Netley Abbey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Statutory Address:
Netley Abbey


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Statutory Address:
Netley Abbey

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Eastleigh (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Cistercian abbey, founded 1239 by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, adapted as a substantial manor house after the Dissolution by Sir William Paulet.

Reasons for Designation

Netley Abbey, a Cistercian abbey, founded 1239 by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and adapted as a substantial manor house after the Dissolution by Sir William Paulet, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: one of the best surviving Cistercian abbeys in England, with standing remains that demonstrate the plan applied to English Cistercian sites, the progression of architectural style as building phases were completed, and including an exceptional range of vaulted claustral buildings;

* Archaeological potential: there is good archaeological potential for buried remains of structures and garden features associated with both the medieval site and Tudor mansion;

* Historic interest: a C13 Cistercian abbey endowed with royal funding, adapted as a principal mansion post-Dissolution for the influential William Paulet, and in the C18 and C19 a source of inspiration as a Romantic ruin;

* Documentation: C18 and C19 pictorial and literary records and C19 antiquarian exploration, also C21 geophysical survey all add to our understanding of this nationally important site;

* Associated features: aqueducts (separately scheduled NHLE 1008703, 1008704), which feed a series of fishponds, the site enclosed by a substantial bank and ditch (part scheduled NHLE 1005536).


The history and extent of the site are described in detail in the HMSO guidebook, Netley Abbey (Thompson 1953, revised 1980) and in Netley Abbey: Monastery, Mansion and Ruin (Hare, 1993), which have informed this summary. More recent topographical evidence derives from Netley Abbey Topographic and Geophysical Survey, University of Southampton (Barker et al, 2005).

MEDIEVAL MONASTIC SITE Netley Abbey, properly called the Abbey of St Mary Edwardstow, was the creation of Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester and a major political figure, who, before his death in 1238, had planned to create two Cistercian houses in England and in France. Founded a year later in 1239, Netley was one of the last Cistercian houses to be established in England, and one of a small group of monasteries settled in the C13 from Beaulieu Abbey (Hants) which had been founded in 1203 by King John.

The Cistercian order and the strict disciplinarian regime it imposed, emerged in the C11, the first house in England being at Waverley, Surrey founded in 1128. The site at Netley was acquired c1240 and in keeping with Cistercian tenets it was secluded, at the base of a valley enclosed to the east by a steep bank or scarp, by gently rising ground to the north and by the sea to the west. It was provided with a good water supply which was later channelled through aqueducts or conduits to fishponds and to the precinct.

Temporary timber structures were put up initially, but work on permanent structures appears to have started by c1241. Work on the abbey church started c1244, additionally supported by Henry III, who claimed himself as one the founders and by 1251 sole founder, his name, crown and title inscribed onto one of the foundation stones of the crossing piers.

Work started at the east end of the church, progressing westward, followed by the south wall of the nave which formed the north cloister wall, and in turn by the north aisle and west end in the early C14. Plate tracery and the use of Purbeck marble in both the presbytery and in the entrance to the chapter house, and internal buttressing in the south aisle of the church suggest that the cloister ranges were also built at an early stage. The lighter, cusped tracery of the east window points to its later completion, perhaps installed at the behest of the king.

Work progressed quickly and the major components of the monastery were completed within about 50 years. Grants of lead and oak in 1251 to 1252 suggest that the building was being roofed at this time and a grant from the king of a silver gilt processional cross in 1253 points to the church being in use and to the status of the abbot. Close to Southampton and with royal connections, it was likely that Netley was called upon to provide lodgings for eminent visitors using the port.

Funding was not however generous, and the abbey never prospered in the way of other English Cistercian houses; the granges and sheep grazing within its estate did not compare with the assets of the larger, wealthier houses. In 1536, when it was shut down by Henry VIII along with other lesser monasteries, its annual income was assessed as £100 12s 8d, making it one of the poorest Cistercian houses in England, and there were a mere seven monks present.

