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Pre-Conquest monastic cell and post-Conquest monastic settlement on Inner Farne

A Scheduled Monument in North Sunderland, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.6163 / 55°36'58"N

Longitude: -1.6553 / 1°39'19"W

OS Eastings: 421807.262273

OS Northings: 635911.36786

OS Grid: NU218359

Mapcode National: GBR J3WH.FJ

Mapcode Global: WHC0M.J3Z9

Entry Name: Pre-Conquest monastic cell and post-Conquest monastic settlement on Inner Farne

Scheduled Date: 12 October 1937

Last Amended: 12 November 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014771

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24642

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: North Sunderland

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland


The monument includes the remains of a pre-Conquest monastic cell and a post-
Conquest Benedictine monastic settlement. It is situated on Inner Farne, one
of a group of islands known as the Farne Islands. These are the most easterly
point on the outcrop of the Whin Sill which extends across Northumberland. The
visible remains include four medieval standing buildings: St Cuthbert's
Chapel, St Mary's Chapel, which is now used as a visitor centre, Prior
Castell's tower, and an hospitium (guest house). There is also a well,
traditionally associated with St Cuthbert, and a medieval field system. The
chapels and tower were originally enclosed by a stone wall, and three
enclosures or courts were also defined, in the north, east and centre. The
north court is said to have contained a graveyard. Burials have also been
recovered from the east court and from the area between the hospitium and St
Mary's Chapel, discovered when a road was made between the landing stage and
the High Lighthouse (built 1809). Beyond the monastic buildings to the south
west are the remains of medieval ridge and furrow. To the north west of the
hospitium is a well traditionally associated with St Cuthbert.
St Cuthbert's Chapel is a rectangular single cell building, externally
measuring c.15.5m east-west by c.5.1m north-south, with walls c.0.7m thick.
In its present form the chapel dates to c.1370, although there is 12th or 13th
century masonry in the lower part of the north wall marked by a freestone
dado, now 1.3m above ground level. This earlier masonry is coursed ashlar, but
the remainder of the chapel is constructed of whinstone rubble. The chapel was
restored in the 1840s by Archdeacon Thorp. The entrance to the chapel is in
the south wall through an ogee headed doorway which has been restored. Also in
the south wall are three windows, two of which are 19th century, while at the
eastern end is an original 14th century window which is now blocked. In the
east wall is a 19th century window. The north wall has no openings. In the
west wall of the chapel is a blocked recess interpreted as a hatch or window.
Externally, against the west wall are the foundations of a small room which
may be a galilee, a porch or chapel at the entrance of a church, a feature
typical of churches dedicated to St Cuthbert; the upper parts were removed
c.1842. It measures 2m by 1.5m internally with walls 1.2m thick and standing
up to 1.2m high; there is an entrance with two steps down in the south wall.
Internally, the chapel is furnished with 17th century woodwork made for Bishop
Cosin c.1665 at Durham Cathedral and removed to Inner Farne in the 1840s by
Archdeacon Thorp.
The remains of a second chapel, St Mary's, are incorporated in the visitor
centre 8m across the east court from the Chapel of St Cuthbert. The building
externally measures 8.5m east-west by 5m north-south with walls 0.8m thick.
According to Honeyman, who conducted a detailed survey of the complex c.1930,
the chapel originally extended further west to give a total length of c.16m,
equivalent to that of St Cuthbert's across the courtyard. The western end has
been completely destroyed and no foundations were found by Honeyman. The jambs
of a blocked doorway survive in the south wall of the chapel 2.5m beyond the
west end of the current building. The south east corner survives to its
original height of c.4m, but elsewhere only the base course is of medieval
fabric, the upper parts having been added when the building was made into a
store by Trinity House. Internally there are traces of a piscina (a stone
basin for ritual water) in the south wall, although it is now obscured by
information panels. This chapel is believed to date from the late 12th or 13th
century. The building was converted into an information centre after it was
given to the National Trust in 1969.
The tower, to the west of the chapels, is said by Leland (c.1838) to have
been built c.1500 by Thomas Castell, Prior of Durham (1494-1519), but it
appears to contain some earlier work, including small lancet windows on the
stairs and a trefoiled piscina on the first floor. The piscina is reportedly
from St Cuthbert's Chapel. The tower measures 12.3m north-south by 7.3m east-
west with walls 1.4m-1.8m thick. It originally stood to four storeys but is
now only three storeys. It is constructed of rubble masonry with ashlar quoins
and a chamfered plinth course. The entrance is in the the east wall through a
low round headed doorway. The ground floor is tunnel vaulted and originally
contained a well, sometimes called St Cuthbert's Well, which has now been
covered over and is no longer visible. The first floor contains a garderobe or
latrine and two 18th century fireplaces, one incorporating earlier masonry.
The original room has been divided in two by a mid-18th century panelled
screen with cupboards. The upper floors are reached by a staircase in the
thickness of the wall which ends in a spiral staircase to the roof at the
south east corner. The handrail and balusters were installed in the early 18th
century. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries the tower was used as a fort
and is documented in 1559 and 1637. Later in the 17th century Charles II
authorised the first official lighthouse on Inner Farne which comprised a
beacon on top of the tower. The tower was restored in 1848 by the Venerable
Charles Thorp, Archdeacon of Durham (1831-62). He inserted new windows in the
north wall and refitted the interior. Repairs have also been made by the
National Trust in 1927-28.
The original entrance into the monastic complex was through the north court.
The court is irregular in shape and defined by a stone wall standing up to
1.5m high and 0.9m wide. It measures 24m east-west by a maximum 20.5m north-
south. The area enclosed is level but outside the north wall of the court the
ground falls away steeply for 2m-3m. The west wall of the court, which has
