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Leiston Abbey (second site) and moated site

A Scheduled Monument in Leiston, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.2216 / 52°13'17"N

Longitude: 1.5777 / 1°34'39"E

OS Eastings: 644456.928468

OS Northings: 264188.862316

OS Grid: TM444641

Mapcode National: GBR XQ9.PPF

Mapcode Global: VHM7Q.9FD8

Entry Name: Leiston Abbey (second site) and moated site

Scheduled Date: 13 April 1949

Last Amended: 18 November 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014520

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21405

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Leiston

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Leiston St Margaret

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


The second site of Leiston Abbey is on a gentle, south facing slope c.1.75km
north of the centre of Leiston and c.3km south west of the site of its
original foundation in the coastal marshes south of Minsmere. The monument
includes most of the standing and buried remains of the monastic church and
conventual buildings, together with adjacent earthworks and water control
features, including a moated site.

Leiston Abbey, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was founded at Minsmere in
1182 for 26 canons of the Premonstratensian order by Ranulph de Glanville,
Chief Justiciary to Henry II. The original endowment included the manor of
Leiston and the churches of St Margaret, Leiston and St Andrew Aldringham,
both of which, according to the foundation charter, had formerly been granted
to the Augustinian canons of Butley Abbey, of which de Glanville was also
patron, and the abbey was further enriched by later endowments and
appropriations. The annual value of the abbey holdings is given in the
taxation roll of 1292 as 130 pounds 15s 7d, and in the valuation of 1535 as
181 pounds 17s 1d, the largest part of which derived from the manor of
Leiston. Because the abbey in its original location was prone to flooding, the
canons were granted a papal licence in 1363 to move to a more favourable spot
inland at Leiston and, although the original site was retained as a monastic
cell, the church and other buildings on it were demolished and stone from them
reused in the construction of the new abbey, built at the expense of Robert de
Ufford, who had been granted patronage of the abbey by the crown in 1350. In
1380 the new buildings, with the exception of the church, were extensively
damaged by fire. During the second half of the 15th century the numbers of
canons recorded present at official visitations ranged between 13 and 18,
including the abbot. The abbey was among those suppressed in 1536 and in 1537
was granted, with its possessions, to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. The
site was later occupied by a farmstead, and parts of the church and monastic
buildings incorporated in the farmhouse and various associated outbuildings.

The ruined walls of the church and conventual buildings, which are Listed
Grade I and are in the care of the Secretary of State, form the core
of the monument, and immediately to the east of these are the buried remains
of other features, including the masonry foundations of buildings. To the
north and west there are various earthworks, also believed to be of medieval
origin, including two ponds and a partly ditched enclosure which forms an
outer court with upstanding remains of two more buildings of monastic date.
The principal entrance to the monastic precinct was probably to the north or
north east of the church, on the line of the track which still provides

The surviving walls of the church and other monastic buildings are constructed
predominantly of flint rubble and mortar, with some septaria (local, nodular
mudstone) and randomly set reused blocks of imported limestone, including
fragments of architectural mouldings. Imported stone, much if not all of it
obtained from buildings on the original site, was also used for the quoins and
architectural details of the buildings, including the moulded surrounds of
doors and windows and the facing of piers where this survives. The upper parts
of many of the walls are patched with brick of medieval type, which also
occurs in the construction of many of the arches, above the stone surrounds.
Much of the stonework in situ in the walls of the conventual buildings is
reddened by burning, presumably in the documented fire of 1380.

The church, which is c.63m in length overall, is cruciform in plan and
includes an aisled nave c.28m long at the western end, a central crossing
where the canons' choir will have been situated, with transepts to north and
south, and a square ended presbytery flanked by two square ended chapels at
the eastern end. The north chapel, called the Lady Chapel, is in
ecclesiastical use and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground
beneath it is included. The walls of the nave and the arcades which separated
the nave from the aisles are no longer visible, although foundations will
survive below the ground surface. Most of the outer walls of the south aisle
and the eastern part of the north aisle wall, comprising more than half its
total length, were incorporated in post-medieval buildings, however, and still
stand to almost their full height, displaying the remains of original features
which include the blocked openings of large windows with pointed arches. The
earliest part of Abbey House, dated to the 17th century and Listed Grade II,
was built on to the south aisle wall, within the area of the aisle itself, and
this building is excluded from the scheduling, together with those parts of
the medieval standing structure which it contains. Also excluded is a 19th
century extension of the house, built on the line of the west wall of the
church, and a 20th century addition to the south; the ground beneath these
features is however included. The post-medieval walls of the building which
formerly stood on the north side of the north aisle wall have been demolished.

