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Craswall Priory, associated building remains, pond bays and hollow ways

A Scheduled Monument in Craswall, Herefordshire,

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Latitude: 52.0327 / 52°1'57"N

Longitude: -3.0611 / 3°3'39"W

OS Eastings: 327304.15795

OS Northings: 237669.334413

OS Grid: SO273376

Mapcode National: GBR F3.G5BF

Mapcode Global: VH786.W5LL

Entry Name: Craswall Priory, associated building remains, pond bays and hollow ways

Scheduled Date: 26 November 1928

Last Amended: 2 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014536

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27520

County: Herefordshire,

Civil Parish: Craswall

Traditional County: Herefordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Herefordshire

Church of England Parish: Craswall

Church of England Diocese: Hereford


The monument includes the earthwork, buried and ruined remains of the
Grandmontine Priory of St Mary, situated on a south west facing slope near the
head of the Monnow Valley, north west of Craswall. It is protected within
three separate areas. Craswall was the second of three Grandmontine houses
established in England, and was founded c.1225 by Walter de Lacy, a strong
supporter of Henry III. De Lacy gave the mother house at Grandmont 600 acres
of land between the River Monnow and the stream of Leth, with woods and
pasturage, and the right to build a house and mills, and make fish ponds.
Further grants followed, all of which were confirmed in a charter given by
Henry III in 1231, and the foundation was thus endowed to maintain ten priests
and three clerks, with an equal number of lay brethren. In 1252 the prior of
Grandmont appointed Brother Reginald corrector of Craswall, and his
representative in both spiritual and temporal matters, with authority to
appoint and remove brethren from the other two houses. This office was held at
Craswall for 50 years. Fortunes varied for the Grandmontines, and in 1295
after the general chapter at Grandmont, the number of brethren at Craswall was
limited to nine. However, when the order was reconstituted in 1317 after
internal quarrels, the correctors of the English houses became priors.
Craswall was seized as an alien priory in 1341, some four years after the
start of the Hundred Years' War, although Edward III soon after relieved the
priory of payments to the crown on condition that its patron provided
maintenance for the prior and brethren. However, when war with France was
renewed under Richard II all three English houses were seized and not
released. Craswall remained in the king's hands and all payments to the mother
house in France ended in 1414. In 1441 Henry VI, lamenting the decline of the
great universities, finally gave Craswall to God's House, Cambridge. Its
desolate location, so in keeping with the requirements of the order's founder,
St Stephen, ensured it remained relatively poor despite the generosity of the
de Lacy family and other Norman lords. As a result the original monastic
buildings have survived with little enlargement or modification.
The small precinct occupied some 1.2ha, reflecting the restricted population
of the foundation and the austerity of the order generally. The priory
buildings exhibit a fairly typical monastic arrangement, with the church and
its small north and south chapels, aligned east-west, forming the north side
of the claustral group. Opening off the east alley of the cloister, the
chapter house and undercroft, with dorter, or dormitory above, were housed in
the east range. The kitchen and frater, or refectory, were in the south range,
with storage and perhaps guest accommodation to the west. The prior's house,
infirmary, agricultural buildings, and perhaps further guest accommodation
occupied the south east corner of the precinct and the land to the north. The
priory's water supply was provided by a network of springs and streams, one of
which runs north west to south east and passes through the precinct
immediately south of the south cloister range. These waters also made possible
the operation of a number of ponds, which contributed to the livelihood of the
monastic community. Most notable of these is the substantial pond bay and dam
to the south east of the precinct, one end of which housed a mill. The site is
divided by a series of sunken lanes or hollow ways which run roughly north-
The precinct was surrounded to north, west and south by a stone rubble wall,
which survives as a standing ruin along much of the southern boundary, while
elsewhere a low earthen bank marks the line of its buried foundations. Towards
the west end of the north wall the earthwork and buried remains of a gateway
leads to a hollow way running NNE-SSW. The bank to either side of this
entrance contains a large quantity of masonry representing the remains of the
gateway, the footings of which will survive as buried features. The hollow way
runs through the precinct, to the south west of the priory, beyond which it
becomes a level track which crosses the north west-south east flowing stream.
A number of flat slabs in the stream bed and banks at this point suggest there
was a ford or foot bridge here at one time. Aligned with the track are the
