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Letheringham Priory and remains of 17th century walled garden

A Scheduled Monument in Hoo, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.1787 / 52°10'43"N

Longitude: 1.3162 / 1°18'58"E

OS Eastings: 626819.733641

OS Northings: 258569.197182

OS Grid: TM268585

Mapcode National: GBR WP6.9LL

Mapcode Global: VHLB9.RHNN

Entry Name: Letheringham Priory and remains of 17th century walled garden

Scheduled Date: 16 December 1977

Last Amended: 1 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014859

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21406

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Hoo

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Letheringham St Mary

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


The site of Letheringham Priory is on a north east facing slope on the west
side of the valley of the River Deben, c.250m west of the river and c.1.15km
west of Easton village. The monument includes the priory gatehouse and buried
remains of the conventual buildings and the eastern part of the monastic
church, together with earthworks within what is believed to be part of a 17th
century walled garden situated to the south of the present churchyard.

The priory, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was founded towards the end of
the 12th century as a cell of the Augustinian Priory of St Peter and St Paul
in Ipswich, and was served by three or four canons under a prior appointed by
the mother house. In the taxation roll of 1291, the annual income of the
priory is shown as 12 pounds 11 shillings, the greater part of which derived
from lands at Letheringham and from the church at Charsfield. The valuation of
1535 gives the clear annual value as 26 pounds 18 shillings and 5 pence. The
house was suppressed in 1536, the mother house having already been dissolved
nine years earlier by Cardinal Wolsey to found his college in Ipswich. At the
time of the foundation of the priory, the manor of Letheringham was held by
William de Bovile, and the de Boviles retained the lordship of the manor and
patronage of the priory until the mid 14th century, when it passed by marriage
to Thomas Wingfield. In 1539, after the Dissolution, the priory was granted to
Sir Anthony Wingfield. The priory buildings, with the exception of the church,
were badly damaged by fire early in the 17th century, and soon after this Sir
Robert Naunton, Secretary of State under James I and the great grandson of Sir
Anthony Wingfield, built a large mansion c.120m south of the church. The
monastic church, which contained the burial vault and memorials of the de
Bovile and Wingfield families, remained standing and eventually wholly
replaced the original parish church of Letheringham which is thought to have
been situated c.1.3km to the south east, near Letheringham Old Hall and mill.
By the mid 18th century the former monastic church was in a serious state of
disrepair, and a painting dated to the 1780s shows it as a roofless ruin. In
1789 the eastern end, containing the choir and presbytery, was demolished, and
the nave reconstructed in its present form.

The gatehouse which was the entry to the monastic precinct still stands c.40m
WSW of the present church. According to the documentary evidence, which is
supported by archaeological finds, the conventual buildings occupied a level
platform to the north east of this and north of the church. The earthworks to
the south of the gatehouse and the churchyard are thought to be of monastic
date and include part of a hollow way leading to the gatehouse from the south
west. They lie within a pasture field enclosed by brick walls which are
considered to be largely of early post-medieval date and to mark the boundary
of a garden associated with the 17th century mansion.

The gatehouse, which is dated to the late 15th or early 16th century and is
Listed Grade II, is built of brick and is of two storeys. It is rectangular
in plan, measuring c.6m south west-north east by 5m, with polygonal clasping
buttresses at the external angles and with double chamfered gate arches in the
south west and north east walls. These arches are blocked with much later
brickwork, with a doorway in the blocking on the south west side. Immediately
above the arch on the outer (south western) side is a blocked statue niche,
and above this, at upper storey level, a blocked window opening of three
lights with brick mullions. Above the gate arch in the opposite wall are two
blocked rectangular openings and between these, on the internal face of the
wall, are remains of a fireplace. The level of the floor of the upper chamber,
which no longer survives, is marked by a rebate on the internal wall. The
entrance to this upper chamber was probably from a building abutting the
eastern side of the gatehouse. Traces of a blocked opening can be seen on the
external face of the upper east wall, and below it there is a shallow concave
recess which may mark the position of a newel (spiral) stair. The lower walls
of the gatehouse are rendered internally with cement, but above this there are
remains of plaster with traces of red paint.

The monastic church at the time of the Dissolution had an overall length of
c.35m. The surviving nave, which is Listed Grade II*, is aisleless, of two
bays and measures c.14m in length by c.7.5m in width and, being still in use,
is not included in the scheduling. It displays original 12th century features
which include the south doorway with colonettes in recessed jambs, scalloped
capitals and a round arch ornamented with zig-zag and billet decoration, and a
blocked doorway with similarly decorated round arch at the western end of the
north wall. The latter is one of two which provided access to the church from
the monastic cloister; the outline of the second, which is plastered over, can
be seen towards the eastern end of the nave. In the south wall there are two
windows of 13th century type, and in the eastern end wall, which is of 18th
century construction, is a large 14th century window, probably from the east
end of the demolished presbytery. At the western end of the church is a
large, square tower of three stages, dated to the 14th century. A brick porch
over the south door is of late 17th century date. The buried remains of the
eastern part of the monastic church, which contained the canons' choir and
presbytery, lie within the present churchyard and are included in the
scheduling. No walls of monastic date remain standing east of the nave, but
foundations survive below the ground surface and the line of the south wall
can be traced as a slight earthwork and by parch marks in dry weather, showing
that the choir and presbytery together were square ended and slightly longer
than the nave. The approximate lines of the north wall and east end are
followed by the churchyard wall of flint and reused masonry, constructed in
the late 18th or 19th century and excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath it is included. Also included in the scheduling is part of a
substantial wall, c.10m in length, of flint rubble and mortar construction
patched with some fragments of reused stone, which runs westwards from the
north west buttress of the western tower of the church and is believed to be
of monastic date. There is evidence that originally it continued eastwards to
the north east corner of the nave, where there is a stub of similar walling,
and that part was removed to accommodate the 14th century tower.

