Redlingfield Nunnery and fish ponds

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1005963
Date first listed:
28-Dec-1979
Date of most recent amendment:
27-Aug-2019
Location Description:
Statutory Address:
Redlingfield Hall, The Knoll, Redlingfield, Eye, Suffolk, IP23 7QR

Map

Ordnance survey map of Redlingfield Nunnery and fish ponds
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Location

Statutory Address:
Redlingfield Hall, The Knoll, Redlingfield, Eye, Suffolk, IP23 7QR

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

Location Description:
County:
Suffolk
District:
Mid Suffolk (District Authority)
Parish:
Redlingfield
National Grid Reference:
TM1847270693

Summary

The earthworks and buried remains of the medieval nunnery and associated fish ponds.

Reasons for Designation

Redlingfield Nunnery is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Potential: the lack of previous excavation or development on site means that the site has strong potential to preserve deposits relating to life in a medieval nunnery. There is also considerable potential within the fish ponds for environmental evidence relating to the medieval and early post-medieval periods;

* Survival: the fish ponds survive particularly well, retaining water and forming a coherent group of features. Within the nunnery, aspects of the layout are visible through the earthworks, surviving building and adjacent church;

* Historic interest: nunneries were a key part of religious life in medieval England, and so have considerable historic interest. Similarly, fish ponds are representative of food production methods in the medieval and post-medieval periods, and so also have historic interest;

* Documentation: the scandals of 1427 and 1514 provide detailed snapshots of life at the nunnery, adding to its significance;

* Group value: the nunnery holds group value with the Grade II* Church of St Andrew and the Grade II listed Barn to the North East of Hall Farmhouse;

* Rarity: intact groups of fish ponds of this complexity are rare nationally.

History

Nunneries were religious communities established for women living communal lives of structured religious devotion, according to a defined set of rules. Most of the major religious orders including Benedictines, Augustinians, Cistercians, Franciscans and Dominicans made separate provision for religious women, but many houses were small, usually with fewer than 12 nuns under a prioress, and poorly endowed. Nunneries typically followed the ‘Benedictine’ layout with church and domestic buildings arranged around a cloister, with ancillary buildings, all set within a defined precinct. Documentary sources suggest that at least 153 nunneries were founded in England, of which the precise locations of only about 100 are known. Many nunneries survived until suppressed by Acts of Parliament in 1536-1540.

The Dissolution of 1536-1540 saw the end of monasticism in England, although some new communities were established or re-established from the eighteenth century onwards. At the Dissolution, nunneries and monasteries became the property of the Crown, often to be sold or gifted to those in favour with the king. Many of the buildings were converted into new country houses with elaborate earthwork gardens alongside. This later history is reflected in the appearance of many sites today; at some little masonry remains to be seen above ground, with most of the monastery and its subsequent country house surviving as earthworks and buried archaeological remains.

The nunnery at Redlingfield was founded as a Benedictine nunnery in 1120 by Emma de Arras and her husband, Manasses, Count of Guisnes. Emma de Arras was the daughter of the lord of Redlingfield, William de Arras. The nunnery was dedicated to St Andrew, and appropriated the adjacent church of St Andrew as the nunnery church. The nunnery was small, initially with 13 nuns, and it was not rich. It was valued at ‘nil’ in both the Norwich Taxation of 1254 and the Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291. It was granted licence to acquire land or rents to the annual value of £10 in 1344, and a further licence to obtain property at a value of £20 per year was granted in 1383. Throughout its existence, the nunnery had between 6 and 13 nuns, and between 20 and 30 servants.

The nunnery was the subject of an inquiry in 1427. At the inquiry, the prioress, Isabel Hermyte, confessed to (among other sins) sleeping in a private chamber with a novice, being alone with Thomas Langelond, a bailiff, in ‘private and suspicious places’, violence and not attending confession. The prioress resigned and was banished to a nunnery in Wix, Essex, while the rest of the nunnery was ordered to do penance. A further scandal arose in 1514, with accusations of cruelty against the prioress, that there were no curtains in the dormitory, that boys slept in the dormitory, that there was no proper infirmary and that the refectory was used for purposes other than eating. A subsequent visit in 1520 reported that these issues had been addressed.

The nunnery was covered by the Suppression of Religious Houses Act 1535, and was valued at £130 7s 11¼d. The nunnery was surrendered in February 1537 and the nuns and servants pensioned off. The former nunnery buildings and estate were given to Sir Edmund Bedingfield in March 1537, who passed them on to his son, Sir Henry Bedingfield. The estate remained in the Bedingfield family until it was sold to John Willis, between 1715 and 1735. It was sold to William Adair following the death of John Willis in 1764 or 1766, and stayed in the family until the C20.

Most of the nunnery buildings were demolished between 1537 and 1783, leaving one remaining structure, now a barn. The main farmhouse and associated structures were built in 1875.

The date of the fish pond complex is not known, but they are likely to have been associated with the nunnery. They were built in two phases, with the two southernmost ponds built first, and the northernmost pond added later. The enclosing channels were either constructed at the same time as the northernmost pond, or postdate it, as the channels are routed to include the pond. The westernmost pond was dug between 1957 and 1977, and then enlarged to its current size between 1984 and 1999. The two ponds between the nunnery and the fish pond complex are also undated, and may also have been associated with the nunnery. The more westerly pond was modified in the late C20.

Details

Benedictine nunnery, operational between 1120 and 1537.

PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: The earthworks and buried remains of the medieval nunnery and associated fish ponds. It comprises a series of earthworks related to the core of the nunnery, immediately to the south of the church of St Andrew. To the west are two ponds and a complex of three fish ponds.

DESCRIPTION: The priory remains sit on a platform roughly 75m x 100m. The north east corner of the cloister is visible as an earthwork, suggesting a cloister size of 23m x 23m (although this may relate to the outside of any buildings surrounding the cloister, rather than the cloister garth itself). Other earthworks relating to the nunnery are visible, but are less coherent. A number of earthworks survive immediately to the south, while those to the west are partially obscured by the extant barn.

Two ponds lie to the west of the priory complex. The more easterly of the two, measuring 23m x 14m includes a broad channel running 55m to the north west. The western pond measures 45m x 26m, and contains an island, although map regression shows that only the south and west arms of the pond predate 1887.

The fish ponds are connected to the priory by an ‘L’ shaped ditch and bank, measuring 140m west and 160m north. To the west of its northern arm lie three rectangular fish ponds, each between 50m and 55m in length and between 13m and 20m wide. The ponds are surrounded by two channels, which also surround the modern pond.

EXCLUSIONS: Upstanding buildings are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.

Legacy

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

Legacy System number:
SF 216
Legacy System:
RSM - OCN

Sources

Books and journals
Forrest, I, The Detection of Heresy in Late Medieval England, (2005), 192
Gilchrist, R, Gender and Material Culture: the Archaeology of Religious Women, (1994), 20, 74
Page, W, A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2, (1975), 83-85
Gilchrist, R, 'The Archaeology of Medieval English Nunneries: a Research Design ' in Gilchrist, R, Mytum, H, The Archaeology of Rural Monasteries, (1989), 251-260
Currie, C, 'The Role of Fishponds in the Monastic Economy' in Gilchrist, R, Mytum, H, The Archaeology of Rural Monasteries, (1989), 147-172
Websites
Hunt, D and Alexander, M 'Redlingfield Hall, Eye, Suffolk Analytical Earthwork Survey' (2017) Historic England Research Report Series No 66-2017, accessed 5 June 2019 from https://research.historicengland.org.uk/Report.aspx?i=15857

Legal

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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