Frithelstock Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009304

Date first listed: 26-Nov-1928

Date of most recent amendment: 22-Dec-1994


Ordnance survey map of Frithelstock Priory
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1009304 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 23-Jan-2019 at 14:18:49.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: Torridge (District Authority)

Parish: Frithelstock

National Grid Reference: SS 46398 19516


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 rural location of Frithelstock has meant that the layout of the priory has been preserved and that its essential design can be determined from the existing structures and earthworks. The close proximity of the priory and parish churches is an unusual feature. The buried remains appear to be extensive and relatively unharmed by subsequent activity. Frithelstock is the only monastic site in north Devon to retain parts of its standing structure.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The priory is situated on the north side of the village of Frithelstock, some 2km to the west of the town of Great Torrington. It is set in agricultural land on the upper north facing slope of a wide valley that drains eastward into the River Torridge. The monument includes the known extent of the upstanding and buried remains of a priory of Augustinian canons in occupation from the early 13th century until 1536. The visible remains exist in the form of a number of ruined and adapted stone structures terraced into the natural slope and laid out in the traditional monastic plan in which a church and three ranges of buildings of two stories were grouped around the central square open court of the cloister. They include the substantial remains of the priory church, which abuts the parish church, and the remains of the cloister ranges incorporated into the buildings of Cloister Hall Farm. Fields adjacent to the farm contain a series of low earthworks. The walls are constructed of random-rubble utilising local slate, with carved details in a coarse red sandstone and oolitic limestone. The principal upstanding remains are those of the 13th century priory church, aligned east-west, and of 39.6m by 14.1m overall size. It consists of a simple in-line arrangement, 8.95m in width, of nave, choir, presbytery and Lady chapel, with a single square tower abutting the western end of the nave. The west gable-end of the nave survives to 13.2m, almost its full original height, and is of symmetrical, austere and dramatic design, having three tall lancet windows above a small central doorway. Most of the north wall of the church survives to a considerable height, as do the buttressed north east and south east corners of the presbytery, and the south wall of the nave. Despite the apparent simplicity of the design, details of the fabric of the church indicate a complex structural history. The western end of the south wall of the nave has a high pointed arch supported on its eastern side by a 1m square pier with chamfered ashlar edges on three corners. The presence of this pier indicates that the church was originally designed with a south aisle, but that this was abandoned, the arch blocked and the south wall of the church constructed in line with the proposed arcade. The north and south walls of the church are not, however, symmetrical in terms of the number, size and location of the windows. The north wall has a tall lancet window to the nave and four high windows to the choir and presbytery; the south wall has a tall lancet to the nave and presbytery with, from the evidence of an 18th century engraving, four high windows placed between them. The Lady chapel and tower were added in the 14th century. By the middle of the 15th century, rebuilding in the parish church resulted in its north east corner being structurally bonded to the south west corner of the tower of the priory church. The south wall of the priory church is terraced into the hillside by some 1.5m and the difference in level between the two churches is some 2.6m. The cloister is on the north side of the priory church, lying about 1m lower, and with sides of about 20m square. This area is now mostly gravelled and contains flower beds forming the garden of the farm. The west range of the cloister abutted only the north west corner of the church. The range is for the most part incorporated into the western half of the present farmhouse, the rooms at the north end are of 16th-17th century date and form its earliest part. Traditionally the west range would have included the apartments of the prior. Abutting the north end of the eastern half of the farmhouse is a large storage building of some 9.1m width that occupies the position of the north range of the cloister. The south wall of this building includes medieval fabric. Traditionally this range would have contained the refectory (dining hall), with the area between the north and west ranges occupied by the kitchens. The east range of the cloister is less well defined in terms of the current structures. The north face of the north wall of the presbytery has part of the toothing for an external, east wall, and two corbels beneath the high windows, which together indicate that the east range abutted the presbytery, and was some 9m in width. The east range extended northwards into the area now occupied by the stables. Traditionally this range would have contained the sacristy (vestry) and chapter house, with the canons' dorter (dormitory) at first floor level. The late 15th century granite doorway forming the main entrance to the farmhouse would appear to be a reused part of the priory structure. In 1976 a well was uncovered in the north west corner of the cloister. It consisted of a vaulted passage, large enough to walk in, some 2.5m