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 earthwork and below-ground remains of Ankerwyke Priory survive in excellent condition, along with its fishponds and other associated features. The site has considerable archaeological potential including, as a result of its low-lying situation, the survival of organic and environmental material in waterlogged deposits. This may provide information both of the economy of the community who occupied the site and of the surrounding environment in which it existed.
Ankerwyke Priory, a Benedictine nunnery, lies across the River Thames from Runnymede. The Priory was founded in the late C12 and was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.
Magna Carta, which means ‘Great Charter’, was sealed at Runnymede on 15th June 1215. This was an agreement between King John and his barons and clergy which, for the first time, made the monarch subject to the laws of the land. It also gave free men the right to justice and a fair trial. Over the subsequent 800 years it has influenced many constitutional documents including the United States’ Bill of Rights.
Runnymede today is a memorial landscape to the on-going struggle for democracy and liberty.
The monument includes the site of Ankerwyke Priory, a Benedictine nunnery situated on the north bank of the River Thames. Today the remains consist of a portion of a ruined 13th century building, Listed Grade II, moat, fishponds and an extensive area of earthworks. The standing remains represent the north-eastern corner of a once substantial two storied building, orientated east to west with portions of walling surviving 8m to 10m long and up to 3m high. Three window openings can be recognised in the walling, their styles suggesting 13th, 15th and 17th century phases of construction. The fabric of the building is of random chalk boulder and rubble with chalk and sandstone dressings and later brick infilling. The earthwork remains are extensive and well preserved. In the pasture field to the immediate south of the standing walling and above the river floodplain is a substantial rectangular platform 50m square. Its interior is slightly hollowed and shows evidence for former occupation in the form of vegetation changes and surface irregularities. The platform is defined around the west and south sides by a ditch or moat, up to 12m wide and varying between 0.4m and 1.1m deep. The southern arm of this feature turns at its eastern end to run southwards for 100m, then turns north east to join with a natural water course. This feature probably functioned as part of a water management system, designed to protect the grounds of the nunnery from flooding. In the south-eastern corner of the enclosed area are two rectangular fishponds, both 50m long by 16m wide and set at right angles to one another. Beyond the enclosed grounds of the nunnery are various less clearly defined earthworks believed to be associated with the nunnery. These include, to the north, a series of ill-defined surface undulations and, in the south, a possible third fishpond and causeway. All modern buildings and boundary features are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.