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Canons Ashby: the remains of a medieval monastery, castle, settlement and fields, post-medieval houses, gardens and park, and a series of five dams

A Scheduled Monument in Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.1517 / 52°9'6"N

Longitude: -1.16 / 1°9'35"W

OS Eastings: 457569.413022

OS Northings: 250715.583347

OS Grid: SP575507

Mapcode National: GBR 8TF.1JT

Mapcode Global: VHCVY.V53T

Entry Name: Canons Ashby: the remains of a medieval monastery, castle, settlement and fields, post-medieval houses, gardens and park, and a series of five dams

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1972

Last Amended: 21 February 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1015534

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13643

County: Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Canons Ashby

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Details

Canons Ashby is situated on a low hill which slopes gradually down to the west
and south. The present village, which stands at the top of the hill,
originated in the early medieval period as a small settlement aligned along a
trackway which ran from south west to north east up the hill in the area now
partly occupied by Canons Ashby House and gardens. During the Middle Ages a
motte and bailey castle was constructed to the north west of the settlement
and a monastery to the south east; the settlement subsequently expanded
towards these features and, when the castle was abandoned later in the Middle
Ages, onto the bailey itself. After the Dissolution the monastic buildings
were converted into a secular residence which was succeeded in less than
20 years by a country house established in the original core of the
village, now Canons Ashby House. With the development of the house and
gardens during the 16th to 18th centuries the early trackway was diverted to
the south east through the former gateway into the monastic precinct, north of
the church. During the medieval and post-medieval periods a flight of dammed
pools was created along the water-course to the west providing power for a
series of watermills. In the late 18th century the earthwork remains of the
medieval castle and settlement and some of the fields and pools were partly
altered and incorporated into the design of a landscape park. Canons Ashby
House, gardens and park and St Mary's Church are now managed by the National
Trust as a site open to the public.
The monument is protected in four areas. The largest area includes, to the
south east of Canons Ashby House, the remains of the medieval monastery and
post-Dissolution house, together with associated garden remains and
water-control features; to the north west of Canons Ashby House it includes
the earthwork and buried remains of the medieval castle and settlement and
those areas of ridge and furrow cultivation which were incorporated into the
landscape park. The earthworks constructed during the creation of the park
are also thus included. Canons Ashby House, which overlies part of the early
settlement and trackway, is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling
although the gardens and the ground beneath the house are included. St Mary's
Church is also Listed Grade I and is similarly excluded from the scheduling
although the churchyard, which is no longer used for burial, and the ground
beneath the church are included. The south western part of the monument
includes the remains of two dams, formerly the sites of watermills, which were
altered to create ornamental lakes; the remains of three further dams are
protected in three separate areas.
In the south eastern part of the monument are the remains of a priory of
Augustinian canons founded in the mid-12th century and dissolved in 1536-7.
The present St Mary's Church represents the standing remains of the western
part of the nave of the monastic church. Adjacent to the east is a raised
rectangular platform about 50m long and 20m wide which was partly excavated in
the 19th century revealing the foundations of the eastern parts of the
original church. Adjacent to the south of the remains of the church are those
of the monastic cloister, also revealed by part excavation; these were found
to have been converted in the late 16th century into domestic outbuildings
associated with a country house which was constructed on the site by Sir John
Cope, who bought the property from Sir Francis Bryan soon after the
Dissolution. The remains of the house are believed to survive as buried
features beneath the present houses and gardens.
The boundary of the monastic precinct and of the country house which developed
out of it is represented by a series of earthworks and buried deposits and by
a fragment of standing masonry. Along the northern and eastern sides of the
present churchyard is a linear depression which is considered to represent the
north eastern part of the precinct boundary; where this is projected across
the present road north of the church, the chamfered jamb of a gateway stands
to a height of about 1.4m built into a later stone wall. This fragment, which
is included in the scheduling, represents the standing remains of the gateway
through which the monastic precinct was entered from the north; further
remains of this gateway are believed to survive as buried features. Adjacent
to the south of the churchyard the eastern boundary of the monastic precinct
is overlain by part of a walled garden, believed to have originated in the
16th century in association with Cope's house. The standing parts of the
