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Remains of Eye Priory at Abbey Farm

A Scheduled Monument in Eye, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.3222 / 52°19'19"N

Longitude: 1.1587 / 1°9'31"E

OS Eastings: 615358.056777

OS Northings: 274036.987305

OS Grid: TM153740

Mapcode National: GBR TJL.KPY

Mapcode Global: VHL9G.1WDQ

Entry Name: Remains of Eye Priory at Abbey Farm

Scheduled Date: 9 March 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020174

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30593

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Eye

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Eye St Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich


The monument, which is in two separate areas of protection, includes the known
surviving extent of Eye Priory, situated on the north side of the Hoxne road,
approximately 150m east of the River Dove and 550m ENE of the centre of the
medieval town of Eye.

The visible and buried remains in the first area include the foundations of
the priory church and adjacent conventual buildings, and a series of fishponds
which survive as earthworks to the north of these. In the second area is a
late medieval building which still stands in part to the north east of the
site of the conventual buildings and east of the fishponds.

The Benedictine priory, dedicated to St Peter, was founded soon after 1086 by
Robert Malet, Lord of the Honour of Eye, as a cell or daughter house of the
Abbey of Bernay in Normandy, although it may not have been fully established
until the beginning of the following century. The priory was richly endowed
and the annual value in 1291 was assessed at 124 pounds, 10 shillings and 9
pence. The endowment, however, included the churches, tithes and other
revenues from the coastal town of Dunwich, and the income from this source
declined as the town was destroyed by the incursion of the sea. As an `alien'
priory dependent on a French abbey, its revenues were seized by the Crown
during the wars with France in the 14th century and it was further
impoverished as a result. The link with the abbey of Bernay was broken in 1385
when the priory was recognized as denizen of England in a charter granted by
Richard II, and by the second half of the 15th century its fortunes had
recovered sufficiently for building works and repairs to be undertaken. In the
early 16th century the community numbered up to ten monks, including the
prior, and in 1535 the total recorded income was 184 pounds, 9 shillings and 7
pence. The priory was suppressed in 1537 and the site granted to Charles
Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was then Lord of the Honour of Eye.

The area to the south and east of the priory church appears to have been
raised artificially to form a level platform, and the boundary of the monastic
precinct along the northern side of the Hoxne road at this point is marked by
a steep scarp up to 2m high. The principal entrance to the precinct was
through a gatehouse which is said to have stood near the road to the south of
the site of the priory church, probably close to the present entrance to Abbey
Farm. The masonry footings of the gatehouse, although still visible in 1862,
had been levelled by 1881, but foundations or foundation trenches are likely
to survive as buried features. A broad, curvilinear depression, which runs ENE
from a point east of the present entrance from the road, and then northwards
towards the prior's lodging and the west door of the priory church, probably
represents the earthwork remains of a sunken track or hollow way leading from
the gatehouse into the precinct.

The remains of the priory church and conventual buildings, which were the core
of the monastic complex, lie some 60m to the north of the road and the
precinct boundary. An inventory of the priory made at the time of the
Dissolution provides some details of the buildings which then existed,
including, in addition to the church, four chambers, a parlour, a hall
(refectory), a pantry, kitchen, bakehouse and brewhouse. Little is visible of
the church above ground other than some large blocks of fallen flint rubble
masonry in the area of the eastern half, but the east end is marked by raised
mounds. Limited excavations carried out in 1926 located buried foundations of
the principal walls in several places, allowing the overall plan to be
reconstructed and showing that it was very similar if not identical to that of
the church of the mother house at Bernay which still survives. The church was
approximately 59m in length overall with a nave of five bays measuring about
30m in length internally, flanked by aisles to north and south. To the east of
the nave was a crossing with transepts to north and south, each transept
having an apsidal chapel to the east. The crossing would have contained the
monks choir, perhaps extending into the east end of the nave, and to the east
of the crossing was an apsidal ended presbytery about 15m in length
internally, flanked by shorter, apsidal ended aisles.