below the present ground level and some 5m in length, leading south from the north range of the cloister. At the south end of the passage there was a well over 6m in depth. The feature remains intact but is no longer visible. The land forming the monastic precinct was traditionally enclosed behind a wall. At Frithelstock part of the line of the precinct can be defined. In the late 18th century it was reported that the priory gatehouse remained standing in line with the south wall of the graveyard. The graveyard was extended in the early 20th century, but its earlier limits are shown by lines of lime trees. It would therefore appear that the south wall of the precinct was to the north of the present road. In the pasture to the north of the farm there is a low bank which follows the top of the natural, steeper, ground slope to curve around the north west of the farm buildings before becoming lost in uneven ground. This earthwork probably represents the line of the north wall of the precinct. The precinct contained, in addition to the nucleus of the church and cloister, all the buildings and structures, both agricultural and industrial, associated with the degree of self-sufficiency that the priory was capable of sustaining. Many of these structures would have been of timber or cob construction. A number of low linear earthworks are visible to the south east of the priory church forming three terraces in the natural ground slope. The middle terrace contains a rectangular depression some 35m by 12m which may indicate the site of a building or small fishpond. To the immediate west of this feature is a curvilinear depression which may be a hollow way. The canons' graveyard would traditionally have been located to the south of the priory church in the area that has since been partially encroached upon by the graveyard of the parish church. A linear earthwork extends southwards from the south east corner of the Lady chapel which may define the east side of the monastic graveyard. There are areas of more pronounced earthworks in this field outside the south east corner of the graveyard and along the east side of the east range of the cloister. The priory was founded in the early 13th century by Robert Beauchamp following his grant of the manor of Frithelstock to the Augustinian order. It was colonised by canons from Hartland Abbey in Devon and dedicated to St Gregory. Events in the history of the priory and details of a number of the priors have been reconstructed from secondary sources, mainly the episcopal registers of the Bishops of Exeter. Some entries give an indication of the range of monastic buildings; in 1333 there is a reference to the sacristry (vestry); in 1340 to the refectory (dining hall), dormitory and kitchen; in 1347 to the mill; in 1351 to the Lady chapel; in 1378 to the dormitory; in 1400 there are references to the prior's hall (great hall), prior's room, and a room called `Hevytre'; in 1434 to the chapter house, and a high chamber in the north part of the court. The parish church was in existence before the priory and in 1333 was appropriated by the canons. In 1536 there were only four canons and the prior in residence. The priory was dissolved in 1536, in the reign of Henry VIII, following an Act of Parliament which originally intended to reform the religious houses by disbanding the smallest and poorest of their number. A condition of the subsequent sale of the buildings was that they were to be rendered unfit for monastic use and this was greatly assisted by the Crown's sequestration of all the roofing lead. Following their disposal by the Crown, parts of the buildings were often converted to habitable use, usually the apartments occupied by the prior which were of a more domestic nature, and this pattern was followed at Frithelstock. In 1537 the priory was acquired by Viscount Lisle, by which time the cloister ranges had largely been destroyed, apart from a house used by the tenant farmer which has been identified with part of the present farmhouse. In the 18th century there were several references to old walls remaining in the vicinity of the farmhouse. Excavations were undertaken within the priory church in 1929. The recorded finds were architectural fragments, including seven small grotesque heads, 15th-16th century stained glass, ceramic ridge tiles of a rare type that are both moulded and glazed, and decorated floor tiles. Sections of the landscaped excavation cuts remain on the south side of the church. At the time of the excavations parts of the fabric were consolidated and detailed plans of the parish and priory churches were made. Cloister Hall farmhouse and the buildings on the northern side of the cloister are together Listed Grade II. The parish church is Listed Grade I, as are the ruins of the priory church. The wall to the west of the tower is Listed Grade II along with the vicarage, also Listed Grade II. The scheduling comprises what is currently recognised as the extent of the priory. Within the designated area the following are excluded from the scheduling: the parish church and the graveyard extension; all dwellings and modern farm buildings; the made-up farm track and hard-standing; all fence and gate posts, although the ground beneath all these features, with the exception of the graveyard extension, 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: 24842

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Chope, R, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Committee' in History of Frithelstock Priory, , Vol. 2 Pt 1, (1933), 5-19
Radford, C, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Committee' in Frithelstock Priory and the Parish Church, , Vol. 2 Pt 1, (1933), 20-27
Weddell, P, 'Devon Religious Houses Survey' in Frithelstock Priory, , Vol. 4, (1986)

End of official listing