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Woodspring Priory and associated fishponds and field system

A Scheduled Monument in Kewstoke, North Somerset

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Latitude: 51.3902 / 51°23'24"N

Longitude: -2.9454 / 2°56'43"W

OS Eastings: 334314.309573

OS Northings: 166111.122656

OS Grid: ST343661

Mapcode National: GBR J7.RRTP

Mapcode Global: VH7CC.WBR3

Entry Name: Woodspring Priory and associated fishponds and field system

Scheduled Date: 31 October 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1012722

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22847

County: North Somerset

Civil Parish: Kewstoke

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset


The monument includes Woodspring Priory and its associated fishponds and
field system, all situated on level ground to the north of Sand Rhyne and
overlooked by a ridge to the north, in the area of the Somerset Levels.
The monument is named after the spring which occurs in the north eastern part
of the site and was originally known as Worspring. The monument survives in
the form of buried remains, visible earthworks and upstanding masonry
structures which are Listed Grade I.
The monument was founded by Augustinian canons soon after 1230 following the
abandonment of an earlier site known as Dodlinch, probably in south Somerset.
The site developed from a chapel dedicated to St Mary and St Thomas of
Canterbury. Its founder, William de Courtenay, was the grandson of one of the
assassins of Thomas Becket. This incident appears to have been an important
theme at Woodspring, as the scene of the assassination was depicted in the
seal of the site. William de Courtenay also provided the Manors at Woodspring,
Worle and Locking in order to generate an income for the site; however it
appears that the priory was not an especially wealthy one. It was finally
dissolved in 1536.
Partial excavations were conducted at the site in 1883, when the foundations
of the chancel were revealed, and also by D Tomalin on behalf of the Landmark
Trust in the early 1970s. The priory developed gradually over 300 years,
culminating in significant changes in the 15th century, including the addition
of a new Perpendicular style church, infirmary and tithe barn.
The site was arranged around a central cloister; this was square in plan with
dimensions of 30m by 25m. The priory church was situated to the north of the
cloister and the dormitory blocks and associated buildings were arranged
around the remaining three sides. The agricultural buildings, which were
orientated north west by south east, were separated from the religious
structures and were situated to the west.
Several of the original medieval buildings survive largely intact. These
include a rectangular stone building with dimensions of 15m by 8m situated in
the south eastern area of the priory complex. This structure represents the
15th century infirmary and is Listed Grade I. It has a doorway in the
eastern corner of the north-facing wall and four ornamental glazed windows.
The roof tiles have been replaced, but the internal structure of the roof is
intact, although restored. On the north western edge of the site is a 14th
century tithe barn, which is Listed Grade I. This has internal dimensions of
40m by 12m and survives virtually intact. The remains of a stone gatehouse are
located to the west of the main priory complex; the gate, its mountings and a
section of wall running 20m to the south are all Listed Grade I.
Some elements of the original priory church also survive as upstanding
remains; these include an eastern tower, the nave and north aisle. The tower
is 19.5m high and has an octagonal stair turret on the south western corner
leading to the ringing chamber.
To the east side of the church, the foundations of the early chancel and Lady
Chapel are visible as earthworks up to 0.75m high. These features confirm that
the 13th century structures were faced with a Triassic stone which was
yellowish in colour, whilst in contrast, the 15th century structures were
faced with the grey coloured Dundry stone.
The survival of elements of the priory church were largely the result of the
structure being occupied as a residence following the Dissolution. The chancel
was pulled down but the remaining structure was occupied and remodelled
including the blocking of large windows and the insertion of floors within the
north aisle and chimneys through the roof of the nave.
To the east of the priory buildings, within an area of orchard, are a series
of linear depressions with average dimensions of 45m by 10m. These represent
fishponds. In the north eastern area there is also a large pool which fills
with water following heavy rainfall; this may well mark the site of the spring
head after which the site is named.
Additional fishponds are known on the western side of the monument. These
remain visible as sub-oval shaped depressions with maximum dimensions of 50m
by 25m and up to 1.5m deep. To the south of these fishponds are a series of
linear depressions up to 125m long and 5m wide orientated north-south; some of
these are likely to represent drainage channels as they clearly link the
fishponds to the north, while others define cultivation plots. Some of these
plots exhibit well developed ridge and furrow, produced by medieval ploughing
over an extended period. The ridges have an average width of 6m and the
furrows are 1m wide. The difference in height between the base of the furrow
and the top of the ridges is c.0.5m. Further cultivation and drainage
earthworks are visible on the northern side of the river. These survive as
linear features with a maximum height of c.0.5m.
A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling; these
include: the 17th century farmhouse which is Listed Grade II* and situated to
the west of the priory church, the nave and tower of the church which is
Listed at Grade I, all modern cottages and modern farm buildings, the water
trough, the metalled surfaces and all fence posts and gates relating to field
boundaries; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included.
The scheduling includes the following Grade I Listed structures: the infirmary
building, the tithe barn, the gatehouse including gates, mountings and the
associated wall running for 20m to the south, the chapter house wall and the
eastern cloister wall.

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 225
of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The
Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of
canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they
came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to
distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th
century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running
almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in
parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their
revenue. The Augustinians 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.

Woodspring Priory survives particularly well with the presence of near
complete upstanding buildings being an unusual and striking feature. Previous
partial excavation has confirmed the survival of archaeological and
environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it
was constructed. The situation of the monument also provides conditions
suitable for the preservation of waterlogged deposits.
The site is one of only six permanent residences of the Augustine order
established in the area of the River Severn and as such it will have played a
major role in local society and economy during the medieval period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Gould, P R, Woodspring Priory, (1974)
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 13
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 15
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 6
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 16
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 14
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 14
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 10
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 13
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 22
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 11
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 9-10
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 14
Dissolution date of site,
Foundation date of site,
View of ridge and furrow,
View of site,

Source: Historic England

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