Remains of St Osyth's Priory including the ruinous sections of a mid-C16 mansion


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
Cloister TM1217015699 West Court TM1208615695
Statutory Address:
The Priory, St. Osyth, Clacton-on-sea, CO16 8NZ


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Statutory Address:
The Priory, St. Osyth, Clacton-on-sea, CO16 8NZ

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

Location Description:
Cloister TM1217015699 West Court TM1208615695
Tendring (District Authority)
St. Osyth
National Grid Reference:


St Osyth's Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons founded in the early C12, including the remains of part of the post-dissolution mansion built by the 1st Lord Darcy after 1553, and the remains of a range added by his son, the 2nd Lord Darcy.

Reasons for Designation

St Osyth's Priory, a house of Augustinian canons founded c.1120, and the remains of Lord Darcy's post-dissolution mansion are scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: for the exceptional survival of the plan of claustral and service ranges, as well as the medieval fabric incorporated into Lord Darcy's post-dissolution mansion; and also for the surviving and ruinous structures of the mansion, significant architectural details of which remain, most notably the complete great tower known as the Darcy Tower; * Potential: both upstanding remains of priory buildings and stratified archaeological deposits will inform our understanding of the development of the priory, its plan and architectural detail. Structural remains and artefacts relating to the life of priory over 400 years, as well as post-monastic finds, will provide valuable evidence for domestic and economic activity during both monastic and post-monastic occupation. Organic material may also be preserved, with the potential for evidence of environment and land management within the precinct; * Documentation: our understanding of the priory, its buildings and economy is greatly enhanced by documentary sources, particularly those relating to its dissolution, while its post-monastic history, including the changing design of the formal gardens, is well recorded; * Diversity: for the range and complexity of surviving structures, including the structural remains of domestic offices, and their incorporation into and relationship with Lord Darcy's mansion, and also for the probable survival below ground of demolished structures which are likely to have formed part of the monastic precinct; * Group value: the close relationship between the scheduled monument, listed buildings and structures and registered landscape, including significant buildings contemporary with the later phases of the monastery, is both of considerable value in itself, and contributes to the understanding of the plan and development of the site.


Although the story of St Osyth and the founding of a monastery by her at Chich in the C7 may simply be legend, the settlement now named after her dates to the Anglo-Saxon period and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Her legend was clearly a powerful one, and shortly after 1120 an Augustinian priory was founded here in her honour by Richard de Belmeis, Bishop of London. By 1161 the priory had become an abbey, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, and St Osyth. The abbey prospered, and a detailed valuation of income from its holdings at the date of its surrender to the crown in July 1539, as well as an inventory of its goods, indicates its wealth. The late buildings that still survive are also illustrative, including the largely intact late C15 gatehouse and the Abbot's Lodging, the latter built by the penultimate abbot, John Vyntoner, in 1527.

After its surrender the abbey was initially granted to Thomas Cromwell, reverting to the crown following his attainder; in 1553 it was bought by Thomas, 1st Lord Darcy, Lord Chamberlain of Edward VI’s household. Darcy extended Abbot Vyntoner's house, converting the dorter range to the east, north of the cloister garth, into domestic accommodation, retaining the sub-vault but extending the building further to the north and adding the great tower known as the Darcy Tower to the south, at the north-east corner of the cloister. The cellars of the cellarer's range at the north end of the west cloister were incorporated into the extended Abbot's Lodging, while the frater (refectory range) seems to have been translated to secular use as the Great Hall, with the Clock Tower added at the west end. The greater part of the ranges to east and west of the cloister quadrangle with the conventual church, on the south side of the cloister, were destroyed. The frater seems to have been demolished by the 2nd Lord Darcy in about 1600 and replaced with a brick range immediately to the south. Only the south wall of this range survives.

In the early years of the Civil War the estate belonged to the 3rd Lord Darcy’s daughter, Countess Rivers, a staunch Catholic. In 1642 the house was sacked, and although it remained in the ownership of the Countess’s heirs until 1714, it was uninhabited and in a state of decay. It then passed by marriage to Frederic Nassau de Zuylestein, 3rd Earl of Rochford, who built a new house on the north side of the precinct and restored the gatehouse. His son, the 4th Earl, added the surviving 18th century range and laid out the park. The Nassau family remained in possession of the Priory until 1858, when it passed to Charles Brandreth, who demolished most of Lord Rochford’s house in 1859. C19 prints from between 1819 and 1847 show the south wing of the Abbot's lodging, and south of that, the west end of Lord Darcy's house, as well as the range added by the 2nd Lord Darcy, in varying states of disrepair. In 1863 the estate was sold to Mr (later Sir) John Johnson, a London corn merchant, who restored the Abbot's Lodging and went on to restore the south range and to create the chapel from the remains of the frater passage (which had survived demolition of the frater) and part of the dorter sub-vault.