The eastern piers of the central crossing of the church, parts of the walls of
the transepts on either side, the walls at the eastern end of the presbytery,
and of the chapels to either side of it also stand to almost their full height
and contain original features which include the remains of a pair of window
openings at clerestory level in the south wall of the south transept, the arch
of a large window with the stubs of stone tracery in the opposite wall of the
north transept, window openings at the east end of the presbytery and the two
chapels, also with the remains of tracery, an arcaded niche in the south wall
of the presbytery, and a double arched arcade between the presbytery and the
Lady Chapel to the north of it. The arches of this arcade, the window openings
in the outer north wall of the chapel, and the arched opening between the
chapel and the transept to the west and the choir to the south of it, are all
blocked. The chapel, which was used as a granary in the post-medieval period,
has been reroofed. The south wall of the southern chapel, dedicated to
St Michael, includes two arched doorways to what was probably a sacristy (used
for the storage of vestments and church vessels), the walls of which no longer
survive above ground, although the outer face of the chapel wall shows traces
where they abutted.

The outer wall of the presbytery at the eastern end is faced with the remains
of elaborate flushwork (ornamental stone tracery infilled with knapped flint)
and the east wall of the Lady Chapel with a chequer pattern of stone and
flint. The eastern end of the Chapel of St Michael is faced more simply with
closely set knapped flint. Many architectural details of the church are
consistent with the date of its construction in the second half of the 14th
century, but the interior of the building also includes elements of 12th, 13th
and early 14th century stonework from the earlier abbey, reconstructed
unaltered on the new site. Notable amongst these are the remains of capitals
of attached columns in the east piers of the crossing, the columns and arches
of the openings between the transepts and the chapels to the east of them, and
the surrounds of the east windows of the chapels.

The remains of the conventual buildings of the abbey, which include walls
standing in many places to a height of at least 4m, are ranged around three
sides of a cloister c.27m square adjoining the south wall of the church. Parts
of a string course, marking the upper edge of the pentice roof above the
cloister alleys, can be seen in the inward facing walls, and remains of the
cloister arcade will be preserved below ground, although nothing of it is
recorded standing above ground except a pier in the north west angle, within
the area now occupied by the modern extension of Abbey House. The principal
entry to the cloister from the outer part of the precinct is a passage through
the west range, fronted by a porch which is dated to the late 15th or early
16th century and is the latest identifiable structure of the monastic period
on the site. The partly ruined wall and polygonal turret on the north side of
the porch, faced and ornamented externally with brickwork which includes
elaborately moulded detail, stand high enough to show that the structure was
originally of up to three storeys. On the inner face of the turret is an
arched doorway into a small chamber at ground floor level, with a similar
doorway at first floor level opening on to the foot of a stair leading
upwards. The north wall includes a blocked window opening in an arched niche
with rectangular hollow shafts to either side which are interpreted as
cisterns for rain water from the roof. A limited excavation on the south side
of the porch revealed the footings of the corresponding turret and wall, the
outlines of which are now marked in concrete, and also discovered evidence
for an earlier structure underlying it. The porch and entrance passage, now
roofless, were originally vaulted, and the corbels and springing of the vault
can still be seen in their walls. A door opening in the north wall of the
entrance passage leads into the main part of the undercroft of the west
claustral range, whose walls also retain evidence of vaulting. This is divided
into two parts, the larger of which was divided into three bays on either side
of a central arcade and lit by internally splayed openings in the outer,
western wall. Part of the east wall of a smaller room to the north of this is
incorporated, much altered and restored, in the west face of the modern
extension of the post-medieval house, and is therefore excluded from the
scheduling. This undercroft will, according to the usual monastic practice,
have been used principally for storage. The floor above, of which only
fragments of wall remain, probably contained the abbot's apartments and
perhaps accommodation for guests. To the south of the entrance passage is
another small undercroft, at a lower level cut into sloping ground and entered
separately by a door opening in the south wall, with steps down. The
surviving footings of the wall in the south west angle are thickened and
thought to have formed the base of a stair to the upper floor.

