Stanlow Abbey Cistercian monastery and monastic grange


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Stanlow Abbey Cistercian monastery and monastic grange
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 42776 77373

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 75 of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks", on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen, dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on sheep farming. The Cistercians 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.

Stanlow Abbey is a rare example of a small former Cistercian monastery latterly functioning as a monastic grange. Granges were farms run by or for a monastic community and, as such, helped support the economy of the parent house, in this case Whalley Abbey. In the medieval period such monastic farms were numerous but few can now be accurately located. This example is particularly unusual because it represents re-use of a small failed monastery. Despite post-medieval use of the site, in-situ and re-used medieval fabric survives, and further evidence of the abbey and grange will exist beneath the demolished farmhouse, outbuildings and farmyard.


The monument is the site of Stanlow Abbey Cistercian monastery and monastic grange. It is located at the north-eastern end of Stanlow Point, a low-lying promontory projecting into the River Mersey and now severed from the mainland by the Manchester Ship Canal. The monument includes both upstanding and buried remains of the monastery and the grange which succeeded it. Because the monastery and grange buildings were later incorporated into now demolished post-medieval farm buildings, the exact interpretation of the upstanding remains is uncertain but they retain a range of architectural features which identify them with the core buildings of the monastery. These upstanding remains include a sandstone wall running east-west across the site; this is two courses thick and stands 1.5-2m high and was latterly used as part of the north wall of the farmhouse and adjacent buildings. At the western end of this wall is a re-used medieval doorway 1m wide. A second sandstone wall runs north-south across the site, slightly apart from the farmhouse and at an angle to it. This wall is up to 3m high and was latterly used as the west wall of farm outbuildings. Amongst other buried features, the monument includes a tunnel cut into sandstone and running west to east. This is lined with 4 courses of sandstone blocks and formed part of the main drain which led to the River Gowy. Some dressed sandstone from the monastery was re-used in the post-medieval farm buildings and is visible in the ruins of the outbuildings. There is a revetment wall on the eastern side of the promontory constructed of re-used sandstone. Antiquarian sources record that a circular rock-cut crypt containing lead coffins and bones was revealed by flooding, although the exact location of this is now unknown. Stanlow Abbey was founded by John de Lace, Baron of Halton, in the latter half of the 12th century. It was dedicated to St Mary and colonised from Combermere. During the 1270's a storm destroyed the church tower and much surrounding masonry. This was followed a few years later by a serious fire and further flooding. Towards the end of the 13th century many of the monks transferred to Whalley Abbey and only the abbot and 5 other monks remained at Stanlow. The site had become a grange of Whalley Abbey before the middle of the 14th century and there is documentary evidence for sheep farming during the 13th and 14th centuries. The sheep probably grazed on the adjacent salt marshes. It was listed as a grange in 1535 and passed into the hands of Sir Richard Cotton at the Dissolution. Deep ditches flank the eastern and western sides of the monument. These features post-date the medieval use of the site and were probably created for flood control and drainage and are not included in the scheduling.

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
Ormerod, G, 'History of Cheshire' in History of Cheshire, , Vol. 2, (1882), 298
Williams, C, Kackinder, R, 'Liverpool University Archaeology Newsletter' in Stanlow Abbey, , Vol. 2, (1986)
Capstick, B., FMW Report, (1989)
Ordnance Survey Record Card ref No. SJ47NW1, Ordnance Survey, Stanlow Abbey (Site of) (Cistercian),
SMR No. 17/1, Cheshire SMR, Stanlow Abbey, (1987)


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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