Lesnes Abbey, 192m south-east of Buckles Court.
Reasons for Designation
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 or priories, 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. 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.
Despite later use and alterations, Lesnes Abbey survives well with much original surviving medieval masonry and stonework. It is a remarkably complete ground plan of a medieval Augustinian Abbey. The site will contain further archaeological and environmental remains and deposits relating to the use and history of the abbey. As a site accessible to the public it provides a valuable recreational and educational resource.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 30 March 2015. This record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
The monument includes the Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr, now known as Lesnes Abbey, surviving as upstanding stone remains and archaeological remains. It is situated on low-lying ground at the northern edge of Lesnes Abbey Woods.
The walls and foundations of the abbey survive up to about 2.5m high and are constructed of Kentish ragstone, flint and chalk. They include a pointed stone doorway and several lancet windows. To the south is the Abbey church, which is of cruciform plan with an aisled nave. The nave is approximately 70m long and 22m wide and the transept is about 43m long and 19m wide. Attached to the north end is the monastic complex. The west range consists of the brewhouse, kitchen and cellarer's building; the north range includes the frater; and the east range includes the sacristy, chapter house, parlour, dorter undercroft, and warming house. To the north of the east range is an extension containing the Abbots lodging and reredorter. East of the parlour is the infirmary with a chapel and misericord. In 1630, partial excavation of the monastic church was undertaken by Sir J Epsley. This was one of the earliest (if not the earliest) archaeological investigations in Greater London. The ground plan of the monastic complex was further revealed during partial excavations in the early 20th century, 1939-58 and in 1994.
The Augustinian Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr was founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci, Chief Justiciar of England. By the beginning of the 15th century the abbey had fallen into debt and disrepair, apparently due to misgovernance of the abbots. This is also likely to have been due to the costs and burden of draining the low-lying marshland and maintaining the river wall, given its location so near the Thames. Rebuilding work was carried out in the early 16th century but in 1524-5 the Abbey was suppressed by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. In 1526 it was granted to Cardinal’s College, Oxford. The Abbot’s Lodging was retained and converted into a mansion house. It was demolished in 1844. In 1930, the site was acquired by London County Council and following partial excavation, the remains were preserved and opened to the public. The site came into the ownership of Bexley Council after 1986.
The upstanding remains are Grade II listed.