The eastern range of the cloister, opposite, contained the dorter (canons'
dormitory) on the upper floor which no longer survives. The plan of the ground
floor is defined on the west side by standing walls, and on the east side
by exposed wall footings and buried foundations. The most important
component, facing centrally on to the cloister, is the chapter house,
where the canons met to discuss the business of the abbey. This is
rectangular in plan, measuring c.13.5m east-west by c.7.5m and is
entered from the cloister through the remains of a door opening with
arched windows to either side of it, one of them retaining a moulded
stone surround. Immediately to the north of these is an arched doorway
to a vaulted chamber adjoining the south transept of the church and
identified as a bookroom or perhaps a sacristy, predating the one
adjoining the chapel to the north east. Part of a brick vault survives
on the south side of this chamber and the south wall includes four
arched niches for cupboards. In the north western angle of the
chamber is the entrance to a turret, still standing to almost its full
height and containing the night stair which gave access from the
canons' dorter to the church, through an adjacent door in the south
wall of the transept. The chamber is subdivided by a later north-south
wall, inserted in an arch of the vault opposite the entrance and partly
covering one of the niches, and by an east-west wall between the stair
turret and the entrance from the cloister. To the south of the chapter
house is a through passage and, beyond this, the ruins of a large,
vaulted undercroft identified as the warming house, in the west wall of
which is a brick lined fireplace and chimney. The rest of the eastern
range, which extends some 23m beyond the adjoining south range is
marked by upstanding fragments of walls on the west side, and the
outer (west) face of one of these fragments preserves the outline of the
vaulting of a building which is no longer visible above ground but which
extended westward, parallel to and c.13m south of the south claustral
range. At the southern end of the east range, running east-west, are
the remains of the rere dorter (latrine block), including the upstanding
masonry of the lower part of the north wall and a high, arched opening
in the eastern end wall. Wall footings at the west end suggest a
corresponding opening, probably for an east-west drain to carry water
to flush the latrines. Excavations have revealed also a narrow drain
running north-south below an arch, now blocked, in the north wall.
The south claustral range is the best preserved of the three, with outer
walls standing to a height of up to c.12m and displaying many features,
including evidence of a complex sequence of alterations, some of which
are of post-medieval date. It includes the remains of two storeys; an
undercroft which is built, like the southern end of the west range, into
a terrace in the natural slope, and the refectory above it, on a level
with the cloister alley. The blocked arch of the entrance to the
refectory is near the western end of the north wall, and immediately to
the east of this, in the side facing on to the cloister alley, are the
remains of the laver (washing place), visible as a wide, arched niche
above a bench which supported the trough. (The laver was an important
feature of a monastery, of spiritual and ceremonial as well as social
significance, and was often elaborately decorated and fitted with piped
water and drainage). In the gable wall at the west end of the refectory
is a large, arched window opening above a shallow recess, and at a
lower level in the southern wall are the blocked openings of the
internally splayed windows which lit the undercroft. Towards the eastern
end of the undercroft are the footings of a cross wall, inserted probably
in the late 14th century to create a separate room beneath the end of
the refectory where, according to monastic custom, there will have
been a dais on which the abbot and officers of the abbey sat. This lower
room had a brick vault, the outline of which can be seen in the east
wall, and was entered by a narrow arched door (now blocked) at the
north end of the east wall, with steps down from a through passage
beyond. At the opposite end of the same wall is the arched opening to
a stair constructed in the thickness of the angle and south wall and
probably leading to a pulpit from which readings were given during
meals. At the extreme eastern end of the south range, between the
through passage and the east range, are the remains of the day stairs
from the cloister to the dorter. The monastic kitchen probably lay to
the south of the refectory, where the uneven ground surface indicates
the survival of buried foundations.

In the ploughed field east of the claustral buildings aerial photographs have
shown the presence of the buried remains of a large rectangular structure,
probably the infirmary hall, and the survival of masonry foundations and
robbed foundation trenches, representing more than one phase of construction,
has been confirmed by a geophysical survey and a limited excavation. Beyond
these, the excavation also discovered a ditch up to 4m wide and c.1.6m
deep running SSW-NNE and thought to mark the eastern boundary of the monastic
precinct. From approximately the point where the projected line of this ditch
meets the field boundary to the north, c.67m north east of the abbey church, a
slight bank c.0.5m high, which appears to be a continuation of this boundary,
runs westwards, following the southern side of the access track from the road
(B1122) to a point c.60m north of Abbey House. Slight rectilinear earthworks
between the western end of this bank and Abbey House probably mark the site
and buried foundations of another building or buildings, perhaps
including a gatehouse.

To the north west of the claustral complex, c.57m from the west end of the
monastic church, are the remains of an outer court, surrounded on three sides
by a ditch and including two stone buildings which are partly of monastic
date. The first building, which is Listed Grade II and was used as a barn in
the post-medieval period, is on the east side of the court and is rectangular
with dimensions of c.23m north-south by c.10m. The east and west walls,
although much patched and altered, display original features which include the
blocked opening of an arched doorway and the north jamb and sill of an
adjacent blocked window opening in the west wall, and an arched niche in the
interior face of the east wall. The second building, known as the Guesten
Hall, which is aligned ENE-WSW and stands on the north side of the enclosure,
c.10m east of the north end of the first, and incorporates the south wall and
a large part of the north wall of another medieval building of two storeys,
identified as probably a guest hall of later 14th century date. Limited
excavations and observations prior to and during the restoration and
development of this building for modern use located the footings of the east
and west walls and the east end of the north wall and established the overall
dimensions as 24.7m east-west by 8.6m. The standing walls display evidence of
post-medieval alterations but also retain original medieval features including
limestone quoins, limestone and brick jambs of blocked or altered windows in
both upper and lower storeys, and the brick arch of a doorway at first floor
level in the south wall. This door is reached by an external stair of modern
construction, replacing an original which no longer survives, although a
survey of the wall prior to restoration recorded sockets on either side of the
door where it was probably attached. Both buildings have been converted for
modern use and are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
them is included.

