Site of Gilbertine priory and post Dissolution house, moats, 18th century garden, medieval settlement and cultivation remains


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Site of Gilbertine priory and post Dissolution house, moats, 18th century garden, medieval settlement and cultivation remains
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

East Lindsey (District Authority)
North Ormsby
National Grid Reference:
TF 28298 92979

Reasons for Designation

A post-Conquest double house is a settlement built after the Norman Conquest to house a community of religious men and women. Only 25 double houses are known to have existed in England in the Middle Ages. Twelve were established by the Gilbertines, an order of nuns and canons founded in the 12th century by Gilbert of Sempringham; of these, eight were in Lincolnshire. Double houses were supervised by the male founders of the order or their deputies; the nuns, who led a contemplative life, were strictly segregated from the canons, who were required to celebrate the mass. The main buildings of a double house therefore included separate facilities for worship and accommodation, usually arranged around two self-contained cloisters. As a rare type of monastery all examples exhibiting significant survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The village was a significant component of the rural landscape in most areas of medieval England, much as it is today. Although the sites of many of these villages have been occupied continuously down to the present day, some declined in size or were abandoned throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods, particularly during the 14th and 15th centuries. As a consequence of their abandonment these villages are frequently undisturbed by later occupation and contain well-preserved archaeological deposits. Over 2000 deserted villages are recorded nationally, and because they are widely dispersed in most parts of England they provide important information on the diversity of medieval settlement patterns and farming economy between the regions and through time.

The remains of the Gilbertine priory and deserted settlement at North Ormsby survive as a substantial series of earthworks extending for a distance of over 700m in the valley bottom. Limited excavation in the area of the priory has demonstrated the survival of buried deposits, including structural and artefactual material, and waterlogging in the low-lying parts of the site indicates that organic remains are also likely to survive well. The adjacent and related settlement remains in the valley are characteristic of a series of medieval settlements on the eastern edge of the wolds. As well as being related to a variety of contemporary landscape features, including fishponds and moats, the remains of the priory and its associated settlement are also superimposed upon an earlier pattern of land-use thought to be prehistoric in origin. In incorporating the remains of overlying features of post-medieval date, including domestic and agricultural buildings and 18th-century garden remains, the monument retains well-preserved evidence for the interrelationships between a variety of settlements and other uses on the site over hundreds of years.


The monument is located in a narrow valley in the wolds approximately 7km north west of Louth. The remains take the form of a series of earthworks and buried deposits lying along, and partly incorporating, the valley's water-course which runs through Abbey Farm in the west to the present village of North Ormsby in the east. The monument includes the remains of the Priory of St Mary, a double-house for nuns and canons of the Gilbertine order founded in 1148-54 by Gilbert fitz Robert of Ormsby. The remains of the priory are partly overlain by those of a post-medieval house and associated buildings. Adjacent to the west are the remains of a post-medieval formal garden, two moats and a series of ponds; to the east is an area of medieval and post-medieval settlement remains. The whole complex is superimposed on a system of rectangular fields, partly occupied by traces of ridge-and-furrow cultivation.

The site of the priory, which lies on the east side of Abbey Farm, is partly represented by a group of earthworks and partly overlain by a modern farmyard and farm buildings, which are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included. The ground beneath the main farmyard area and the buildings which enclose it, covering an area roughly 50m square, is excluded to a depth of 0.5m although the ground below this depth is included. The earthworks were partially excavated in 1966 when they were found to include structural remains of the conventual buildings and associated features. On the south east side of the present farm buildings are the earthworks of the nuns' cloister, approximately 27m square, including the foundations of a cloister arcade and a stone- and tile-paved walk. On the east, south and west sides of the cloister are the earthworks of ranges of buildings which comprised the nuns' and lay-sisters' accommodation. In the east range are the remains of a stone-floored chapter-house in which a number of tombstones, including that of a prioress, was discovered. The nuns' dormitory would have been located on the upper floor of the east range with a rere-dorter (latrine) to the south. The south range, which was found to be represented by at least two phases of building, is believed to have originated as the nuns' refectory with a cellar below; fireplaces were later added to the ground floor and are considered to have formed part of a secular house which occupied some of the conventual buildings following the Dissolution. The range of buildings on the west side of the cloister was also found to include two or more building phases, and extends at least 30m south of the cloister across the priory drain. This range is considered to represent the lay-sisters' quarters and priory kitchens, in which they prepared food for the entire community. The southern part of the west range is, like the south range, believed to have been converted to form part of a post-medieval house. Between these ranges is a flat, rectangular area with a further group of building remains to the east; this area is considered to represent an outer court with associated service buildings, also re-occupied as part of a post-medieval building complex.

