Witham Priory

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1006161

Date first listed: 19-Jan-1967

Map

Ordnance survey map of Witham Priory
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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Location

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

County: Somerset

District: Mendip (District Authority)

Parish: Witham Friary

National Grid Reference: ST 75795 41646, ST 75810 41829

Summary

Part of a Carthusian monastery (Charterhouse) 160m south of Witham Hall Farm.

Reasons for Designation

A charterhouse is a monastery of the Carthusians. The order was founded in the 11th century, the first houses in England being established in the 12th or 13th century. It is a settlement planned to provide a community of contemplative monks with facilities for worship, accommodation and, to some extent, subsistence. Carthusian life was centred on solitude and favoured meditation over communal meeting. In taking this approach to monastic life the Carthusians were unique amongst orders in the West. In contrast to other monastic establishments the components of the charterhouse were devoted to individual accommodation in preference to communal buildings. Most notable were the individual cells and gardens built for each monk, these being ranged around a great cloister. In addition to these cells each monastery had a main church, workshops, guesthouses, kitchens and other buildings, these being enclosed within some form of boundary. Like other monasteries, charterhouses were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of their vast landholdings, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. Nine charterhouses were established in medieval England. In view of their rarity and unique form of organisation, all examples exhibiting archaeological survival are identified as nationally important. As the first known example the part of a Carthusian monastery (Charterhouse) 160m south of Witham Hall Farm is an extremely rare, important and well documented example.

Details

This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 18 August 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.

This monument, which falls into two areas, includes part of a Carthusian Priory situated on a gentle north east facing slope between the River Frome and one of its tributaries. The part of the Charterhouse survives as a rectangular outer enclosure defined by a broad bank and ditch to the south and west and by a hedge above a scarp to the east and a modern road to the north. The interior contains a levelled quadrangle, the cloister, chapterhouse, cells and other buildings and enclosures which are detectable earthworks and are clearly visible on aerial photographs. The original structures formed the basis and were incorporated into later landscaped gardens and buildings of a house belonging to Sir Arthur Hopton. Known locally as ‘Witham Priory’ the monastery was the first of nine Carthusian Houses in England founded in 1179-80 by Henry II as penance for the murder of Thomas a Becket. The charter for its foundation was issued in 1182 and granted exemption from all taxes and the forest law of Selwood. The priory was associated with St Hugh of Avalon of Lincoln a monk from Chartreuse, who was brought in at the personal request of Henry II to be the third prior after the monastery had a particularly poor start. It was dissolved in 1539. Partial excavations in 1921 revealed buttressed wall foundations and a mass of building debris, with glazed floor tiles and iron gateposts amongst the finds. Further trial trenches in 1966 revealed parts of the associated cloister, chapterhouse, cells, cloister alley with glazed floor tiles and produced many small finds. In 1969 a church measuring approximately 32m by 12m was revealed including parts of a 16th century plaster ceiling. Parts of the courery, the domestic accommodation and workshops for lay brothers associated with the Charterhouse, is believed to be located to the west in the village of Witham Friary (but this is not included in the scheduling). A geophysical survey, field survey and aerial photographic transcription was carried out in 1993-4 indicating formal gardens and later buildings had re-used and perpetuated substantial parts of the Carthusian monastery layout. The enclosure is cut by a railway cutting which is excluded from the scheduled area.

Legacy

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

Legacy System number: SO 357

Legacy System: RSM - OCN

Sources

Other
PastScape Monument No:-917197

End of official listing