In the C20 the property passed through a number of owners. From 1948 the house was used as a convalescent home, and remained so until that closed in 1980. In 1954 the estate was bought by Somerset de Chair, and it was he who converted the Gatehouse into a separate residence. De Chair died in 1995, and in 1999 the property was sold.

Since the publication of the Royal Commission of Historic Monuments (RCHM) volume in 1922 no systematic recording of the buildings and archaeology of St Osyth Priory and its precinct has been undertaken. In 1923 the site of the priory was scheduled as St Osyth Priory (uninhabited portions). When mapped, the boundary of the scheduled area included the ruins of the conventual ranges and the Darcy House as well as the gardens to the east and south, both the west and tithe barns, and the brewhouse and drying house, but the boundary was drawn to exclude the house, the gatehouse and its west range, the C18 stable building, the cartshed and Bailiff's Cottage. The gate in the wall south of the gatehouse was included as an outlying part of the scheduling. All structures, including boundary and garden walls and garden ornaments, were subsequently listed. In 2006 a programme of historic building recording was undertaken on the tithe barn and brewhouse. In 2007 a programme of archaeological monitoring and recording of groundworks associated with the repair, conversion and extension of the tithe barn, and of a proposed access road across the north of the scheduled area, revealed a section of wall, aligned north-south, in a trench to the north of the ruins of the Darcy House. The wall is described as being similar in form to existing priory walls, and a sherd of medieval pottery of mid-C14 to mid-C16 date was found in its construction trench. In 2007 a desk based assessment of the archaeological potential of the park brought together the records of discoveries made in the course of C20 gravel extraction, indicating evidence of Iron Age and Roman occupation that includes the site of a possible villa.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS This scheduled monument includes St Osyth's Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons founded in the early C12, as well as the ruinous parts of the post-dissolution mansion built by the 1st Lord Darcy after 1553, and also the complete tower known as the Darcy Tower. The priory is contained within a triangle of land that has Brightlingsea Creek to the west, and St Osyth Creek to the south. Marshes and mudflats lie between Brighlingsea Creek and St Osyth's parkland, where the priory occupies the south-east corner, immediately to the west of St Osyth village. The area that formed the core precinct is bounded to the south, west and east by a wall, the north wall possibly removed to allow views over the post-dissolution garden and parkland to the north. The precinct forms an irregular rectangular shape with the The Bury cutting a triangle out of the south-east corner. The priory's conventual buildings would have been towards the centre of the precinct, with the church to the south of the cloister. The ruinous parts of the house, built by the 1st Lord Darcy and his son, form an L shape extending east from the surviving wing of the Darcy house (to the south of the Abbot's Lodging), turning north to follow the footprint of the east monastic dorter range. The Darcy Tower is attached to the east elevation at the south-east corner of this range. To the west of the church and claustral ranges is a larger courtyard entered through the late-C15 gatehouse.

According to the valuation and inventory produced at the time of the dissolution, the church, on the south side of the cloister, consisted of a nave and south aisle, two transepts, a steeple, three chapels and a vestry. Other buildings mentioned, the remains or location of which can be identified as part of the claustral ranges or west court, include, to the north of the church, the chapter house, cloister, frater (refectory), kitchen, dorter and bishop's lodgings, and to the south, the gatehouse. The location of others is more uncertain, but may be identified with lost and surviving structures in the west court or to the north of the cloister. These buildings are described as an old and a new hall, a great chamber over the hall, the prior's, sub-prior's, sacristan's and bailiff's chambers as well as several other chambers and offices.

CLAUSTRAL RANGES AND RUINS OF THE DARCY HOUSE The distance between the cellarer's and dorter ranges (the former surviving as cellars within the south wing of the Abbot's Lodging to the west, listed at Grade I but not included in the scheduling), the latter incorporated into the Darcy House to the east, described below), suggest that the cloister would have been about 30m square, placing the nave of the church within the C20 sunken garden. Opposite the church, on the north side of the cloister, was the frater, and to the north of that the kitchen, a C13 fragment of which survives, standing about 3m high and consisting of half-round attached piers with moulded capitals and bases and with the springers of arches to north and east. The remainder is now mostly beneath the late C19 service wing. The dorter range began at the north end of the east cloister and continued north, its sub-vault also incorporated into the Darcy House. This range is substantially C12 but fronted to the west with Darcy's characteristic chequered stone work. The south bay of the sub-vault is entered from the west through a segmental pointed archway with square label over. It has two bays from west to east and a groin vaulted roof; the arches between the piers to north and south have been infilled to create an enclosed space. The lower courses of the piers are constructed of Roman brick. To the east is a semi-circular, C14th arch partly filled with septaria and brick, into which a doorway with moulded jambs and segmental-pointed head has been inserted, giving access from the sub-vault into the base of the Darcy Tower. Towards the west end of the south wall of the sub-vault, a doorway leads into a narrow space with a window to the west. This appears to relate to the Darcy House; the west wall is of brick, while the north and east walls are of chequered stonework.