POST-DISSOLUTION MANSION After the Dissolution, the site and buildings were granted to Sir William Paulet, later Marquis of Winchester, a wealthy and influential adviser to successive Tudor monarchs. He adapted the monastic buildings to create a mansion to rival his family seat at Basing House. It is not known when the nave and choir arcades were demolished but the hall was fitted into the nave and crossing, with a chapel in the choir. The south transept and east range were retained, the former as private chambers, while the latter was adapted to provide a sequence of connecting rooms on the ground floor and a long gallery on the upper floor. The south and west ranges of cloisters were demolished, replaced by a gateway built on the site of the frater (refectory) which had stood perpendicular to the south range; the cloister walks were removed and the cloister garth became a garden or fountain court. Between this range and the separate abbot’s lodging to the east, gardens were laid out. Paulet was also said to be responsible for the construction of the nearby Netley Castle, built as part of the Tudor defensive system of coastal forts.

Queen Elizabeth was later to stay there, under Paulet's successor, the Earl of Hertford, and by 1665 the mansion was one of the largest in Hampshire, the Hertfords having been elevated as Dukes of Somerset. However it was sold in 1676 and soon fell out of use. During the first quarter of the C18 parts of the church were demolished and stonework reused, for example at the church of St Mary, Southampton in 1710 and 1722-3. The Buck engraving of 1733 shows that by then the arcades and most of the Tudor alterations had been removed leaving the monastic ruins much as they appear today.

C18 ROMANTICISM In the later C18, writers, artists and poets in search of the romantic and the picturesque were attracted to Netley. Set amongst wild, wooded slopes above Southampton Water and by then overgrown and in disrepair, it was seen as the consummate medieval ruin. Writers such as Horace Walpole, Thomas Gray and Robert Southey enthused about the abbey, John Constable came to paint there and Francis Grose in 1760 included it in his illustrations of ‘Antiquities of England and Wales’, noting that Thomas Dummer 'had greatly improved its appearance by judicious management of the trees which had spontaneously sprung up amid the mouldering walls'. It was the subject of an operatic farce by W Pearce first produced in Covent Garden in 1794, and inspired novelists - it is claimed that Jane Austen visited Netley, finding inspiration for Northanger Abbey (published in 1817).

ANTIQUARIAN INTEREST Tastes changed, and during the 1840s the abbey became a popular place for local people to come for tea, dancing and music. Some visitors complained that the peaceful, romantic atmosphere which had inspired individuals previously was ruined by ‘the popping of ginger beer'. In 1860 the owner Thomas Chamberlayne ordered stone and rubbish to be cleared from the site - part taken to build a sea wall on Southampton Water. Tudor brickwork was removed, the buildings were tidied and cleared to floor level and the site made secure by the installation of a porter, with lodging in the south range. The arrival of the railway in 1866 heralded the growth of Netley as a commuter village and housing encroached on the abbey precinct and previously open heathland surrounding the abbey.

Excavations in the 1860s by Revds Edmund Kell and JA Addison confirmed the extent of the main buildings and importantly revealed the foundations of the refectory or frater which was aligned north-south from the centre of the south claustral range. They also uncovered a building they believed to be the infirmary, under the current car park. There has not been the opportunity to investigate Kell’s claims that Netley Castle, to the west, may have been built on the site of the lost abbey gatehouse.

In 1893 the acclaimed photographer and antiquarian Henry Taunt excavated and recorded the site, his photographs providing valuable evidence of the surviving ruins and remains of the Tudor house and of his excavation trenches. Although he was apparently unaware of Kell’s excavations, he too confirmed the location of the refectory and proposed that there were buildings between the abbey and abbot's lodgings which would benefit from excavation.