Partial excavation to the west of the nuns' cloister revealed traces of a walled passageway running diagonally north west from the lay-sisters' range. This feature, characteristic of double-houses, represents a covered walk between the nuns' and canons' accommodation through which the canons were provided with food. Communication would have taken place approximately halfway along the passage at a `window-house'. The remains of the canons' quarters are thus considered to be located in the north western part of the inner precinct, largely overlain by the present farm buildings. Excavations adjacent to the farm buildings revealed the foundations of stone walls interpreted as the remains of the canons' chapel.

On the north side of the nuns' cloister was found evidence for the foundations of the priory church, including the remains of a central wall which divided the nave into two parts longitudinally. The nuns' nave, on the south, measured approximately 6.4m in width, while the canons' nave, on the north, measured 3.6m. Fragments of window tracery of the Decorated style indicate that the original 12th century church was altered or rebuilt in the late 13th or 14th century.

The remains of the conventual buildings are surrounded on the south, east and north east by a linear bank, partial excavation of which has revealed a wall constructed of rough masonry. This feature is considered to represent the boundary of the inner precinct, an area of nearly 2ha. In the south eastern part of this precinct are the earthworks of a further group of buildings found to include at least two phases of construction, also in rough masonry. These remains are considered to indicate the location of both medieval and post-medieval outbuildings. In the north eastern part of the precinct, directly east of the priory church, is a level area believed to be the site of the conventual cemetery. Running across the northern part of the precinct, on the north side of the church, are the earthworks of a post-medieval metalled track.

To the north, east and south east of the inner precinct is a further area of earthworks bounded by a bank and external depression. This area is considered to represent the priory's outer precinct where further buildings, gardens and animal enclosures were located. To the north of the priory church are the earthworks of buildings believed to have originated as the priory's gatehouse and hospital. In the north eastern part of the outer precinct are a pair of levelled cultivation terraces; to the south is a larger enclosure, and at the bottom of the slope a large pond. At the southern tip of the precinct, which rises up the opposite slope, are the remains of a small embanked pond and a channel running north eastwards from it down to the larger pond.

The Priory of St Mary received a number of endowments during the century following its foundation, but suffered a decline in prosperity in the mid- 14th century following the Black Death. The population of the priory was limited to 100 nuns and lay-sisters, 50 lay-brothers and 7-13 canons, but by 1377 had fallen to six canons; at the Dissolution in 1538 there were six canons and nine nuns. After the Dissolution the property was granted to Sir Robert Heneage.

Adjacent to the west of the priory remains, lying south of Abbey Farm on the opposite slope of the valley, is a distinct group of earthworks including rectangular terraces, ditches, banks and hollow ways. This area is planted with large, mature trees; on the eastern side is a small area of building remains and, near the centre, a Greek-style statue of 18th century type. These features represent the remains of a post-medieval garden composed of walks and terraces overlooking Abbey Farm. It is believed to have been laid out in the 18th century when the present farmhouse was built.

