Ancient Monuments

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Swineshead Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Swineshead, Lincolnshire

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Latitude: 52.949 / 52°56'56"N

Longitude: -0.1427 / 0°8'33"W

OS Eastings: 524888.170839

OS Northings: 340684.231242

OS Grid: TF248406

Mapcode National: GBR HVD.0RN

Mapcode Global: WHHLV.S48K

Entry Name: Swineshead Abbey

Scheduled Date: 9 October 1981

Last Amended: 19 March 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018687

English Heritage Legacy ID: 22747

County: Lincolnshire

Civil Parish: Swineshead

Traditional County: Lincolnshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lincolnshire

Church of England Parish: Swineshead St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Lincoln


The monument includes the known extent of the earthwork and buried remains of
part of the inner precint and an associated dylings field system of the Abbey
of St Mary, a Cistercian monastery founded in the early 12th century by the
lord of the manor, Robert de Gresley. King John is reputed to have fallen ill
at Swineshead Abbey a few days before his death at Newark in October 1216.
Documentary sources suggest that the income of the abbey was based upon the
export of wool. In the late 14th century there were 17 monks and three lay
brothers at Swineshead; by 1534 there were only seven monks. The abbey was
dissolved in 1536 and later passed to Edward, Lord Clinton, although the first
documented reuse of the site dates from 1607 when a farmhouse was built out of
the abbey ruins by Sir John Lockton. The present farmhouse, which incorporates
the surviving parts of that building, is Listed Grade II and excluded from the
scheduling although the ground beneath it is included.

The abbey occupies a slightly raised area in the marshland approximately 1km
north east of the medieval town of Swineshead. In the raised area in the north
eastern part of the monument, partly overlain by Abbey Farm, are the buried
remains of the abbey's inner court where the church, cloister, dormitory and
other claustral buildings would have been located. Adjacent to the west is
another raised area, partly overlain by the present lane, where the remains of
the abbey's outer court are located; these would include stables, barns and
other agricultural and service buildings, together with the principal
gatehouse of the abbey through which the complex would have been approached
from the west. Aerial photographic evidence indicates that a ditched causeway
formerly linked this site with The Manwar Ings, a motte and bailey castle 650m
to the north west constructed by Robert de Gresley (the subject of a
separate scheduling). Buried remains of part of this causeway are
located on the north side of the present lane and are included in the
scheduling. The foundations of substantial stone walls and fragments of
medieval artefacts have been identified in the area of the outer court, and
the ground level in the area of both the inner and outer courts indicates that
archaeological deposits have accumulated to a considerable depth.

In the southern part of the monument are the earthwork remains of three
rectangular ditched enclosures, also raised, and aligned east-west along the
south side of the inner and outer courts. These enclosures represent the
remains of paddocks or gardens which lay within the inner precinct of the
monastery. They are bounded on the west by the remains of a north-south ditch,
thought to represent the western boundary of the inner precinct, to the west
of which are the remains of a pair of lower ditched enclosures thought to have
lain within the outer precinct of the monastery. In the south eastern part of
the monument are the remains of a series of parallel field strips separated by
linear ditches, aligned roughly east-west, representing the remains of a
medieval dylings field system which also lay within the abbey's outer precinct
forming part of the land held directly by the abbey which originally extended
over about 97ha. Parts of the ditches delineating both the enclosures and the
field strips were redug in later centuries to create ponds and for drainage. A
long embanked pond in the south eastern part of the monument, measuring nearly
90m in length and 10m in width, represents the remains of a ditch within the
dylings which was altered to create a formal garden feature associated with
the post-Dissolution house.

All standing buildings, walls, fences and gates are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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.

The remains of Swineshead Abbey survive well as a series of buried remains and
earthwork features. The depth of accumulated archaeological deposits in the
northern part of the monument, and the substantial earthworks in the southern
part of the monument, indicate that buried structural and artefactual remains
will survive largely intact. Waterlogging in parts of the site will also
preserve organic materials such as wood and cloth, which will provide valuable
information about the construction of timber buildings on the site and about
economic, domestic and religious activity. Associated with the only surviving
fragment of a once-extensive system of medieval dylings, the monument also
preserves evidence for the way in which the abbey functioned as an economic
unit in the wider medieval landscape.

Source: Historic England

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