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
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
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.