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Coggeshall Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Coggeshall, Essex

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Latitude: 51.8683 / 51°52'6"N

Longitude: 0.6928 / 0°41'34"E

OS Eastings: 585488.918789

OS Northings: 222289.835666

OS Grid: TL854222

Mapcode National: GBR QKF.V99

Mapcode Global: VHJJL.Y9MK

Entry Name: Coggeshall Abbey

Scheduled Date: 12 December 1953

Last Amended: 19 March 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018865

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29426

County: Essex

Civil Parish: Coggeshall

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Coggeshall with Markshall

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford


The monument includes the buried and visible remains of the Savignac, later
Cistercian, monastery of St Mary and St John, situated alongside the River
Blackwater some 0.5km to the south east of the centre of Coggeshall. The
scheduling includes two areas of protection: one concerned with the site of
the church, conventual buildings and other features within the abbey precinct
to the west of the river, the other concerned with a flight of contemporary
fishponds arranged alongside the river's eastern bank.

The abbey church and the majority of the conventual buildings survive only as
foundations and buried remains, although portions of the eastern arm of the
claustral range (which originally formed a square around an open garth to the
south of the church) still stand, retained within and alongside Abbey Farm: a
post-Dissolution country house and modern farm. Parchmarks caused by
underlying masonry have been recorded across the lawns to the north of the
present house, and together with some very small scale excavations in the
1950s, indicate that the abbey church was approximately 61m in length, laid
out in standard cruciform plan with an additional chapel on the north side of
the nave. To the south of the church were located the cloisters, refectory,
dormitory and other buildings. Further limited excavations in the 1950s
revealed the well preserved foundations of the chapter house attached to the
south transept of the church, slightly to the north west of the present house.
These remains included tiled floors and seats and a brick-lined grave,
possibly that of Ralph, the sixth abbot. The present house does contain some
earlier fabric, believed to represent the infirmary hall which was formerly
attached to a parlour immediately to the south of the chapter house. The house
continues in use as a private residence; it is Listed Grade I and is excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

Traces of the cloister walk (with evidence of plain tile paving) were also
uncovered in the 1950s, leading south towards the dorter (the monks'
dormitory) at the southern end of the eastern claustral range. Only two walls,
those to the south and east, now stand to mark the position of the dorter.
These show clear evidence that the hall was vaulted to support a substantial
upper storey, presumably the dormitory itself. It is also apparent however,
that the vaulting was preceded by an earlier building phase dating from around
1180, during which the lower walls were pierced by numerous brick-lined
segmental arches. These arches were subsequently blocked, probably about 1220,
to provide extra support for the additional storey. The eastern wall of the
dorter serves as one side of a narrow corridor-like chamber, also dated to
around 1220, which retains both original stories over its full length of some
12m. The ground floor is linked to the dorter undercroft by a doorway set
within one of the earlier archways, and a similar doorway once connected the
corridor with the infirmary hall to the north. The upper floor, which retains
vestiges of painted wall plaster, is thought to have served as the abbot's
private chamber since it is connected to the abbot's lodging - a rectangular
hall set across the southern end of the dorter and sharing its southern wall.
This hall is thought to date from around 1190. The lower storey may have
served as the abbot's dining hall, although it has been considerably altered
over the years for farm use. The upper floor has seen less disturbance and is
still clearly recognisable as a chapel - containing both a niche (or aumbry)
and a piscina. The abbot's lodging and the corridor, both Grade I Listed
buildings, are included in the scheduling.

A detached rectangular building stands a few metres south of the abbot's
lodging, orientated north east-south west in line with the river rather than
north-south in common with the rest of the range. This is considered to be the
abbey guest house. The building measures some 7.6m by 4.8m and, although tall
enough for two stories, only contained one. Both the east and west walls are
pierced by four tall lancet windows. Doorways were originally placed at the
western ends of the north and south walls, although only the northern round
headed archway survives - the southern wall having long since been removed to
allow cart access. Excavation of the floor of the guest house in the 1950s
demonstrated successive uses as a stable, a kitchen and a building store. A
straw-burning heating system was installed within the structure in the
1980s, at which time the floor was reinforced with concrete and a new chimney
added. These modern features are excluded from the scheduling, although the
original fabric of the Grade I Listed building (together with the later roof)
is included.

The standing monastic buildings and most of the excavated foundations are
composed primarily of flint and chalk rubble. Most significant, however, is
the use of brick for the quoins, buttresses, pillars and decorative mouldings.
These roll-moulded and composite forms were produced locally (probably at
Tilkey on the outskirts of Coggeshall) for the particular requirements of the
abbey, and include some of the earliest examples of medieval brick
construction in the British Isles.

