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Bushmead Priory: an Augustinian priory 800m north east of Bushmead Cross

A Scheduled Monument in Great Staughton, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.2339 / 52°14'1"N

Longitude: -0.3676 / 0°22'3"W

OS Eastings: 511573.459312

OS Northings: 260773.232148

OS Grid: TL115607

Mapcode National: GBR H28.XJ9

Mapcode Global: VHFPX.L30V

Entry Name: Bushmead Priory: an Augustinian priory 800m north east of Bushmead Cross

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 13 November 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014455

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27118

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Great Staughton

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Eaton Socon

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


Bushmead Priory is located on the south side of the Duloe Brook, some 6.5km to
the east of St Neots, where the brook enters the Great River Ouse. The
monument includes the refectory building (the only monastic structure to
survive as a standing building above ground), the buried remains of the church
and claustral ranges, a series of earthworks representing further buildings
and related structures within the priory precinct, and a row of fishponds
adjacent to the brook.
The refectory (a Grade I Listed Building included in the scheduling) is a
rectangular building, measuring c.22m by 8m, which stands on a slight terrace
in the valley side about 60m to the south of the brook. It was built in
c.1250, the walls constructed in rubble and mortar, with quoins and corner
buttresses in Barnack limestone. The original main entrance (now blocked) was
at the western end of the south wall, to the west of an elaborate alcove with
a pointed arch which housed the lavatorium, or washing place. A simple arched
doorway in the centre of the north wall (later altered externally to a square
jamb) led into the kitchen, which originally extended across the north western
side of the refectory and was also connected by a small square serving hatch
in the wall opposite the main entrance. The main source of light in the
refectory was a large west window which illuminated the seating for the canons
at the `lower' end. The outline of the early window, a large pointed arch with
hood mould, has survived, although the tracery of this period was later
removed. The raised pulpit from which lessons were read during meals no longer
exists, but its location is indicated by a partly blocked stairway within the
centre of the south wall. The hall was originally open to the roof, the
timber structure of which has survived with few alterations. The roof is
divided into six equal bays by five massive tie beams running across the width
of the building. These rest on wall plates (timbers on top of the walls) the
innermost of which is carved with stylised leaves. Crown posts with carved
bases and capitals stand on the centre of each tie beam, supporting the
framework above. The crown posts and purlins (beams running lengthways across
the hall) are an early example of methods employed in later medieval
construction. However, the multiple braces springing from the posts and the
parallel sets of rafters indicate an experimental and cautious transition from
earlier designs. The building underwent a second phase of development around
1310 when decorated tracery was inserted in the west window, fragments of
which survived in the later infill. A tall window was added at the eastern end
of the north wall, providing light to the upper end of the building where the
prior, senior canons and prominent guests would have sat. The upper section of
this window remains mostly unaltered, with a square frame containing three
lights with cusped heads set within an arched and deeply recessed embrasure.
Wall paintings of this period were recorded in the 1950s and further evidence
was discovered during recent restoration work. The main element is a masonry
pattern imitating joints in ashlar. This survives around the north east
window, the west window and on parts of the east and west walls, and is
thought to have covered most of the interior above dado level. The soffit of
the inner order of the west window is decorated with a vine-scroll above
slender painted columns. The outer order (which was inserted in c.1310) is
painted with chevrons of black, yellow and red, containing trefoil leaves.
Beneath the gable rafters on the east and west walls are vine-scroll bands.
The survival is best on the west wall where the scroll emerges from the
beak of a crane-like bird to the south of the window, and leads to a hooded
male figure in a corresponding position to the north. Part of a frieze of
painted lozenge-shaped frames has been identified below the wall plate toward
the eastern end of the north wall. These three frames contain small narrative
scenes from the Book of Genesis, and are considered to have formed part of a
creation cycle continuing around the hall.
The final phase of monastic alterations is thought to have taken place around
1500. A timber floor was inserted at the level of the western window sill
(about 2m from the ground). This is still in place (with modern floorboards)
in the eastern half of the building, but has been removed to the west where
its former position is shown by beam slots and a blocked fireplace in the
north wall. The main entrance in the south wall (being now too tall) was
partly blocked and a smaller archway inserted. The pulpit stairs were also