remains of several hollow ways which approached the priory from the south. The
north west corner of the precinct has been modified by the construction of the
modern track to Abbey Farm and a large barn immediately west of it. However
the 1904 Ordnance Survey map of the site indicates the line of the north wall
continuing for several metres beyond the line of the modern track. A stretch
of the precinct wall runs south for some 35m beginning just east of the ford,
then turns south east to define the southern extent of the precinct. A line of
trees along this southern wall indicates its later use as a field boundary.
Roughly one third of the way along the south wall and at right angles to it,
the earthwork remains of an internal wall extend towards the stream. At its
eastern end, the south wall retains a number of substantial rectangular blocks
in-situ, and several large slabs in the stream bed and bank indicate the
presence of a structure here, perhaps a bridge or sluice. An artificially
levelled terrace extends the length of the south wall, forming a broad path
leading towards the dam and mill, and is included in the scheduling. The
eastern extent of the precinct is defined by a south flowing stream, which
originally turned south east as it passed the south range, but was diverted to
continue south along an existing field boundary ditch during the construction
of an ornamental pond in the 1970s. As with the south wall, it is likely that
this field boundary marks the line of the original eastern extent of the
Within the precinct wall much of the ground plan of the priory can be
discerned, although the buildings are extremely ruinous. The standing remains
are of sandstone rubble construction with ashlar facings, and are Listed Grade
II. The best surviving structure is the church, parts of which still stand to
a height of up to 4m. The church measures c.37m east-west by c.12m
transversely, and is of two cell plan, having a single-aisled nave with a
semicircular apse to the east. The apse is offset c.0.3m to either side of the
nave, a typical feature of Grandmontine architecture which is, however,
extremely unusual in an English church. The floor is of large stone flags, one
of which retains a sinking for the altar rail. The main entrance to the church
was in the western end of the north wall of the nave, with the monks' entry
midway along the south wall. The east end of the church has been cleared of
rubble and retains the base of the altar in-situ. Excavations in the early
1900s discovered a large stone coffin under the church floor and in front of
the high altar. Unfortunately the perfect skeleton it contained crumbled
within an hour of being exposed, and no indications of its identity were
found. Also recovered was a lead casket or reliquary containing arm and hand
bones, which had been buried just beneath the floor close to the altar. In the
south wall is what would have been an elaborate recess, with a setting for an
octagonal pillar, housing two basins or piscinas and a central drain. A
stepped sedilia, or priest's seat, flanked the recess, with one seat to the
east and two to the west, although one of the western examples has been
dismantled. The apse would have been lit by three round headed windows, and
the sill of the southernmost of these remains. Field survey in 1962 also
identified a jamb made of tufa, although this no longer survives: tufa was
identified throughout the site, principally in jambs and quoins. The survey
also revealed sill and jamb fragments in the west wall of the nave indicating
the position of the west window. The buried foundations of the north chapel
show it was rectangular in plan, while the remains of the south chapel mirror
the design of the church, having an offset apse to the east. Excavation
revealed fragments of decorated plaster in the north chapel, and it is likely
that much of the priory was ornamented in this way. The entrances to both
chapels are now blocked, however a small window, or squint, in both dividing
walls ensured that the three altars were intervisible during services. The
chapels themselves are unusual for a Grandmontine cell, and the only other
church which appears to have had them is that of the mother house at Grandmont
in France.
The slype or passage between the south chapel and chapter house would have
connected the cloisters with the cemetery. Its walls stand to c.3m but the
passage itself is now infilled with rubble. The chapter house is directly
south of the slype, and stands to the height of its window sills. Its features
are typical of Grandmontine design, and rather less austere than the church.
The room was entered by a single door opening off the eastern alley of the
cloisters, with a symmetrically placed unglazed window to either side. The
bases of the piers remain between these openings, each with five slender
shafts on each side. A prior's seat is located directly opposite the door,
with the remains of benches just visible along the east wall to either side,
and along part of the north and west walls. The chapter house was lit by three
windows in the east wall. The sills of the two northerly ones can still be
seen, and the central window, directly above the prior's seat, retains slots
for its glazing bars. This central window sits in a place traditionally