fallen since 1848, originally crossed an inlet called St Cuthbert's Gut and
joined the north wall of the tower. The present west wall, built before 1848,
is curved around the head of the inlet and joins a modern wall between the
tower and St Cuthbert's Chapel. The south side of the court is formed by the
north walls of St Cuthbert's Chapel and the tower respectively, with the gap
in between filled by a wall built in 1930. Entry to the court was by an arched
gateway 2.3m wide in the east wall. The arch was standing until at least 1828,
but all that remains today are the first signs of the springing of the arch in
the north side of the east gable of St Cuthbert's Chapel. The court is
depicted on Speed's map of 1611 with the wall as high as the eaves of the
chapel and with a crenellated parapet. The foundation of the wall has been
exposed by excavation in two places c.1930 and found to stand on clay and on a
mass of boulders and clay. Archbishop Eyre's account of the island in 1887
records that the court contained a graveyard. The present entrance to the
monastic complex is through the east court, between the two chapels, which was
also once a graveyard. Three stone coffins, several medieval stone coffin lids
and an apparent early monumental effigy in low relief were found in 1816. The
remains were reinterred in the north court except for one coffin, possibly of
Master Thomas Sparowe who died c.1430, which now rests c.9m south of St
Cuthbert's Chapel. At the western end of the east court are the foundations of
a wall 1m wide, connecting the west ends of the two chapels. Honeyman records
in 1930 that a doorway 0.85m wide was visible through the centre, but this has
now been covered over by a cobbled surface. Standing on the southern section
of the foundations is a 15th century stone font, which was brought to the
island in the 19th century by Archdeacon Thorp from Gateshead parish church.
The remaining area in front of the tower is the centre court bound by the
tower, the modern wall between the tower and St Cuthbert's Chapel and the wall
of the garden.
Outside the monastic enclosure is a small building constructed largely of
random rubble which measures 4.7m by 3.8m with walls 1.4m high and a doorway
in the east end. The walls are 0.5m thick, except in the north east corner
where they are 0.9m thick; three courses of dressed stone are visible at this
corner. The roof dates from the 1970s. The building is interpreted as the
hospitium, or guest house, described in an account roll of 1360-1 as the `hall
of St Cuthbert' and built for visiting pilgrims. It is believed to lie on the
site of an earlier guest house built by St Cuthbert (died AD 687). The remains
of a wall lies 9m south of the hospitium running east-west. It measures 1m
wide and stands 0.1m high, but its function is not known.
Between St Cuthbert's Chapel and the hospitium lies a circular depression, 5m
in diameter and 1m deep. It has traces of stonework on the south side and is
interpreted as the site of St Cuthbert's well. There are no natural springs on
the island and the seventh century monk and historian Bede describes the well
as having been created by Cuthbert digging two pits and praying to God, as a
result of which the two holes filled with water. The site of the other well
has not been located, although it is depicted on Eyre's map of 1887 as lying
to the south east of the hospitium. It has been suggested that the site of St
Cuthbert's cell lies immediately south west of the well in a scooped
depression 12m in diameter and 2.5m deep. Alternatively, the cell may lie
beneath Prior Castell's tower. Bede also records that St Cuthbert built a
landing stage or harbour, the site of which has been identified as the beach
on the north side of the island. An incomplete cross shaft dating between the
mid-eighth and mid-ninth century was found lying near one of the chapels in
the late 19th century. It has carved decoration, including panels of
interlace, characteristic of the period. It is now housed in the Monks'
Dormitory of Durham Cathedral. The site of a medieval cross base is believed
to lie within the present lighthouse compound, on the highest point of the
island. The base was seen in the 1930s in fragments and is depicted on Speed's
map of the island, but it is not currently visible. Attached to the south wall
of St Mary's Chapel is a trapezoidal enclosure, measuring c.36.5m north east
to south west by c.30.5m north west to south east. It was created and levelled
up by Archdeacon Thorp in 1843 as a garden. The ground level within the garden
is up to 2.5m above that of the eastern court. It is believed the garden may
be on the site of the monks' garden or St Cuthbert's barley field, and part of
it may have been a graveyard for St Mary's Chapel. To the south of the
monastic buildings over half the island is covered with the remains of
ridge and furrow cultivation, identified as the remains of medieval
cultivation. The garden enclosure appears to overlie the field system.
Inner Farne is associated with St Aidan who, according to Bede writing
c.AD 705, visited the island in AD 651. The island is also associated with St
Cuthbert who lived there between AD 676 and 684, and returned to the island in
AD 687 to die. Bede records that Cuthbert built a cell, landing place, and
guest house, and grew barley. A succession of hermits followed Cuthbert to
Inner Farne, but the island is said to have lost most of its religious
character by the 12th century. The last hermit was Thomas de Melsonby, Prior
of Durham, who died here in 1246. In 1255 a small Benedictine monastery, the
House of Farne, was established on the island by the Monastery of Durham. The
House of Farne existed until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. After
the Dissolution the islands were granted to the Dean and Chapter of Durham.
The islands were leased from 1673 until the early 19th century and there was a
succession of tenants. Archdeacon Thorp became tenant of the inner islands in
1848 and bought them in 1861. The National Trust acquired the islands in 1925.
Prior Castell's tower is Listed Grade I; St Cuthbert's Chapel is Listed Grade
II*; the remains of St Mary's Chapel and the stone coffin are Listed Grade II.
The following items are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is
included: the 19th century lighthouse and keepers' cottages (Listed Grade II),
enclosing wall, and Trinity House boundary marker stones; the toilet block
adjacent to Prior Castell's tower; the 15th century font (Listed Grade II)
from Gateshead parish church in the east court; and all National Trust
footpaths, fencing and signs. The modern fittings in St Mary's Chapel and
Prior Castell's tower are excluded, as well as external drain pipes and
gutters on these and St Cuthbert's Chapel.