C19 MAP EVIDENCE OF THE MEDIEVAL SITE The precinct was enclosed by a substantial bank and ditch which made use of the natural topography, evidence of its survival into the C19 clearly shown on the 1st edition OS map of 1867, before suburban development took place. The map shows that the bank and ditch ran eastwards from SW of the site, S of Netley Castle following the ridge to the east before turning NW between the fishponds, the western end of the northern fishpond appearing to postdate it. In the lower ground to the NW of the ridge a second ditch was shown (outside the scheduled area) while the northern and eastern boundary of the site is bounded by a bank, also indicated on the map. The map also shows the course of the associated aqueducts. Grange Farm to the NE of the site was possibly the site of the home farm. The 1920 boundary of the scheduled monument appears to be defined by tracks or roads shown on the 1867 map. RECENT SURVEY, EXCAVATION AND OBSERVATION Netley Abbey was scheduled on 16 February 1920 and has been managed as a guardianship site since 14 August 1922. In 1923-4 the site was re-surveyed by the Ordnance Survey (NA: WORK 31/1515-1518). The upstanding ruins were listed at Grade I after WWII.

Excavation and repair of the collapsed conduit in 1995 revealed the enclosed post-medieval conduit, constructed on the foundations of the medieval conduit. Recent appraisals include a Wall Painting Condition Audit (March 1996) of rapidly deteriorating painted wall surfaces and wall decoration in the E claustral range and 'reredorter-over-infirmary', noted by Kell in the 1860s; an orthographic survey of the warming room and kitchen (1999); Conditions surveys (February 1999 and May 2004), and a conservation statement (J Coad, December 2001).

A topographic and geophysical survey by the University of Southampton (2005) confirmed the findings of the 1860s, the footprint of the C16 buildings and alterations, and provided new information of anomalies, potentially structures and garden features, to the east of the main buildings and SE of the abbot's lodgings.

In 1983 the custodian's house, at the southern apex of the monument, was rebuilt on its previous site. There was also a watching brief when new signage posts were installed by the car park (2011).

RELATED SCHEDULED MONUMENTS The abbey site, one of the best examples of its kind nationally, is part of a well-preserved complex of related structures. To the south-east of the scheduled area is a prominent bank and ditch, two sections of which were scheduled as Netley Abbey precinct wall and moat (HA 5A, NHLE 1005536) in 1961. To the north, conduits which served the precinct and fishponds were scheduled in 1975 (NHLE 1008703, 1008704), and to the north-east is a series of unscheduled fishponds.

To the west of the abbey is the site of the C16 Henrican coastal fort of Netley Castle, also a scheduled monument (NHLE 1001884), and to the north-west is Netley Lodge, c1885-90 by J Dando Sedding, which is said to incorporate a former lodge or gatehouse to the castle (listed Grade II, NHLE 1391287).


Cistercian abbey, founded 1239 by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester, adapted as a substantial manor house after the Dissolution by Sir William Paulet.

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS Part of Netley Abbey precinct containing the church, aligned east-west, the outer walls of the nave, presbytery and S transept standing to roof height, the N transept and nave and presbytery arcades demolished, probably in the C16. Cloisters lie to the south of the nave, the E range abutting the S transept. The cloister arcades and refectory to the south of it were also demolished in the C16, a gateway built in the centre of the S range and an entrance pierced in the S wall of the church opening onto the C16 hall. To the E stands a separate abbot’s lodging. To the east of the main buildings resistivity survey suggests there are the remains of Tudor gardens or possibly medieval remains, perhaps of the infirmary. Traditionally the cemetery would have been laid out to the E of the church. There is no evidence of the precinct gateway or of a precinct wall. Beyond the scheduled area the site was protected by a bank and ditch on the top of the scarp to the east (part separately scheduled as HA 5A, NHLE 1005536).

Buildings are constructed of limestone rubble with ashlar dressings and enriched with Purbeck marble; C16 alterations are predominantly in brick.

CHURCH PLAN: a three-bay aisled presbytery; north and south of the crossing, which probably supported a squat tower, are two-bay transepts, each with a pair of E chapels within an E aisle. An eight-bay aisled nave has a monumental west front with a central entrance flanked by an entrance to the N aisle and a skewed entrance to the S aisle. Apart from the S transept, the internal structure survives only in the moulded bases of the arcades and footings.

