Owston Augustinian Abbey with six fishponds, a gatehouse and boundary


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Owston Augustinian Abbey with six fishponds, a gatehouse and boundary
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Harborough (District Authority)
Owston and Newbold
National Grid Reference:
SK 77400 07837, SK 77412 08121

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.

The abbey at Owston retains extensive ruined, earthwork and buried remains of medieval date. In addition to the monastic buildings the site retains an important complex of fishponds and water-management features. Deposits from the fishponds have already been analysed and shown to retain significant information on the fish farmed in the ponds and wider environmental conditions. Considerable archaeological information will survive across the whole of the rest of the site.


The monument at Owston is situated on the relatively high ground of east Leicestershire and includes an Augustinian abbey with six fishponds, the below ground remains of a gatehouse, and a boundary ditch and bank. The site is contained within two constraint areas.

The remains of the abbey buildings are located in the vicinity of, and incorporated in, the parish church of St Andrew, which is a grade I listed building. Features within St Andrew's church date from the 12th century, with a chancel situated below ground, external to the present church. It is considered that the cloister and its associated buildings lie to the south of the church where stonework is known to exist beneath the present ground surface. Further stonework can be seen exposed in earthworks 100m to the south-west which indicates associated buildings. The foundations of a building, surviving as an earthwork, can also be seen some 300m to the south-west situated on the highest ground contained within the site. A gatehouse, demolished in the late 18th century, stood adjoining the south-west corner of the nave. Other earthwork features associated with the abbey, the principal elements of which are two sets of fishponds, are located to the west of the buildings and extend north-south for over 500m. The first is a complex of four fishponds, contained within the area south of the road, which currently contain no visible water but are largely waterlogged and follow the course of a stream running from south to north. Fishpond No.1 is the most southerly in the complex and measures approximately 100 x 25m. A bypass channel on the eastern side, which would have been utilised by a series of sluices, extends past fishpond No.2 which measures 50 x 30m. Fishpond No.3 measures 60 x 25m and No.4 is a large fishpond measuring 125 x 30m which widens out to over 100m on the northern side at which point it is dammed. The complex is contained within a boundary bank and ditch up to 4m wide and 1m high which extends from the south of the site westwards and partly up the western side at a distance of about 50m from fishponds Nos.2 & 3. Across a road to the north is a further set of two fishponds, contained within a second area, which appear different in design to the complex lying to the south. They are long and narrow, being contained within substantial banks up to 2m high. Fishpond No.5, the western pond, measures 120 x 8m. Its companion fishpond, No.6, measures 75 x 10m and is dammed at the northern end.

The Augustinian abbey was founded by Robert Gimbald in 1166-7. Owston abbey, although comparatively poor, acquired churches in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Rutland, and a moated grange located 1.5km to the east. It was dissolved in 1536, after which time the buildings rapidly deteriorated. An environmental analysis carried out by Leicester University has provided an insight into those fish kept by monastic foundations and also analyses information from pollen and invertebrates.

The church of St Andrew is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included. A boundary bank and ditch to the east of the site, which have been modified by sand quarrying and later ploughing activity, are totally excluded from the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Nichols, J, The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicestershire, (1804)
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, (1984)
Shackley, M, Hayne, J, Wainwright, N, 'BAR' in Environmental Analysis of Medieval Fishpond Deposits, , Vol. 182, (1988)


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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