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Sawley Cistercian abbey and associated earthworks

A Scheduled Monument in Sawley, Lancashire

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Latitude: 53.9135 / 53°54'48"N

Longitude: -2.3394 / 2°20'21"W

OS Eastings: 377800.677804

OS Northings: 446419.884397

OS Grid: SD778464

Mapcode National: GBR DR35.9W

Mapcode Global: WH965.1W8R

Entry Name: Sawley Cistercian abbey and associated earthworks

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1915

Last Amended: 13 August 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015492

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23690

County: Lancashire

Civil Parish: Sawley

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Grindleton St Ambrose

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn


Sawley Abbey is located in the Ribble Valley 6km north east of Clitheroe and
includes the upstanding and below ground remains of parts of an abbey founded
by the Cistercian order and dedicated to St Mary and St Andrew. It is
constructed in a combination of dressed sandstone and black shale. The most
visible remains are the ruins of the church and immediately attached buildings
which are all now in the care of the Secretary of State.
The well preserved standing remains demonstrate the usual layout of a
Cistercian abbey with the church running east-west and forming the north range
of a four-sided complex known as the cloister. Domestic buildings such as the
kitchen and dining hall formed the southern range, lay-brothers' quarters
formed the west range, and monks' quarters and chapter house the east range.
The earliest standing remains at Sawley are parts of the mid-twelfth century
church. Both north and south transepts have three eastern chapels, some of
which retain surviving 13th century tiled paving. In the south transept the
position of the night stairs which led to the monks' quarters is marked. The
walls of the Norman choir still stand to a height of almost 3m. The original
nave measured approximately 40m in length. In the 14th century a narrow chapel
was added along its north side. The nave was shortened in the 15th/early 16th
century and this section still retains walls standing c.8m high. The remaining
structures within the core area of the abbey survive as low walls. This
includes the chancel of the abbey church which was lengthened and widened in
the 15th/early 16th century.
The cloister measures c.37m by 28m and had walkways on all sides. The eastern
end of the north range now abuts the nave of the 15th/early 16th century
church. The east range would have consisted of two floors but, as elsewhere in
the core of the abbey, only the lower courses of stonework now survive. On the
ground floor was a small sacristy cum library where sacred vessels were kept,
a narrow chapter house, a parlour, a passageway, and the undercroft of the
monks' dorter. The monks' dorter, or sleeping quarters, formed the upper floor
over all these buildings. The south range contained, from east to west, the
warming house, the dining hall and the kitchen. The west range was originally
given over to the lay-brothers and included their quarters, dining hall and
cellars, but was latterly partly converted into the abbot's lodgings. Two
fireplaces originally belonging to the abbot's lodgings can be seen and other
parts are incorporated into Abbey Cottage. Ruins of a square building at the
north end of the cloister west range is thought to be a post-Dissolution
addition. Some 100m north of the church is an archway constructed in 1962 from
stone taken from a nearby demolished gateway which itself was a mid-19th
century construction using stones removed at the time of a small excavation of
the church and claustral buildings. It contains considerable amounts of
decorated medieval stonework.
On all sides of the abbey except the west are numerous earthworks indicating
enclosures, stock pens, gardens, watercourses and structures which would have
functioned as the service buildings and areas of the abbey and included the
infirmary, infirmarer's range, bake house, brew house and numerous other
buildings. To the north west of the abbey, close to the north west corner of
the modern field, is the site of St Mary's Well, now issuing from a modern
pipe. Water from the well fed downhill via a channel to join with the main
leat which runs north-south along the base of the hillslope before turning at
right angles and running towards the site of the now demolished abbey mill
situated close to the River Ribble. On the uphill side of the leat there are
well preserved field boundary banks running at right angles to the leat,
together with other banks and water courses running obliquely downhill. To the
north and north east of the church there are a number of enclosures; to the
east there is a large sub-rectangular enclosure; and to the south there are a
number of irregular earthworks overlooking the mill leat. On higher ground to
the south east of the angle of the mill leat there are two slightly sunken
building platforms; the larger measuring c.12m by 10m, the smaller measuring
c.5m square. Other earthworks in the vicinity include numerous narrow water
channels running downhill towards the south.
Sawley Abbey was founded by William de Percy in 1147/8 and colonised by an
abbot, twelve monks and ten lay-brothers from Newminster in Northumberland.
Although never a particularly large or wealthy house, Sawley developed a
scholarly tradition. Stephen of Easton, abbot from 1224 to 1233, was a
spiritual writer of some renown, and William of Rymington, who was prior at
the abbey, was also chancellor of Oxford University in 1372-3. An unknown monk
at Sawley translated into English a Latin work of the famous 13th century
scholar-bishop Robert Grosseteste. Towards the end of the 13th century
documentary sources indicate that some of the abbey buildings were burned by
the Scots. About a century later other documents indicate the religious
community at Sawley numbered 70. The abbey was suppressed in 1536, but during
the Pilgrimage of Grace the monks were restored under a new abbot William
Trafford. This so incensed the king, Henry VIII, that he sent his commander,
the Earl of Derby, to deal with the monks. As a result William Trafford was
executed for treason in 1537 and the abbey was once again suppressed. The
abbey was then granted to Sir Arthur Darcy de Gray. In 1951 the area of the
church and claustral buildings was placed into the guardianship of the
Secretary of State.
The church and claustral buildings were subjected to limited antiquarian
investigation by the then owner, Lord de Gray, in 1848 and again 30 years
later. The site was also subjected to limited investigation during the late
1930's but no report was published.
The following buildings within the abbey complex are Listed Grade 1: the walls
of the church; transeptal chapels and night stairs to the dorter from the
south transept; the foundations of all the buildings around the cloister.
Abbey Cottage is Listed Grade II. Built into its porch is a drain with some
transverse arches and a piscina.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these include Abbey
Cottage; the English Heritage ticket hut and all English Heritage fixtures and
fittings; all modern walls, gateposts and field boundaries; and the surface of
all paths, although the ground beneath all 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 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians 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.

Sawley Abbey is a well preserved site largely undisturbed by modern
development. It contains extensive upstanding remains of medieval fabric which
include the church and adjacent buildings. Additionally extensive undisturbed
earthworks survive to the north, east and south of the core area of the abbey.
This allows the development and workings of much of the monastic precinct to
be studied.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Butler, L, Given-Wilson, C, Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain, (1979), 343
Fergusson, P, Architecture of Solitude-Cistercian Abbeys in 12th Cent England, (1984), 143-4
Kowles, D, St Joseph, JKS , Monastic Sites from the Air, (1952), 100
New, A, A Guide to the Abbeys of England and Wales, (1985), 334-5
McNulty, J, 'Trans Lancs and Chesh Antiquities Soc' in Salley Abbey 1148-1536, , Vol. 54, (1939), 194-204
DOE, Ancient Monuments - Records Form: Sawley Abbey (additional area), (1977)
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, Scheduled Ancient Monuments Lancashire (Part 4),
Ordnance Survey Card Ref No. SD 74 NE 3, Ordnance Survey, Sawley Abbey,
SMR No. 297, Lancs SMR, Sawley Abbey (Cistercian), (1993)

Source: Historic England

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