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)
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 platforms. 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 household. 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:
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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

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