occupied by a central alcove, usually constructed to hold a statue of St
Stephen, or St John the Baptist, patron of hermits. The remains of two central
pier bases indicate that the chapter house was originally vaulted. Very little
of the cloister arcade survives as standing masonry, however the line of its
arcade walls can be discerned as earthen banks within which the stone
foundations survive as buried features. The cloister was only c.20m square,
and its alleys opened onto a central garth, or garden area. Excavations
indicate the four walks were paved with decorated tiles. In the south east
corner, in a position unique to Grandmontine monasteries, several treads of
the dorter stairway survive to a height of c.2.5m. Parts of the south range
survive, mostly as buried foundations, however the south wall of both kitchen
and frater appears to have been removed by the stream which flows to the south
of it. Large amounts of masonry can be seen in the stream bed here, much of
which have been blackened by heating, probably in the kitchen hearth. Little
stands above ground of the west range which appears to have been robbed of
most of its walling, with only a scarp now indicating the west wall of the
In the south east corner of the precinct are the earthwork and buried remains
of at least two rectangular buildings aligned roughly south west-north east.
The walls of these structures are now marked by low banks in which fragments
of stone can be seen. The larger, northerly, structure measures c.25m x c.15m,
and its south and east sides retain a number of regularly spaced pier bases.
Between these is an entrance in the south wall, with another probable door in
the middle of the east wall. This fairly elaborate structure was probably the
prior's house, typically located to the south east of the priory. The more
southerly building is offset to the west, and now measures c.11m x c.25m,
however, its southern end has been truncated by the stream. Its proximity to
the water suggests this was the infirmary, with privies located at the south
end above the stream.
North of the north precinct wall are the earthwork remains of three sub-
rectangular buildings, represented by level platforms terraced into the hill
slope. No foundations are apparent suggesting these were timber structures,
probably barns. They are all aligned east-west, two adjacent examples
measuring roughly 25m x 12m, with the largest downslope and west of these
measuring 30m x 16m. Immediately west of these are two hollow ways, leading
north from the precinct gate. These have been worn to a depth of up to 1.5m by
centuries of traffic, and were probably used alternately as each became muddy
and impassable during bad weather. They rejoin to the north east and continue
as a slighter depression parallel with the modern farm track. A sample of
these hollow ways is included in the scheduling in recognition of their
relationship with the other elements of the site.
Upslope and north west of the building platforms and hollow ways are the
earthwork and buried remains of a spring-fed fishpond, which occupies an old
quarry pit. The pond is rectangular in form, and measures c.28m east-west by
c.17m north-south. Its northern side is the back of the quarry pit, while its
southern edge is defined by an earthen bank, c.3m wide and 1.7m high. To the
west an earthen causeway divides the pond from the unmodified remains of the
pit beyond. Across its eastern end is a dam, 0.5m high, with a distinct break
in the middle which will have housed a sluice, the remains of which will
survive as a buried feature. The eastern half of the pond is waterlogged, as
is the area beyond the dam, where an outlet channel leads down to a storm
water culvert. This is visible as a slight, very straight, depression running
ENE-WSW, created to divert water from upslope springs away from the precinct
and into the stream to the west. The retaining bank to the south of the pond
slopes down onto a level terrace which connects the west end of the quarry pit
with the hollow way to the south east. This broad path will have been used to
transport stone to the priory, continuing in use during the working life of
the pond, and a section is therefore included in the scheduling. A number of
shallow scoops north west of the pond derive purely from quarrying activity
and are not included in the scheduling.
Some 150m south east of the precinct, beyond the modern pond, are two quarry
pits, the southern of which has also been adapted to house a fishpond which is
seasonally wet and protected within a second separate area. Its east side is
defined by an earthen bank c.8m wide and c.1m high, running parallel to the
stream. A 5m break in this bank is probably related to the management of the
water levels in the pond. The exact north west and south east limits of the
pond are no longer apparent on the surface, however its maximum extent is
probably defined by the field boundary to the north west, and a c.2.5m long
section of stone rubble wall to the south east. A section of the hollow way
which approaches the south end of the pond from the SSW is included in the
scheduling. The circular beast pond some 25m to the south east is not included
in the scheduling.
Roughly 350m south east of the precinct is a substantial pond bay, which was
