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Easby Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: monastic precinct, cultivation terraces, water-management features and ancillary buildings

A Scheduled Monument in Easby, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.3971 / 54°23'49"N

Longitude: -1.715 / 1°42'54"W

OS Eastings: 418597.840297

OS Northings: 500215.761179

OS Grid: NZ185002

Mapcode National: GBR JKGL.HJ

Mapcode Global: WHC6D.MQJZ

Entry Name: Easby Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: monastic precinct, cultivation terraces, water-management features and ancillary buildings

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1915

Last Amended: 28 March 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013759

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13283

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Easby

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Easby with Brompton on Swale and Bolton on Swale

Church of England Diocese: Leeds


The Premonstratensian Abbey of St Agatha at Easby is situated on the east bank
of the River Swale south east of Richmond. The monument comprises the
standing remains and inner precinct of the monastery and a number of
associated features including the gatehouse, the remains of cultivation
terraces, a mill-race and drain, and the ruins of a monastic barn. The Parish
Church of St Agatha and its attached churchyard, both of which are adjacent to
the abbey and in current ecclesiastical use, are totally excluded from this
The situation of Easby Abbey, sandwiched between the River Swale and the
steeply rising slope to the east, led to a number of irregularities in the
layout of the cloister ranges. It was usual for the monks' dorter (dormitory)
to occupy the first floor of the east range, providing easy access both to the
reredorter (latrine) and the quire of the abbey church, that is, the stalls
between the east end and the nave where the monks sang the offices. However,
the position of the former was usually dictated by the availability of natural
or canalised running water and, at Easby, this led to the dorter, guesthouse
and reredorter being incorporated into the west range in order to take full
advantage of the river's proximity. A channel was taken off the river north
of the cloister buildings and ran north-south, acting both as a mill-race for
the abbey mill and as a drain, flushing the reredorter and surviving
underground as a flagged and canalised `tunnel' 1.5m high. This drain curves
back to rejoin the river through the gardens of properties on Easby Green.
One of these, Abbey House, incorporates a monastic barn or granary. The barn
has six single light windows in the west wall at ground level and two at
first floor level. An arched doorway survives in the east wall but another in
the west wall is now blocked.
The relative narrowness of the abbey site also dictated that the infirmary
buildings, instead of being built to the south east of the cloister as was
usual, were placed to the north and are unique in that they were approached
through the abbey church. The south east area was already occupied in any
case by the existing parish church. The abbey church, which formed the north
cloister range, was begun in the late 12th century and the quire, nave and
parts of the transepts date to that time. It was built almost exactly on an
east-west axis and, ordinarily, the west, south and east ranges would have
formed a regular quadrangle to the south. At Easby, however, the shape and
orientation of the cloister was decided by the position of the west range.
This was built at an acute angle to the church, parallel with the steep bank
above the river. The south and east ranges were subsequently also built at an
angle, resulting in an irregularly shaped enclosure. In other respects,
however, they adhered to the traditional layout of sacristy (where sacred
vessels were kept), chapterhouse and parlour in the east range and kitchen and
frater (refectory) in the south range.
Of the standing remains, the earliest are those of the late 12th century
abbey church. This, however, excludes the presbytery and later sacristy
which, like the surviving west range and parts of the infirmary, is early
14th century. The buildings of the south and east ranges are early
13th century and the infirmary is largely of a similar date. In c.1300,
lodgings for the abbot were added west of the infirmary, in part above a room
which has been identified as a misericord, a room where the monks might eat
flesh. To the south east of the cloister buildings, opposite the parish
church, is the rib-vaulted gatehouse which is entire and was rebuilt in the
first half of the 14th century. Around the cloister buildings lay the
open court or curia which formed the outer area of the precinct and would have
contained a wide range of ancillary buildings such as barns, a bakehouse and a
brewhouse. Foundations west of the infirmary range are believed to represent
some of these features and further building remains are likely to survive
elsewhere in the precinct. Included in these is the site of the medieval
abbey mill, lying to the north west and now occupied by the buildings of Easby
Abbey Mill. Around the edge of the precinct, on the slope curving round the
site from north to east, are earthworks representing the remains of
cultivation terraces. Easby Abbey was founded for Premonstratensian canons by
Roald, Constable of Richmond Castle in 1155. Premonstratensian houses were
exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. Consequently the abbey is rarely mentioned
in diocesan records, which usually form the main documentary source for
monasteries, and little is known about its internal history save that it
suffered, like many northern houses, from Scottish raids and was billeted on
in 1346 by the English army, causing great damage. At this time patronage of
the abbey was acquired by Sir Henry Scrope whose son, the builder of Bolton
Castle, increased its endowments in 1393 to support ten more canons and
founded a chantry in the abbey church. The abbey was suppressed under the Act
of Dissolution in 1536 and ownership of the site went to the manor of Easby.
The site is now in private hands and has been partly in State care since
1930. The abbey ruins and gatehouse are both Grade I Listed while the barn and
mill are Grade II listed. The Parish Church of St Agatha is also Grade I
Listed while its gateway is Grade II Listed. The parish church and its
churchyard, however, are both excluded from the scheduling as they are in
current ecclesiastical use. A number of other features are excluded from
the scheduling: these are all the buildings of Easby Abbey Mill, including
the stables to the north east of the main buildings, the bungalow on Easby
Green, and the Grade II Listed Abbey House (with the exception of the ruined
section of the monastic barn which does not form part of the inhabited
house); also excluded are the surfaces of all roads, paths and the car-park,
all modern buildings, including the 19th century building immediately south
east of the monastic barn, walling and fencing, all English Heritage fixtures
and fittings such as notices, grilles, the ticket booth and exhibition
building. Except in the case of the church and churchyard the ground beneath
all these features is however included in the scheduling.

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. The
Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense
but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first
Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but
later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian
order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and
founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

Easby Abbey retains considerable well-preserved ruins of its core monastic
buildings and also the remains of ancillary features including a barn, water-
management works and a mill. Easby was among the first Premonstratensian
houses to be established in England and, in view of its good survival, it is
important for any study of the development of this order in England.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Coppack, G, English Heritage Book of Abbeys and Priories, (1990)
Hamilton Thompson, A, Easby Abbey, (1936)
St. John Hope, W, Easby Abbey, (1899)

Source: Historic England

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