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 establish Christianity in AD 597
monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in
the British Isles. In addition to the larger monastic sites established around
the country to house communities of monks, a range of smaller monastic
settlements (sometimes known as `cells') also developed. These were used as
recluse sites by small groups of ecclesiastics, often perhaps by a single
monk. The majority of these cells were deliberately located in remote or
isolated places, including islands, to ensure that their inhabitants were well
away from the pressures of secular life and could therefore focus more clearly
on religious activities and contemplation. The buildings within such a complex
were usually simple and small. A small chapel may have been provided, as well
as a simple hut for shelter. Stone or wooden crosses were often erected.
Cemeteries were also a common feature as many early ecclesiastics retreated to
such cells towards the end of their lives, burials were often marked by
cross-incised stone slabs. The majority of cells were established in the pre-
Viking period, although many remained in use for several centuries. At some
life was significantly disrupted by the Viking raids which began in the early
ninth century. The slight nature of the original structures has meant that it
is often the case that little has survived the passage of time and these sites
are now difficult to identify on the ground. Many such sites are known almost
wholly through documentary evidence. Some cells were revitalised or re-
established during the post-Conquest period and larger, more elaborate and
permanent structures were built, usually including stone-built structures not
dissimilar to those found elsewhere at large contemporary monastic sites.
Whilst often still used for the purposes of retreat and contemplation, those
cells associated with renowned early saints also developed a role as
pilgrimage centres. As a rare monument type which provides an important
insight into early ecclesiastical life, all positively identified examples of
pre-Conquest monastic cells will be identified as nationally important. Post-
Conquest examples are also rare and a significant number of these will also be
identified as nationally important.
The post-Conquest monastic settlement on Inner Farne is well preserved and
will contain significant archaeological deposits. It is likely that
archaeological deposits associated with pre-Conquest activity on the island
will also be preserved. The survival of an associated field system will
contain information about the economy of the island in the medieval period.
The monastic settlement is one of several situated on promontories or island
locations in Northumbria, and will contribute to our knowledge and
understanding of isolated monastic communities in the pre-Conquest and post-
Conquest periods.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The National Trust Reserves. Inner Farne, Northumberland, (1986), 1-4
The National Trust Reserves. Inner Farne, Northumberland, (1986)
Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture in England: Volume I, (1984), 171-2
Honeyman, H L, 'Farne Islands Associaiton Report' in Monastic Settlement On The Inner Farne, (1930)
Honeyman, H L, 'Farne Islands Association Report' in Monastic Settlement On The Farne Island, (1930)
NU 23 NW 1 and 3,
NU 23 NW 10,
NU 23 NW 11,
NU 23 NW 12, 13 and 14,
NU 23 NW 15,
NU 23 NW 16,
NU 23 NW 2,

Source: Historic England

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