The conventual buildings were ranged around a quadrangular cloister adjoining
the north side of the church and measuring about 28m on each side. The east
claustral range, which included the chapter house where the monks met to
discuss the business of the priory and an upper storey containing the monks
dormitory, extended northwards from the north transept of the church and was
approximately 52m in length, projecting about 21m beyond the north range. The
chapter house, which adjoined the transept, measured about 17m in overall
length by about 8m in width and had an apsidal east end. To the north of it
are the foundations of an undercroft of six bays which supported the dormitory
above. This was divided into apartments which, according to the usual
arrangement of monasteries, would have included a warming house with a
fireplace. The reredorter (latrine block) is thought to have stood at right
angles to the north end of this. The house known as The Abbey, which adjoins
the north east corner of the site of the church, incorporates part of what is
believed to have been the prior's lodging and the south end of the west
claustral range, although little of the original structure is visible on the
exterior which has been refaced and partly rebuilt with brick and reused
stone. The house is a Listed Building Grade II. The range would have included
an undercroft used for storage, with an upper storey which probably contained
apartments for guests. The foundations of a cross wall of the undercroft were
identified about 4m to the north of the house. The location of the north
claustral range, which contained the monk's refectory, has also been
determined. Part of the footing of the south wall survives below the south
wall of a later outbuilding, and the east end of the north wall was located by
excavation. The excavations of 1926 also produced evidence that there were two
phases of building. The first phase comprised the construction of the east end
of the church, including the crossing and transepts, the north wall of the
nave and the chapter house and the part of the east range immediately to the
east of the chapter house. No evidence was found to suggest that the church
and other buildings were completed before the commencement of the second
phase, which included the construction of the nave and nave aisles of the
church, the rebuilding of the east range north of the chapter house and the
construction of the north and west claustral ranges, all on an alignment
slightly to the north and east of the axes of alignment of the earlier parts.

Buried remains of other buildings are likely to survive around the cloister,
including a kitchen, which would have been close to the north range, and
possibly an infirmary to the east of the east range. The monk's cemetery was
probably to the east and south east of the church, following the usual
monastic arrangement, and a slight, north facing scarp which runs eastwards
from the church, and a low, broad bank which extends southwards from opposite
the south transept towards the road may mark the northern and western
boundaries of this.

The monastic fishponds and associated water management features occupy a
roughly rectangular area with maximum overall dimensions of about 163m NNE-SSW
by 123m, situated to the north of the conventual buildings. The system was fed
by a leat from the river to the west which supplied water to a channel running
along the western side of the fishpond complex and also to a conduit between
5m and 8m wide around the southern side, immediately behind the site of the
reredorter, which carried water to flush the latrines and was lined with
flint masonry, a short length of which is exposed on the south face. The leat
to the west has been partly infilled, but the eastern end, about 10m in
length, remains open. A drain which runs parallel to the east side of the
complex at a distance of approximately 14m probably represents part of the
outlet of the system. At the northern end of the complex of fishponds is a
moat-like, water filled feature up to 12m wide, surrounding a sub-rectangular
island measuring about 65m ESE-WNW by 50m. In the centre of this enclosure are
three narrow, rectangular ponds, aligned on the same long axis. The largest
pond measures approximately 45m by 7.5m and the other two, which lie to the
north of and parallel to it, measure approximately 22m by 5m and 12m by 5m
respectively. The surrounding moat-like feature was fed through an inlet,
which probably contained a sluice, issuing into the western arm from the
adjoining supply channel. Approximately 21m to the south of the southern arm
of the moat-like feature and parallel to it is a large, roughly rectangular
pond, measuring about 80m by 20m, the western end of which is connected to
the adjacent channel by the remains of a short inlet, visible as a shallow,
dry depression. About 11m to the south of this, at the southern end of the
complex, are two more features. The western of these is a large, roughly
square pond measuring approximately 35m across, to the east of which is
another moat-like feature about 7.5m wide. This surrounds a sub-rectangular
island with dimensions of approximately 51m east-west by up to 20m, containing
a rectangular pond measuring approximately 22m east-west by 7m. The western
pond is separated from the conduit around the southern and western sides by a
low earthen bank.

