Beauchief Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: inner precinct and three fishponds


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011390

Date first listed: 04-Jun-1957

Date of most recent amendment: 24-Aug-1993


Ordnance survey map of Beauchief Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: inner precinct and three fishponds
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Sheffield (Metropolitan Authority)

National Grid Reference: SK 33391 81905, SK 33401 81836


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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.

Beauchief Abbey is an important example of a small Premonstratensian house founded for a group of men. Although its standing remains do not survive well, having been systematically quarried after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the foundations of a wide variety of monastic buildings are still in place and provide a good illustration of the layout of this type of monastery. The buried remains of further buildings and features survive in Beauchief Park which has suffered very little disturbance or development in the centuries since the Dissolution. Together, these will provide important evidence of the economy and way of life peculiar to Premonstratensian canons. In addition, organic and environmental material will survive in the waterlogged deposits of the three fishponds.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


Beauchief Abbey is situated on an eastern tributary of the River Sheaf in what is now the south-eastern outskirts of the City of Sheffield. The monument comprises two separate areas which together include the inner monastic precinct of the Premonstratensian abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr (Thomas Becket) and a line of three fishponds lying east of the inner precinct. Additional features, which will include the remains of such ancillary features as barns, a gatehouse, workshops and stockpens, will survive in the outer precinct which lies in what is now Beauchief Park. The extent and state of survival of this outer precinct, however, is not at present fully understood and so it has not been included in the scheduling. Parts of the remains of the inner precinct were exposed during partial excavations carried out between 1923 and 1926 by W H Elgar and in 1953/4 by Peter Stiles. These were seen to conform to the typical monastic plan, consisting of the church, which formed the north range of the cloister, and the south, west and east cloister ranges arranged round a central garth or open area. Elgar's interpretation of the foundations he exposed may not have been entirely accurate but the ground-floor buildings seem to have been arranged in the usual manner, with the frater or refectory lying in the south range, north of the kitchen, and undercroft or storage cellar in the west range, and a chapter house with an apse or semi-circular end in the east range south of a chantry or chapel. First floor rooms would have included the monks' dorter or dormitory in the east range, lay brothers' quarters in the west range, and possibly the abbot's lodging, though the latter may have lain outside the cloister in an unexcavated area. Other features of the inner precinct which will survive in unexcavated areas are the infirmary, cemetery, gardens, and ancillary buildings such as a brewhouse and bakehouse. Important to monastic life was the control and diversion of a local water supply to provide not only drinking and household water but to flush the kitchens and reredorter or latrine. This was usually accomplished by running channels to and from a nearby river or stream and so monastic drains are another feature which will survive at Beauchief. Water management also included the creation of fishponds by damming local streams. East of the abbey are three monastic fishponds created for the monks by William de Grenlyf who died in 1411. In addition to the building the dam which provided the ponds, he also financed the construction of a building for the abbey which became known as Grenlyf Chamber. The abbey was founded between 1172 and 1182 by Robert fitzRanulf, lord of Alfreton and Norton. Because the abbey was dedicated to Thomas Becket, tradition said that fitzRanulf had taken part in the murder of Becket and was trying to expiate the sin by his foundation. There is, however, no evidence for this. The history of the abbey appears largely uneventful. It was a small house of twelve to fifteen canons and their abbot and a small number of lay-brethren. It was dissolved with other minor religious houses in 1537, when its estates were granted to Sir Nicholas Strelly. Passing by marriage to the Pegge family in 1648, it was eventually sold to Frank Crawshaw in 1923 who then gave it to the City of Sheffield. A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling: these are the buildings of Abbey Farm, (Listed Grade II), the surfaces of all paths and yards, all modern walling and fencing, the bridge over the fishponds and the modern concrete dam of the south fishpond, a tank east of the farm buildings, and the graves in the churchyard which occupy the site of the nave, quire, transepts and crossing of the monastic church; also excluded, as they are still in occasional ecclesiastical use, are the west tower of the abbey church and the 17th century chapel of ease (Listed Grade B) which was created out of part of the nave. The ground beneath all these features is 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: 13376

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Addy, S O, Historical Memorials of Beauchief Abbey, (1878)
Pevsner, N, Radcliffe, E, The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The West Riding, (1967)
Elgar, W H, 'Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society' in Beauchief Abbey, , Vol. 3, (1929)
Meredith, R, 'Derbyshire Archaeological Journal' in Beauchief Abbey and the Pegges, , Vol. 87, (1967)
Potter, G R, 'Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society' in Beauchief Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, , Vol. 11, (1981)
(PRN 0127), Beauchief Abbey: handwritten notes on SMR file,
In SMR (PRN 0127), Hart, CR, Beauchief Hall and Abbey: Telecom Cable Trench Works, (1989)
Local Studies Leaflet, Beauchief Abbey, Past and Present, (1975)

End of official listing