Site of medieval nunnery and settlement, Orford


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


© Crown Copyright and database right 2021. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2021. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1007809.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 27-Feb-2021 at 22:39:23.


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

East Lindsey (District Authority)
West Lindsey (District Authority)
Stainton Le Vale
National Grid Reference:
TF 19684 94415

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 remains of the Premonstratensian nunnery of Orford survive as a substantial group of earthworks. These, together with finds of building materials and the evidence for the survival of stone foundations revealed by aerial photography, indicate a good level of below ground preservation. Waterlogging in the valley bottom may also allow the recovery of important organic deposits.

The monastic remains are overlain by an impressive group of earthworks relating to the post-dissolution house and garden on the site, and the relationship between the two, the earlier monastery and the later house, provides evidence of the economic and social effects of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The remains of the house and garden themselves survive well and display several unusual features, such as the use of the mill leats to provide water for ornamental ponds. The importance of the monastic and post-monastic site at Orford is enhanced by the partial survival of the earthworks belonging to the associated settlement. The settlement remains within the area of the scheduling survive in good condition with the possibility of some waterlogging of deposits in the valley bottom. The close proximity of the monastic site, the succeeding house and the settlement permit the study of the complex economic and social relationships between these various elements, both before and after the Dissolution.


The south west part of the monument includes the earthwork remains of the medieval nunnery of St Mary, Orford, a Premonstratensian nunnery founded in the 12th century and dissolved in 1539. The remains of the nunnery are overlain by earthworks of post-dissolution features including a house, formal gardens, a watermill and a farmyard. Adjacent to the nunnery precinct, to the north east, is an area containing the earthwork remains of the deserted settlement of Orford. The monument therefore comprises two main areas of earthwork remains within a single constraint area, mostly set on the south east facing slope of a hill above a small stream.

The first group of earthworks lies within an area approximately 180m square, south of and including the present Priory Farm yard. This area, bounded on the north east by a hollow way, on the south east by a former course of the stream, on the south west by a modern ditch and on the north west by the edge of the farmyard and field, corresponds to the area of the conventual precinct. In the southern part of the area is a group of flat building platforms and low banks, some revealing stone, which appear on aerial photographs as parch-marks. These represent the foundations of the conventual buildings, which would have included the church and ranges of buildings around a cloister to the south. Immediately to the north of these remains is a large mound, approximately 30m long and 20m wide, containing a series of rectangular depressions representing basement rooms. Exposed stone and finds of tile and brick indicate that this is the site of a secular house which occupied the site after the dissolution of the nunnery. To the north east of this is a rectangular platform of similar dimensions, surrounded on three sides by a ditch and surmounted by a rectangular mound approximately 10m by 8m; yet further to the north east is an enclosure approximately 100m square containing linear banks and scarps. These features, together with further mounds and platforms north of the house site, are considered to represent the remains of formal gardens connected with the post-dissolution occupation of the site.

Other identifiable earthworks within the area of the conventual precinct include a group of ponds in the western corner and, adjacent to the north east, the foundations of barn-like structures. A medieval water channel enters the precinct at the western corner and is cut by a later mill leat running south west to north east to an 18th-19th century watermill which still stands in the south of the present farmyard. The tail race channel, running south east from the watermill, cuts across the garden earthworks to an outfall in the stream in the valley bottom. Ten metres to the south of the leat, which supplied the 18th-19th century mill, are the earthwork remains of an earlier, parallel, leat system. The area of the scheduling extends to the south west of the conventual precinct to include the surviving earthworks of both of these parallel leats, which can be traced as far as Cherry Holt Wood.

Further water control features are visible outside the precinct area. Most notable is a substantial group of fishponds to the south east, cut through by a modern stream channel and partly covered by spoil. These ponds are considered to be contemporary with, and related to, the medieval nunnery. On the hillside south of the stream, running northwards from a medieval headland, is a series of drainage channels and a rectangular embanked pond which feed into the fishpond complex across the original course of the stream. The earthworks of a medieval cutting of the stream are discernible running between the fishpond group and the conventual precinct.

Immediately to the north east of the nunnery site, and separated from it by a hollow way, are the remains of the deserted settlement of Orford. A series of rectangular depressions along the north western boundary of the field represents the remains of houses ranged along one side of a medieval street which formerly ran along the south eastern edge of the adjacent field. Many of the house platforms are accompanied by small closes, marked out by small banks to the south east, some of which have been cut into by later ploughing indicated by ridge and furrow. There are two further hollow ways running south eastwards down the slope, each with building platforms. About 270m from the south western edge of the field is a linear bank running north west to south east down the slope. This feature separates the main part of the village from a distinct group of building platforms representing a late medieval farmstead complex. Approximately 130m from the first bank is a second, running parallel down the slope, with a ditch on its outer side, which marks the edge of the settlement area. On the eastern side of the bank is a small triangular-shaped area containing the remains of the ridge and furrow of the village's medieval field system.

The Premonstratensian canonesses at Orford first appear in documents of the period 1155-1160. The nunnery church and land were traditionally granted to Newsham Abbey by Ralph de Aubigny in the time of Henry II (1154-1189). At its dissolution in 1539 the nunnery was granted to Robert Tyrwhitt who, in common with his successors, let the site.

Excluded from the scheduling are the farm buildings at Priory Farm including the mill building, and all fences, but the ground beneath these features is included.

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.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Knowles, , Haddock, , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1953), 283
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906), 209
'White's Directory' in White's Directory, (1856), 474
AP located in Lincolnshire SMR, John East, TF195945,
located in Lincolnshire Archives, Ex.8/7/14,
RCHM(E), Everson, P L and Taylor C C and Dunn, C J, Change And Continuity: Rural Settlement in North-West Lincolnshire, (1991)


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

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].