Waverley Abbey: a Cistercian monastery south of Waverley Abbey House
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Waverley (District Authority)
- Waverley (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SU 86777 45309
Reasons for Designation
From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of
medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
The Cistercian monastery of Waverley Abbey survives well and has the most extensive standing remains of any of the Surrey religious houses. It is the earliest Cistercian house in Britain and is one of the few examples in south- east England. Excavations have suggested that much of the cloistral complex survives while the majority of the outer precinct is believed to be largely undisturbed with archaeological remains and environmental evidence surviving in a waterlogged condition. The site will enhance our understanding of the economy and way of life peculiar to a Cistercian monastery.
The monument includes the Cistercian Abbey at Waverley, situated on the flood
plain to the north of the River Wey. Founded in 1128, it was the first
Cistercian house to be established in Britain.
The Abbey survives as the ruins of the monastic buildings surrounded by an
undisturbed monastic precinct comprising earthwork and buried remains,
bordered to the south and east by the River Wey and to the north by the
remains of the precinct wall. The ruins include the lay brothers' frater,
part of the monks' dorter, the parlour, the chapter house and fragments of the
nave, presbytery, and north and south transepts of the church. Surrounding
these remains are the buried foundations of the rest of the monastic complex.
Ranged around the cloisters, the chapter house and parlour are to the east and
extend through to the infirmary, the monks' dorter, frater and reredorter are
to the south and the lay brothers' accommodation and guest house are to the
west. The cemetery is situated to the east and north of the church.
The cloistral buildings were built on the southern edge of the monastic
precinct which covered an area of c.24 hectares, adjacent to the flowing water
of the River Wey, necessary for both consumption and sanitation. To the west,
the buried foundations survive of a separate building, the brew-house. Other
buildings associated with the economy of the abbey were situated within the
precinct and their remains survive as upstanding earthworks and buried
features. West of the main abbey complex are earthworks relating to water
management and cultivation. These include a series of parallel linear
earthwork features running north-south and forming ridges and furrows
indicative of past cultivation. In the eastern part of the precinct are the
earthwork remains of water management systems, which include fishponds, and
further evidence for cultivation. Amongst the ponds are rectangular earthworks
aligned north-east to south-west and ranging from c.10m by 30m to c.60m by
150m. Other sunken areas indicate the positions of ponds and pools, drainage
channels and leats, while raised areas indicate the positions of building
The monastery was founded by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, who
colonised the abbey with twelve monks and an abbot from Aumone, France.
Documentation on the early history of the abbey survives and among its
benefactors were Adeliza, wife of Henry I, and Henry III, who bestowed land on
the abbey in 1239. In 1201 the abbey buildings were badly flooded and all but
carried away, flooding having been a common occurrence; a great rebuilding
occurred during the thirteenth century. Foundations of a new church were laid
in 1203-4 and were only completed in 1278. During the thirteenth century the
abbey was out of favour with King John but had regained a better position with
the monarchy by the fourteenth century. Little is recorded of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries before the dissolution of the abbey in 1536 when the
site passed into the hands of Sir William Fitzwilliam, treasurer of the king's
Excavations were carried out between 1890 and 1903 and uncovered the extent
and layout of the church and cloistral buildings. The earliest covered less
than 0.5 hectares whilst the rebuilt abbey buildings of the thirteenth century
covered an area of over 3.5 hectares. Evidence for the piping and channelling
of water beneath the building was also recovered. Excluded from the
scheduling are the barn, all posts, fences and gates; however, the ground
beneath all these features is included.
Part of the site is in the Guardianship of the Secretary of State.
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
Brakespear, H, Waverley Abbey, (1905)
Malden, H E, The Victoria History of the County of Surrey: Volume IV, (1912)
RCHM(E), B&W 4105/79 SU 867 452/19 Flight No. 842/829, (1988)
RCHM(E), SU 8645/3/331, (1975)
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