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Prior's Hall moated site

A Scheduled Monument in Widdington, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9631 / 51°57'47"N

Longitude: 0.2359 / 0°14'9"E

OS Eastings: 553711.461577

OS Northings: 231767.051598

OS Grid: TL537317

Mapcode National: GBR MCP.SKD

Mapcode Global: VHHLB.1XKF

Entry Name: Prior's Hall moated site

Scheduled Date: 15 October 1979

Last Amended: 22 March 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1013760

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20715

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Widdington

Built-Up Area: Widdington

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Widdington St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes a moated site containing the remains of a pre-Conquest
manor, a medieval grange and later farm buildings, including a 14th century
barn, situated on high ground overlooking the River Cam, 190m west of St
Mary's Church. The moated site has overall dimensions of 100m east-west by 85m
north-south. The moat arms form a rectangle and are mostly infilled, surviving
as buried features. They remain visible as earthworks, however, in three
discrete ponds, to the north, north east and south east. The original layout
of the moat is known from a map of 1767 which clearly shows the position of
the southern and western moat arms which have been infilled subsequently.
The north arm of the moat, which was originally 93m in length with an average
width of 10m, is visible today as two water filled ponds at either end with an
infilled section in the middle. The eastern moat arm is water filled at its
north end and is visible as a dry depression to the south, though it has been
infilled in between. It has a maximum length of 66m and an average width of
c.12m. The southern moat arm is represented by a dry depression to the east
and is water filled to the west, the arm has an overall length of 100m. The
western moat arm is water filled at its northern end and has been infilled to
the south. It has a maximum length of c.60m and an average width of c.10m.
Slightly to the south east of the centre of the moated island are the standing
remains of a pre-Conquest manorial church now called Prior's Hall, built of
stone in the 10th or 11th century. It was altered in the 16th and 18th century
and has now been converted to form part of a house (Listed Grade II*). It is
excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath it is included. Part
excavation to the east of the house has shown that the building once extended
considerably further to the east. Prior's Hall was known as Stone Hall at one
time no doubt because of this early stone building. The manorial church forms
only a part of what would have been a much larger manorial complex which will
survive as buried features.
The manorial complex was incorporated into a medieval grange when the site and
its lands were transferred to the prior of St Valery-sur-Somme in Picardy,
France, after the Norman Conquest. The property was confiscated by Edward III
in 1377 and given to the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, the founder
of New College Oxford. The site passed to New College in 1379 at which
time it was reorganised. Detailed records kept by New College show that it was
still the centre of an important agricultural estate.
Dating either from the time of the grange or the college farm and situated
towards the north west corner of the island, is a later 14th century timber
framed barn (Listed Grade I) in the care of the Secretary of State.
The barn is preserved as a displayed monument and is included in the
scheduling. It is an excellent example from a group of medieval barns in
north west Essex. The barn is eight bays long with aisles and stands on a
flint and mortar foundation which has been replaced by brick in many places.
The sides are weather-boarded though they were originally of wattle and daub
and then of lathe and plaster, some of which still survives in the two most
easterly bays on the north side. The roof is hipped, supported by crown posts
and is tiled. The barn measures 38m in length by 11m wide and 11m high and is
entered by two porches on the south side. Along the sides are a series of
windows, one in each bay, mainly concerned with ventilation. Adjacent to the
two porches are doors which gave access to the barn when the larger porch
doors were not required to be open. At the east end, the final bay was
subsequently raised, using brick and pine boards, to produce a granary floor.
A later door was inserted to give access to it on the south side.
Also dating from the time of the barn is a 15th century building immediately
south of Prior's Hall. The building is timber framed and was originally a brew
house (Listed Grade II*). It is excluded from the scheduling although the
ground beneath is included. The south western part of the island is also
occupied by some large modern barns, modern agricultural installations and a
swimming pool.
The house, swimming pool, outbuildings, fences and paths are all excluded from
the scheduling though the ground beneath them all, except the swimming pool,
is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches,
often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more
islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some
cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites
served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the
provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical
military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was
between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in
central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built
throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and
exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a
significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding
of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples
provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

Prior's Hall moated site is a well preserved example of a moated site with a
complex history and will contain buried deposits both on the island and the
infilled moat arms relating to its occupation and development. The site,
unusually, contains upstanding structures relating to all its main phases of
occupation. In particular Prior's Hall itself, though excluded from the
scheduling, represents a rare example of the upstanding church of a pre-
Conquest manor. The barn is a particularly well preserved and complete example
of this type of building and contains much information on the techniques of
medieval carpentry. The surviving upstanding structures on the site serve to
illustrate the site's changing use and ownership, known from historical
documentary sources, and allow a study to be made of the core of an important
agricultural estate as it has developed from the medieval period until the
present day.
In addition the waterlogged moat ditches will retain environmental evidence
relating to the economy of its inhabitants at various times in the site's
history and the landscape in which they lived.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (1954), 425
Pewsey, S, Brooks, A, East Saxon Heritage: An Essex Gazatteer, (1993), 91-92
Sherlock, D, Prior's Hall Barn, (1991)
Sherlock, D, Prior's Hall Barn, (1993)
Sherlock, D, Prior's Hall Barn, (1991)
Gaimster, D R A, Margeson, S, Barry, T, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Britain In 1988, , Vol. Vol 33, (1989)
NAR No TL 53 SW 10, Information from NAR,
PRN 199, Essex County Council, Information from SMR,
PRN 199, Essex County Council, Information from SMR,
PRN 199, Information from SMR,

Source: Historic England

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