Earls Colne Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009434

Date first listed: 14-Jun-1992


Ordnance survey map of Earls Colne Priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Braintree (District Authority)

Parish: Earls Colne

National Grid Reference: TL 86465 28950


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.

Earls Colne Priory is a well documented example of a Norman priory with historical records dating from its construction in the 12th century to its destruction in the 16th century. It has important associations with the Earls of Oxford. Partial excavation has confirmed the unusually large size of the Benedictine complex and established that the site contains archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the monument, the landscape in which it was constructed and the economy of its inhabitants.


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


Earls Colne Priory is situated 500m east of Earls Colne village on the west bank of the river Colne. It is identifiable as a low earthwork and can be clearly shown from aerial photographs to cover an area of c.1.7 hectares. Excavations carried out in 1929-34 by F H Fairweather revealed part of the church and the chapter house. The church was a Norman structure 68m in length and laid out on the lines of a cathedral. In the centre was a tower of flint and freestone and at the west end were a pair of smaller towers. The presbytery terminated in a central apse and had north and south aisles which also terminated in apses. The transepts also had apsidal chapels to the east of each limb. The nave had seven bays with a north and south aisle. The church was modified during the second half of the 12th century when the presbytery had square additions attached to its eastern end. In the 15th century a Lady Chapel was added south of the presbytery. The church was constructed with flint and the occasional pieces of Roman brick and floored with glazed, unpatterned tiles in the choir and chapels. Within the church are the graves of the 7th and 13th Earls of Oxford. The excavations also revealed the slype, chapter house and the northern wall of the dorter house. The slype (covered way or passage) was 2.7m wide and ran between the south transept and the chapter house. The chapter house was apsidal-ended in shape, 13m in length by 7m in width with flint walls 1.2m thick. During the 12th century, at the same time that the eastern end of the presbytery was squared off, the chapter house was also squared by a solid wall on the chord of the apse. The internal width of the dorter was 9m and although the rest of the room was not excavated it was visible during the drought of 1934 and could be seen to have been 18m in length. The remainder of the complex was also visible during the drought. The cloister was a square measuring 21m and had a series of other rooms on its southern and eastern sides. Historical documentation shows that the church was begun in c.1105 by the first Aubrey de Vere and was completed in 1148 when it was dedicated by the Bishop of London to St Mary and St Andrew. It was built for Benedictine monks as a cell to Abingdon Abbey. It was demolished in 1536. Excluded from the scheduling is the drain which runs north-east to south-west through the monument, although the ground beneath it is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 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: 20642

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Fairweather, F H, 'Archaeologia' in Colne Priory, Essex, and the Burials of the Earls of Oxford, , Vol. 87, (1937)

End of official listing