The presbytery and N side of the nave have offset buttresses, the E and W ends have full-height offset buttresses framing the entrance and E window; the earliest phases have continuous moulded external and internal cill bands.

PRESBYTERY: a three-bay aisled presbytery with a square east end, in the manner adopted by Cistercians in England, but with a centrally-placed E altar flanked by a single lateral altar to each side, rather than the usual five E altars with the main altar set forward.

E window, completed c1260 at the earliest, of four lights below a cusped circle with a richly moulded inner arch formerly supported on multiple Purbeck marble shafts. Single E lancets and paired lancets to N and S aisles have splayed chamfered arches, recessed behind a broad rear arch supported to each side on a single shaft, an arrangement adopted throughout the early phases of the church. Aisle responds surviving against the E wall are square in section with an attached shaft; on the N and S walls a single full-height shaft between the window bays originally supported quadripartite rib vaulting. There is a trefoil headed piscina and an aumbry in the S aisle and a similar aumbry in the N aisle; and a truncated stone newel stair adjacent to the SW pier. Adjacent to the E altar is a moulded base, presumed to have supported a sculpted figure.

CROSSING: survives in the moulded bases of the four quadripartite crossing piers, the eastern face of the W piers flat to accommodate the quire stalls. Between the E piers a step divided the presbytery from the quire. Three piers bear rare inscriptions, including the name, crown and title of the king, commemorating the foundation of the church. The NE base is inscribed H. DI. GRA. REX. ANGL. with a cross above a heart-shaped shield; the NW base has a similar cross above a crown and the SW base a pennon and staff ending in a cross above a shield.

TRANSEPTS: north and south of the crossing, two-bay transepts, the S transept standing to roof height, the N transept as footings. The S transept has a two-bay E aisle, arranged as two side chapels, with a trefoil-headed piscina in the S wall. The roof has quadripartite rib vaulting, with foliate bosses. Relieving arches on the W and S walls are pierced on the W side by the remains of a C16 door and window openings and on the S by a moulded doorway to the sacristy and at upper level by the entrance to the dorter from the night stair, adapted in the C16 when the stair was demolished.

Throughout, the church had a combined shallow triforium and clerestory that survives best in the S transept where windows are of three plain lancets, the middle one higher. At triforium level the internal S wall has a blind arcaded gallery with cusped quatrefoil heads beneath an encircled sexfoil, below remains of a three-light window in the gable. On the outer face is the hanging for a bell. The transept roof was rebuilt perhaps in the late C15 or C16, and the supporting shafts were given geometric capitals.

NAVE: predominantly built c1290-1320. The S aisle of the nave, completed before the N aisle, has deep internal arches between buttress-like piers between each bay. S aisle windows are of three lancets, the taller, central light trefoil-headed. Probably early C14 N aisle windows, built from E to W, are of three cusped hollow chamfered lancets. In the easternmost bay of the S wall the processional entrance from the cloisters has a multiple moulded arch supported on grouped, probably, Purbeck marble, shafts. Inserted in the fifth bay from the W, is a C16 doorway with a moulded stone south-facing arch and brick rear arch.

The west front, also completed in the early C14, is dominated by massive full-height offset buttresses that flank the central entrance. This has a simple moulded arch supported on grouped shafts and formerly had two doors separated by a central shaft. To the left and right are an entrance to the N aisle and a skewed entrance to the S aisle. The W window had cusped tracery, the aisles have narrow, cusped two-light windows.

CLOISTERS AND CLAUSTRAL RANGES E RANGE: the east claustral range, which survives to roof height, comprises from north to south: the library and sacristy, chapter house, parlour, day room and probably misericord (novices accommodation). On the upper floor the dorter (dormitory), connected to the S transept by night stairs in the NW angle, and later adapted as the long gallery.

