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Kenilworth Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Kenilworth, Warwickshire

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Latitude: 52.3473 / 52°20'50"N

Longitude: -1.5835 / 1°35'0"W

OS Eastings: 428469.774805

OS Northings: 272214.192738

OS Grid: SP284722

Mapcode National: GBR 5LC.VWB

Mapcode Global: VHBX9.H8RF

Entry Name: Kenilworth Abbey

Scheduled Date: 10 August 1923

Last Amended: 8 September 2003

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021079

English Heritage Legacy ID: 35115

County: Warwickshire

Civil Parish: Kenilworth

Built-Up Area: Kenilworth

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Warwickshire

Church of England Parish: Kenilworth St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Coventry


The monument includes the known surviving standing, earthwork and buried
remains of Kenilworth Abbey and its wider monastic precinct. Kenilworth
Abbey is an Augustinian monastery located on gently rising ground to the
north of Finham Brook, immediately east of Kenilworth Castle, which is
the subject of a separate scheduling. The High Street of Kenilworth old
town is located immediately north of the precinct boundary. The parish
Church of St Nicholas, which remains open for worship, is not included
in the scheduling.

The priory of Austin canons in Kenilworth, which had become an abbey by
1447, was founded by Godfrey de Clinton, chamberlain and treasurer to
Henry I, in 1122 around the same time as he erected his castle in
Kenilworth. The monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and its
foundation charter included all of Godfrey's land and woods at Kenilworth,
save those reserved for the castle and its surrounding park, together with
manors and churches in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. He
later added a tithe on all produce brought to the castle, as well as lands
and churches in Buckinghamshire and Staffordshire. The monastery was
wealthy from its earliest days; Henry I was a major patron, giving land in
Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. Patronage passed to the crown in the 13th
century, and the fortunes of the abbey remained closely linked to those of
the castle. Over time the abbey accepted several royal retainers as
corrodians or pensioners. By the time of the Valor Ecclesiasticus in 1535
the abbey was clearly a wealthy house with an annual value of 538 pounds,
19 shillings and 4 pence. The monastery was dissolved in 1538 when the
abbot, the prior and 14 canons surrendered the monastery with all its
possessions in the counties of Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire,
Northamptonshire, Buckingham, Somerset and Oxfordshire. The abbey passed
into secular ownership, and its masonry was quarried, in part to repair
the castle. The remains fell into rapid decay. A depiction of 1701 shows
the church and cloisters to be entirely ruinous.

Extant masonry remains of several buildings survive in situ within the
monastic precinct. These include a gatehouse, a barn and remnants of the
church and cloister range. The gatehouse, a Listed Building Grade I, is
located to the west of the monastic church. It is constructed of red
sandstone, with two vaulted chambers to the west of the cart arch on the
ground floor. The gatehouse is believed to be of 14th century date, and its
proximity to the west end of the church suggests it was the gate to the inner
court. Another domestic building lying approximately 40m south of the
gatehouse, known as the `Abbey Barn', is a Listed Building Grade I; its
original purpose is unknown. Believed to date to the 14th century, it is a
rectangular building of red sandstone, originally of two stories and
measuring approximately 12m by 8m, with external evidence for lean-to and
extension buildings.

To the east of the barn and gatehouse buildings are the remains of the
abbey church and cloisters (Listed Grade I). Part of the west wall of the
abbey church stands to a height of between 3m and 4m, and part of the
south wall of the chapter house survives to a similar height. The footings
of the western parlour and the south wall of the nave, as well as parts of
the transepts and chancel of the church, are also visible. Excavations
during 1890 and 1922 allowed the plan of the conventual to be recovered,
and demonstrated that the building included at least two phases of stone
church building, an early Norman church and a later extended church, both
with square ended chancels. The plan of the abbey followed closely the
standard plan of a reformed abbey, influenced by the Cistercian order.
The church lay to the north of the cloister garth with the chapter house
and dormitories on the east, the refectory to the south and a cellarer's
range and parlour forming the west range. To the east of the cloister
range was a separate infirmary building, and other ancillary buildings.
Slight earthworks indicate that much of the plan survives as buried

Further survivals within the Abbey Fields are earthwork and buried remains
of several features of the abbey precinct, including a piped water supply,
the abbey water mill, fishponds, windmill, tracks and roads as well as
medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains, and the remains of the
precinct boundary wall. Finham Brook crosses the site and lies downslope
of the abbey church and cloisters. A number of ponds are marked along its
course on early Ordnance Survey maps; these include `Fermary (infirmary)
Garden Pool', `Bakehouse Pool', and `Abbey Pool'. These ponds are believed
to represent a string of at least three monastic fishponds, constructed in
the flood plain of the brook orientated east to west. Although two of the
ponds have become infilled, they will retain evidence of their construction.

