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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This copy shows the entry on 27-Jan-2021 at 14:33:50.
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
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.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
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,
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