Site of medieval nunnery


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


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

East Lindsey (District Authority)
Stixwould and Woodhall
National Grid Reference:
TF 17218 66065

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 Stixwould nunnery has never been excavated, and post-medieval activity on the site has been of limited impact. Substantial earthworks and a variety of finds indicate a good state of preservation below ground.


The monument includes the remains of the medieval nunnery of St Mary, Stixwould, a Cistercian nunnery founded in the 12th century and dissolved in 1536. It was immediately refounded as a nunnery of the Benedictine order, and then of the Premonstratensian order (1537), before its final suppression in 1539. The property was then granted to Robert Dighton and in the early 17th century the present farmhouse was constructed on the site. The remains of the nunnery, partly overlain by the post-medieval farmhouse, (which is Listed Grade II), include a building platform, an area of earthworks, moats and associated features, set on an island of higher ground overlooking the Witham flood plain at the western end of the village.

The building platform lies towards the south east of the site and is a flattened area, approximately 50m square, clearly raised above the level of the surrounding land. It is bounded on the west by a ditch and bank and on the north by the present farmhouse and tennis court. On the south and east sides it drops sharply away towards linear depressions which mark the positions of former ditches or moats. Finds from this area, including stone foundations and other architectural fragments, human burials and stone coffins, indicate that the platform is the site of the conventual church and cemetery.

Immediately to the west and north of the platform is an extensive area of earthworks, bounded on the north east by the present farm buildings and on the south, west and north west by a series of banks and ditches. Like the main building platform this area is raised above the level of the surrounding land. It is divided roughly in half by the course of a hollow way running east-west through the site. Earthworks in the northern half of this area include building foundations and other rectangular features. In the southern half are a number of ponds. Finds recorded from the southern half of the area include medieval window glass, stone coffins, and the foundations of two stone buildings near the south west corner of the moat. Building stone is visible on the surface in some places. The nature of both the finds and the earthworks indicates that this area was part of the precinct of the nunnery, containing major monastic buildings and outbuildings.

This main area of earthworks is bounded on the south, west and north west by a complex of ditches and banks forming moats, moated enclosures, and ponds. In the north east part of the site are the traces of another moat, discernible on aerial photographs, running roughly south east through the present paddocks. The westernmost of these ditches is considered to represent the boundary of the precinct on the south west, west and north west sides.

The precinct boundary is adjoined on the south and north west by slight earthworks of the ridge and furrow of medieval fields. In the western corner, running through the ridge and furrow, is a pair of leats through which the moats were connected to the River Witham, 250m to the north west.

East of the main building platform is a roughly rectangular area bounded on the north by the present farm buildings, on the east by Duckpool Lane, and on the south by a modern field boundary. This area largely consists of gently undulating pasture, with an area of garden in the south west. A low bank runs along the western edge of Duckpool Lane and is followed on its western side by a linear depression, which turns westwards 12m from the edge of the farm buildings and runs parallel to them for approximately 50m, where it meets the present farmhouse drive. This is considered to represent the remains of the nunnery's eastern boundary moat. In the north west of this area, to the east of the farmhouse, is the site of the priory gatehouse which survived until 1849 as a farm outbuilding. A low bank about 6m wide, which runs north-south along the eastern edge of the garden and is surmounted by two mature apple trees, contains a portion of brick revetting indicating that it is part of a post-medieval garden feature which in the 19th century formed part of the farmhouse orchard.

Stixwould Priory was founded by Lucy, Countess of Chester, for 20-30 nuns, although through the 13th century there were also canons and a prior. In the 15th century the nuns numbered between 12 and 16.

Excluded from the scheduling are Abbey Farm farmhouse, Little Priory bungalow, all outbuildings, walls and 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
The King's England: Lincolnshire, (1949), 366
Clare, H J, Mansel Sympson, E , Lincolnshire Notes And Queries, (1893), 161-165
Conway Walter, J , Records Historical and Antiquarian of Parishes Round Horncastle, (1904), 185-208
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906), 146-149
White, W, Directory of Lincolnshire, (1856)
black & white, Cambridge, 113/188617,
East, John, 1726, 1729/80,
Healey, R H, (1992)
Penny, J.A., Notes on the Monasteries near the River Witham, 1918,
TF 16 NE 6/44 Abbey Farm House, Listed Building description, (1966)


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