Bisham Abbey: a monastic and manorial complex


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.

Windsor and Maidenhead (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 84762 84916

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 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians 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.

Bisham Abbey is a rare example of a religious house occupied successively by three different monastic orders. Despite conversion of the site to a sports complex, archaeological remains survive both as buried and standing features. The location of the monument on the floodplain of the River Thames provides conditions for the survival of environmental remains relating to the economy of the site and the surrounding landscape. Four main periods of occupation are represented at the monument: The site was founded as a preceptory during the period 1135-54. Only 57 preceptories are recorded as having existed in England, all of which were founded to fund the 12th and 13th century Crusades to Jerusalem. After the site's abandonment in 1307, an Augustinian Priory was established. Of some 700 monasteries founded in England, about 225 belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of canons and priests who, from the 12th century onwards, undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining parish churches. Following its dissolution in 1536, the monument was briefly refounded as a Benedictine Abbey, finally surrendering in 1538. Although only in existence for a short time, the Benedictine Abbey was part of a wealthy order and this wealth may have been reflected in the scale and flamboyance of building work conducted on the site. After 1538 the site became a private manor. It was probably at this stage that the moat was constructed to enclose the site. Bisham Abbey therefore represents a sequence of monastic development and the later establishment of a manorial complex unique in the region and possibly in the country. Its location in an area where waterlogged material may survive gives the site great archaeological potential for the investigation of the internal layout of the monument, its changing fortunes through time and the economy of the communities who lived there.


The monument includes the remains of Bisham Abbey, a monastic and manorial complex located on the south bank of the River Thames. It was founded as a preceptory of the Knights Templars during the reign of Stephen (1135-54) and was occupied by the order until their dissolution in 1307. In 1337 an Augustinian Priory, dedicated to Jesus Christ and St Mary, was founded on the site and the monastery remained Augustinian until its dissolution in 1536. It was then briefly refounded in 1537 as a Benedictine Abbey but again surrendered in 1538, subsequently becoming the home of the Hoby family. No trace of the Augustinian priory buildings can normally be seen although they are visible as parch marks on the lawns in dry summers and therefore are known to survive as buried features. Various parts of the original Templar buildings survive, including the great hall of the Templars preceptory with its braced rafter roof and screens, stone roofed porch and kitchen block. This remains largely intact and is Listed Grade I. Buildings of late medieval date which survive and are protected by Listing include a circular dovecote, tithe barn and grange (Listed Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II respectively). Earthwork remains consist of the surviving part of a surrounding rectangular moat, enclosing an area some 300m-400m square. Though most of the moat has been infilled, where visible it is up to 10m wide and is steep sided with an earthen inner bank. The age of the moat is uncertain, but it is possible that it belongs to the post Dissolution occupation of the site. The archaeological remains of timber buildings are known to exist within the interior of the site and large amounts of medieval pottery have also been recovered from time to time. All modern buildings and structures, Listed buildings, roads and metalled surfaces, including new tennis courts and an artificial hockey pitch, are excluded from the scheduling, though the ground beneath 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:


SMR record no. 492.00000,
SMR record no. 492.01000,
SMR record no. 492.01100,


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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