The three-bay sacristy (strictly the sacristy in the eastern bays and library in the western bay) is lit by a two-light lancet E window and has a rib vaulted roof, the corbels reworked in the C16. There is no evidence of the partition which traditionally separated the library and sacristy. There are arched recesses in the S and N walls and a trefoil-headed piscina and an aumbry in the S wall. An altar base is set on a raised plinth into which medieval tiles have been set. There are similar tiles at the threshold of the inserted doorway connecting it with the chapter house. Any evidence of a book locker, typically next to the entrance to the library and sacristy within the cloister, was removed during C16 alterations.

Chapter house in 3 x 3 bays, the responds of the vaulted roof remaining, and lit by three plate tracery windows of two lights below sexfoils. Wide, multiple-moulded three-bay arched entrance from the cloister, originally flanked by windows, enriched with Purbeck marble shafts. The adjacent parlour, with arched entrances from the cloister and in the E wall, has a barrel vaulted roof.

Aisled, vaulted roofed 2-bay day room and 3-bay room, possibly a misericord. C14 windows inserted, but altered in the C16 when mullion and transom windows and a fireplace were inserted, the original fireplace removed and the E entrance blocked. The dorter above, later a long gallery, has blocked narrow rectangular window openings replaced in the C16 by mullion windows. Throughout the E range C19 graffiti record the names of visitors such as William Symons in 1852.

Attached to the S end of the E range and aligned south-west to north-east, was a buttery, and to the E of it possibly an infirmary in the undercroft and reredorter above. This was served by an open stone-lined conduit to the S of and below the undercroft and buttery, separated from them by an internal wall. The buttery was altered in the C16 when windows were inserted or altered. The adjoining vaulted undercroft is in four bays heated by a monumental moulded stone fireplace on the N wall, the hood supported on corbels with brackets for lamps to each side. It is lit by a two-light plate tracery window to the E and by lancets to the N, altered in the C16. A doorway and servery open onto the buttery, in the N wall is a recessed locker. There is no indication in the NE wall of external structures having been built against it.

To the west of the buttery, resistivity survey revealed a small rectangular structure, the possible site of a medieval kitchen butting against the SE corner of the former refectory.

S RANGE: in the centre of the S cloister range an inserted C16 square-headed moulded stone gateway replaced the demolished refectory, a building of 30m x 12m, which was aligned NS. To the E of the entrance the former warming room, to the W the abbey kitchen. The S elevation was predominantly rebuilt in brick and faced in stone in the C16, the kitchen retaining two post-dissolution moulded stone two-light mullion windows. The Nwall, enclosing the cloister, was however retained and on the N face of the warming room is the lavatorium, the E end disturbed by the insertion of a C16 doorway. The entrance passage is flanked to the W by a brick and stone wall with a pointed arched doorway and three-light window.

W RANGE: the W range, originally the lay brothers' quarters and dormitory above cellars, appears to have been built in the C14 and was probably ruinous by the time it was much altered in the C16. A C14 doorway at the SW corner of the range probably gave access to the dormitory above. On the inner, courtyard face is a row of corbels at first floor level. An entrance passage, for which the corbels for its roof or first floor remain, was adapted in the C16 and a porch, now surviving as footings, added to the W providing access to the court through the W range. A C16 doorway was inserted from the cloister court giving access to the N section. A pentice range, now marked by a bank, against the outer wall protected the lay brothers’ entrance to the church, set at a skew at the W end of the S aisle.

To the south of this is a low wall [D’] identified by the topographic survey (Barker et al 2005). To the south are further structures: two small chambers with upstanding walls in brick and stone [E’] and to the west of the kitchen a long building 20m x 17m aligned N-S [F’] and south of it a low wall [G’].

The cloister garth and site of the cloisters is turfed throughout, the position of the cloister walls confirmed by the resistivity survey. In the centre is a raised mound, the site of a C16 fountain head or cistern.

