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Cockersand Premonstratensian Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Thurnham, Lancashire

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Latitude: 53.9767 / 53°58'36"N

Longitude: -2.8749 / 2°52'29"W

OS Eastings: 342713.225711

OS Northings: 453754.656398

OS Grid: SD427537

Mapcode National: GBR 8QCG.D7

Mapcode Global: WH84K.T95R

Entry Name: Cockersand Premonstratensian Abbey

Scheduled Date: 13 January 1915

Last Amended: 19 March 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1018919

English Heritage Legacy ID: 27844

County: Lancashire

Civil Parish: Thurnham

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Cockersand Abbey,
located adjacent to the sea shore a short distance south of the mouth of the
River Lune. The most visible remains are those of the 13th century chapter
house which survives by virtue of being renovated and reused as a family
mausoleum from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries. Other upstanding fabric
includes portions of the nave walls and the north and south transepts of the
abbey church, together with various other scattered fragments of masonry.
Numerous earthworks survive and represent buried walls and buildings, while to
the east of the chapter house aerial photographs show crop marks of the
precinct wall within which lay the canon's cemetery.
Hugh Garthe settled at Cockersand around 1180 and founded a hermitage.
Documentary sources indicate that by about 1184 this had become a hospital and
that by about 1189 it was a monastic hospital dedicated to St Mary. By about
1192 Cockersand was an abbey of the Premonstratensian Order and functioned
as such until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. At its suppresion in 1539
Cockersand is recorded as having 22 canons and 57 servants.
The upstanding fabric and earthwork remains, together with an annotated plan
of 1536 and limited excavation undertaken during the early 1920s, indicate
the usual layout of a Premonstratensian 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 frater or dining hall
formed the south range of the cloister with cellars beneath. The dorter or
lay-brother's dormitory formed the west range with cellars beneath, while the
monks' quarters formed the upper storey of the east range with the warming
house and vestibule leading to the chapter house forming the ground floor.
The chapter house is constructed of red sandstone rubble with a slate roof. It
is octagonal in plan with a vaulted roof carried on a central shafted pillar.
There are pointed windows, now blocked, on the three east-facing sides,
buttresses on the angles, and a modern crenellated parapet. On the western
side the building is rectangular outside and has a round-headed doorway, now
partly blocked, in which a smaller doorway has been set. The building is
surmounted by a modern cross. It was used as the mausoleum of the Dalton
family between 1750-1861 and is a Grade I Listed Building. Remains of the
church indicate that it was long, narrow and aisleless. Fragments of the
north, south and west walls of the nave survive above ground level, the latter
having three shallow buttresses. Also surviving above ground level are the
east walls of the north and south transepts, each with two shallow buttresses,
and the south wall of the south transept. The south transept contained two
chapels, and the base of the column which divided them remains in situ. The
north transept contains fragments of two altar bases.
The dorter and cellarium forming the west range of the cloister are depicted
on the 1536 plan; the cellarium is shown with six openings in its western
wall, an internal dividing wall, and a stairway in its south wall. The plan
also shows the cellarage in the south range of the cloister being subdivided
into two rooms. From the larger western room of this range an external porch
is shown through which access to outer buildings such as a lavatory would have
been gained. An inventory of 1536 indicates that cubicles for the prior,
subprior, cellarer, kitchener, sexton and 12 resident canons were also
provided. The site of the infirmary is represented by isolated fragements of
walling, some lying partly under a modern wall, to the south east of the
chapter house. Other buildings attested by the 1536 plan and documentary
sources include a Lady Chapel which is thought to have stood close to the
north transept, and King John's Hall, the site of which is thought to be
represented by fragments of walling north of the church. To the south of the
cloister the location of the abbey's east-west aligned main drain is visible
as a linear hollow running from the infirmary to the sea. The seaward end of
this drain was exposed by a storm during the 1980s and found to be
approximately 1.5m high with a circular entrance lined with blocks of hewn
sandstone. The 1536 plan indicates that the canons' cemetery was located to
the east of the church, and recent aerial photographs show the crop marks of a
large rectangular plot enclosed by the remains of a buried wall which is
considered to be part of the abbey's precinct wall to the north east and east
of the church. Internal subdivisions can be seen within this plot, indicating
the presence of the remains of other structures associated with the abbey.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern
walls, fences, fenceposts and gateposts, the sea wall, all signs, and the
surface of all paths and tracks, although the ground beneath these features is

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.

In addition to the upstanding medieval structural remains of Cockersand Abbey,
a combination of earthworks, limited excavation and aerial photographs have
shown that buried remains of the abbey are extensive and survive well. In
particular, aerial photographs have shown that buried remains of a large area
of the abbey's precinct lies undisturbed to the east of the core area of the
abbey; this will allow the workings and development of much of the monastic
precinct to be studied.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Swarbrick, J, 'TLCAS' in The Abbey of St Mary in the Marsh at Cockersand, , Vol. 40, (1923), 176
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
SMR No. 406, Lancashire SMR, Cockersands Abbey (St Mary in the Marsh), (1997)

Source: Historic England

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