The standing building in the second area of protection, located some 62m to
the north west of the claustral complex, is dated to around 1500 and is a
Listed Building Grade II. It is constructed of brick and is of two storeys,
measuring approximately 24m NNE-SSW by 10m and displaying a number of original
features. In the west wall, slightly to south of centre, is a blocked doorway
with chamfered brick jambs and four centred arch, and the lower storey on this
side was lit by four equally spaced windows, each of two lights. In three of
these windows the central mullion is missing, but the other survives intact,
with later blocking. Above them, in the upper storey, are four narrow lancet
windows, a central narrow, square headed opening and, towards the southern end
of the wall, a rectangular window opening with chamfered jambs, which was
originally of two lights and is possibly a later insertion. In the southern
gable end of the building are the remains of another two light window at
ground floor level and, above this, the lower part of a larger window,
originally of two lights also, with chamfered stone jambs. The east wall shows
evidence of more extensive alteration, with several inserted openings, but
includes an opening with chamfered jambs at ground floor level and remains of
an arched window in the upper storey. The standing building was damaged in a
fire in the 1920s and the roof replaced, but photographs exist to show its
appearance before the fire. Its function is uncertain, although it appears to
have been designed for residential use and it is thought that it may have
been occupied by the steward of the manor of Eye. It is evident that the
building originally extended further to the north. The north gable end, which
appears to include later blocking, is constructed of brick and reused ashlar,
probably quarried from other priory buildings, and set back slightly from the
end of the west wall can be seen a stub of continuing brickwork, abutting a
post medieval farm building. Further to the north on the same alignment,
below the wall of the later building, is a massive block of flint masonry
about 4m in length, thought to be part of the footings of a building of
earlier medieval date. This is included in the scheduling, although the
building above it is excluded.

The house and the farm building, all outbuildings and greenhouses, together
with garden walls, raised garden beds, all modern paving and the surfaces of
modern driveways, paths and yards, inspection chambers, and all fences, gates
and pergolas are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath
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.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Eye priory is central to the history of Eye, which was a feudal centre of
great local importance during the medieval period. The excavations conducted
on the site of the priory church and conventual buildings in 1926 demonstrated
the survival of foundations and other remains below ground and enabled the
reconstruction of an outline plan of these buildings, and these remains will
retain much additional archaeological information concerning the construction
and history of the priory up to and after the Dissolution. Slight earthworks
to east and south of the church and claustral complex indicate the survival of
associated remains which will provide further information on the organisation
of this part of the monastic precinct. The standing building which survives to
the north west is a good example of a high status, late medieval brick
building and adds further to the interest of the monument.

The monastic fishponds are also of particular interest. Medieval fishponds
were artificially created pools of slow moving fresh water, constructed for
the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish to provide a constant
and sustainable supply of food. Groups of up to twelve ponds, variously
arranged in a single line or in a cluster and joined by leats have been
recorded. The ponds may be of the same size or of several different sizes,
each pond being stocked with different species or ages of fish. The size of
the pond was related to function, with large ponds thought to have had a
storage capability, whilst smaller, shallower ponds were used for fish
cultivation and breeding. Fishponds were maintained by a water management
system which included inlet and outlet channels carrying water from a river or
stream, a series of sluices, and an overflow leat wich controlled fluctuations
in water flow and prevented flooding. The tradition of constructing and using
fishponds in England began during the medieval period and peaked in the 12th
century. They were largely built by the wealthy sectors of society, with
monastic institutions and royal residences often having large and complex

The fishponds of Eye priory are a very well preserved example of such a large
and elaborate monastic system and will provide valuable evidence for the way
in which they were managed. Organic materials, including evidence for the
local environment in the past, are also likely to be preserved in waterlogged
deposits in the ponds and associated leats.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 72-75
Paine, C, The History of Eye, (1993), 12-14
'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Inventories of Monasteries Suppressed in 1536, , Vol. 8 Pt 1, (1892), 105-108
Fairweather, F H, 'Antiq J' in Excavations on the Site of the Priory Church and Monastery Eye, , Vol. 7, (1927), 299-312
Paine, C, Aitkens, P, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Excursions 1987: Eye Priory, (1988), 323-324
Paine, C, Aitkens, P, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Excursions 1987: Eye Priory, (1988), 224
Suffolk R O Ref. HD 1538/83, (1650)

Source: Historic England

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