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Priory of St Pancras

A Scheduled Monument in Lewes, East Sussex

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Latitude: 50.8684 / 50°52'6"N

Longitude: 0.0082 / 0°0'29"E

OS Eastings: 541408.324585

OS Northings: 109571.045211

OS Grid: TQ414095

Mapcode National: GBR KQ2.GWY

Mapcode Global: FRA B6XT.119

Entry Name: Priory of St Pancras

Scheduled Date: 19 November 1928

Last Amended: 22 April 2005

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1021400

English Heritage Legacy ID: 28890

County: East Sussex

Civil Parish: Lewes

Built-Up Area: Lewes

Traditional County: Sussex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Sussex

Church of England Parish: Lewes St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Chichester


The monument includes the known extent of the confirmed remains of Lewes
Priory, a Cluniac foundation, which has evidence of Saxon building pre-dating
the priory. The Priory stands on the low Southover ridge which runs parallel
and south of a higher chalk spur on which the town of Lewes lies. This ridge,
in the 11th century when the Priory was founded, formed the shore of the
tidal Ouse estuary. In 1845 the cutting for the Brighton and Hastings
railway line cut a section across the Priory church, cloister and cloistral
buildings. Most of the priory exists as buried remains, but parts are
upstanding ruins and are listed Grade I.
The priory includes a 12th century monastic church at the north end of the
site, with cloister and cloistral buildings to the south of the church. The
church survives as buried remains, apart from the ruins of part of its south
west tower, which recently were extant. Much of the northern side of the
cloister, to the south of the nave of the church survives as buried remains,
although its southern side, and the chapter house adjoining its east side
were cut by the railway cutting. To the south of the cloister is part of the
south wall of the frater, the dining hall of the monastery, dating to the
11th century. The frater wall stands, in places, to over 2m high, and part of
an oven survives in the railway embankment. To the south of the chancel of
the church is the infirmary chapel, lying on a ridge overlooking the domestic
or ancillary buildings to the south. The infirmary chapel, dating to the 11th
century, is thought to have been built as the first monastic church on the
site, but was superseded when the large Priory Church was built in the 12th
century. The infirmary chapel has a square chancel flanked by apsidal ended
side chapels, and finds of Saxon pottery in addition to the discovery of
graves in a crypt below the chapel floor confirm its early origin. To the
south of this is the infirmary hall which was built 1180 to 1200, with later
additions about 1219. The hall is about 48m long by 31m wide and survives as
buried remains. The first reredorter, the toilet block, lies to the south of
the frater and to the west of the infirmary hall. This building, dating to
the late 11th century, is about 32m long by 8m wide, and would have been
flushed by the original course of the Upper Cockshut stream. When the dorter
extension was built to the south, part of the original structure was
demolished and the ground floor became an undercroft. The dorter extension,
built in the late 12th century, is where the monks slept, and at its greatest
extent was about 71m long by 24m wide. The second reredorter to the south was
built in about 1180, and replaced the earlier reredorter. Most of the ruins
of these ancillary buildings still stand to over 5m high. To the west of each
reredorter are 11th century sewers channelling waste from these latrines. To
the west and south west end of the church were barns, stables and the Lord's
Place. The Lord's Place was constructed from the Priors Lodgings when the
Priory was closed in 1538, and it was eventually demolished in 1668.
William of Warenne, who fought with the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066, was
rewarded with lands in Sussex. Some time between 1078 and 1082 he and his
wife Gundrada founded the Priory on a site which had been occupied during the
Saxon period. The Priory developed and expanded through the 11th and 12
centuries. During the Barons' Wars it was occupied by Henry III's army, and
its buildings were damaged by Simon De Montfort's attacks. The Priory
continued until the Dissolution, and in 1538 Thomas Cromwell contracted the
Italian demolition expert Giovani Portinari to destroy the buildings. Two
Renaissance mansions were constructed from the ruins, Lord's Place and
Southover Grange. The first, constructed for Cromwell, was later owned by
Lord Buckhurst, and was demolished by its last owner the Earl of Thanet soon
after 1668. The second building, the work of William Newton, still stands to
