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.
The monument is in a good state of preservation, unencumbered by modern
building. It displays a wide range of features, with good historical
documentation. Additionally, the site preserves remains of activity both pre
and post-dating its religious use, allowing investigation of its changing
function over several centuries.
The monument includes the remains of Cookhill Priory and the 16th century
house site which succeeded it, visible in the form of well-defined building
platforms surrounded by ditches, the earthworks of an associated irregular
open field system, and a hollow way.
The most prominent feature of the site is a raised platform in the central and
northern part of the area of the scheduling which was originally partly
moated. The platform is approximately 60m square and bears traces of ridge
and furrow. The surrounding ditch is best preserved on the south and east
sides of the platform, between 8m and 10m wide, and approximately 1m deep.
The north side of the platform is defined by a stream which runs along the
northern edge of the site. The south west corner of the platform and
associated ditch, have been obscured by a second platform superimposed on it.
Historical records, map evidence and a parish survey determine the second
platform to be the remains of a substantial 16th century house. Surrounded by
an irregular, seasonally waterlogged ditch on all sides, this platform
measures 32m west-east by 20m north-south. Remains of charcoal and stone
rubble have been located on the house site. A number of additional buildings
are represented by a series of raised platforms close to the house platform,
surrounded by an inter-connecting ditch system. There are earthworks visible
to the north-east of the main site complex; an area of the monument known as
'The Infirmary' in the 18th century.
There are small blocks of ridge and furrow cultivation with pronounced
headlands to the west and south-east of the main platform complex. These
fields are defined by shallow ditches and the largest enclosure, south-east of
the main platform, measures approximately 80m square.
The site was originally approached via a trackway from the Spernall-Morton
Bagot road which is visible as a hollow way north-east of the present St Giles
Farm. A silted-up ditch, which is included in the scheduling, can be traced
leading from a shallow pond on the southern edge of the site to the Morton
Isobel of Mauduit, Countess of Warwick, is said to have founded the Cistercian
priory of Cookhill in 1260, although a law suit in 1227 confirms that a priory
already existed at the site before this date. The poverty of Cookhill Priory
appears to be the chief feature of its known history. A papal licence of 1400
says that the priory had been moved to Cookhill in Worcestershire, and the
original priory buildings at Spernall were abandoned. In 1541 the land was
granted to Thomas Broke, and to Nichols Fortescue the following year. By 1547
the priory had been replaced by a farmhouse; an estate map of about 1695 shows
the house standing on the edge of the original moated platform.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.