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.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St
Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not
intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule
came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came
only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as
`black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who
became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over
150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly
successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and
influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance
of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many
facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
Hurley Priory is an excellent example of a moated monastic complex. The site
has a well documented history and limited early excavations have demonstrated
good survival of archaeological deposits. There is a high probability that
environmental evidence is present, particularly in the ditch fills, while the
survival of organic remains is possible in the waterlogged conditions of the
wet moat and fishponds. Such evidence can provide a clear indication of the
wealth and economy of the community and details of the landscape in which they
The monument includes all that is known to survive of Hurley Priory, a moated
monastic complex on the south bank of the River Thames. Today all that is
visible of the monument are the remains of a rectangular moat, fishponds and
various buildings, though much more will survive as buried features. The moat
is best preserved in the north where it survives as a steep sided, water-
filled linear pond up to 10m wide. It can be traced along its eastern side as
a series of partly infilled hollows, while the south and west sides of the
enclosure are now no longer recognisable as earthwork features although Mill
Lane and Hurley High Street are considered to follow the line of the ditch.
In the north eastern corner of the island are two water-filled fishponds; the
eastern one has dimensions of 38m north to south by 30m east to west, the
western correspondingly 43m by 37m. Standing remains within the monument
consist of the refectory, a part of the northern cloister range dating to c.
1300 AD, and the priory wall. To the south-east of the church are the remains
of a brick built crypt. The site represents a Benedictine monastery founded
as a cell of Westminster by Geoffery de Mandeville and dedicated to the memory
of his first wife, Athelais. It remained in Benedictine hands until 1536 when
the monastery was dissolved, the land then passing into secular ownership.
Several families subsequently held Hurley until 1550 when John Lovelace had a
house built, Ladye Place Mansion, in the area south of the church. The crypt
is all that survives of this house following its demolition in 1837.
Excluded from the scheduling are St Mary's Church (listed Grade II*), the
refectory (listed Grade II*), the priory wall (listed Grade II), the gatehouse
and archway (listed Grade II*), the cloisters (listed Grade II*) and all
modern buildings, fences and metalled surfaces but the ground beneath all of
these is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.