Stanlow Abbey Cistercian monastery and monastic grange
- 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.
- 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
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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
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