Ancient Monuments

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Totnes Priory

A Scheduled Monument in Totnes, Devon

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Latitude: 50.4319 / 50°25'54"N

Longitude: -3.6874 / 3°41'14"W

OS Eastings: 280248.021933

OS Northings: 60475.466856

OS Grid: SX802604

Mapcode National: GBR QM.T6C8

Mapcode Global: FRA 375X.785

Entry Name: Totnes Priory

Scheduled Date: 5 July 2002

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020567

English Heritage Legacy ID: 34877

County: Devon

Civil Parish: Totnes

Built-Up Area: Totnes

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Totnes St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Exeter


This monument includes the buried remains of part of a late 11th century
Benedictine priory located within the north eastern corner of the 10th
century Anglo-Saxon burh of Totnes. The Benedictine priory of St Mary was
founded in or just before 1088 by Judhael, Norman lord of Totnes, and
granted by him to the Benedictine abbey of St Sergius & St Bacchus at
Angers. This connection had been broken by 1416, and the priory was
dissolved in 1539. The buildings were stripped and partly demolished after
the Dissolution, but parts of the north claustral range were rebuilt in
1553 as a guildhall, and in 1624 converted into a magistrates' court and
grammar school.
The priory church lay in the churchyard immediately north east of the parish
church, with the cloister immediately to its north. Claustral buildings
on the north side of the cloister included a lodgings range and refectory,
while other buildings, including a chapter house enclosed the east and west
The scheduling includes the buried remains of the priory church and its
claustral buildings, where these lie within the churchyard and beneath the
lane which follows the north and east sides of the monument. The area will
also include a small portion of the Anglo-Saxon burgh including part of
its defensive ramparts. The standing remains of the priory buildings
preserved within the fabric of St Mary's Church and Guildhall are not
included in the scheduling; both the church and the Guildhall are Listed
Buildings Grade I. The scheduling includes the ground beneath the 19th
century open fronted verandah along the south wall of the Guildhall.
The loggia of the Guildhall, where this falls within the scheduling, the
boundary walls, gravestones and path surfacings 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.
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.

Despite the demolition of some of the upstanding buildings, Totnes Priory is
likely to retain important buried remains relating to its construction and
use. Wall footings and occupation surfaces are likely to remain beneath the
churchyard and its adjoining path, while underlying occupation deposits and a
defensive rampart relating to the late Saxon burh of Totnes will be of
considerable importance to the future understanding of the site.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Russell, P, The Good Town of Totnes, (1964), 10-49
MPP fieldwork by R Waterhouse, Waterhouse, R, (2001)
Plan, Griffiths, D M, (1982)
Thorp, J, (1996)

Source: Historic England

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