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Nunnery at Minster Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Minster-on-Sea, Kent

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Latitude: 51.4223 / 51°25'20"N

Longitude: 0.8124 / 0°48'44"E

OS Eastings: 595629.429234

OS Northings: 173010.582768

OS Grid: TQ956730

Mapcode National: GBR RSB.N7M

Mapcode Global: VHKJ8.1HBZ

Entry Name: Nunnery at Minster Abbey

Scheduled Date: 21 November 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1012674

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23026

County: Kent

Civil Parish: Minster-on-Sea

Built-Up Area: Minster (Swale)

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent


The monument includes the Benedictine nunnery of St Mary and St Sexburga
situated at the west end of a ridge overlooking the Thames estuary to the
north. The ground to the south drops away steeply.
The upstanding remains include parts of the abbey church and the gatehouse
which date to the 12th century. These are surrounded by the foundations and
other buried remains of the rest of the 12th to 16th century monastic complex,
all sited within the area of the precinct. In addition to these later medieval
remains are the remains of the original Saxon nunnery which are known to
survive within the later precinct boundary.
The church, Listed Grade A (equivalent to Grade I), is double aisled and
includes remains of both the monastic church and the congregational church of
the nunnery. To the north are the buried foundations of the rest of the
claustral complex while further north and east are the monastic burial
grounds. On the south side of the church the High Street follows the line of
the medieval terracing which stepped the south side of the hill on which the
abbey was situated.
The gatehouse to the west of the church, Listed Grade I and excluded from the
scheduling, survives practically complete to a height of three storeys and
dates to the 13th century. It is built of ragstone and flint and has a
castellated parapet of chequerwork stone and flint. On the south side the
gateway is divided into a pedestrian entrance on the east and a carriage
entrance on the west. On the north side a single arch spans the whole opening.
One metre to the north of the gatehouse is a stone-lined well believed to date
from the 12th century. A second well is situated c.100m to the north east of
the church. Its stone lining is also believed to date from the 12th century.
The abbey was founded in 664 by Queen Sexburga, the widow of Ercombert, king
of Kent. A large and probably wealthy foundation with 77 nuns, the nunnery had
become ruined and deserted by the time of the Conquest. It is likely that it
was destroyed by Danes in the ninth century. In 1130 the house was re-edified
as a priory by Archbishop William de Corbevil who, as an Augustinian canon,
possibly refounded it for that order. However, by 1186 it had returned to
Benedictine rule. In 1396 Archbishop William de Courtney ordained that the
nuns should be restored to the Augustinian order where it remained until its
suppression in 1536.
At the time of the nunnery's dissolution an inventory was taken and from this
it is known that the nunnery included the church, a Lady Chapel, a dorter, 15
various chambers, a frater, a bathroom, two floors of kitchen, five chambers
within the gatehouse, a porter's lodge, a cheese house, a bake house, a brew
house, a bolting house, a milk house, a granary and a belfry.
Evidence from excavations during 1991-1992 in the area to the north east of
the church indicates occupation of the area between c.AD 650 and c.AD 850 with
a break until c.1150. To the north of the church traces of foundations and
burials were uncovered in the late 1980s. Other remains uncovered over the
years during construction work in the area include the remains of a probable
iron bloomery, a metalled surface, possibly of a courtyard, as well as a
number of other burials.
Excluded from the scheduling are the Grade A Listed church building, the Grade
I Listed gatehouse, all modern buildings, garages, sheds, paving, tarmac drive
and road surfaces, rubbish bins, street lights, modern walling, railings,
toilet, signposts, gates, fences, and fence posts, 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

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.

Despite disturbance caused by development, the nunnery at Minster Abbey
survives comparatively well. It is a rare example of a pre-Conquest nunnery
with royal connections which was later refounded. Excavation has demonstrated
the survival of archaeological remains and environmental evidence from both
the original Saxon nunnery and the later 12th century complex. This, combined
with documentary evidence, can give an insight into the construction, use,
destruction, reconstruction and later use of the nunnery as well as an
understanding of the way of life peculiar to the inhabitants of both early and
later medieval nunneries.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Walcot, M E C, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Inventory of the Benedictine Priory of SS. Mary and Sexburga, , Vol. 7, (1868), 287-306
Jacobi, M, (1992)
McPherson, Grant N, (1992)
Ordnance Survey, TQ 97 SE 1, (1963)
Philp, B, (1992)
Slade, B, (1992)

Source: Historic England

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