north and east walls of this garden are included in the scheduling. The
south eastern part of the precinct boundary is represented by the earthwork
remains of an L-shaped moat with an external bank, which is also thought to
have been altered and reused as the boundary of the post-Dissolution house.
The western part of the precinct boundary is overlain by post-medieval and
modern features to the west and south of the present road, and its position is
indicated by the recorded extent of ridge and furrow cultivation which lay
adjacent to the west. The monastic precinct occupied an area approximately
180m square.
To the east of the monastic precinct is an area of pasture known as Canons
Walk, bounded on the north and east by a linear bank approximately 1m high and
2m wide at the top with a ditch on each side. The interior of the enclosure
is largely level; on its western side is a shallow depression representing the
site of a building, and to the south is a circular mound about 0.5m high.
These features are considered to represent the remains of a post-Dissolution
garden established by Cope in the mid-16th century. The linear bank served as
a raised walk from which planting on the interior of the garden would have
been viewed; the circular mound is a prospect mound constructed as a vantage
point from which the whole garden could be seen. Adjacent to the south east,
also within the enclosure defined by the linear bank, are a series of
waterlogged depressions; these are thought to have originated as medieval
fishponds associated with the priory and to have served in the post-medieval
period as a feature of the garden.
Adjacent to the north of the monastic precinct is a modern enclosure known as
The Orchard which contains the remains of water-control features associated
with the monastery and post-Dissolution house, including on its eastern
perimeter a linear ditch and pond. This enclosure, referred to in a
15th century documentary source as Well House Close, contains two wells which
are believed to have originated in the medieval period. Over one of these is
a stone-built well-house known as the Norwell, a structure of 16th century
date with 18th century alterations, which is included within the scheduling.
It is associated with two underground reservoirs which were located by part
excavation in the 19th century, and with two courses of pipes: one, of lead,
extends southwards though the churchyard to the site of the monastery and
post-Dissolution house while the other, of oak, leads westwards to Canons
Ashby House.
In the northern part of The Orchard and in the pasture field to the north of
Canons Ashby House are the earthwork remains of the medieval village of Canons
Ashby. The settlement was first referred to as Ashby in the Domesday Book
when the population was recorded as 16; houses and plots of land were granted
to the Augustinian priory when it was founded in the mid-12th century, and by
the mid-13th century it was known as Canons Ashby. The settlement grew during
the 14th century but contracted in the later 15th century when the prior
enclosed land for sheep-pasture. The population diminished further in the 16th
and 17th centuries and by the early 18th century there remained about five
dwellings. The earliest part of the village is believed to be represented by
the earthwork remains of plot boundaries which lie on the north side of the
Adstone Road. The plots take the form of a series of small, roughly
rectangular enclosures defined by banks and ditches; each plot would have
contained a house and garden or yard. Further plots are evident to the
north west, on the east side of the Preston Capes Road, and are believed to be
associated with the expansion of the settlement in the 14th century; further
plots are believed to have been located on the west side of the road.
Adjacent to the east of the present road and extending to the west of it are
the earthwork remains of the hollow way which preceded it; there is another
hollow way, representing a back lane, running behind the plot boundaries to
the east.
Approximately 350m to the north west of Canons Ashby House is a hexagonal
mound, now planted with trees, known as Castle Hill. The top of the mound is
about 3m high and 30m-40m in diameter; it is nearly entirely surrounded by a
shallow ditch about 15m wide. The mound stands within a roughly rectangular
area bounded on the south, west and north by a broad depression up to 20m
wide; on the east side of the road this boundary continues as a narrow ditch
with an internal bank. These features represent the remains of a medieval
motte and bailey castle which have been altered by later medieval and
post-medieval activity. The bailey is represented by the area enclosed by the
linear depression and covers an area approximately 180m square; it has been
cut through from north to south by the Preston Capes Road which is thought to
follow part of the course of an earlier trackway through the bailey. The
castle was abandoned during the medieval period when that part of the bailey
to the east of the road was overlain by the settlement which expanded
northwards onto it. In the late 18th century that part of the bailey to the
west of the road, and the motte which stands within it, were adapted to form
features of the landscape park around Canons Ashby House: these works included
the levelling of the top of the motte, the alteration of the sides to
hexagonal plan and the planting of trees on it. Also at this time the area
between the motte and the house, formerly occupied by part of the medieval
settlement, was partly levelled and banks were raised for the planting of
