A Premonstratensian abbey founded in 1195.
Reasons for Designation
Langley Abbey is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: Langley Abbey survives well both as standing and below ground remains with potential for most forms of archaeological deposits surviving. These deposits are very likely to add to our knowledge of the material culture of the monastic community and the wider physical environment.
* Diversity and Group value: various elements of the monastic precinct such as meadows, fishponds, stock enclosures, field systems and other subsidiary structures survive and will add to our knowledge and understanding of the Premonstratensian order and how they lived and functioned in the wider community.
* Documentation: the survival of good historical documentation, as well as excavation reports and earthwork surveys, combine to help understand the monument both physically and in its original context.
From the time of 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.
Langley Abbey was a house of Premonstratensian Canons, founded in 1195 by Roger fitz Roger of Clavering and dedicated in honour of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It was colonised from Alnwick and housed between fifteen and twenty canons. The Premonstratensian order, or 'white canons', were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and founded all its monasteries in rural locations.
During its first 100 years the wealth of Langley Abbey was almost entirely derived from grants and appropriations of adjacent communities, in total more than 80 Parishes in the Diocese contributed. Documentary evidence provides a comprehensive history of the Abbey with detailed records of Canons; the number of Canons had probably increased to over 20 by 1291 when the gross income was estimated at about £178. It is understood that by the time of suppression in 1536 the numbers of the community were falling. The inventory of church goods at that time show nothing of value and the chattels were equally of little value. In addition, the buildings were ruinous and in a state of decay. The site was granted to John Berney and remained in the Berney family until the middle of the C18, when they passed to the Beauchamp Proctor family where they remained until the early C20.
Archaeological excavations around the major buildings were carried out in 1908 and more extensively in 1921 (1923 Erwood) and an earthwork survey was undertaken in 1996 (Cushion unpublished) to provide a record of the surviving earthworks. Both add considerably to our understanding of the site.
Langley Abbey is situated on the south bank of the River Yare approximately mid-way between Lowestoft and Norwich. It is positioned on the extreme edge of a gravel terrace but stretches on to the peat of the marsh lands.
The abbey and its precinct extend over an area of c 30 acres and survive as a series of standing and buried remains. The standing remains of the abbey house and the former cellarium are listed (Grade I), the former stable block is listed at Grade II*. Most of the standing buildings are also scheduled as an ancient monument and lie roughly central to the wider precinct. The surrounding earthworks stand up to 1m in height but most are between 0.25m and 0.5m high.
The standing remains of the abbey include parts of the abbey church transepts, chancel and north and south chapels. East of the cloister lies the chapter house with a dormitory range, infirmary and some remains of the refectory. All these remains are fragmentary, but generally date to the C13 and C15 and are constructed of flint with limestone dressings. Of particular note is the early-C13 chapter house entrance arch, which is pointed with plain chamfers and with deeply cusped inner order on the moulded corbels. The former cellarium has been restored and is open to the public as a visitor centre and incorporates the C14 gatehouse block. The former stable block is used as an agricultural store.
The precinct boundary to the north-west, south-west and south-east is indicated by a well-defined moat. Some areas of the moat are better preserved than others: to the north of the current farm access the moat and adjacent pond were re-dug in 1994 and although the current profiles of both are not those of the original, it is understood that the moat and pond were originally larger and do survive as buried features. An area of flint masonry survives across the moat here and is likely to have functioned as part of the water management system. Further to the north-west, south of a farm vehicle access track, the moat has been infilled possibly when the track was built (at least 1904) but possibly enhanced in 1994 during more recent alterations. To the north-west of the vehicle access track, only the inner scarp of the moat is readily identifiable. It is understood that the ground level to the south-west of the scarp has been lowered through sand and gravel extraction and this area is now used as an equestrian menage. Landscaping in the gardens of cottages in the north-west corner of the precinct has also removed evidence for the outer edge of the moat. The north-west edge of the precinct boundary survives particularly well at 17m wide and 3m deep. A small section of flint masonry is recorded in the inner bank of the moat in the northern corner of the site, and is the strongest evidence that there was originally a precinct wall. To the north-east the precinct is only evident as a cropmark, shown on aerial photographs, and lies to the north of the current field boundary.
South-east of the main farm access, the moat is clearly defined and runs parallel to the roadside as the road turns north-east towards Langley Dike and Staithe. In the south-east corner, the moat turns to the north-west and serves as a woodland boundary, but the precinct boundary may lie within the current woodland.
The main entrance to the precinct lies in the north-west boundary where a banked trackway heads towards the standing remains of the inner court gatehouse, with enclosures and partial building outlines defined by earthworks on each side. An 18m length of wall is evident as a parch mark on the north-eastern boundary with a short turn to the south. This may be the south wall of a building shown on an early-C17 map (NRO NRS 21407 Blickling). Two L-shaped walls are also recorded on the south-west side of the track and are probably part of the same structure. From this structure a ditch heads towards the northern drain of a causeway which leads eastwards into the marsh and to the river bank via a slightly degraded depression believed to represent an isolated fishpond. The southern drain of the causeway extends into the main area of earthworks as a shallower ditch. It turns to the south as a well-defined scarp which is believed to represent the eastern edge of a now partially infilled pond-like depression. A series of three depressions to the south of this feature have also been interpreted as ponds but this is unconfirmed. An area of relatively low undulations in the field immediately north of the standing remains of the abbey, are understood to be the result of soil being spread on the area over a period of years.
To the south-east of the standing remains and close to the eastern edge of the precinct boundary is the earthwork remains of a building considered to be a fish house. Another building of similar dimensions is evident approximately 100m to the west of this and corresponds with a row of three buildings shown here on the C17 map, the largest of which is depicted with chimneys. The two buildings are separated by a series of scarped terraces overlooking the lower ground to the south. Part of the lower ground in the south-east corner of the precinct is shown on the C17 map as Ozier ground, with Blackhough Meadow in the extreme eastern end.
Further features are evident in the fields to the east; these are most clearly defined as cropmarks, shown in aerial photographs. There are low terraces and platforms evident as earthworks but these are difficult to interpret on the ground.
Modern farm buildings, the Grade II* listed stable block and the Grade II listed farm house are excluded from the scheduled area although the ground beneath all these features is included.