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 site of the Anglo-Saxon nunnery at Stow Green is rare in being the only
known site of a pre-Conquest religious house for women in Lincolnshire. It is
also unusual amongst pre-Conquest monastic sites in not having been
re-founded, and thus re-built, after the Conquest; the rare buried remains of
the seventh century nunnery are therefore likely to survive relatively
undisturbed. The monument also preserves valuable information about the
construction and use of the medieval chapel and the relationship between the
chapel and the nunnery which preceded it. The site has never been
archaeologically excavated and post-medieval activity on the site has been of
limited impact, overlying rather than destroying earlier remains.
The monument includes part of the site of an Anglo-Saxon nunnery founded at
Stow in the late seventh century by AEtheldreda, Abbess of Ely. During the
medieval period the site was occupied by a chapel dedicated to St AEtheldreda
and by a fair held annually on her feast day. A chapel survived on the site
until the end of the 18th century, and the fair until the early 20th century.
The remains of the nunnery are therefore overlain by those of a medieval
chapel with cemetery and precinct boundary, and traces of post-medieval
activity relating to the use of the site as a fair ground.
The monument lies on a low hill in the north-western corner of Stow Green, an
area of grassland on the edge of the Roman road, the present Mareham Lane. At
the highest point of the hill lies a rectangular area, the boundary of which
is defined on the north, east and west sides by a change in grass and soil
colour and on the south by a gradual downward slope. The discovery of stone
wall foundations along this boundary indicate that it marks the position of
the churchyard wall which survived until the 18th century. This boundary is
considered to represent the extent of the medieval chapel precinct.
A number of medieval stone fragments including decorated grave-slabs of the
11th/12th centuries were discovered at the centre of the rectangualar
precinct. These indicate the position of the medieval cemetery and chapel of
St AEtheldreda, which are considered to directly overlie the site of part of
the Anglo-Saxon nunnery of the same dedication.
Within the precinct and in the field around it the discovery of medieval and
post-medieval coins, pottery and other finds indicate that the remains of the
Anglo-Saxon nunnery and medieval chapel and cemetery are partly overlain by
those of the medieval and post-medieval fair, although the site of the fair
ground was much larger than that of the chapel in its later-medieval form.
The nunnery at Stow is first recorded in a late 11th-century account of the
life of St Werburg, AEtheldreda's niece, who was granted the custody of the
establishment and died there in about 700. A reference to the building of the
seventh century church occurs in a document of the 12th century. By the early
13th century an annual fair had grown up around the church which was granted
a charter by Henry III in 1268. The presence of a medieval chapel at Stow
which, nevertheless, had a range of rights appropriate to churches of much
higher rank (including rights of burial) is further evidence that, although
only a chapel in the later Middle Ages, the church site at Stow had its
origins in an earlier medieval site of very much greater importance.
The telegraph pole near the western edge of the site is excluded from the
scheduling but the ground beneath this feature is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.