The precise layout of the conventual buildings to the north of the church is
not known, but the area of the level platform here, which measures c.25m
north-south, is sufficient for a small cloister c.16m square. Nathaniel
Fairfax, an antiquarian writing in the late 17th century and apparently from
first hand observation, noted in a description of the church that there were
two doorways in the (now demolished) north wall of the chancel which he
suggested had provided access from a building on that side. The position of
such a building would correspond to that of the range which normally extended
along the east side of any monastic cloister and contained the chapter house
on the ground floor, where the community met to discuss the business of the
priory, and the dorter (canons' dormitory) above, with direct access to the
church by way of a night stair. Masonry footings and fragments of 13th and
14th century pottery were observed on the line of this postulated eastern
range in 1975, in excavations carried out prior to the construction of a barn.
If the priory followed the usual plan, there will have been other ranges of
buildings along the north and west sides of the cloister, also. Fairfax noted
that, although no ruins of the priory remained visible other than the
foundations of a cellar, the marks of the fire which had destroyed the priory
buildings were still visible on the north side of the church, and that the
surface of the field immediately to the north of the church was `full of
stones and brickbatts'.

In the area of pasture to the south of the gatehouse and churchyard, the
eastern side of the hollow way leading to the gatehouse is visible as a scarp
c.1m high, and running south eastwards from this, approximately at right
angles to it and roughly parallel to the church at a distance of c.62m, is a
lower scarp, the alignment of which suggests that it relates to the priory.
The surface of the field is uneven in places, perhaps marking the presence of
buried features such as the foundations of buildings.

The same area, which has maximum dimensions of c.91m north-south by 106m
east-west, formed part of the garden of the 17th century mansion, of which the
central block remained standing until 1947. The western boundary of this
garden is marked by a wall, considered to be of early 17th century date though
with some later patching, running south westwards from the south west angle of
the priory gatehouse for a distance of c.44m and then continuing on a
north-south alignment. The northern end of this wall is of separate build
from the wall of the gatehouse, which it abuts with a straight joint, and the
bricks, although of early type, are also of a different size to those used in
the construction of the latter. The southern boundary of the field, c.88m
south of the church, is formed of a length of wall thought to be of similar
date. It runs eastwards for a distance of c.36m. Another length of early
wall forms the boundary between the former garden and the churchyard to the
north of it and continues northwards along the western boundary of the
churchyard. The wall on the eastern boundary of the former garden is of
similar brick. All parts of these walls which border the field to the south
of the church and the western side of the churchyard and are of early post-
medieval date are included in the scheduling. The length of wall between the
north east angle of the gatehouse and the south west angle of the churchyard
is, however, of later date, and is excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath it is included.

Although adjacent to the monument and originally within the monastic precinct,
the parish church and the area of the churchyard within its boundary walls are
not included in the scheduling (except for the part which is the site of the
east end of the monastic church).

All modern gates and farmyard surfaces within the area of the scheduling are
excluded, although the ground beneath these features is 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. 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.

Letheringham Priory is of interest as one of the smaller and poorer
Augustinian monasteries, and notable in particular for the gatehouse, which
stands as a well preserved example of a late medieval brick building. The area
of the monastic church and conventual buildings around the cloister remains
largely unencumbered by later structures and, although little of them apart
from the nave of the monastic church remains visible above ground, the
foundations of these buildings, together with other buried remains below the
ground surface, will retain archaeological information relating to the life
and organisation of the monastic community and the history of the priory
before and after the Dissolution. The earthworks to the south of the
churchyard are likely to include evidence for domestic and agricultural
activities associated with monastic life, and the remains of an early post-
medieval garden on part of the site give the monument additional interest. The
priory is also one of several monuments, including moated sites in and around
Letheringham, which have historical connections with the Wingfield family,
prominent in the later medieval and early post-medieval periods, and when
viewed as a group they provide a valuable insight into the social structure at
the end of the Middle Ages locally.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 108
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 108
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 141,164
Blatchley, J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Lost and Mutilated Memorials of the Bovile and Wingfield Families, , Vol. 33, (1976), 168-194
Farrer, E, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Letheringham Abbey, , Vol. 20, (1930), 9,10
Farrer, E, 'East Anglian Miscellany' in Letheringham Abbey, , Vol. 4634,37, ()
cited Blatchley, J (1976). Mss C17, Fairfax, Nicholas, Hengrave Mss f93,
Letter to Miss Wynne, Hines, GC, Letheringham Abbey gatehouse & precinct wall, (1977)

Source: Historic England

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