created by damming the area between the main stream and a second which flows
into it from the west. The pond (which is protected within the third
separatet area) was roughly triangular in plan, with maximum dimensions of
100m north west-south east and up to 80m along the line of the dam. The dam
consists of an earthen bank, c.1m high on the pond side and rising up to 3.5m
above the ground level below it. It survives for most of its length, and
measures c.70m south west-north east by c.10m transversely, its northern end
having been cut away by a third stream. It is revetted with a stone rubble
wall which survives for the full length and height of the bank on the south
east side. Some of the blocks in the lower courses of this wall are up to 1.5m
long and 0.35m deep. Further support is provided by a roughly formed earthen
buttress approximately half way along the dam, which rises to within 1m of its
summit. Masonry on the top of the dam suggests there was originally a paved
path along its summit, which is now planted with beech trees. The remains of
what will have been a substantial sluice survive in the form of a number of
large stone slabs set into the southern end of the dam and the opposite bank,
some of which have tumbled into the stream. This structure would have
controlled the water level in the pond, which will have been maintained to
operate the mill at the north end of the dam. Here, a section of the dam is
cut away to provide access for stock, and beginning just south east of this
gate is an earthen bank which rises to c.2m high and c.8m wide, and follows
the west bank of the stream for roughly 34m. Its north end, the opposite bank
and the stream bed between, contain many substantial stone slabs. Those set
into the stream banks are dressed, and one in the stream bed retains a
structural slot along one edge. Another slab standing on edge across the
stream has a series of broad serations across its top. These massive masonry
elements are the substructures of a large mill on this site. Beyond the mill
site the stream banks have been straightened to increase the efficiency of the
tail race, a sample length of which is included in the scheduling. This
artificial straightening is most apparent on the south side where it extends
for the length of the earthen bank, which is revetted with stone blocks at
stream level.
All fences and gates around and within the monument are excluded from the
scheduling, as are the iron and wood lean-to and wooden shed in the north west
corner of the precinct, the made surface of the modern farm track, and the
corrugated iron roofing over part of the chapter house wall, although the
ground beneath all these features is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Monasticism was an important aspect of both religious and secular life in
medieval England. Settlements, including monasteries, were built to house
communities of monks, canons (priests) and sometimes lay brothers who lived a
life of religious observance governed by systematic rule. It is estimated from
documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These
belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own
philosophy, and they varied in size from major communities with several
hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. As a
result, monasteries vary considerably in their appearance and layout, although
all possess the basic elements of church, living accommodation and work
buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval
society. They were centres of worship, learning and charity, but also of
immense wealth and political influence and some orders held large estates.
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
The Grandmontine order originated in France around AD 1078 when Stephen of
Thiers set up a simple cell in the forest of Muret, outside Limoges. He and
his followers lived an austere existence, and preferred to be known as hermits
rather than monks. In 1124, after Stephen's death, the brethren moved to
Grandmont in Normandy, established their mother house and codified Stephen's
writings. By the middle of the 12th century the popularity of `Stephen's
Rule', and the rapidly increasing number of cells, led to the creation of a
formal order. In the early 13th century, grants of land and rights by powerful
local lords had established three cells in England: at Craswall in
Herefordshire, Alberbury in Shropshire, and Eskdale in Yorkshire. In 1317
Grandmont was raised to the status of an abbey and the three English houses
became priories, though still subject to Grandmont.
At the start of the Hundred Years War with France, most English houses
belonging to French orders (so-called alien priories) were supressed, but the
three Grandmontine houses escaped on account of their poverty. When war was
renewed under Richard II, however, all three were seized by the crown and not
released. The limited excavation that has taken place on Grandmontine sites
has revealed an austerity and changelessness in design which demonstrates the
diversity in form and scale exhibited by monastic sites generally.
Grandmontine monasteries are thus a rare type of a major aspect of English
medieval life. All examples with significant archaeological remains are
considered to be nationally important.