The C19 chapel projects west from but also incorporates three bays of the dorter range sub-vault. Built of rubble, ashlar and some brick, the chapel has a pitched tiled roof; the north and south elevations are crenellated. The west elevation represents several phases of work, including an arcade of four pointed arches above trefoiled stonework, all blocked except one, which contains a window with C13 style plate tracery. Further openings have been inserted and later blocked, including a C16 doorway which contains a two light mullioned window. The north elevation has a doorway of c.1500 with moulded arch and C19 or C20 doors with ornate hinges. The east elevation has two windows inserted into blocked round arched openings. All windows date to the mid-C20.

The entrance to the chapel, through the north door, leads into the former frater passage. The passage has 2 x 3 bays of early C13 rib vaulting, the moulded ribs springing from stone corbels and slender Purbeck marble shafts with moulded capitals and bases. To the east of the former passage are three bays of the sub-vault of the dorter range. That to the south forms the second bay of the sub-vault and is the only one of the three to include the full width of the bay; it has a rubble groin vaulted roof and at the east end are the splays of a blocked doorway with a small window inserted. The north wall between this and the next bay is original, with inserted openings. The next two bays are formed from the west ends of the third and fourth bays of the sub-vault, and are lit by windows inserted into the blocked arches to the east. The remaining three bays of the sub-vault are increasingly ruinous, the sixth very narrow, possibly the channel for a drain. Of the seventh bay, only the east wall survives, with traces of a wide blocked archway into which a mid-C16 window has been inserted.

The two C16, upper storeys of the Darcy House rise above the east end of the chapel. The surviving east wall, as it continues to the north, contains the whole of one mid-C16 chequered stonework gable and part of a second. Surviving detail includes a mid-16th-century chimney stack with two diapered brick shafts, below which are three fireplaces. The house continues to the north of the former dorter range as a now freestanding and ruinous wall, slightly offset to the east, with an octagonal tower to the south. The east side of the wall north from the tower has two windows to the first floor; below the north window is a wide arched opening. This part of the Darcy House appears to be a new addition to the largely rebuilt dorter range; however, the footing of a stone wall found in 2007, of similar appearance to the priory walls and also aligned north-south, suggests that structures relating to the priory continued to the north.

DARCY TOWER The only complete building to form part of the scheduling is the Darcy Tower, attached to the east side of the north end of the cloister. Built of ashlar stone and septaria it rises three stages above the ground floor. It has a moulded plinth, with octagonal turrets to the two south and the north-east corners rising above roof level. Between these are parapets with slight gables. Rising above the fourth, north-west corner are two diapered stone chimney shafts with octagonal moulded bases and spiked caps. The south-west turret contains the stairs, lit by a vertical line of small two light windows in the south face. Each stage of the south elevation of the tower has three arched light windows under square heads, labels over, with segmental relieving arches. The east elevation has three similar windows and there are similar smaller windows to north east and south east turrets. The west elevation has a similar window to the upper storey and round headed window to second stage.

The doorway to the east of the south bay of the sub-vault to the dorter range opens into a passage at the base of the Darcy Tower, to the south of which is a doorway opening onto the staircase rising to the first floor. At each stage there are doorways with segmental pointed arches opening onto the stair and other turrets. In the two upper stages are fireplaces with moulded fire surrounds.

Between the Darcy Tower and the restored range of the Darcy House to the west is a brick wall, the remains of the range built by the 2nd Lord Darcy in about 1600 to replace the demolished frater. The wall stands about 7-10 metres tall, breaking forward and higher to the western end. The first floor windows are blocked and have moulded labels over. At the west end is a wide arched opening, a late insertion giving access to the yard behind.

