Wilmington Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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

East Sussex
Wealden (District Authority)
Long Man
National Park:
National Grid Reference:


Wilmington Priory, 72m south-west of St Mary and St Peter’s Church.

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, 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.

Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Despite later alterations, Wilmington Priory survives well and retains much original upstanding medieval masonry with some significant architectural details. The site will contain further below-ground archaeological remains and deposits relating to the former use and history of the site as a priory. As a monument accessible to the public it also forms an important educational and recreational resource.


See Details.


This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 27 November 2014. The 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 a Benedictine Priory, called Wilmington Priory, surviving as upstanding and below-ground remains. It is situated on a gentle slope on the south side of the village of Wilmington, just north of the escarpment forming the north-eastern edge of the South Downs. The Benedictine Priory was founded before 1243 and dissolved in about 1414 and is on the site of, and incorporates, an earlier cell of the Abbey of Grestain in Normandy, which was founded before 1086. Among the earliest surviving architectural details is a 13th century doorway which leads into the Old Hall, the site of which is now part occupied by Wellhouse Court. This is an L-shaped building, which is principally a 14th century priory building incorporating some earlier 13th century features as well as alterations dating from the 15th century through to the 18th century. It is two storeys high, constructed of stone with red brick window dressings and a tiled roof. At the west end of the ground floor is the porch with 14th century quadripartite vaulting. To the south-west of the house are the ruins of the 14th century New Hall or Great Hall. The upstanding remains include two octagonal turrets either side of a wall and are built of ashlar, flint and some brick. The wall includes a window of three tiers of three lights with stone mullions and transoms. North of the house are further remains including a 14th century vaulted undercroft. Parts of the walls of a late medieval barn survive at the south end of the site. On the east side of the priory are the 19th century walls of the Village Pound.

The Abbey of Grestain is recorded as holding lands at Wilmington at the time of the Domesday Survey and a small cell had been founded on the site. The cell was enlarged in 1243 to accommodate several monks under a prior and was known as the Priory of St Mary but functioned more as a grange, supervising the Abbey’s English estates. It was suppressed alongside other alien priories in 1415 and granted to the Dean and Chapter of Chichester. In 16th century it passed into private hands, becoming a manor house. The remains of the Priory and surrounding land were given to the Sussex Archaeological Trust by the Duke of Devonshire in 1925 and latterly formed a museum.


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

Legacy System number:
ES 122
Legacy System:


East Sussex HER MES4525. NMR TQ50SW30. PastScape 408699. LBS 295804 and 295805.


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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