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Pinley priory: a Cistercian nunnery and post-Dissolution garden

A Scheduled Monument in Rowington, Warwickshire

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Latitude: 52.2896 / 52°17'22"N

Longitude: -1.688 / 1°41'16"W

OS Eastings: 421378.473007

OS Northings: 265761.897424

OS Grid: SP213657

Mapcode National: GBR 5M0.D2F

Mapcode Global: VHBXF.PQH5

Entry Name: Pinley priory: a Cistercian nunnery and post-Dissolution garden

Scheduled Date: 2 January 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013160

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21583

County: Warwickshire

Civil Parish: Rowington

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Warwickshire

Church of England Parish: Claverdon St Michael and All Angels

Church of England Diocese: Coventry


The monument includes the ruins, earthworks and buried remains of the
Cistercian nunnery of Pinley which was founded in the early 12th century and
dissolved in 1536. The monument also includes a number of earthwork features
associated with the ornamental garden belonging to the post-Dissolution house
and sample areas of ridge and furrow cultivation.
The conventual precinct originally occupied a roughly rectangular area
measuring approximately 200m by 160m and is now partly occupied by the
buildings of Pinley Abbey Farm. The precinct boundary can be traced as
earthworks along much of its length. It is represented by a linear earthwork
to the south west, and on the south eastern and north eastern sides by a
waterfilled linear pond. This pond is thought to be of post-Dissolution date,
but is believed to be sited along the original line of the precinct boundary
in this part of the site. At its north eastern corner the pond partly overlies
the earthwork remains of an infilled ditch and a parallel low bank which are
thought to be the remains of the eastern corner of the precinct boundary.
Here, the precinct boundary turns westwards and continues adjacent to a modern
field boundary, as far as the farm track which leads to Pinley Abbey Farm.
This farm track is thought to mark the original approach route to the nunnery.

On the western side of the farm track, the precinct boundary is represented by
a former field boundary. The ground falls away to the north and west of this
boundary and a several masonry blocks are visible in the ground surface. A
stone wall is, therefore, thought to have originally defined the precinct
boundary in this part of the site.
Near the centre of the precinct is a slightly raised area on which the present
dwelling and outbuildings stand. Finds of sculptural and architectural
fragments, including grave covers and ornamental bosses, indicate that this
area is the site of the priory church and other conventual buildings.
Adjoining the south east angle of Pinley Abbey Farmhouse is a 6m length of
walling which is thought to represent the remains of a monastic building. It
is built of coursed ashlar and retains a 15th century doorway with moulded
jambs and a four-centred arch in its fabric. The walling has been incorporated
within Pinley Abbey Farmhouse, a Grade II* Listed Building, which dates from
the mid 15th century with later alterations. It is in use as a dwelling and,
together with the adjoining length of monastic masonry, is not included in the
scheduling. A second fragment of in situ monastic walling survives to the east
of the farmhouse and now forms a western extension to the north wall of a
workshop and storage building. The 3m section of original walling is built of
coursed squared stone and has a double chamfered string-course and is included
in the scheduling. A large quantity of ex situ medieval stone has also been
used in the construction of this workshop building. This building is Listed
Grade II* and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground below is
included. To the north west of the farmhouse is a cottage, probably once the
priory guest house. It dates from the 14th century but has been altered in
subsequent centuries. This building, which is Listed Grade II*, is excluded
from the scheduling, but the ground below it is included.
To the north east of the workshop, part of the nunnery site is intensively
occupied by the agricultural buildings and stable blocks of Pinley Abbey
Farm. These structures are considered to have modified the archaeological
remains here and this area is, therefore, not included in the scheduling.
In the southern part of the precinct are a pair of fishponds. The ponds are
now dry; the larger of the two is 26m long and relatively shallow. They are
interconnected and drain into the linear pond to the north east via an outlet
channel. Approximately 85m north west of the fishponds is the site of a
watermill which probably had its origins in the nunnery complex. It survives
as a levelled platform, where the mill building was situated, with a large
hollow to the east; the former mill pond. There is no surface evidence for the
mill building but it will survive as buried features. The steep-sided mill
leat is visible to the west of the platform and originally provided the water
supply to power the mill wheel. A 40m length of the mill leat is included in
the scheduling in order to preserve the relationship between the leat and the
watermill site. Further platforms are visible to the north and north east of
the mill site. They have been constructed on a south east facing slope and are
thought to mark the site of agricultural buildings which were situated within
the western part of the outer precinct of the nunnery.
Beyond the south eastern precinct boundary are extensive earthwork remains of
ridge and furrow cultivation. These earthworks provide evidence for the land
use of the area surrounding the nunnery and a 12m wide sample area of ridge
and furrow is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the
stratigraphic relationship between the ridge and furrow and the precinct
boundary. Ridge and furrow cultivation is also visible beyond the south
western and north eastern precinct boundaries. Here the ridge and furrow
clearly respects the nunnery precinct and 12m wide sample areas of these
earthworks are included in the scheduling in order to protect their
stratigraphic relationship with the precinct boundaries.
The linear pond to the south east, south west and north east of the central
core of the nunnery is thought to represent the remains of an ornamental
feature associated with the post-Dissolution occupation of the site. The north
eastern arm of the ornamental pond is visible as a dry ditch, while its
southern end and the south eastern arm remain waterfilled. The south western
arm is now used as a farm track. A linear platform runs parallel to
the south eastern arm of the pond. It is raised c.1.5m above the surrounding
ground level and has a level surface. It is thought to represent a terraced
walk from which the post-Dissolution house and its gardens could be viewed.
These later features provide an insight into the continued use of the site
after the nunnery was dissolved and are included in the scheduling.
The central part of the nunnery is intensively occupied by the agricultural
buildings and stables of Pinley Abbey Farm. These structures are considered to
have modified the archaeological remains here and this area is not included in
the scheduling. The house and the outbuildings of Pinley Abbey Farm, and the
converted barn situated in the western part of the site are excluded from the
scheduling although the ground below is included. The surfaces of all paths
and driveways, all fence posts, the garden furniture and modern walling are
also excluded 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.

The remains of Pinley priory, together with those of the post-Dissolution
garden, survive well as earthworks and buried deposits which have been
undisturbed by excavation. The central core of the site will retain important
buried structural and artefactual evidence for the conventual buildings which
existed here, providing information on the secular activities of a Cistercian
nunnery as well as information regarding date and layout of the church and
cloister. Extensive earthwork remains within the outer precinct, exemplified
by the building platforms and the watermill site in the western part of the
monastic complex here, are rare survivals and will provide a valuable insight
into the agricultural and industrial activities at the site.
The remains of the post-Dissolution gardens at Pinley priory have been
relatively unaffected by later activity and are of interest in their own
right, illustrating the formal style of garden layout which was typical of the
16th and 17th centuries. The linear pond will retain waterlogged deposits
suggesting a high level of survival for organic remains which will allow an
insight into the post-medieval economy and diet.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire , (1908), 82
Tibbets, E, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire: Pinley, (1945), 148
Stocker, D.A., (1993)
Warwickshire SMR 5434,

Source: Historic England

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