blocked and the western window partly infilled and replaced by a smaller
opening with perpendicular tracery. Three small windows with central mullions
were added to the east of the lavatorium and two similar windows inserted in
the north wall to provide light for the ground floor. A three light window was
added at first floor level, near the western end of the north wall, the
external tracery of which remains visible. The timber and plaster partition
which crosses the centre of the hall, slightly to the east of the kitchen
door, was added at this time, and the eastern chamber sub-divided by a similar
partition set on masonry footings.
The refectory continued in use as a private dwelling after the Dissolution.
Three large rectangular windows in Late Perpendicular style were added to the
south wall to light the upper floor, and the lower part of the tall window in
the north wall was replaced with a doorway. A new doorway with a pointed arch
(now the main entrance) was inserted in the centre of the south wall, leading
into the central north-south passage which was created by adding a parallel
timber partition to the west of the earlier example. Further beam slots in the
walls indicate that the floor within the western half of the refectory was
slightly raised, and the hearth for the fireplace in the north wall was reset
accordingly. A doorway was inserted within the lavatorium arch to provide
access to the lower western room and a wooden spiral staircase was inserted in
the earlier main entrance, which was now completely blocked. An additional
range was constructed on the eastern end of the refectory in the 1620s, joined
by doorways on both floors. A Georgian wing (demolished in 1964) was attached
to the south eastern corner of this range in 1762. By 1800 the west window of
the refectory had been almost completely infilled and a small wooden door
inserted to serve the upper western room, then used as a hayloft. The room
below was used for stabling, accounting for the present cobbled floor, whereas
the remainder of the building (with floors of tile and brick) stayed in
domestic use. The present spiral staircase at the north end of the central
passage was added at this time, together with a small doorway in the north
wall which indicates that a second storey existed over the kitchen.
An illustration dated 1838 shows the kitchen still in use, and, although it
was largely demolished later in the century, the broad limestone arch of the
medieval fireplace still stands, together with a short section of the northern
kitchen wall. The area on the north side of the refectory was subsequently
converted to a small cobbled courtyard with a central well. The serving hatch
was also infilled during this period, and the doorway in the lower part of the
tall window replaced with a window. Further partitions were added within the
building, including the repositioning of a medieval screen near the top of the
stairs. The refectory was placed in the care of the Secretary of State in
1973, and restored over the next ten years. The walls were repointed and
modern internal and external renderings removed. The roof frame was repaired
and retiled, replacing the earlier tiles which had in turn superseded stone
slates depicted on an illustration of 1730.
This illustration also shows the claustral range, which stood to the south of
the refectory, prior to its final demolition in the 18th century. A moulded
string course below the eaves on the south wall formed the crease for a
pitched roof over the northern cloister walk; the floor of which (extending
some 2.5m from the wall and composed of glazed tiles) lies buried beneath the
present cobbled path. The cloisters continued to the south enclosing a square
area, or garth. This was contained to the west by a single exterior wall
(where in a larger monastery the cellarers range would have stood) formerly
attached to the south western corner of the refectory. A cartulary, consisting
of grants and other administrative documents relating to the priory before
1349, mentions some of the buildings which were arranged around the remaining
two sides of the cloisters. The priory church formed the southern arm, and on
the eastern side stood the chapter house and infirmary, linking the church's
northern transept with the refectory. This area was subsequently landscaped as
part of the gardens of the present house. The level terrace of the cloisters,
however, remains clearly visible, together with slight scarps some 30m to the
south of the refectory which indicate the position of foundations or robbing
trenches for the walls of the nave and south transept. The monastic cemetery
lay to the south of the church, extending some 50m to the west where human
bones were found in the bank of a pond in 1923. The eastern claustral range is
thought to have lain to the south of the day-room, a small extension, some
6.5m in length, attached to the end of the refectory. The northern and eastern
walls of this structure were retained within the later 17th century range,
which is still in residential use. The valley side to the north and west of
the claustral range retains low earthworks of building platforms and
associated features relating to activities within the priory precinct. An
estate map dated 1624 shows a cluster of small structures on the north side of
the refectory, many of which are thought to have been priory buildings
retained after the Dissolution. These have since been demolished, apart from
an Elizabethan coach house located to the north west of the refectory, the