The Priory of St Mary at Craswall is extremely significant in that it is the
only one of the three Grandmontine priories in the country which retains its
original layout unchanged. The site of the first house, established near
Whitby in Yorkshire, has been lost, while the buildings at Alberbury in
Shropshire have been modified to such an extent over the centuries that only
parts of the church remain in their original condition. Thus Craswall, despite
being in a ruinous state, is unique in retaining a rich variety of information
about this rare class of monument, illustrating the austere way of life
adopted by this group of hermits. Documentary evidence confirms that Craswall
held a position of importance during much of its working life.

The standing remains retain details of their method of construction, including
the building and decorative techniques employed. The full extent of the
claustral ranges can be established from buried foundations, and evidence for
structures such as gates and bridges will survive buried within the earthwork
remains of the precinct walls. Evidence for the construction of the buildings
to the north and south east of the priory will remain in the form of
post holes, and buried foundations respectively. Floor levels within these
structures will preserve environmental and artefactual evidence for the
activities which took place there. All this information will enhance our
understanding of the relationships of the monastic buildings and their varied
functions. The subsistence and broader economic setting of this monastic
community can be elucidated from the earthwork remains of the fishponds, which
will retain information relating to their method of construction and
operation, including dams and sluices. It is likely that environmental
evidence will survive in the waterlogged deposits of the pond to the north
west of the precinct, and this will increase our knowledge of the types and
quantities of fish kept and management practices. The exceptional survival of
the dam to the south east of the priory provides an opportunity to examine the
construction techniques of what was clearly a major part of the economy of the
community, not only as part of a fishpond complex but also providing the power
source for a substantial mill. Masonry remains and buried foundations of the
latter survive to increase our understanding of its function and design. The
old ground surface sealed beneath the dam will contain evidence for land use
immediately prior to its construction.

Craswall Priory was founded in an area already rich with defensive monuments,
including the castle of its patron Walter de Lacy, at Longtown some 10km to
the south east. As such it can also be seen as an important element in the
wider picture of medieval political and social organisation in Herefordshire,
as well as providing a unique insight into one unusual aspect of medieval
monasticism in England.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Aston, M, Monasteries, (1993), 93
Hutchison, C, The Priory at Craswall, an introduction, (1990)
Graham, R, Clapham, A W, 'Archaeologia' in The Order Of Grandmont And Its Houses In England, , Vol. 75, (1924), 159-210
Lilwall, C J, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Craswall Priory excavations, (1908), 39
Lilwall, C J, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Craswall Priory excavations, (1908), 36-40
Wright, C F, 'Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists' Field Club' in Craswall Priory - report of a field study made in 1962, , Vol. 38(i), (1964), 76-81
Stocker, David, (1995)
Title: 1st Edition Ordnance Survey
Source Date: 1904

Source: Historic England

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