The ditch around the north, west and south sides of the court is c.5m wide and
c.1.5m deep and is now dry, but it is considered to be the remains of a moat,
possibly predating the construction of the abbey on the site. The enclosure,
including the ditch, has maximum overall dimensions of c.77m north-south by
c.53m east-west. The southern arm of the ditch terminates at the east end in a
rectangular pond, c.32m east-west by 22m, which is probably a later
enlargement. A channel links the east end of the northern arm to a large,
rectilinear pond to the north east. This pond, which measures c.62m north
east-south west by 12m overall, is one of a pair. Both are more than 2m deep
and fed by surface drainage, and are thought to be the remains of another
moat, although it is possible that they were adapted for use as fish ponds or
supply ponds during the monastic period. The second pond, which is rectangular
and measures c.30m north-south by c.10m, lies east of the first at a distance
of c.10m at the northern and c.27m at the southern end, and the two together
define the east and west sides and the south west angle of an enclosure, with
maximum overall dimensions of c.65m east-west by c.55m north-south. The
surface of the interior of the enclosure is raised c.0.5m above the level of
the ground to the south.

Further, regular earthworks believed to be of medieval date are visible
under pasture in a paddock immediately to the south of the first
enclosure. They include two rectangular terraced platforms, c.0.5m
high, one above the other on a south facing slope. The platforms each
measure c.50m east-west by up to 45m and are bordered on the east
side by a shallow ditch c.5m wide, which connects with east end of the
pond at the southern end of the enclosure ditch to the north and will
have functioned as an outlet channel.

A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling; these
are the Lady Chapel (Listed Grade I), Abbey House (Listed Grade II), the
buildings known as the Guesten Hall and a barn (both Listed Grade II), a
modern building containing studios which lies to the north of the monastic
church, a masonry and timber building of post-medieval construction,
situated within the moated enclosure to the south of the Guesten Hall, post-
medieval and modern walls between the buildings in the moated enclosure, the
modern retaining wall and surface of a terrace on the south side of the
Guesten Hall; also excluded are the fragmentary head of a medieval standing
cross mounted on a modern concrete shaft to the north of Abbey House, a modern
altar standing at the east end of the monastic church, modern inspection
chambers within the area of the church nave and cloister and to the south of
the south range, service poles across the site, a small brick structure 20m
north east of the church, in the angle of the field, modern field and garden
fences, a timber railing on the boundary of the car parking area, and the iron
rail fencing surrounding the area in the care of the Secretary of State, with
all associated gates, the English Heritage compound and huts, a signpost in
the car park area to the east of the barn, information boards, including
supports, garden steps and the modern surfaces of yards, paths and tracks; the
ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

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.

Leiston Abbey is considered to include some of the finest surviving monastic
remains in Suffolk and is one of the most completely preserved examples of a
Premonstratensian monastery in England. The fact that it is the second of two
sites occupied by the abbey, and that the first site is also preserved, gives
it additional interest, allowing the direct comparison of two chronologically
and topographically distinct sequences in its history. The standing and
buried remains included within the monument retain archaeological information
concerning the physical and social organisation of the abbey and its
development, up to and including its dissolution and adaptation as a
farmstead, complementing the historically documented record. The evidence for
earlier occupation of the site, perhaps indicative of manorial status, is also
of particular interest and offers the prospect of a direct comparison between
the economic regimes centred on the moated site, the abbey and the post-
Dissolution farmstead.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 117-119
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 190
Clapham, A W, 'Archaeologia' in The Architecture of the Premonstratensians, , Vol. 73, (1923), 137-141
CUCAP BYZ 27-29, (1976)
Filmer-Sankey, W, LCS 001: summary of excavations, (1990)
Filmer-Sankey, W, LCS 001: summary of watching brief, 1984,
Gill, D, LCS 001: `Guestenhall' survey of standing walls, (1990)
HPG Information File, Sherlock, D, Leiston Abbey: notes on excavation by V Fenwick, (1985)
HPG Information File, Sherlock, D, Leiston Abbey: notes on Porch, (1984)
LCS 001: summary of excavations, (1985)
Letter in HPG information file, (1988)
Print, Johnson, Isaac , Leiston Abbey, Suffolk, (1821)

Source: Historic England

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