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Premonstratensian abbey at Sulby Abbey Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Sulby, Northamptonshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.4142 / 52°24'51"N

Longitude: -1.034 / 1°2'2"W

OS Eastings: 465802.833754

OS Northings: 280013.791348

OS Grid: SP658800

Mapcode National: GBR 9RM.PD9

Mapcode Global: VHDR4.1L74

Entry Name: Premonstratensian abbey at Sulby Abbey Farm

Scheduled Date: 14 December 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017186

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30072

County: Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Sulby

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Welford St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough

Details

The monument includes the known extent of the buried and earthwork remains of
the Premonstratensian abbey of Sulby, located in a broad valley on either side
of the River Avon. Also included are the earthwork and buried remains of the
enclosures, fishponds, watermill and warren associated with the abbey.
The abbey, a house of Premonstratensian canons, was originally founded in 1155
in the adjacent parish of Welford, by William de Wideville, who donated the
church of Welford and lands in Sulby. The community soon relocated to Sulby
and the abbey may have been built on the site of an earlier settlement,
recorded in the Domesday Book, which may already have been abandoned by the
12th century. The abbey was favoured by Edward II, who stayed there several
times during the 14th century. No more than 13 canons were recorded in 15th
century visitations however. The abbey was dissolved in 1538, and the land was
occupied by a succession of land owners.
The abbey is approached by a broad track orientated north east to south west,
running from Naseby which marks the original entrance. The approach is bounded
by a ditch 0.5m deep on the western side, and a bank measuring up to 1.5m high
on the eastern side. On either side of the track are the remains of at least
five large enclosures, measuring up to 100m wide and 150m long, defined by
banks and ditches measuring up to 1m high and 3m wide. The enclosures are
believed to be the remains of the stock pens and animal enclosures of the
abbey. These are overlain by medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains,
indicating later reuse of the area as arable fields.
The main building complex of the abbey is located at the southern end of the
track and includes an area of low earthworks lying to the south east of Sulby
Abbey Farm. This area is believed to include the buried remains of the abbey
church and cloistral range, although it has been somewhat disturbed by later
quarrying and the construction of the 18th and 19th century farm buildings.
Medieval tiles and stone foundations have been found beneath and around the
outbuildings of the farm, and further remains of the conventual buildings are
believed to be located beneath the buildings of Sulby Abbey Farm. Sulby Abbey
Farm, which is a Grade II Listed Building, is excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath it is included.
To the south of Sulby Abbey Farm is a complex of small fishponds and
associated water management features. Two water courses flow east to west
along the valley. The northernmost of these, which occupies the lowest point
of the valley, is believed to represent the original course of the River Avon.
The southernmost channel was constructed when the river was diverted by the
canons to create a leat higher up the valley side, in places occupying a
cutting up to 4m deep. During the 19th century, the northern channel was
straightened and modified, in order to act as a feeder for the Grand Union
Canal system. The remains of a large earthen dam, measuring up to 2.5m high
and 8m wide, orientated north to south, cross the valley floor. The dam
originally retained a large shallow pond located to the south east. This was
partly modified when the canal feeder passed underneath the dam. To the west
of the dam are at least three smaller interlinked ponds which are believed to
have acted as stew ponds for fish breeding. The ponds are up to 0.5m deep and
have been partly infilled, but survive as waterlogged buried features. Two
further ponds to the north of the river have been infilled but also survive as
below ground features, together with a third located to the west of Abbey
Farm. Immediately to the south east of the dam, and to the south of the River
Avon is a waterlogged area including a large earthen platform measuring up to
25m square, which is believed to be the location of a watermill. To the south
east of the River Avon the land rises and includes an area of earthwork
enclosures defined by remnant banks and ditches, and partly overlain by
medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains.
The south easternmost enclosure is believed to be the remains of a rabbit
warren and includes a long earthen mound or pillow mound measuring up to 20m
long and 4m wide, as well as a series of other lower mounds.
To the south of the River Avon, occupying the break of slope on the rising
ground, is a banked and ditched linear feature, measuring up to 8m wide,
orientated north west to south east and surviving for over 500m. This is
believed to represent part of the boundary of the abbey precinct incorporating
a perimeter road. A shallow hollow way orientated north to south and surviving
for 200m runs from the boundary, through the medieval ridge and furrow,
towards the south.
Sulby Abbey Farm and all modern surfaces and fences are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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. The
Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense
but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first
Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but
later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian
order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and
founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

The earthwork and buried remains of the Premonstratensian abbey at Sulby Abbey
Farm survive well and include the remains of a variety of different features
including the abbey church and cloistral buildings, as well as parts of the
wider precinct and several waterlogged areas. Buried remains will also include
evidence for the church, cloisters, ancillary domestic buildings and other
structures used for agricultural and industrial purposes, accompanied by a
range of boundaries, refuse pits, wells and drainage channels, all related to
the development of the abbey. Buried artefacts, in association with the
buildings will provide insights into the lifestyle of the inhabitants and
assist in dating the development of the abbey over time. Environmental
evidence may also be preserved, particularly within the waterlogged areas,
providing information about the economy of the abbey and its agricultural
regime. The abbey will have had its own cemetery around the church, and this
will preserve buried human remains which will provide information about the
inhabitants of the abbey, illuminating their diet, standards of living and
life expectancy, as well as providing information about funerary practices and
rituals.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
RCHME, , 'The county of Northamptonshire' in Sulby Abbey, , Vol. iii, (1980), 182-7

Source: Historic England

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