trees in order to create an enhanced vista towards the castle.
Adjacent to the north of the settlement earthworks is a complete furlong of
ridge and furrow cultivation in reversed S-shape aligned north east to south
west. It is separated from the field to the north east by a linear ditch with
a bank on its eastern side; this bank overlies the heads of another furlong of
ridge and furrow to the east and is thought to represent a trackway
established in the post-medieval period. To the west and south of the motte
and bailey castle and settlement are further remains of ridge and furrow
cultivation including several complete furlongs. These earthworks represent
part of a wider agricultural landscape which was abandoned in favour of sheep-
rearing in the mid-16th century. While other parts of the parish later
returned to arable, these earthworks were incorporated in the late 18th
century into the design of the landscape park; tree-planting, which included
the establishment of avenues aligned upon the house and its formal gardens,
was partly achieved through the employment of medieval cultivation ridges as
planting banks.
To the west of The Orchard stands Canons Ashby House, a country house first
constructed on an H-shaped plan by John Dryden who acquired the former
monastic estate on the death of Sir John Cope in 1558. The house, which is
thought to incorporate part of an earlier farmhouse, overlies the buried
remains of part of the medieval settlement and part of the trackway which
formed its south west/north east axis. In the 1590s it was enlarged to create
a courtyard and was further altered during succeeding centuries. Extending
south westward from the house are a series of levelled rectangular terraces
ranged down the natural slope in four steps; the terraces are separated from
each other by scarps linked along a central linear path. These terraces
represent part of a formal garden created in 1708-10 by Tilleman Bobart and
Henry Wise for Edward Dryden, and overlying further remains of the medieval
trackway. Documentary sources indicate that the two upper terraces were laid
out as gravel parterres and the lower two were planted with vegetables and
fruit; the former have now been partly overlain by grass and gravel with some
flowerbeds and the latter planted as an orchard. Adjacent to the north west of
the upper terraces is another levelled area, now lawn, which was formerly
divided into two parts corresponding to the upper terraces and is believed to
have been occupied by a bowling green and two small ponds. The whole L-shaped
area is bounded by a stone wall. Adjacent to the north east is another walled
lawn know as the Green Court, also of early 18th century date. The garden
walls, gates and original garden furniture are Listed Grades II and II*.
Running south westward from the south west end of the formal gardens is a
broad hollow way which represents the earthwork remains of the medieval
trackway upon which the settlement of Canons Ashby was established. It runs
towards an earthen dam which crosses the valley bottom on the north side of
the Eydon Road. The dam is now retained on its northern side by a brick and
stone wall of 18th century and later date but is believed to have originated
in the medieval period to provide water-power for milling. Near the south
western end of the dam are two leats representing a millrace and an overflow
leat; adjacent to the south east of the millrace are the standing remains of a
watermill which have been incorporated into a dwelling and are therefore
excluded from the scheduling. This mill, which was in use in the 19th century,
is believed to represent a rebuilding of an earlier watermill.
The dam in the south western part of the monument is the lowest in a series of
five earthen dams which extend up the valley north westward form the Eydon
Road. The area of the ponds formed behind the dams varies between 2ha and 3ha.
The shape of the two lower ponds, which are still water-filled, and of the
dams behind them dates from the late 18th century when they were altered to
form ornamental lakes within the landscape park around Canons Ashby House. The
three upper ponds are now only partly water-filled and lie within a
plantation. The dams built to retain these ponds are protected in three
separate areas; each of the upper two, which were not significantly altered
during the creation of the landscape park, includes the remains of a millrace
and an overflow leat. The uppermost dam is further associated with a linear
bank which was constructed to retain the north eastern side of the pond behind
it; along the outside edge of this bank is an artificial bypass leat through
which the water-course now runs and from which the pond was fed through an
inlet leat near its north western end. The full flight of five ponds is
believed to have been developed during the medieval and post-medieval periods
as a source of water-power. A sample of the deposits on the floor of each pond
is included within the scheduling.
The remains of the medieval and post-medieval dams which lie across the water-course to the west of Canons Ashby House are also included. Canons Ashby House and all other standing buildings are excluded from the scheduling except the well-house known as the Norwell, which is included; all standing walls and fences are also excluded except the old stone wall to the south east of the church and the gatehouse fragment to the north west of the church, which are included. All modern road surfaces and street furniture is also excluded. The ground beneath all excluded features is included.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 24/05/2016