the north of the Priory precinct.
The cutting for the railway in 1845 inadvertently gave impetus to the
recovery of the plan of the Priory. The excavation cut through part of the
great monastic church and claustral buildings, including the 12th century
chapter house where the remains of the Priory founder William de Warenne and
his wife Gundrada were discovered re-interred in lead chests. At the time of
the construction of the railway cutting, an entrance passage to an
underground chamber, known as the `Lantern', was re-discovered, which was
interpreted as having been an ecclesiastical prison.
About 1850 excavations were carried out at the west end of the church by John
Blaker, but were never published.
Although digging on the site continued through much of the mid-19th century,
the next recorded excavations were carried out by William St John Hope in
1886. He recorded a plan of the structures, and interpreted the phases of
monastic building as it spread south to the floodplain. Between 1899 and
1902, whilst working on the eastern side of the site, he uncovered the small
late 11th century church, originally thought to have been the Infirmary
Chapel, but re-interpreted as being the first monastic church on the site. In
1902 Nicholas Brakspear discovered the remains of a circular lavatorium above
the `Lantern' on the south side of the Cloister.
There were no further excavations until 1969 when Richard Lewis began a two
year programme of excavation, clearing the Dorter Extension Undercroft and
12th century Reredorter. In 1972 the excavation of the eastern part of the
Infirmary Chapel began, and lasted for the next 10 years.
The extent of the monastic precinct is known, but survival of remains beyond
the church and cloistral buildings and their exact location is uncertain,
therefore they are not included in the scheduling at the present time.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the
glasshouses, buildings and their bases, all wooden pale and wire fencing, the
raised beds in the herb garden, the concrete footpath, the cement post and
wire fencing, all signposts, the sculpture, the surface and fittings in the
childrens' playground, all telegraph poles, all litter bins and the tennis
court fencing; the ground beneath all these features is, however, 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. The
Cluniac order had its origins in the monastic reformations which swept across
continental Europe in the tenth century. The reformations which occurred were
partly a response to the impact of Viking raids and attacks on established
monastic sites in the preceding century but were also a reaction against the
corruption and excesses which were increasingly noted amongst earlier
establishments. The Cluniacs were amongst the most successful of the new
reformed orders that developed. The founding house of Cluny in south-east
France was established in AD 910. Here the community obeyed a stringent set of
rules which, amongst other things, involved celibacy, communal living and
abstention from eating meat. The ideals of the Cluniac reformers passed on to
England in the tenth century. Influential Cluniac houses had been established
in England by 1077. Once established, Cluniac houses were notable for the
strong links they maintained both with the founding house of Cluny in France
and also with other houses of their order. Most Cluniac houses in England were
established near major towns and they particularly sought locations in valley
bottoms within the protection of a nearby castle. Cluniac monasteries are
notable for highly decorated, elaborate buildings. Cluniac houses are
relatively rare, with some forty-four houses known in England, and all
examples exhibiting good survival of archaeological remains are worthy of

The Priory of St Pancras is significant in its own right as a good example of
a medieval Cluniac house, and also in its association with nearby Lewes
Castle which lies only 500m to the north of the Priory. The Priory played an
important part in the aftermath of the battle of Lewes, since Henry III was
taken there after his defeat in the battle, and the Priory was besieged by
Simon De Montfort's men. Peace was negotiated, resulting in the Mise of
Lewes, which set up a council to take over the powers of the monarchy, and
was the start of parliamentary democracy. Much is already known about the
history of the priory, and there is still a lot of archaeological potential
in the site. The priory at Lewes was the first Cluniac establishment in
England, and has the unusual dedication to St Pancras. The ruins, which have
public access adjacent, provide an important amenity and learning
opportunity, and add to the unique identity of the town of Lewes.

Source: Historic England

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