Site of St Mary's Abbey

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009317

Date first listed: 19-Mar-1973

Date of most recent amendment: 11-May-1994

Map

Ordnance survey map of Site of St Mary's Abbey
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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Location

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

County: Gloucestershire

District: Tewkesbury (District Authority)

Parish: Tewkesbury

National Grid Reference: SO 89035 32390

Summary

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. 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.

St Mary's Abbey has a well documented history as a Benedictine House. There was a Benedictine cell in Tewkesbury as early as the 8th century although the majority of the known remains surviving within the precinct today relate to its refounded form in 1102. The site has survived because the land was purchased by the town after the Dissolution in 1540 and, while stone was removed from the site for building, the site itself was only partially built on. The existence of below ground remains in the southern part of the site is supported by aerial photographs. The site is bounded by the River Swillgate on its south and east sides and environmental evidence relating to the economy of the Abbey and the contemporary town may be present as a result of waterlogging. Such evidence can provide clear indications of the wealth and economy of the community and details of the landscape in which they lived. Although the documented history is extensive, understanding of the full plan of the buildings and the relationship of the site to the rest of the town depends heavily on the survival of the archaeological deposits.

History

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

Details

The monument includes the known area of the main precinct of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary's and earlier 8th century priory, delineated by the River Swillgate to the south and east and by Church Street and Gloucester Road to the north and west, but excluding 33-48 Church Street. It may also have extended beyond the present line of Church Street but the survival of remains in these areas is currently unknown. The monument survives as both above-ground and buried remains. Above ground, remains of the north side of the cloister survive in the south wall of the existing church. These remains are of 15th century date. Below ground, the monument includes the remains of the east, west and south of the cloister, the chapterhouse and infirmary, along with other buildings to the east and, to the west, parlours and other ancillary buildings. The ground slopes away to the south to the banks of the River Swillgate, a stream forming a tributary of the River Severn which it meets half a mile downstream. This area between the church and the Swillgate contains a number of visible earthworks while the outlines of buildings have shown up on aerial photographs of the site. The history of the site is comparatively well documented. There was a priory founded here by the end of the 8th century. In 980 AD the Benedictine cell at Tewkesbury was subordinated to Cranborne Abbey in Dorset and it was 1102 before the abbey was refounded in Tewkesbury. This abbey was consecrated in 1123. Records suggest that the abbey played a key role in the development of Tewkesbury up until 1540 when it was dissolved. The site contains a number of listed buildings which are: The Abbey Church of St Mary (Grade I), churchyard gates north west of the abbey (II*), remains of a cross in the churchyard (II), Abbey House (I), the gatehouse to Abbey House (I), Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Abbey Cottages including a wall on the east side (II), Abbey Barn, stables and wall (II), St Mary's Lodge (II), St Marys Cottage (II) and the Russell Almshouses (II). These features are excluded from the scheduling; also excluded are all recent buildings on the site, their services and all paths and carpark surfaces, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Legacy

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

Legacy System number: 21704

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Fowler, P, Miles, D, Tewkesbury: Archaeological Implications, (1972)
Other
Cannon Shannon, During a visit to No. 1 Abbey cottages, (1986)
Site of St Mary's Abbey: SMR 567, (1986)
St Joseph, Cambridge AP, (1976)

End of official listing