The claustral ranges and ruins of the Darcy House, including the Darcy Tower and the upstanding remains of the 2nd Lord Darcy's range, are listed at Grade I (List Entry 1337159)

WEST COURTYARD AND PRECINCT WALLS The courtyard to the west of the church and claustral ranges is bounded on the south by the range that includes the C13 and late-C15 gatehouses, and the post-dissolution tithe barn, and to the north by the Abbot's Lodging. It seems likely that the courtyard would originally have been completely enclosed by buildings, later demolished, replaced or adapted for alternative uses (the latter including the West Barn and Bailiff's Cottage, both retaining medieval fabric), and that these may have contained those offices and chambers described in the dissolution inventory. The structural form of the east gable of the south-east range indicates that it may also have continued further to the east. Running south from the gatehouse is the surviving west wall of a range, probably of the C15, although the chronological relationship between this and the wing to the west of the C15 gatehouse is not clear. It contains two-light windows with cinquefoil heads under labels, an arched doorway with moulded jambs, the lower half blocked with an inserted window over, and to the south a C14 wide round arched entrance. The height of the wall is truncated and crenellated. This has become part of the wall enclosing the priory grounds, and joins the precinct wall at its south end. The buildings to the north, west and south of the West Court, including the Gatehouse, are all separately listed and are not included as part of the scheduling.

The north precinct wall no longer survives. On the west side the wall starts to the north at TM1201115766 and travels south to the road, where it turns east, following the road before turning north towards the gatehouse. This is the section described above. To the east of the gatehouse the wall travels east, turning north-east when it reaches the east end of The Bury where it turns north-east to follow the road to the crossroads. Here it turns north, running up to a point opposite Nos.14 and16 Colchester Road; the scheduling does not include the full length of the wall, listed at Grade II* as St Osyth's Priory boundary walls, (List Entry 1337160). The wall has evidently been much repaired and rebuilt, and although possibly C12 in origin, its early visible fabric dates mainly to the C14 – C17. The wall stands between 1m and c.2.5m high and is built of limestone, septaria, flint and brick with some flint galletted mortar.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The scheduling captures the core of the priory precinct and its post-monastic development, a significant unit of historic landscape containing the monastic buildings, both upstanding remains and those surviving as buried archaeology, including ancillary and service buildings beyond the main courtyard as well as other features relating to the support and sustenance of the monastic community.

The scheduled area is bounded to the west, east and south by the precinct walls, both the buried and upstanding fabric of which are included as part of the scheduling. To the north the scheduling boundary follows the south side of the kitchen garden wall (but does not include the wall) from the point where it meets the east precinct wall about 98m north of the junction of The Bury and the Colchester Road. From here the wall travels west, curving slightly, terminating after a distance of about 120m. From the end of this wall the scheduling boundary continues west for about 180m, following the north side of a linear depression, skirting the south end of a pond, before crossing a modern track to the west. Immediately to the west of the track it turns south to follow the outer, west edge of the track for a distance of about 60m, where the wall starts again, at the point where the track curves east and south. The boundary follows the west side of the wall, including a 3m buffer zone for the preservation of the monument; it continues south, turning east where it meets the road. It follows the south, outer edge, of the wall eastwards before turning north and then east again, following the outer edge of the precinct wall where it forms a right angle around The Bury. To the west and north of The Bury it includes a 3m buffer zone. Where the wall meets the road to the east it turns north-east and then north at the Colchester Road. The scheduled area is about 6.6 hectares (16.4 acres). Buffer zones are not included where the precinct wall abuts the public highway.

EXCLUSIONS The following buildings and structures are excluded from the scheduling: the Abbots Lodging, South Wing Clock tower and C18 house; the Gatehouse and its east and west ranges; the West barn and Bailiffs Cottage; the Drying House; the Brewhouse; the stables; the Tithe barn; the Cartlodge; the garden walls to the south of the Darcy tower and the ornamental steps, urns and pump to the south of the Abbots Lodging. The ruined east ranges of the Darcy House, the chapel and the Darcy Tower, and the precinct walls are specifically described in the scheduling list entry and are included in the scheduling. The ground beneath all of the buildings and structures (whether scheduled or not) which is likely to contain archaeological evidence relating to their origins or to earlier structures, is included. All modern structures, fences, gate posts and road and track surfaces are also excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.


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

Legacy System number:
EX 24
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Page, W, Round, JH, The Victoria History of the County of Essex: Volume II, (1907)
Robinson, M, The Geography of Augustinian Settlement in medieval England and Wales: Volumes 1 and 2. BAR British Series, (1980)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, (1922)
Archaeological Solutions Ltd, The Tithe Barn and Brewhouse, St Osyth Priory, Essex, 2006,
Essex County Council Field Archaeology Unit, St Osyth Priory Park, 2007,


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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