In the north western part of the monument are the earthworks of a series of ponds and moats linked by the valley's water-course. Approximately 50m to the west of Abbey Farm are the remains of a pair of ponds, lying parallel with each other on the course of the stream. The southern pond is roughly rectangular and measures approximately 12m x 44m. The northern pond is less regular in shape, measuring approximately 70m x 10m with an enlarged eastern end. The ponds are joined on the east by a channel 2m wide, and separated by a bank 10m wide. These features are considered to represent the remains of a pair of medieval fishponds, which formed part of the priory's water-control system. The northern pond is linked on the west to a moat, approximately 10m in width, which surrounds a rectangular platform measuring 38m x 45m. In the eastern half of the platform is a levelled rectangular area approximately 18m x 35m, bounded on the west by a low bank; on the southern edge of the platform is an internal bank. Adjacent to the south is a smaller, irregular platform approximately 12m x 45m with an internal bank and external depression on the south and west. This group of features is separated from the garden on the east by a later linear depression. Adjacent to the west is another rectangular enclosure, measuring up to 18m x 25m, surrounded by a water-filled moat about 5m in width which is linked on the west to a subrectangular pond. These moated enclosures are considered to be of medieval origin with post-medieval alterations. In the south western part of the monument is an enclosure defined by a trackway on the south and a ditch on the west. This feature forms part of a series of rectangular enclosures and trackways which extends eastwards across the valley's southern slope, and upon which the priory's outer precinct is aligned. These enclosures are considered to represent a field-system which was in existence before the establishment of the priory in the mid-12th century, and which continued in use through the medieval and post-medieval periods.

Adjoining the site of the priory on the south east is a further series of earthworks including medieval settlement remains. These earthworks extend over a distance of 500m on the valley's southern slope, bounded on the north by the stream, on the south by a field track, and on the east by the present village of North Ormsby. The settlement remains include a series of rectangular enclosures lying adjacent to each other on the south side of the stream and separated by linear banks. On the south they are bounded by a hollow way which runs parallel to the stream for over 300m. The enclosures are thus 50m-60m long north-to-south, and vary from 25m to 70m east-to-west. They include linear ditches running at right angles to the hollow way and, at the bottom of each enclosure next to the stream, a wet depression representing the remains of a pond. Buildings are represented by buried walls and house platforms, principally at the top of the enclosures by the side of the hollow way. These earthworks are considered to represent the remains of medieval village plots including dwellings and yards with drainage ditches and outbuildings. In the north eastern part of the monument the stream has been diverted in post-medieval times to run approximately 40m to the north; the course of the earlier stream survives as a linear depression. Between the old and new courses of the stream are further earthworks, including those of post-medieval buildings. The settlement remains may thus be seen to represent the western part of the medieval village of North Ormsby. The settlement developed to the west from the earlier medieval settlement to the east, where the present village now stands, by means of a planned extension, following the establishment of the priory.

In the south eastern part of the monument, rising up the slope at right angles from the hollow way, is a series of linear boundaries including banks, ditches and lynchets. To the south west of the settlement remains they form a group of four linear enclosures varying in width from 30m to 45m; on the east the enclosures are subdivided by an additional ditch and scarp running across the slope for a distance of approximately 170m. Among the linear boundaries are two substantial lynchets lying approximately 35m apart with a shallow depression between. The enclosures in the south eastern part of the monument include the remains of ridge- and-furrow cultivation. All of the enclosures are bounded on the south by a bank and hollow way which run near the edge of the present field. This group of earthworks represents part of a field system which was in use in the medieval period and later, partly being overlain by the extension of the village to the west; it is, in turn, considered to incorporate elements of an earlier field system, perhaps of prehistoric date, which included lynchets.

Excluded from the scheduling are the farm buildings and yard at Abbey Farm, and all fences; the ground beneath these features is, however, included. The ground beneath the main farmyard area and the buildings which enclose it, covering an area roughly 50m square, is excluded to a depth of 0.5m although the ground below this depth 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.

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Books and journals
Dornier, A, North Ormsby Gilbertine Priory: 1966 Excavations
Dornier, A, North Ormsby Gilbertine Priory: 1966 Excavations
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 194-195
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire: Volume II, (1906), 195-196
White, W, White's Directory of Lincolnshire, (1842), 376
Stenton, F M, 'Lincolnshire Record Society' in Transactions of Charters Relating to Gilbertine Houses, , Vol. 8, (1922), 60
FO 48, FO 49, St. Joseph,
FO 51, FO 52, St. Joseph,
Ordnance Survey 495, JB, TF 29 SE 5, (1973)
Title: Source Date: 1905 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
Title: Source Date: 1956 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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.

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