foundations of which are though to be medieval. A sub-rectangular terrace,
approximately 15m across, lies to the west of the coach house, within the
angle created by the present access road to the refectory and a disused farm
track leading to the north. The track reflects the line of the western
boundary of the priory precinct, and the platform is probably the location of
a gatehouse. A similar sized platform, some 0.4m lower, lies immediately to
the north. Further platforms flank the access road to the east, separated by a
slight hollow way descending the slope toward the north of the refectory where
it joins a broader terraced route extending to the north west. A south facing
scarp, O.6m high, lies some 10m-15m to the south of the access road, defining
the northern edge of another platform or terrace; while a further building
platform lies immediately to the east separated by a narrow hollow way
approaching the cloister area from the south west. A fragment of medieval wall
has been incorporated in the brickwork of the later garden wall which runs
along the southern side of this latter feature. The cartulary records five
corody holders (benefactors of the house who were allowed to dwell within the
precinct and receive support in their old age), which may explain the purpose
of some of these building platforms. Others are considered to be the locations
of barns, stables and various outbuildings associated with the operation of
the priory.
The southern and eastern precinct boundaries are no longer visible, although
its northern extent is clearly defined by a section of the Duloe Brook. A
series of monastic fishponds run across the valley floor on the south side of
the brook (within the precinct), four of which remain water filled. The three
larger ponds range between 50m and 100m in length, and between 12m and 25m in
width, increasing in size from west to east. A supply channel runs to the
north of the central pond in this group, linked to the western end of the pond
to the east. This channel, which measures c.5m wide and 1.2m deep, remains
water filled over much of its length, but has been infilled where it formerly
joined the pond to the west. The smallest pond in the series lies further to
the east near a marked change in the direction of the brook. This measures
approximately 12m by 20m, and is thought to have served as a fry-tank, used to
rear fresh stock for the other ponds. The fifth pond lies at the western end
of the series. This has been infilled and remains visible only as a slight
depression, although its position is shown on the 1624 map.
The priory was founded around 1195 by Hugh de Beauchamp, whose family had held
land in the area since the Norman Conquest, probably centred at a moated manor
known as `The Camps' situated approximately 300m to the south (the subject of
a separate scheduling). The foundation may have been intended to commemorate
Hugh's grandfather of the same name who was killed in the Holy Land in 1187,
probably during the disastrous Battle of Hattin which led to the fall of
Jerusalem and the calling of the Third Crusade.
The original grant, confirmed by Pope Innocent III in 1198, mentions an
existing house (domus) on the site, perhaps accounting for the development of
the claustral range in an inversion of typical layout. A legend that the later
canons venerated a hermit as their founder probably derives from the life of
Joseph the first prior, (c.1215-33), formerly the chaplain of Coppingford
Hermitage, who introduced the Augustinian rule to Bushmead. The earlier
community, led by William of Colmworth, followed no recognised monastic rule.
Grants towards the fabric of the church were acquired under the second prior,
John de Weldebof (c.1233-55), which may have been used to replace or enlarge
an earlier building recorded in 1215-20. Chapels of St Stephen and St Mary
Magdalene are mentioned before 1236. The Augustinian priory continued to
attract grants of land through the latter part of the 13th century, reaching
its fullest extent under Prior Richard Foliot (1265-98). The cartulary,
compiled by the seventh prior Richard of Staughton, contains information on
priory possessions in seven counties. The community, however, remained small,
never exceeding six canons, with only three recorded in 1534. The priory was
dissolved in 1536 and granted to Sir William Gascoigne by Henry VIII in 1537.
The priory remained in his possession until 1562 when it was sold to William
Gery, members of whose family have held the property since.
The modern fittings within the refectory, including banisters, display boards,
switches and light fittings are excluded from the scheduling. In addition to
the Coach House and the later inhabited building on the eastern side of the
refectory, which are both Grade II Listed Buildings, the following items are
also excluded: the surfaces of the visitors' car park and of all roads, paths
and yards; the 19th century courtyard surface to the north of the refectory
and the associated well, walls and outbuildings (with the exception of the
kitchen fireplace and supporting walls which are included), the two septic
tanks to the north of the Coach House and refectory, the wooden bridge at the
western end of the largest fishpond and all modern garden walls; the ground
beneath all these features, below the Coach House and below the dwelling to
the east of the refectory is 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. 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.