Little is known of the remaining components of the southern and western
claustral ranges, although the layout probably followed a basic pattern
routinely adopted by Cistercian houses. The south range is therefore likely to
have to included the kitchen, refectory and reredorter (latrines), whilst the
western arm probably consisted mainly of the cellarer's hall and stores. The
northern part of the western range has been observed as parchmarks and a small
area was excavated in the 1950s to reveal the foundations of a pentagonal
lavatorium (or washing place) and evidence for a comprehensive rebuilding
phase in the mid-15th century. The south western part of the claustral range
is mainly overlain by later farm buildings.

Other buildings, particularly more prosaic structures related to the economy
of the abbey, would have been detached from the cloisters although still set
within the precinct which separated the monastery from the secular world. The
precise outline of the abbey precinct is not recorded, although its minimum
extent is thought to have been retained as a property boundary after the
Dissolution. The scheduling of the abbey site reflects the position of this
enclosure, which was recorded on an estate map of 1639 and which has also
appeared in part as a cropmark recorded from the air. The boundary crosses the
field to the north of the abbey church at a distance of some 80m (thereby
allowing ample space for the monk's cemetery) before turning south along the
eastern side of St Nicholas' churchyard and along the western boundaries of
the farmyard towards Abbey Mill. The eastern side of the precinct may have
been marked by the River Blackwater, this section of which is artificial - dug
by the monks to supply the mill. The channel has since been recut and it is
not included in the scheduling. Similarly, the site of the original abbey mill
was significantly altered in the 18th and 19th centuries and is also not
included. St Nicholas' Church, facing the town on the western edge of the
precinct, was built in the early 13th century using brickwork comparable to
that of the main abbey buildings. It is thought to have originated as a
gatehouse chapel, although it may have acquired a broader role after the abbey
relinquished control over the parish church in 1223. After 300 years spent as
a barn following the Dissolution, the chapel was restored between 1860 and
1890 and returned to ecclesiastical use. The building remains in use as a
place of worship, is Listed Grade I and not included in the scheduling.

The fishponds to the east of the river extend over a distance of approximately
140m, within the narrow strip of land between the canalised River Blackwater
and a smaller channel called the `Back Ditch'. At present the ponds appear as
three shallow and largely dry rectangular depressions - those to north and
south measuring some 20m square, and the central pond similar in width but
some 75m in length. The 1639 estate map depicts a similar layout, but with the
northern pond subdivided and the division between the central and southern
pond located somewhat further to the north.

Although the cartulary has not survived, a reasonably full picture of the
abbey's history can be gathered from the writings of Ralph, abbot from 1207 to
1218, as well as from later charters, wills and associated manorial records.
The abbey was founded by King Stephen around 1140, favouring the Savignac
Order from the Mortain region of Brittany - of which Stephen was also the
Count. The land chosen for the abbey was provided by his queen, Matilda,
having formerly belonged to her father, Count Eustace of Boulogne, and
included the manor of Coggeshall. Although work commenced under the authority
of the Savignacs, this order collapsed in 1147 and a Papal Bull of 1148 placed
all its former properties under the control of Citeaux. Consequently, by the
time of the abbey church's completion in 1167 (signified by the dedication of
the high altar) the abbey was fully part of the Cistercian Order. The
following year the second abbot, Simon de Toni, returned to his own Abbey of
Melrose having apparently supervised the transfer of authority and the final
stages of the church building.

The abbey continued to prosper throughout the 13th century, developing the
local wool trade and acquiring various lands and rights through both royal and
local grants. Despite these sources of wealth, however, the abbey is known to
have become impoverished in the later 14th century, partly as a result of
mismanagement and partly due to the Crown's imposition of expensive corrodies
(pensioned livings within the precinct) for various favoured subjects. This
practice may have developed in later years. The will of Sir John Sharpe, dated
1518, makes reference to his having held the lease of a `mansion and lodgings
at Coggeshall Abbey'. Sir John's lease has not survived but that granted to
his successor, Clement Harleston, places the mansion next to the infirmary.
Harleston also had exclusive use of St Katherine's Chapel, on the north side
of the nave of the abbey church.

Following inspections by Cromwell's commissioners in 1535 and 1536, Abbot
William Love was dismissed and replaced by the more compliant Abbot of Tower
Hill, Henry More. More surrendered the abbey to the Crown in 1538, at which
point it was handed, together with all its lands and appurtenances, to Sir
Thomas Seymour. Seymour exchanged the abbey site for other lands in 1541 and
as this transfer required a survey, we know that the abbey church was already
levelled by this time. The timber framed mansion formerly occupied by Sharpe
and Harleston was retained after the Dissolution. A fireplace in an east
facing outside wall shows that it was later partly subsumed within the new
house constructed around the skeleton of the infirmary by Anne Paycocke and
her husband, Richard Benton in 1581.

