Lanercost Augustinian priory, precinct wall and medieval standing cross base


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Lanercost Augustinian priory, precinct wall and medieval standing cross base
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Carlisle (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 55587 63710

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.

Although some of the buildings of Lanercost Priory remain in present day use, large areas within the former precinct remain unencumbered by modern development and contain extensive upstanding remains of medieval fabric. These include the eastern part of the church, the Prior's House, the vaulted cellars on the cloister south range, foundations of the cloister east range and the later chapter house, the gateway arch, parts of the precinct wall, and the base of a 13th century standing cross. Additionally, undisturbed earthworks survive in The Garth to the north west of the church. This allows the development and workings of much of the monastic precinct to be studied.


Lanercost Priory is located in the valley of the River Irthing 3.5km north east of Brampton and includes the upstanding and buried remains of parts of a priory founded by the Augustinian order, together with upstanding and buried remains of the priory precinct wall and the base of a medieval standing cross. The burial ground is totally excluded from the scheduling as it is much disturbed by later burials and remains, in part, in active use. The area occupied by Abbey Farm is also not included as the nature and extent of any archaeological remains here has yet to be confirmed.

The monument is constructed of dressed sandstone, some of which is thought to have been removed from Hadrian's Wall a short distance to the north of the priory. It includes the ruins of the eastern end of the church, the cellars on the south range of the cloister, and the Prior's House, which are all now in the care of the Secretary of State. The precinct wall which enclosed the priory is also clearly visible in places. The nave of the medieval priory church subsequently became the parish church. This church, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, remains in use. North of it lies the base of a medieval standing cross.

The well preserved standing remains demonstrate the usual layout of an Augustinian priory with the church running east-west and forming the north range of a four-sided complex known as the cloister. Domestic buildings such as the kitchens and dining hall formed the southern range, the prior's lodging and administrative buildings the west range, and lay-brothers' quarters and chapter house the east range.

The earliest standing remains at Lanercost are the eastern part of the church which, together with most of the monastic buildings, was completed by the end of the 12th century. The nave of the priory was built in the early years of the 13th century and by 1220 the whole of the priory had been completed.

The south transept of the church originally contained the Chapel of St Catherine. It now contains the tomb of Sir Thomas Dacre, who died in 1525, and a second Dacre tomb with a mutilated effigy. The north transept originally contained the Lady Chapel. It now contains the graves of several members of the Howard family, the fine 15th century tomb of Sir Humphrey Dacre who died in 1485, and the tomb of Sir Rowland de Vaux, nephew of the founder of the priory, Sir Robert de Vaux. Separating the north and south transepts are the choir and sanctuary; the choir would have contained wooden stalls and seating, while at the east end of the sanctuary, on a raised step, stood the high altar, with an aumbry or recess behind in which sacred vessels were kept.

The cloister measures 15.5m by 16m and has walkways on all sides. The north range is formed by the nave of St Mary's Church. The upper floor of the west range now functions as the church hall - known as Dacre Hall - and the whole range is considerably altered from its original construction when it would have contained administrative offices on the upper floor with storage cellars beneath. At the south end of the west range is the ruin of the Prior's House. The south range contains vaulted storage cellars which originally lay beneath the now destroyed refectory or dining hall. The east range contains foundations of what was originally a long two-storied building, the ground floor of which was used mainly for storage, though the section nearest the church may have been the vestry, and the room next to it an early chapter house. The upper floor would have been the dormitory where the canons slept. Jutting out on the eastern side of this building are foundations of the later chapter house where the canons would assemble each morning immediately after first mass.

West of the church is a 13th century fortified tower with 16th century additions that is now used as a vicarage but was originally the guest house of the outer court of the priory. To the north of this building is a large open area known as The Garth. This area contains various earthwork remains of further buildings and other structures associated with the priory, however, the precise nature and function of these earthworks is not fully understood. Further earthworks of a similar nature exist to the south of the south range of the cloister. Also situated within The Garth is the base of a standing cross which is Listed Grade I. It is dated 1214 and includes a stepped plinth upon which is a chamfered square socket stone with a fragment of the cross shaft with carved decoration to the edges. The priory is bounded by a 13th century precinct wall constructed of red sandstone, some of it removed from Hadrian's Wall. It still survives up to c.1.5m high on the north side of the priory. Although demolished elsewhere the wall foundations are still visible as an earthwork bank on the western and eastern sides of the precinct. West of the priory are the remains of the 13th century gatehouse consisting of a gateway inner arch and fragments of the flanking tower, buttresses, blocked entrance to a now destroyed porter's lodge, and buried remains of the gatehouse outer arch.

Lanercost Priory was founded c.1166 by Robert de Vaux. Edward I visited the priory on three occasions in 1280, 1300, and again in 1306/7 when he was taken ill and remained for six months until his recovery. In between Edward's earlier visits the Scots ransacked the priory in 1296 when they burned the cloister. No sooner had the damage been repaired than it was destroyed again the following year by Scots under the leadership of William Wallace. Documentary sources indicate considerable building work was undertaken at the priory during Edward's convalescence when the royal entourage of up to 200 people had to be accommodated. In 1346 King David II of Scotland ransacked the buildings and desecrated the church. The priory was rebuilt but many of the estates had to be sold to meet the costs of this work. Lanercost Priory was dissolved in 1537 under the orders of Henry VIII and the buildings were granted to Sir Thomas Dacre who made alterations and converted some of the monastic buildings, including Dacre Hall, into a dwelling house by 1559. The north aisle of the church was shut off from the rest and used as a parish church, while a parsonage was built for the vicar to the west of the 13th century tower. The remainder of the monastic buildings were allowed to fall into decay. In 1716 the ruins of the priory passed to the crown upon the death of the Lanercost Dacres. About 1740 it was decided to enlarge the space used by the parish church by restoring the nave. In 1896 the priory was purchased by the Earl of Carlisle. Throughout the 20th century various parts of the priory have been placed in the guardianship of the Secretary of State.

Many of the buildings within the area of the scheduling are Listed Grade I including the parish Church of St Mary; the fortified tower and former guest house of the outer court which is now used as a vicarage; the 13th century precinct wall to the north of the priory and the 18th century graveyard wall; the gateway west of the priory; and the cloister west range which includes Dacre Hall and all other rooms on the first floor, the cellar and all other rooms beneath Dacre Hall, and the Prior's House at the south end of the west range.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling, including the present Church of St Mary; the fortified tower and guest house now used as a vicarage; the English Heritage ticket office and all fixtures and fittings; the west and south graveyard walls; the gateway arch west of the priory; a tool shed adjacent to the precinct wall; the surface of the access drive, surfaces of adjacent roads, car park, paths and walkways; surfaces of adjacent roads; all fences; although the ground beneath all these features is included. The burial ground is totally excluded from the scheduling.

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.

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Books and journals
Moorman, JRH, Lanercost Priory, (1990), 16
Moorman, JRH, Lanercost Priory, (1990), 1-35
Bulkeley, Rev H J, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. Old Series.' in On A Supposed Interment Of A Horse With Human Remains At Lanerco, , Vol. 11, (1981), 70-72
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
Morris,R., MPP Single Monument Class Description - Standing Crosses, (1990)
SMR No. 299, Cumbria SMR, Lanercost Priory Green, (1984)
SMR No. 5816, Cumbria SMR, Burtholme, (1984)


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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