Lavendon Abbey: the site of a Premonstratensian abbey, fishponds and field system at Lavendon 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.

Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)
Milton Keynes (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 90071 53580, SP 90328 53542

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. The Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

Lavendon Abbey is the only known site of a Premonstratensian monastery in Buckinghamshire. Though nothing is visible above ground of the original buildings of the abbey, evidence of their location and form will survive in the form of sub-surface foundations, while archaeological remains relating to the occupation of the abbey will also survive over a considerable area of the site. The associated earthworks, including the two fishpond complexes and the representative portion of the field system, allow a very complete picture of the secular side of monastic life to be established. Environmental evidence and organic remains will survive in the various ditch fills and in the waterlogged sediments of the ponds. 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 site of Lavendon Abbey, fishponds and a representative sample of a surrounding field system. The abbey was founded by Baron John de Bidun sometime between the years 1154 and 1158 as a Premonstratensian house and was dedicated to the honour of St John the Baptist. The monastic community originally comprised thirteen canons and seems to have enjoyed relative prosperity during the 12th and 13th centuries. However by the 14th century it had begun to fall into decline and was suffering financial difficulties. The community subsequently seems to have stabilised and remained fairly uniform in numbers so that between 1478 and 1500 twelve canons including the Abbot served the needs of four churches. At the time of its dissolution in 1536 its occupants were listed as nine canons, two novices, four impotent persons, eighteen servants and two children. The exact position of the abbey buildings, including the church, is uncertain. Eighteenth century tradition locates the abbey 'hard by the common street and the highway', with the church in a close above the house, 'where was a Warren of rabbits which burrowed among the ruins'. The present Grange was built in 1626 and is believed to contain material from the abbey and may stand on the site of the earlier buildings; this position would seem to be the most likely site of the abbey buildings. Today the known parts of the abbey complex survive as earthworks. The most well-defined feature of the complex is an L-shaped embanked pond which lies to the east of Abbey Farm. It runs NNE to SSW for 194m and then turns at right angles to run ESE for 100m. The pond itself averages 8m wide, is wider at its north and south ends and is in excess of 2m deep. This pond is flanked on both sides by substantial embankments averaging 8m wide and 1m high and which probably represent spoil from the original excavation. It could be the surviving west and south arms of a moated enclosure, the interior of which now forms a small rectangular copse called the Rookery. If so, it is possible that this could represent the close mentioned in connection with the site of the abbey church. However there are no visible traces of either the northern or eastern arms of the enclosure and no visible surface evidence of any structure in the level interior. A second possible explanation of this feature is that it represents a landscaped water course possibly associated with the 17th century Grange. To the immediate west of this feature are a series of earthworks which include a scarp, averaging 1.2m high and running roughly parallel to the L-shaped pond, and a linear bank, similarly orientated, 120m long, 5m wide and 0.9m high. The function of these earthworks is uncertain but they may form a part of the original abbey precinct boundary. A series of hollows in this area appears to represent quarry activity. Building foundations have in the past been reported in this area. In the field to the north of this complex are traces of ridge and furrow cultivation and two pronounced linear banks. The banks run straight and parallel to each other 60m west of the modern field edge and are both some 180m long, 0.7m high and 6m wide. They end short of a modern hedgeline in the south, and of a cross ditch in the north. They appear to be ancient in origin and may either represent the surviving banks of a decorative avenue of trees or they may be associated with the ridge and furrow field system which lies immediately to the west. To the north-east of Lavendon Grange itself are a group of three fishponds. The most westerly remains water-filled, is roughly L-shaped, and has maximum dimensions of 42m north to south by 17m east to west. This is linked with a second water-filled fishpond 56m north to south by 20m transversely. A supply channel survives for 40m running east from its north-east corner. A third dry and smaller fishpond 24m north to south by 8m wide lies immediately alongside the eastern edge of this larger pond; this probably represents a fry pond. A second fishpond complex lies in a shallow valley on the west side of the access road to Lavendon Grange. These well-defined earthworks straddle a small roughly north-south stream and comprise a large embanked rectangular pond enclosure 90m north to south by 48m east to west, terraced into the slope on its east side and embanked up to 1m on its west side. An internal bank parallel to the outer bank around its west, south and east sides forms an internal division to the pond and may have been part of a fish control or trapping system. A second rectangular pond-hollow 56m west to east by 30m north to south and 1m deep lies immediately to the south. The main dam across the stream forms the southern side of this pond and is now breached midway along its length to allow the stream to flow south. A mound, 10m in diameter and 1.5m high, is situated within the confines of the dry pond on what is today the eastern edge of the stream. It appears designed to stand above the flooded level of the pond though for what reason, whether practical or decorative, remains uncertain. All buildings, structures, boundary features and metalled surfaces are excluded from the scheduling although 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.

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Books and journals
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 184,190
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire379-380
Page, W , The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire
0517 AP 13A,
Card no 0517,
NAR Card no SP95SW14,
NAR Card no SP95SW15,
NAR Record card no SP95SW14,
RCHM Bucks,


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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