Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1003581
Date first listed: 06-Feb-1954
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: Greater London Authority
District: Barking and Dagenham (London Borough)
National Grid Reference: TQ 44060 83796
Barking Abbey, 80m NNW of St Margaret’s Church.
Reasons for Designation
A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women. Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship, accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use by the ninth century. A small number of these were later refounded. The tenth century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards.
Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time, including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites are known. Few sites have been examined in detail and as a rare and poorly understood medieval monument type all examples exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
Despite damage and disturbance in the past, the remains of the Benedictine abbey at Barking survive well. Much of the foundations survive as upstanding remains and the layout of the abbey has been well documented through excavation. It is of considerable historic interest as one of the most powerful and influential nunneries during the medieval period. Archaeological and environmental remains are known to survive on the site relating to its history and development.
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 a Benedictine abbey surviving as upstanding stone remains and archaeological remains. It is situated on low-lying flat ground within a park, east of the River Roding. St Margaret’s Church and graveyard occupy the area immediately south of the monastic ruins but are excluded from the scheduling.
The upstanding remains include parts of the foundations and walls of the abbey, which are of ragstone rubble with dressings of Reigate, Binstead and Caen stone. These have been exposed during excavation and other parts have been restored in modern ragstone according to the re-constructed layout. A 15th century gate tower with upper chapel, known as the Fire Bell Gate, also survives but is excluded from the scheduling and is Grade II* listed.
The Abbey Church was part-destroyed by gravel digging prior to 1874 and only parts of the original walling survive; these no more than 1.8m high. They include the walls of the Lady Chapel, the south side of the Saint’s Chapel, the south presbytery aisle, south transept and chapel, south aisle of the nave and the south-west tower. The nave was about 50m long and of 10 bays with north and south aisles and two towers at the west end. A central tower stood at the crossing with the transept. In about 1200, the east end of the presbytery was pulled down and the Saint’s Chapel and Lady Chapel erected. The chancel and chancel aisles at the east end of the church terminated in apsidal ends.
The foundations of the convent are situated north of the church. The cloister was 30m square but the foundations no longer survive. The chapter house projected from the centre of the east walk of the cloister. It was 20m long by 7m wide, parts of the north wall and east end of which survive. Adjoining the chapter house to the north was a building 16m long and 7m wide, divided into two unequal parts by a passage leading to the infirmary. The warming house formed the north part. The east wall of which survives up to 0.3m above floor level. It is thought to date to the 13th century and was probably a single storey structure. The refectory formed the north range of the complex but has been largely destroyed. The dorter or dormitory occupied the first floor of a long 51m by 7m building on the western side of the cloister, the base of the west wall and the north wall of which were identified during excavation. Beneath the dorter was a vaulted undercroft with a central row of columns. The 12th century piers and capitals in the north aisle of St Margaret’s Church are thought to have been robbed from here. The reredorter was 21m long by 8m wide and accessed by a passage west of the dorter. The south-east and north-west angles have been uncovered. It was served by a great culvert or sewer, fed from the River Roding by a cutting, the line of which is preserved by a narrow watercourse branching off from the river north of the abbey precinct. The sewer split into two channels beneath the reredorter, reunited outside it and has been traced for about 61m to the south-west. Only part of the sewer is included in the scheduling. The infirmary lay north-east of the chapter house. Its Great Hall was aligned north-south and was about 12m wide, but its length is unknown since the footings run under the playground of Barking Church of England Primary School. The west wall terminates in a square pier adjoining the angle-buttress of the chapter house. The infirmary chapel, a 15th century addition, was 14m long and 6m wide and aligned east-west. Possible fragments of the misericord and guest houses have also been identified. The precinct wall survives in places and is only partly included in the scheduling. It was bounded by what is now the parish churchyard to the east and entered by the Fire Bell gate. The course of the wall to the south is uncertain but may possibly be on the line of the present churchyard. The River Roding provided a natural boundary to the west, whilst the north wall lay beyond London Road and is not included in the scheduling. The Great Gate and North East Gate also provided access to the precinct but no longer survive.
Barking Abbey was founded by Erkenwald, later Bishop of London, in about AD 666 on a site possibly between the River Roding and its western tributary, the Back River. It was dedicated to St Mary and St Ethelburga. In about AD 870 it was destroyed by the Danes and not restored until about AD 965. Following its restoration it became one of the greatest nunneries of England; the Abbess having precedence over all the other abbesses. The present ruins date to the 12th century, when the abbey was rebuilt. Further alterations and rebuilding were carried out in the early to mid 13th century. In 1377, the Abbey estate was devastated by floods, from which it never fully recovered. The Abbey was suppressed in 1539, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and dismantled in 1541.
Partial excavation carried out in 1720-4, 1876, 1911, 1966-7, 1971, 1983, 1990-1 and 2000, and geophysical survey in 1990 and 1996, revealed the layout of the Abbey complex and its associated features. Re-used Roman building material, Anglo-Saxon pits, a cross shaft, medieval gold ring and burials were also identified among numerous other finds.
The upstanding remains are Grade II listed.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: LO 107
Legacy System: RSM - OCN
Greater London SMR 060491/00/00, 060491/06/00, 060936/01/00, 060936/01/00, 062553/00/00, 062068/00/00. NMR TQ48SW5, TQ48SW16, TQ48SW94. PastScape 408176, 408187, 1213169.
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