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.
Only five houses of Franciscan nuns are known to have been established in
England throughout the medieval period and, as a well preserved example of
such a rare type, Bruisyard Abbey is of considerable importance. The previous
occupation of the site by a college of secular canons gives it additional
interest. The monument displays a wide range of features relating to several
distinct periods of use during the medieval and early post-medieval periods.
Observations made in service trenches have confirmed, also, that well
preserved archaeological information is retained in deposits below the ground
surface, including evidence concerning the layout, use and subsequent
demolition of the collegiate and monastic buildings, the construction and use
of the moated precinct and activities in the surrounding area. Further
evidence relating to the water management system will be contained in the
earthworks of the ponds and leat, and organic remains will be preserved in
water-logged deposits in the pond and moat. Evidence of land use prior to the
construction of the earthworks will be contained in soils buried beneath the
dams and the bank alongside the leat.
The monument is situated approximately 500m east of the village of Bruisyard
on a south-facing slope above the valley of the River Alde. It includes the
remains of the conventual buildings of a Franciscan nunnery, the moated site
on which they stand and earthwork remains of other features associated with
the college or nunnery and their successors on the site.
Bruisyard Abbey was founded by Lionel, Duke of Clarence in 1366 and dedicated
to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It replaced a college of
secular clergy which had been founded originally in 1347 for a warden and four
chaplains attached to the church of the Priory of Augustinian Canonesses at
Campsey Ash. The college was moved from Campsey Ash to Bruisyard by Maud,
Countess of Ulster, in 1354 but in 1366 it was dissolved and the site was
surrendered to make way for the Duke of Clarence's new foundation of nuns
minoresses of the order of St Clare. In 1539 the abbey, which in 1534 was
valued at 56 pounds, two shillings and a penny, was dissolved and the site was
granted, with Bruisyard Manor, to Nicholas Hare. His son, Michael, is believed
to have built the house which now stands on the site.
The remains of the claustral buildings stand in the south-western part of the
large moated enclosure, to the north and west of which are various earthworks
including components of an extensive water management system.
According to an inventory signed by the abbess at the time of the Dissolution,
the abbey buildings comprised, in addition to the church, a parlour and five
chambers including a guest chamber, a napery, buttery, kitchen, bakehouse and
brewhouse. Although the layout of these buildings has not been established in
detail, the foundations which have been observed and the upstanding fragments
of medieval walls which survive (some of them preserved in the fabric of
Bruisyard Hall) indicate that they were grouped around a rectangular courtyard
Large areas of flint rubble walling are visible in the east and west faces of
the west range of the hall, the west wall of which also incorporates three
blocked medieval arched openings, one of them with moulded stone jambs. These
features are part of a dwelling-house which is Listed Grade II*, and are
excluded from the scheduling.
To the north and south-east of the house are several walls and wall footings
of medieval and early post-medieval date, including blocked openings and
other features. Approximately 6m to the north of the house and running
parallel to it, west-east, is a partly ruined wall 0.75m thick and almost
30m in length, built of flint rubble and brick. From this, two walls run
southwards, one from the eastern corner and the other, which is preserved in
the east wall of an outhouse, to the west of the first and parallel with it.
Approximately 17m south to south-east of the south-eastern corner of the house
are the remains of another east-west wall of flint rubble construction, capped
with several courses of later brickwork, and immediately to the east of this
is a fragment of an irregular brick and flint rubble wall incorporated in the
north wall of a later outbuilding.
Elsewhere, the buried foundations of several other walls have been observed
during the digging of service trenches, some of them relating to the east and
west ranges of the claustral buildings. In the same area, below the ground
surface, are extensive stratified deposits of building material including
broken brick and roof tile, and decorated floor tiles have also been found.
The monastic cemetery, where skeletons were found in 1960 by workmen digging a
sewer trench, appears to have been to the south of the claustral buildings.
The moated site on which the conventual buildings stood survives as a
rectangular platform with internal dimensions of 125m east-west by 71m north-
south, enclosed on the east, north and west sides by a moat approximately 2m
deep and ranging from 9m to 15m in width. Towards the eastern end of the
northern arm of the moat there is a slight external bank. The eastern arm of
the moat is dry but the northern and western arms are largely water-logged,
with some open water. The southern end of the western arm has been filled in,
but will survive as a buried feature. The south side of the central platform
is defined at its eastern end by a steep scarp approximately 1.6m high above a
ditch approximately 3m wide, although the ground immediately to the south of
this has been cut into and levelled and is occupied by farm buildings.
A broad, flat-topped, internal bank of earth borders the moat on the west and
north sides, and also on the northern part of the east side, although here it
is a very slight feature. The bank covers the brick footing of an earlier
wall which at one time ran around the edge of the central platform and which
remains visible alongside the southern half of the eastern arm. At the
southern end of the bank, a channel measuring approximately 3m wide and 0.5m
deep cuts across the eastern moat ditch and through the wall, extending
westwards into the interior. The wall is thought to define a part of the
inner precinct of the nunnery but the later internal bank was probably
constructed as a feature in a 16th or 17th-century formal garden relating to
To the north-west and west of the moated site are the remains of an extensive
system for managing the storage and supply of water. On the hill slope above
the moat, set one above the other, are two large, trapezoidal ponds each
retained by an earthen dam across the southern end. Water from these was
carried to the southern part of the site by a leat which issued from the
south-western corner of the lower pond and the flow of water from the upper to
the lower pond was controlled by a sluice in the intervening dam. The upper,
northern pond is shown in an estate map of 1806 but had been partly filled in
by the middle of the 19th century. The dam at the southern end of it survives
and the southern end of the western edge is marked by a scarp up to 1m in
height. The line of the eastern edge is also preserved in a field boundary.
The whole area of this pond, which will retain buried deposits, is included in
the scheduling. The lower pond remains complete and is waterlogged, with some
open water. An outlet at the southern end, which issues through a culvert near
the western end of the dam, links it to the north-western corner of the
adjacent moat and, to the west of this, a second outlet leads into a small,
rectangular pond. The leat survives as a dry ditch up to 1m deep and
approximately 6m wide, bounded on the east side by an earthen bank
approximately 0.5m in height and 3m to 4m in width. An elongated hollow
alongside the western edge, at the northern end, marks the site of a modern
silage pit which is not included in the scheduling.
Between the leat on the west side and the moated site to the east, other
earthworks are visible, the most prominent of which is a rectangular terrace.
A trench for a water-pipe dug across this revealed a series of pits or dumps
containing large quantities of roof tile and two brick-lined drains, one of
them dated to the 15th or 16th century and the other later. Near the foot of
the terrace, on the east side, is a small rectangular structure with low flint
rubble walls and overall dimensions of 3m north-south by approximately 2m east
west. To the south of the terraced area, a slight, linear hollow runs
east-west and cuts across the leat, marking the course of a later track or
boundary but irregular hollows in the surface of the field to the south of
this feature are probably the result of sand digging and are not included in
The dwelling-house and all associated outbuildings and walls, other than those
specifically described above, are excluded from the scheduling, together with
the farm buildings to the east of the hall; also excluded are all yard
surfaces, all service pipes and inspection chambers, a service pole with
support cables, the garden railings and gate in front of the house, the
remains of two fountainheads in front of the hall on the south side,the access
track, and all field gates and fences, but the ground beneath all these
buildings and features is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.