Immediately to the south of the brook, in line with the abbey gatehouse,
are a number of earthwork features, including several building platforms and
the remains of a curving ditch or leat. Partial excavation in 1989, in advance
of pipe laying, confirmed the survival of substantial below ground remains,
including the foundations of at least three sandstone buildings and a number
of external floor surfaces, hearths and drainage features. These have been
dated to between the 12th and 15th centuries. The excavations, however, were
not able to confirm the nature and use of the buildings beyond identifying
that they were domestic or agricultural. Geophysical survey in the late 1990s
confirmed survival of further buried remains including walls and ditches
in an area traditionally associated with the priory mill. Although the
excavations were unable to confirm this, documents record the existence
of a water mill from the 12th century until the 18th century, and the early
edition Ordnance Survey maps record this as the site of the mill. The stone
abutments of a former packhorse bridge survive in the southern bank of the
brook, immediately adjacent to the site. The bridge is believed to have
provided access to the mill, which remained in use after the dissolution of
the monastery. A number of footpaths and hollow ways converge on the site
of the mill and the packhorse bridge.

Approximately 250m west of the mill and immediately to the south of the brook
is an earthen mound, measuring approximately 2m high and 20m in diameter,
illustrated on early Ordnance Survey maps, and believed to be the remains of
a windmill mound.

To the south west of the brook the land rises steeply. Here the base of the
escarpment is defined by a linear earthwork, comprising a double ditch and
bank, believed to be a causewayed road leading towards the 12th century
settlement located to the south of the monastery. A series of slight
earthworks, which may represent the site of a number of domestic and
agricultural buildings located in the outer court of the abbey, can be
seen on the scarp of the slope.

Medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains are visible on aerial
photographs of the southernmost parts of the Abbey Fields, providing
evidence for the agricultural landscape immediately surrounding the abbey
precinct. To the north of the modern lake in the north western part of the
Abbey Fields, the land rises away from the flood plain. Subsidence in 2000
revealed the remains of a medieval water conduit which is referred to in
medieval documents as bringing drinking water from a spring near the
king's highway to the abbey.

Excavations and a watching brief carried out in 1973 during redevelopment of
properties known as Little Virginia, on the south side of Castle Hill,
demonstrated the survival of the precinct wall in the north eastern angle
of the precinct. A red sandstone wall, constructed of large faced ashlar
blocks and surviving to a height of 2m-3m, was discovered functioning as
the southern property wall of a number of lean to timber-framed cottages.
This wall has been identified to be the remains of the precinct boundary
wall. Cartographic evidence from the 1920s demonstrates that the wall
formally survived as an extant feature extending some further 100m to the
north west. Excavations to the west of the wall in 1973 confirmed it also
survives as a buried feature extending to the east for a distance of over
25m. The excavations demonstrated that in this section there were two
phases of precinct wall running parallel with a later 16th wall which
lay outside the earlier wall. These are believed to represent both the
earliest and latest phase of the precinct boundary.

All modern paths and surfaces, fences, the Abbey Barn, garden buildings,
park furniture and play equipment, as well as the public swimming baths,
lavatory buildings, the electricity substation, and all gravemarkers in
the cemetery of the Church of St Nicholas, are excluded from the
scheduling, 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 225
of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The
Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of
canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they
came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to
distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th
century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running
almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in
parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their
revenue. The Augustinians 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.

The Augustinian priory at Kenilworth survives well as both extant masonry
and buried remains. The history of the abbey is well documented, and its
unusually close relationship with the adjacent castle and with the growing
medieval town immediately beyond its bounds is of particular interest,
allowing a fuller understanding of the development of towns and social
structure in the medieval period. Archaeological excavations have confirmed
the survival of buried features including buildings and artefacts which, as
well as providing dating information, will illustrate the daily life of the
community and its relationship with wider medieval society. In addition,
substantial building remains also illustrate the development of the abbey
throughout time, including evidence for changes in both the plan and use of
the buildings, as well as changing technologies and fashions in architecture.
The monastic cemetery is believed to survive within the precinct and will
provide information relating to the health, status and diet of a closed
sedentary medieval population over a considerable period of time. Large
areas of the precinct lie in the flood plain of the brook and will remain
waterlogged; these include the earthwork remains of the priory fishponds
and water mill as well as other water management features. Waterlogged
features and organic deposits will help demonstrate the nature of the
surrounding natural environment and agricultural regime in the area
during the Middle Ages.

Source: Historic England

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