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The North Gate and part of the precinct area of Buckfast Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Buckfastleigh, Devon

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Latitude: 50.4927 / 50°29'33"N

Longitude: -3.7769 / 3°46'36"W

OS Eastings: 274058.467515

OS Northings: 67380.814408

OS Grid: SX740673

Mapcode National: GBR QG.XFG9

Mapcode Global: FRA 27ZR.GDS

Entry Name: The North Gate and part of the precinct area of Buckfast Abbey

Scheduled Date: 24 November 2000

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1019607

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29672

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Buckfastleigh

Built-Up Area: Buckfast

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Buckfastleigh

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


The monument includes part of the north west area of the precinct of the outer
court of Buckfast Abbey including the standing arch of the North Gate, the
below ground remains of buildings and courtyards of the outer court, the
standing remains of a kitchen and service block, and the below ground remains
of the medieval guesthouse and Abbot's guest hall. The abbey is sited on the
west bank of the River Dart on the southern edge of Dartmoor, just north of
the town of Buckfastleigh.
Although originally a Benedictine foundation, and for a short time under
Savignac rule, the plan of the abbey largely reflects the Cistercian monastic
arrangement following the absorption of the abbey into the Cistercian order in
1147. The present plan of the abbey also reflects the ancient division between
an inner and outer court, a common feature of Cistercian houses, the inner
court being reserved essentially for the monastic community whilst the outer
court catered for the needs of guests and visitors.
The abbey was in monastic occupation from its foundation until 1539 when it
fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It reverted to the role of
a monastery from 1882, however, and was rebuilt largely on the original
foundations. The inner court of the monastic complex at Buckfast has as its
focus the abbey church, a Grade II* Listed Building, which was re-erected on
exposed 12th century foundations. The claustral ranges were also rebuilt on
the existing plan and they incorporate the remains of a barrel-vaulted
undercroft of probable 12th century date. The building known as the Abbot's
Tower, which dates from around the 14th century and which adjoins the south
west corner of the claustral block, survived later depredations largely
through its incorporation into a mansion built on the site in about 1806 by
Samuel Berry; both the claustral block and the Abbot's Tower are Listed
Buildings, Grade II*. Further below ground remains, suspected but not
confirmed to be those of the abbot's house and the infirmary, have been
recorded to the south east of the claustral block, those of the suspected
abbot's house have been reported by Brown in 1996 to be in a particularly good
state of preservation. The inner court does not form part of the scheduling
owing to the presence of a monastic community at Buckfast, where regular
worship takes place in the abbey church and where other buildings and areas of
the inner court are utilised for prayer and contemplation.
The scheduling encompasses part of the area of the outer court of the ancient
abbey on its north western side. Visible remains exist within the outer court
in the form of a number of ruined and adapted structures and archaeological
investigations have demonstrated the presence of the below ground remains of
buildings, enclosure walls, surfaces, and archaeological deposits of the
12th-19th centuries. The principal above ground survivals of the medieval
period are the 14th century guesthouse, the 15th century Abbot's guest hall,
and the southern arch of the North Gate. In addition, there are fragmentary
standing remains of what is considered to be a kitchen block and service
buildings attached to the guesthouse and guest hall. The two adjoining
buildings of the guesthouse and Abbot's guest hall, both Listed Buildings
Grade II, are in use and only the ground beneath them is included in the
scheduling. The 14th century guesthouse has been shown by the excavator
(Brown) to have developed from a smaller 12th century building of likely
similar function. It comprised a ground floor hall, an upper end, probably of
two floors providing sleeping accommodation, and the lower end of a chamber
above two service rooms. In post-Dissolution adaption the building was
narrowed and the original outer west wall survives exposed at ground level
with modern consolidation. Also surviving are the remains of an 18th century
garderobe. The Abbot's guest hall, known as Abbey Farm after its later period
of use, survives as an adapted structure with all four of its medieval walls
standing to nearly full height. It was a 15th century addition to the
guesthouse suite standing almost at right angles to it and it has been shown
in archaeological excavations to be overlying earlier remains including 12th
century drainage channels. Abbey Farm is a Listed Building Grade II.
Excavations have also taken place both to the south and north of the
guesthouse. Those to the south revealed a structure interpreted as the
guesthouse kitchen whilst to the north a building complex with a long sequence
of use dating from the late 13th or early 14th century, and extending into the
15th century, was discovered. Recovered in excavation was a building with an
associated cobbled courtyard which lay above disturbed 12th century levels.
The excavator, Brown, has demonstrated that the building fell into disrepair
but was restored and refurbished including the laying of new underfloor
drains. The building was subsequently replaced by a smaller and narrower