MAP EXTRACT
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.

The remains of the Augustinian priory at Canons Ashby survive well as a series
of earthworks and buried deposits. Limited archaeological excavation in the
area of the church and cloister has demonstrated the survival of
archaeological layers while leaving the majority of deposits intact. The
remains of the monastery are associated with those of an early
post-Dissolution house and formal garden; as a result of documentary research
these features are closely datable to a limited historical period, and as such
the garden is one of the earliest identified post-medieval gardens in the
country.
The Augustinian priory and post-Dissolution house at Canons Ashby are part of
a rare piece of the landscape in which a concentration of superimposed
archaeological remains enables the impact of successive generations of
inhabitants to be deciphered. The preservation of the stratigraphic and
spatial relationships between the remains of a variety of religious, domestic
and economic activities over a period of nearly a thousand years will enable
us to understand how these activities developed and interrelated within a
particular historical and environmental setting. An unusual degree of
continuity in ownership and land use over this period has resulted in the
survival, relatively intact, of a medieval monastic estate; the management of
this land unit in the post-medieval and modern periods has involved the
adaptation and reuse of earlier features rather than their destruction. The
remains of the medieval settlement and motte and bailey castle survive in good
condition, and the protection of those areas of ridge and furrow cultivation
which were incorporated into the landscape park, including complete furlongs,
will preserve evidence both for medieval agricultural practices and for the
post-medieval transformation of an arable landscape into a largely
recreational one. The formal gardens and landscape park of Canons Ashby House
overlie rather than cut into medieval remains and themselves represent a
largely complete garden layout which has been little altered by later
activity.
Much of the monument is managed by the National Trust as a historic property
open to the public and therefore serves as an important educational and
recreational resource.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Batey, M, Lambert, D, The English Garden Tour: A View into the Past, (1990), 204-205
Knowles, D, Hadcock, R, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1957), 132
Taylor, C, The Archaeology of Gardens, (1983), 41-42
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby - Park Restoration, (1994)
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby Northamptonshire, (1989), 4
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby Northamptonshire, (1989)
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby Northamptonshire, (1989), 35
Audouy, M, 'Northamptonshire Archaeology' in The Priory Church of Saint Mary, Canons Ashby, , Vol. 23, (1991), 70-78
Taylor, S J, 'Northamptonshire Archaeology' in An Excavation on the Site of the Augustinian Priory: Canons A, , Vol. 8, (1973), 57-67
Other
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Canons Ashby Northamptonshire: An archaeological survey by the, (1992)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Canons Ashby Northamptonshire: An archaeological survey by the, (1992)
Survey at 1:2500 by JK and PS, RCHME (Cambridge), Canons Ashby, (1992)
Title: 1" Ordnance Survey
Source Date: 1834
Author:
Publisher:
Surveyor:

Source: Historic England

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