The house, now the principal residence of Abbey Farm, was much altered in the
17th, 18th and 19th centuries, although it still displays many of its earlier
features, including 16th century chimney stacks, oriel windows and the west

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; Abbey Farm House and
all other standing buildings (with the exception of the corridor, abbot's
lodging and guest house), all other modern strutures related to the farm, the
farmhouse and its gardens; all modern fixtures and fittings, such as the
heating unit installed in the guest house and related pipework, all fences
fenceposts and gates, and the modern made surfaces of all driveways, yards,
roads and paths; the ground beneath all the above features is, however,
included in the scheduling.

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
Cluniac order had its origins in the monastic reformations which swept across
continental Europe in the tenth century. The reformations which occurred were
partly a response to the impact of Viking raids and attacks on established
monastic sites in the preceding century but were also a reaction against the
corruption and excesses which were increasingly noted amongst earlier
establishments. The Cluniacs were amongst the most successful of the new
reformed orders that developed. The founding house of Cluny in south-east
France was established in AD 910. Here the community obeyed a stringent set of
rules which, amongst other things, involved celibacy, communal living and
abstention from eating meat. The ideals of the Cluniac reformers passed on to
England in the tenth century. Influential Cluniac houses had been established
in England by 1077. Once established, Cluniac houses were notable for the
strong links they maintained both with the founding house of Cluny in France
and also with other houses of their order. Most Cluniac houses in England were
established near major towns and they particularly sought locations in valley
bottoms within the protection of a nearby castle. Cluniac monasteries are
notable for highly decorated, elaborate buildings. Cluniac houses are
relatively rare, with some forty-four houses known in England, and all
examples exhibiting good survival of archaeological remains are worthy of

Although Coggeshall Abbey was founded as a Savignac monastery (indeed it is
notable as the thirteenth and last establishment of that order in England), in
terms of layout it is largely indistinguishable from the planned monasteries
of the Cistercian Order, to whom it soon belonged.

As a lesser known Cistercian house, Coggeshall Abbey nevertheless achieved a
position of considerable influence in the region during the four centuries
between its foundation and suppression. Despite the fact that many of the
buildings were demolished shortly after the Dissolution, the buried remains of
the church and other claustral buildings are known to survive well, and the
standing parts of the claustral range provide a vivid insight into the abbey's
original appearance. Of particular importance is the sophisticated use of
brick during all stages of the monastery's construction. It has been argued
that the primary building phases represent the earliest use of purpose-made
brick in medieval England, and are therefore of outstanding historical and
archaeological interest.

As the wider area of the precinct has since undergone comparatively little
subsequent development, buried evidence for a range of other structures and
activities will also be preserved. One such aspect of communal life is clearly
represented by the abbey fishponds which, in addition to ensuring a consistent
supply of food, would also have enabled the members of the Order to comply
with religious strictures on their diet.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Doubleday, AH, Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1907), 126
Doubleday, AH, Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1907), 125
Doubleday, AH, Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1907), 125-9
Kowles, D, St Joseph, JKS , Monastic Sites from the Air, (1952), 133
Medlycott, M, Coggeshall: Historic Towns Project Assessment Report, (1998)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (1954), 251
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England, (1954), 251
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, (1922), 165
Cutts, , 'Trans. Essex Archaeology Society' in Archaeological Account of Coggeshall Abbey, , Vol. OS i, (1848), 166-70
Gardner, J S, 'Journal of the British Archaeol Ass (3rd Series)' in Coggeshall Abbey and its Early Brickwork, , Vol. 3/18, (1955), 19-32
Gardner, J S, 'Journal of the British Archaeol Ass (3rd Series)' in Coggeshall Abbey and its Early Brickwork, , Vol. 3/18, (1955), 19-32
Gardner, J S, 'Journal of the British Archaeol Ass (3rd Series)' in Coggeshall Abbey and its Early Brickwork, , Vol. 3/18, (1955), 19-32
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Estate Map - Essex Record Office, ERO D/Dop, (1639)
Estate Map - Essex Record Office, ERO D/Dop, (1639)
Extensive urban Survey Report, Medlycott, M, Coggeshall: Historic Towns Project Assessment Report, (1998)
Nos 9/10 - 9/16, DoE, List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, Braintree District, Coggeshall Parish, (1966)
RCHME, Monuments of Essex, (1922)
RCHME, Monuments of North-East Essex, (1922)

Source: Historic England

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