Alcester Abbey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Alcester Abbey
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Stratford-on-Avon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 08791 57868

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.

Alcester Abbey is the site of a small to medium-sized Benedictine house, surviving in good condition and uncomplicated by post-Dissolution occupation. The monastery's reduction in status from an independent house to a dependent cell in the 15th century will also be reflected in buried archaeological deposits. Partial excavation of the site has indicated that structural and artefactual evidence will survive beneath the ground surface, particularly within the area of the conventual buildings. Organic material will be preserved in many of the water control features on the site and this will be of value in understanding the environment and economy of the site's inhabitants.


The monument is situated in the north part of the town of Alcester and includes the earthwork and buried remains of Alcester Abbey, its associated water management system and the earthwork remains of ridge and furrow cultivation. The Benedictine abbey of Alcester was founded between c.1138-40 by Ralph le Boteler. The financial fortunes of the abbey suffered through the negligence of later abbots, culminating in a formal alteration of its status to that of a cell of Evesham Abbey in 1465. The cell was dissolved in 1536. After the Dissolution, the site passed into the hands of Fulke Greville who used the site as a convenient source of stone for the remodelling of Beauchamp Court, situated to the north of the monastery. By the 18th century, Alcester Abbey had reverted to agricultural use. Alcester Abbey occupies a naturally elevated site on the south floodplain of the River Arrow and is bounded along its north and east sides by the river, and on its west and south sides by two shallow connecting channels which were described as waterfilled moat arms in the 18th century. These features and the River Arrow are thought to define the precinct boundary of the monastic site. The site is bisected by a stream which flows west-east across the site. It is considered to be monastic in origin and served a double purpose, as a tail-race for a monastic mill and as an integrated water management system to provide a water supply to the conventual buildings in the south part of the site. Map evidence indicates that the alignment of the south east end of the tail-race was altered during the 18th century. The southern half of the site was known as The Priory Meadow in 1754 and includes the core of the monastic buildings. The earthworks in this part of the site form a raised area which is bounded along its north west, north and north east sides by the tail-race stream and, to the south west and south east by two connecting channels which also define the south precinct boundary of the monastery. A low bank is visible along the north side of the south west channel. Located in the north part of Priory Meadow, adjacent to the tail-race stream, is a sub-rectangular platform, measuring 29m north-south and 19m east-west. The south side of this platform is marked by a well-defined scarp which can be traced for approximately 27m. Partial excavation of this central area, during the 1930s, recovered evidence for several monastic buildings, including what are considered to be the refectory, a bake-house and the chapter house. These structures exhibited a number of different phases and remodelling and are thought to illustrate changes made when the site's status was altered at various times. To the south of the conventual buildings, in the southern part of the site, is a low-lying platform which forms part of the monastic site and has been identified as the site of a building. The position of the building indicates that it originally exploited the water supply for power and other purposes. Immediately to the east of the platform, but separated from it by a shallow, linear depression, is a raised area which retains evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation, orientated south east-north west. A scarp visible along the west side of this area of cultivation is probably the remains of an associated headland. Further traces of ridge and furrow are visible to the east but the earthworks here have been partly destroyed by a housing development and the construction of a flood protection bank and they are not included in the scheduling. The earthworks within the northern half of the site appear to be of two phases. The later phase is represented by ridge and furrow cultivation, beneath which, earlier features are discernible. The underlying features in this part of the site are also dominated by a centrally raised area, standing 1m above the surrounding ground surface. This levelled platform is similar in size to the raised area of the conventual buildings in the south of the site and is thought to mark the site of ancillary buildings belonging to the monastic community. To the south west of the platform is a low bank running north-south, and parallel to a hollow depression. The hollow feature can be traced continuing southwards in the south half of the site but it has been severed by the present course of the tail-race stream. The north west side of the levelled platform is adjacent to a well-defined linear hollow or pond which is aligned north east-south west. The pond is now dry and measures 55m long and 15m wide. Approximately 45m east of the linear pond is a seasonally waterlogged sub-rectangular pond which is defined by a low earthen dam along its west side. It is overlaid by ridge and furrow cultivation. The earthwork remains of ridge and furrow cultivation in the northern part of the site overlie the earlier monastic features and are divided into two separate areas by the sub-rectangular pond. A low bank along the lip of this pond represents the west headland of the south east furlong. All fence posts, the timber sheds in the north part of the site, the portable hen coops in the south part and the telegraph poles and support cables are excluded from the scheduling, the ground beneath all these features 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:
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Books and journals
RCHME, , Alcester Abbey, (1992), 6
RCHME, , Alcester Abbey, (1992), 10
RCHME, , Alcester Abbey, (1992), 11
Toulmin-Smith, L, The Itinerary of John Leland, 1535-43, (1908), 51
Styles, D, 'Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeology Society' in The Early History of Alcester Abbey, , Vol. 64, (1941), 20-38
WRO 2120 (U),


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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