Bradwell Abbey: a Benedictine priory, chapel and fishpond


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 82698 39530, SP 82818 39690

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.

Bradwell Abbey is an important element in the historical development of the area and, although little remains above ground of the original buildings, test excavations carried out by the Milton Keynes Archaeological Unit in the early 1970s have demonstrated the survival of below ground archaeological remains across the site. There is also potential for environmental evidence, particularly in ditch fills, with organic survival likely in the waterlogged levels of the fishpond. Such evidence can provide a clear indication of the wealth and economy of such a community and of the surrounding landscape in which it existed.


The monument, which falls into two areas, includes the remains of Bradwell Priory, a Benedictine priory which was dedicated to St Mary and founded circa 1154 by Meinfelin, Baron of Wolverton. Originally a cell of Luffield Priory, it became an independent house c 1189-90. Today the priory remains include a considerable range of buildings and associated earthworks. The only unquestionable medieval building to remain standing is a small chapel of mainly 14th century date with surviving wall paintings. This originally lay against the west wall of the 13th century priory church which has since been demolished. Once used as a store, the chapel is now restored. The positions of other monastic buildings have been identified by recent research and excavation. These include the buried remains of the priory church in the north-east of the complex with the cloisters to the south. Arranged around the cloisters were, to the east, the chapter house, to the south the frater and to the west the king's chamber and prior's chamber. The main gateway to the complex lay at the north-west corner astride the main approach road from the north. Various other buildings including barns, a malt/kiln house building and a tithe barn were ranged around the west and south sides of the complex. Today none of these buildings are immediately recognisable though modern farm buildings incorporate various elements into their fabric. Surviving earthworks associated with the monastic complex include a large fishpond some 60m east to west by 38m north to south with a central island. This pond tapers to the north into what may be a part of a former surrounding moat, vestiges of which have been identified as slight earthworks averaging 11m wide around the western extent of the complex. Other ponds on the site are identified as later landscape features. Various surface undulations in the pasture field to the west are thought to be earthwork elements of the site relating to past land use. Excavations in the area to the immediate south- east of the railway line have demonstrated the survival of associated medieval remains in this area also. The history of the site is not a particularly happy one, it seems to have prospered during the 12th and 13th centuries but declined rapidly following a period of plague in 1349. Many of the monks perished at this time including the prior himself, their numbers being so depleted that the successor to the prior was of illegitimate birth, a state which would have normally precluded such high office. By 1361 the house was still suffering ill-fortune, the prior being reprimanded for allowing the buildings to fall into disrepair. This diminished state seems to have continued throughout the 15th century so that, by 1504, when Prior Thomas Wright resigned, there were insufficient monks to hold a proper election for his successor. The last prior was John Asheby who was in office at the suppression of the priory on the 27th of July 1524. The estate site then passed into the hands of Cardinal Wolsey who had the assets surveyed by William Brabazon in 1526 before endowing the lands to St Frideswide's College Oxford. All modern buildings, structures, modern boundary features, roadways and metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Bradwell Abbey Report, (1988)
Bradwell Abbey Report, (1988), 2
Mynard, D C, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Excavations at Bradwell Priory (Pag 35-37), , Vol. 3, (1974)
Mynard, D C, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Excavations at Bradwell Priory (Pag 35-37), , Vol. 3, (1974)
Mynard, D C, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Excavations at Bradwell Priory (Pag 35-37), , Vol. 3, (1974)
Rigold, S E, Woodfield, P, 'Milton Keynes Journal of Archaeology & History' in Bradwell Priory Chapel, , Vol. 3, (1974)
Milton Keynes Arch Unit Survey, (1976)
Ordnance Survey, Ordnance Survey Card No. SP 83 NW 1,


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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