Leeds Priory: Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Nicholas with associated dovecotes and slype, and the site of the 18th century Meredith mansion


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Leeds Priory: Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Nicholas with associated dovecotes and slype, and the site of the 18th century Meredith mansion
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Maidstone (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 82309 53054

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.

Leeds Priory has had a long and varied history, dating from the 12th century onwards. The Augustinian priory was a wealthy foundation, structural remains of which still survive in the form of the so-called slype, part of the gatehouse and one of the two dovecotes. Partial excavation of the priory in the 1970s demonstrated the survival of buried archaeological remains and considerably enhanced our understanding of the site, especially with regard to its layout and the various phases of construction. After the priory's dissolution in the mid-16th century, the Meredith family mansion was constructed within the precinct. Although few documentary records have survived, the mansion is known to have been the seat of several wealthy families in turn. The only known illustration of the mansion shows a large country house. This can no longer be seen although a few walls representing associated features still stand, incorporated into modern farm buildings.


The monument includes the known upstanding and buried remains of the medieval Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Nicholas, two dovecotes which are Listed Grade II, dating from the 16th/17th centuries, and the building known as the slype, which is also Listed Grade II, first constructed during the medieval period and altered in the 16th and 19th centuries. The area is also known to be the site of the 17th/18th century Meredith family mansion, which no longer survives above ground. The remains are all sited within the grounds of Abbey Farm, once part of the Leeds Castle Estate. There are now few upstanding remains of the priory buildings. A length of wall, which is Listed Grade II, to the south east of Abbey Farmhouse (Listed Grade II) is thought to have been associated with the priory buildings or precinct boundary wall, while part of the abbey gatehouse is incorporated into the structure of the Manor House (Listed Grade II*). One of the two dovecotes and the slype are also thought to have been associated with the priory. Most knowledge about the priory, however, comes from partial excavation by P J Tester during the 1970s. This revealed the plan of the monastic buildings and the church, as well as providing information on the various phases of building works on the site. The Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Nicholas is believed to have been founded by Robert de Crevecoeur in 1119. Two charters exist relating to the foundation - the first is the grant of land at Leeds on which the priory was built, and the second is a grant to the canons of the advowsons of all the churches in his lands (Leeds, Goudhurst, Lamberhurst, Farleigh, Teston, Chatham and Rainham). In the late 13th century the advowson of the priory passed out of the control of the Crevecoeur family, and into the hands of the crown, where it remained until the priory was dissolved, sometime between 1537 and 1540, when most of its possessions were granted to the Dean and Chapter of Rochester. In the Taxatio of Pope Nicholas IV in 1291, the value of the temporalities of the priory was given as thirty seven pounds, eighteen shillings, while in the Valor of 1535, the income of the priory was recorded as three hundred and sixty two pounds, seven shillings and seven pence. Throughout its history, Leeds priory was a large and wealthy foundation, with a prior and around 20 canons (in 1379 there are thought to have been a prior and 22 canons; in 1425, a prior and 24 canons, and in 1511 a prior and 20 canons are recorded). Of the two dovecotes, the smaller structure appears to be the earlier, built at the beginning of the 16th century to serve the priory, while the large building became necessary after the site passed into private ownership, and the number of inhabitants increased dramatically. The slype appears to have a medieval core with 16th and 19th century alterations, and may have been connected with the Priory or with the manor house which replaced it in the late 17th and 18th centuries. After the religious foundation was dissolved by Henry VIII, the lease of all the lands belonging to the priory was granted to Sir Anthony St Leger. Soon after this the property came into the possession of the Meredith family, and a large mansion was built, probably to the west of the priory buildings. The dovecotes and the slype are thought to have continued in use and were associated with this structure, until it was sold at auction and demolished in the late 18th or early 19th century. Nothing now remains of the manor house and there is little information available about it other than an engraving of the house made in 1719 and published soon afterwards. Abbey Farmhouse, Abbey Mill House with associated outbuildings and Brook House are all Listed Grade II, while The Manor House is Listed Grade II*; these buildings are all excluded from the scheduling; also excluded from the scheduling are all standing farm outbuildings, the surfaces of all roads and paths, any service trenches below ground, all modern fences and walling and the telegraph posts; the ground beneath all of these features is, however, 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
Borough of Maidstone - Rural Group B, (1984), 49-50
Badslade, , Leeds Abbey the Seat of Sir Richard Meredith, (1720)
Pevsner, N, Newman, J, The Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald, (1980), 370
'Kent' in The Priory of Leeds, , Vol. 2, (1926), 162-165
Caiger, J E L, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Two Kent Pigeon Houses, , Vol. LXXXIX, (1974), 33-41
Cave-Browne, J, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in In and about Leeds and Bromfield Parishes, Kent, (1894), 98-100
Tester, P J, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Excavations On The Site Of Leeds Priory II, , Vol. 94, (1978), 75-98
Tester, P J, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Excavation At The Site of Leeds Priory, , Vol. 93, (1977), 33-45


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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