structure towards the end of the 15th century. An archaeological trench east
of the guesthouse also revealed evidence for what may be wooden buildings and
a good depth of archaeological stratigraphy was recorded including Dissolution
deposits resulting from the demolition processes of the 16th century when the
monastic buildings were stripped for salvage.
The abbey at its outset was enclosed by a precinct wall on at least three
sides, the fourth side being bounded by the River Dart. However, at some
stage in the 13th century the decision appears to have been taken to enlarge
the area of the outer court without replacing the western precinct wall which
was removed and robbed of its stone. The robber-trench of the wall has been
located in excavation and a length of this wall line along the north west side
of the outer court of the abbey, where it is known or inferred, is included
within the scheduling. The precinct wall would have turned east at its north
western corner but it is unclear whether it took a line below the standing
post-medieval wall abutting the southern arch of the North Gate or whether it
included a greater area of the north west corner, perhaps linking to the
northern arch of the north gate and thus enclosing the gate passage within the
monastic bounds. Either way, there is a high potential for the below ground
remains of monastic buildings or deposits flanking the western side of the
gatehouse passage. The North Gate, which is included in the scheduling, would
have comprised a gatehouse with an inner and outer arch in the precinct wall.
This is considered likely to have been the main entrance into the abbey; its
southern inner archway survives almost complete. It is considered to be of
12th century date with extensive later alterations and is a Listed Building
Grade II. The east passage wall of the gatehouse survives incorporated into a
building in use which is also a Listed Building Grade II. The east passage
wall is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it, including
the foundations of the wall and the wall footings, is included. The remaining
part of the building of which the east passage wall forms part, is not
included in the scheduling.
The abbey, which was first confirmed in the Benedictine order, is known from
documentary sources to have been founded by at least 1018 although part of its
cartulary is missing. In 1136 the abbey was granted by King Stephen to the
Abbot of Savigny in Normandy and it was briefly under Savignac rule until 1147
when it was transferred to the Cistercian order and subsequently became one of
the richest Cistercian abbeys in the south of England. The abbey was in
monastic occupation from its foundation until the Dissolution of the
Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1539. Following the Dissolution, Buckfast
Abbey passed through a number of private owners and the buildings of the outer
court were converted into a farm, before the whole site was purchased by an
exiled group of French Benedictines in 1882. The Benedictine rule was re-
introduced and Boniface Natter blessed as first abbot in 1903 whilst work
began on the restoration of the abbey church and other buildings. These works
resulted in the consecration of the new church in 1932 and its completion in
1938. The abbey was still functioning as a living monastic community at the
turn of the 21st century.
Included in the scheduling are the fragmentary standing remains of the kitchen
block, the south west exposed walling of the guesthouse where this does not
form part of the adapted standing building, and the exposed western foundation
wall of the guesthouse. Some of this walling has been rebuilt and consolidated
as part of 20th century measures to display the ruined walls to the public.
Also specifically included in the scheduling is the North Gate arch and,
although recognised to be post-medieval in date, the stretch of wall
immediately west of, and abutting, the North Gate.
Excluded from the scheduling are the standing buildings of the guesthouse, the
building known as the Abbot's guest hall, the post-medieval cow shed west of
the guesthouse (in use as a video display area), the east passage wall of
the North Gate, the Methodist chapel building of 1881, the modern walkway
which connects the guesthouse and the Abbot's guest hall, and all modern
surfaces and pavings, street furniture, telegraph poles, and fencing, although
the ground beneath all these features 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.

Although Buckfast Abbey began life as a Benedictine monastery it was under
Cistercian rule for much of its life. Certain of the abbey buildings survive
well as adapted structures from the earlier periods of the abbey's history
whilst others have been rebuilt directly on 12th century Cistercian
foundations. Those remains of the abbey included in the scheduling have been
demonstrated from partial excavation and survey to retain information about
the abbey, the lives of its inhabitants, and their relationship with the
outside world. The remains convey, along with the archaeological and
historical material presented by the abbey to the public, a sense of the
monastic life of the Middle Ages. This combination of standing remains,
coupled with academic and popular accounts of the abbey buildings, enhances
the educational quality of this monument which still functions as a monastery.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Clutterbuck, R, Buckfast Abbey: A History, (1995)
Robinson, D (ed), The Cistercian Abbeys of Britain, (1998)
Brown, S W, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Excavations and building recording at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, , Vol. 46, (1988), 13-89
Brown, S W, (1999)
unpublished archive plan, Hall, M, Buckfast Abbey: Abbey Farm 1991, (1991)

Source: Historic England

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