ABBOT’S LODGING To the E of the sacristy and chapter house and detached from the main buildings, is a two-storey building, described as the abbot’s lodgings. It comprises a main chamber above a three bay rib-vaulted undercroft aligned NW-SE with two-storey wings to the E, and between the wings formerly a chimney stack. The undercroft was lit by lancet windows and by an additional inserted window on the W; the entrance is in the W wall of the S bay. Remains of a gabled pentice above it suggest that this was the entrance to the upper floor, reached by external stairs. The southernmost wing comprises a two-bay vaulted undercroft with a chamber, possibly chapel, above; there was a fireplace against the S wall. The lower, northern wing had a barrel vaulted ground floor lit by lancets to N and S, with a garderobe beyond it.

TUDOR STRUCTURES Within the church, the Tudor mansion comprised from W to E a large room 25m x 10m, a similar chamber divided in two, and a chamber occupying the crossing, with a chimney stack built against the W wall. To the E, within the presbytery, a 15m x 10m room, considered to be the chapel. To the north of the church, the footings of a rectangular structure 7.6 m across [O], and a series of three C16 rooms [r31, r32, r33] measuring 10m x 15m, 17m x 12m and 8m x 10m. To the west of the W front is a similar structure indicated by a shallow turfed bank; further evidence of Tudor structures to the W of the W front entrance to the W claustral range and to the W of the refectory.

GARDEN AND DETACHED STRUCTURES The area between the E cloister range and lodgings is laid out as a flat terrace c 40m x 50m enclosed by low brick retaining walls to a bank to the N, aligned on the sacristy and NW corner of the abbot’s lodging and a similar wall to the E, and dropping to a turf bank to the S aligned on the E end of the infirmary/reredorter range. The 2005 resistivity survey identified features, referenced here, which could relate to the Tudor gardens but might relate to the abbey infirmary since at other Cistercian sites the infirmary is placed to the SE of the main monastic buildings. Rectilinear features are arranged round an open area [r19] of over 40m x 20m. To the north and east, three rectilinear features [r20, r21, r22] each 15m x 10m. To the south, a larger feature [r23] aligned on the infirmary block. To the S of the abbot’s lodging, a small two-roomed structure [r24, r25]. Linear features to the N of the retaining wall [r28] may relate to garden walls or the boundary of the cemetery to the N which is also defined by NS aligned linear features [r29, r30] to the E.

To the SE on the lower terrace, the resistivity survey suggested the presence of structures while to the S of the cloisters and refectory there is none.

EXCLUSIONS Excluded from the scheduling are: the custodian’s house at the S apex of the site; modern notice boards and signs; modern fences and fence posts; modern gates and gate posts; modern walkways, tarmacadam or gravel surfaces of modern paths or car parks; modern water pipes and electricity cables. However, the ground beneath all these features is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
HA 5
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Hamilton Thompson, A , Netley Abbey, Hampshire (Department of the Environment Guidebook), (1953, twelfth impression 1980 )
E Kell, , '' in Netley Abbey, with an Account of Recent Excavations and Discoveries, Collectanea Archaeologica of the British Archaeological Association vol ii, pt 1, pp 65-92 , (1863)
Hare, J, 'Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society' in Netley Abbey: Monastery, Mansion and Ruin , (1993)
Hampshire Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record, accessed from
Hampshire Heritage Online , accessed from
Central Archaeology Service , Netley Abbey, SAM Hampshire 5: Observations made during the primary excavations of the collapsed conduit, CAS Project code 549, 16.03.1995,
D Barker, T Sly and K Strutt, Netley Abbey, Topographic and Geophysical Survey Report, December 2005, University of Southampton (2005) ,
EH Jones and HW Taunt, John Adams' Guide to Netley Abbey and the neighbourhood (1899) ,
English Heritage, Wall Painting Condition Audit : Netley Abbey, Hampshire, March 1996,
HW Taunt, Netley Abbey and round it , 1907,
J Coad, Netley Abbey: A Conservation Statement , December 2001,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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