Bushmead Priory is a well documented example of an Augustinian foundation with
historical records from its inception continuing to the mid 14th century, and
further details from the Dissolution and after. The extensive earthwork
remains of the priory buildings, fishponds, and other features survive in good
condition, undisturbed by excavation. These, together with the standing and
buried remains of the claustral buildings, reflect both the religious and
domestic elements of the monastery's life. The sequence of alterations to the
refectory demonstrates evolving architectural fashions within the period of
monastic use, and its changing use in subsequent centuries. The proximity of
the medieval moated site Bushmead Camps, belonging to the the priory's
benefactor, is a significant indication of the close relationship between the
Augustinian order and the minor nobility which provided the mainspring of
their support. The wall paintings within the refectory are of particular
interest. Old Testament scenes are comparatively rare in English medieval
murals, and the narrative scheme of the creation is without parallel amongst
the few surviving figure subjects in English refectories. The creation theme
(Adam and Eve) is only known at one other ecclesiastical site in this country
(Easby Church in North Yorkshire), and only one example still exists in
Europe, that from the nunnery of Sigena in Northern Spain. The refectory,
which is in the care of the Secretary of State, is accessible to the public,
and provides a graphic illustration of the nature of the Augustinian house and
the subsequent use of the property following the Dissolution.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Runciman, S, A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Jerusalem, (1981), 475-86
Sherlock, D, Bushmead Priory, Bedforshire, (1985), 3-19
Williams, S, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1912), 198
Alcock, N W, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in Bushmead Priory: a 13th Century Hall and Roof, , Vol. XXXIII, (1970), 50-7
Fowler, G N, Godber, J, 'Bedfordshire Historical Record Society' in The Cartulary of Bushmead Priory, , Vol. XXII, (1945)
Park, D, 'Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal' in Creation And Marginalia: The Refectory Painting of Bushmead Priory, , Vol. 17, (1986), 72-106
Robinson, B, 'The Bedfordshire Magazine' in Bushmead Priory, , Vol. 14, (1973), 45-9
Simco, A, 'Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal' in Excavations at Bushmeads Priory, 1978, , Vol. 14, (1980), 47-55
Commemorative plaque at Priory House,
CUCAP collection, RAF, 541/483, (1950)
CUCAP collection, St. Joseph, J K S, ARM 142, (1964)
CUCAP collection, St. Joseph, J K, BBK 93, (1970)
DoE/HBMC, Bushmead Priory: Ancient Monuments Terrier, (1984)
engraving: copy in Bedford CRO, Buck, S and Buck, N, The Prospect of the Remains of Bushmead Priory, Bedfordshire, (1730)
Map of the Gery family estate, CRO GY 4/1, (1624)
Map of the Wade family's estate, CRO GY 4/1, (1624)
Reproduction on EH display board, Higgins, J, Remains of Bushmead from the North West, (1838)
text in Beds SMR, Simco, A, Bushmead Priory, (1978)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Edition
Source Date: 1954
TL 6300
Wade-Gery, A, Flooding in the area of the western fishpond, (1995)

Source: Historic England

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