Brinkburn Priory Augustinian priory, mill, gateway and post-Dissolution house


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NZ 11664 98292

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. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Although only the church and part of the south cloister range survive as upstanding remains, Brinkburn Priory is an important example of a small Augustinian priory. The medieval fabric of the church is exceptionally well-preserved and provides a good illustration of the late 12th century Transitional style of architecture, while the buried remains of additional buildings and features survive beyond the cloister ranges and include the priory mill and gateway. The remains also retain useful evidence of the transition from medieval monastery to post-medieval house.


The monument includes the church and the site of the cloister ranges of the Augustinian Priory of St Peter and St Paul at Brinkburn, together with a monastic drain-cum-mill race and the sites of the priory mill, main gate and the dwelling built in the 16th century within part of the cloister. Further remains relating to the priory will survive in the grounds of the 19th century mansion built adjacent to the priory church. These are not included in the scheduling, however, as their extent and state of survival is not sufficiently understood. The church, which is extremely well-preserved owing to its continued use after the Dissolution and its sensitive restoration in the 19th century, is almost all that remains standing of Brinkburn Priory. It was built over a period of 30 to 40 years, beginning in the late 12th century, and comprises a six-bay nave and aisle, a central tower, a choir with an east end of three tiers of lancet windows, a west end with two tiers of triple lancet windows, and a north and south transept, each of two bays. The glazing in the windows is not original but incorporates fragments of medieval glass found during restoration and is based on contemporary medieval designs. The architectural details of the church incorporate a Transitional mixture of Norman Romanesque and Early English styles which is most clearly seen in the projecting north doorway which comprises a roundheaded arch displaying typical late-Norman ornament, such as zig-zags and dog-tooth mouldings, underneath a gable decorated with an Early English blind arcade of three pointed and trefoiled arches. In common with most Augustinian houses, the church has a north aisle but no south aisle. In the 14th century, a chamber was added above the north aisle but this was removed during the restoration of the church when the decision was made to return the roof to its original profile. A similar chamber constructed above the choir was also removed, as was the sacristy which had been built onto the north side of the choir. These features represent the only major alterations ever carried out on the church. As is usual, the church formed the north range of a four-sided complex of buildings known as the cloister. Except for part of the south range, which became incorporated into the 19th century house, the remaining cloister buildings were demolished in the post-Dissolution period and survive only as buried features and in architectural detail on the outside walls of the church. Outside the south transept, in the east cloister range, the latter includes traces of the vaulted vestibule leading to the chapter house. On the south and west walls of the nave, blind arcading indicates that these were the back walls of other structures, most likely of the covered walk that would have extended round the edges of the cloister garth. All the ranges would have been two-storeyed, as shown by the remains of the south range uncovered in the later house. These remains include a vaulted undercroft or ground floor cellar, which dates to c.1200. In the Middle Ages this room was used for storage and had a similar function in the 19th century when it became a wine cellar. Above the undercroft, within the house, a substantial section of the north wall of the second storey also survives and includes the remains of the lavatorium. This feature is the recessed trough where the canons washed their hands before mealtimes and its location here shows that the frater or refectory occupied its usual place on the upper floor of the south range. These medieval remains formed the core of the dwelling that was established in the cloister after the dissolution of the priory. In addition to the main cloister buildings, the priory would have had a wide range of service and ancillary buildings including barns, workshops, a brewhouse, a bakehouse and an infirmary. The remains of these have not been precisely located but they will survive as buried features within the area of the monastic precinct. Also included is the priory mill, the site of which survives beneath the 19th century water-mill east of church. The upstanding remains of the later mill have been restored by the Landmark Trust, and archaeological recording has noted the existence of 14th century architecture incorporated into the structure. These features include substantial structural remains of the threshold of a gateway, representing the main entrance into the monastic precinct, together with part of a 14th or 15th century wall that may relate to a gatehouse. Also of medieval date is the substantial curving wall that extends from the wheelpit of the mill to the river and the mill race which also served as the main drain of the priory. The position of the drain, south of the south cloister range, indicates that the priory kitchens would have been located here, and also the re-redorter or latrine. The latter was most likely situated at the junction of the south and east cloister ranges where it would have been accessible from the canons' dorter or dormitory, located on the upper storey of the east range. Brinkburn Priory was founded in c.1135 by William Bertram I, Baron of Mitford. Evidence of the history of the priory comes from the Brinkburn cartulary or collection of charters, and, from these, it can be seen that the house was never wealthy and that its poverty was exacerbated by the Scottish wars of the 14th century. In 1419 the priory was raided and robbed of its valuables. It never recovered its losses and, in 1535, was among the minor monastic houses dissolved by the first Act of Suppression. In 1550, Edward VI granted Brinkburn to John, Earl of Warwick, and, in the later 16th century, a dwelling was established for the Fenwick family in part of the cloister buildings. Because an ecclesiastical district was attached to the church, services continued to be held and the church did not go out of use until 1683 when it was already badly decayed. The present house was built by Richard Hodgson in 1810, and the restoration of the church began in 1858 at the behest of the then owner of Brinkburn, Cadogan Hodgson Cadogan. The house ceased to be occupied in 1965 when all the buildings of Brinkburn were placed in State care. The priory church is a Grade I Listed Building while the house is Grade II*. In addition, the medieval wall between the mill and the river, the buildings of the mill, a mounting block adjacent to the church and the late 18th/early 19th century artificial tunnel, probably a grotto or folly which lies 50m east of the priory church, are all Grade II Listed. A number of features within the area of the scheduling are excluded from the scheduling. These include all English Heritage fittings and fixtures, the visitors' benches and mounting block outside the church, the organ, choir stalls, other church furniture, and the statue of `The Risen Christ' inside the church, and the 19th century house, the tunnel and upstanding remains of the later mill which are considered to be better protected by their Listed status but the ground beneath all these features is included in the scheduling; also specifically included in the scheduling are the medieval remains within the house and the Listed medieval wall and the mill race.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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Books and journals
Brinkburn Priory, (1988)
Page, Ed. by W, The Cartulary of Brinkburn Priory, (1892), 1-224
Ryder, P, 'Archaeology in Northumberland (annual newsletter)' in Brinkburn Priory Mill, , Vol. 2, (1992), 10
Interim report, Ryder, P F, Brinkburn Priory Mill: the Priory Gatehouse, (1992)
Mid-C19 eighth scale drawings, Austin, Thomas, Of church prior to and during restoration in mid-C19,
Of church prior to restoration in mid-nineteenth century,


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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