were
retained to serve as a property boundary and indicate the former dimensions
of the barn, which measured approximately 20m east to west by 10m north to
south. The walls are approximately 0.5m thick, and are composed of small
close-knit pieces of roughly dressed barnack stone. The western and southern
walls retain about 45 courses of rubble and survive to the full height of the
eaves c.2.5m). The structure was originally supported by four buttresses along
the longer walls, with diagonal corner buttresses and a single support in the
centre of each gable end. The buttress on the west wall and that on the south
western corner still exist, together with three along the south wall, each
constructed using a rubble fill with limestone facing. The bays between the
buttresses each contained two simple slit windows, splayed on the inside,
which measure c.1.5m in height with an internal width of c.0.5m. Those windows
which remain were later infilled with reused rubble and red brick.
The west wall, which measures 8.3m in length, has been truncated at the
northern end, and a doorway has been inserted where it abuts the south western
corner of Priory House. An earlier entrance, near the centre of the west wall
is clearly visible from the red brick used to restore the inner face of the
wall. The outer face, however, was repaired with reused rubble, and the former
entrance is primarily visible through the use of contrasting mortar. Both
entrances are thought to have replaced earlier windows. An entrance, some 3.5m
in width, in the centre of the southern wall is thought to be in part
original, although it has been widened to the west in more recent years with
the loss of a buttress. The door jambs consist of dressed limestone (that to
the west being reset) similar to that which clads the buttressess. To the
north of this entrance, the base of the wall is marked by a chamfered
limestone plinth. The south eastern corner has been reconstructed
incorporating limestone blocks from the corner buttress, which together with
two adjacent windows, was removed in the process. The east wall has been
reduced to about 1.6m in height and the centre buttress demolished. However,
the lower sections of three blocked windows remain visible, which together
with the continuation of the foundation plinth, indicate that the majority of
the fabric is original.
The barn was examined during excavations in 1948-9, and evidence was found to
suggest that the south and west walls were placed on earlier foundations.
Contemporary excavations in the garden behind Priory House revealed a
considerable depth of disturbance containing pottery from both Romano-British
and medieval periods. A small excavation some 10m to the south of the barn in
1982 revealed further evidence of Romano-British occupation including ditches,
pits and debris from an adjacent building. These areas however, contained no
features of medieval date, and are not included in the scheduling.
The priory was founded in the early 11th century as a dependent of Ramsey
Abbey. According to tradition, a stone coffin containing the remains of St Ivo
(a 5th century Persian bishop) were discovered by a ploughman cultivating
abbey lands near Saint Ives (then known as Slepe) in about AD 1000. The
ploughman, and later the bailiff received visions of the saint who convinced
the latter (somewhat forcefully) to bring the discovery to the attention of
Aenoth, the Abbot of Ramsey, who subsequently founded a church at Slepe in
about AD 1008. The priory, founded shortly after, in about AD 1017, became a
place of pilgrimage, enthusiasm for which was based on reports of miracles
surrounding the relics.
It has been suggested that the discovery of the burial, perhaps in reality
that of a wealthy Romano-British individual, provided a convenient means by
which Ramsey abbey established a presence in the town; which in the 11th
century was emerging as a major river port and market. Certainly the priory
attracted considerable revenues for the abbey, particularly through the
regulation of the famous Easter Fair; and by the 12th century it was also
supported by income from 12 churches in the surrounding area.
The prior had no independent seal, and the office remained that of an
obedientiary of Ramsey abbey. The priory was, however, of considerable
importance to the abbey. When destroyed by fire in 1207, the priory was
rapidly rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1238 by Bishop Grossteste. Several of the
priors, of which the names of seven are known, later became abbots of Ramsey.
However, in the 15th century the priory, which had always been a fairly modest
institution, contained only five monks in addition to the prior; and at the
time of the priory's dissolution in 1539 it is possible that only the prior,
Robert Huchyns, remained.
The following items are not included in the scheduling: the lean-to structure
within the south western corner of the barn, the metal fire escape adjacent to
the south wall, the surfaces of the car park, and the surfaces of all paths
and driveways, although the ground beneath these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

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.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Saint Ives priory is well documented from the 12th century until the
Dissolution, and its early foundation in the pre-Conquest period is of
particular interest. The priory barn is the only structure associated with the
monastic foundation to remain visible, and is therefore of considerable
importance as tangible evidence for the priory's location. The remaining walls
indicate the former dimensions of the structure and retain architectural
details indicative of its function and period of construction. The foundations
of the demolished walls, and evidence of floor surfaces will be preserved
beneath Priory House and the adjacent car park. The importance of the barn is
enhanced by evidence for an earlier structure known to exist beneath the
foundations of the walls, which is of particular importance for the study of
the priory's development. The barn is a significant component of the monastic
establishment, and provides information concerning the economy of the priory
in relation to the development of the town as a principal river port and
market. Its survival enhances the historic character of the modern town.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Haigh, D, The Religious Houses of Cambridgeshire, (1988), 21-22
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 75
Page, E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdonshire, (1926), 389
'St.Ives Priory' in Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society, , Vol. 51, (1958), 35-36
discussion of excavation results, Green, M, St. Ives Priory, (1994)
Green, M, St. Ives Priory, 1994, Unpublished plans
RCHME, The Monuments of Huntingdonshire, (1924)
ref:2/74A, DOE, List of buildings of special architectural or historic interest, Huntingdonshire, (1951)
Title: A Map of the parish of St. Ives
Source Date: 1728
Annotated watercolour and ink

Source: Historic England

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