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.
The order was named after its first abbey at Premontre (France).
Shap Abbey is a well preserved site undisturbed by modern development and
includes extensive remains of its associated mill and water management system.
An unusual feature at Shap is the survival of processional circles marked
out on the nave floor.
Shap Abbey is located west of Shap village in the valley of the River Lowther.
The monument is divided into two areas and includes the upstanding and buried
remains of a monastery established by the Premonstratensian order. The most
visible remains are the ruins of the church and immediately attached buildings
now in the care of English Heritage. The precinct wall which enclosed the
monastery is also clearly visible in places. Extensive earthwork remains of
the abbey mill and its race are also easily identifiable.
The well preserved standing remains demonstrate the usual layout of a
Premonstratensian monastery with the church running east-west and forming the
north range of a four-sided complex known as the cloister. Domestic buildings
such as the kitchens formed the southern range, the chapter house and abbot's
lodging formed the east range, and the lay-brother's quarters the west range.
The earliest standing remains at Shap are the western half of the presbytery
(the eastern end of the church) north wall which dates to the very end of the
12th/early 13th century. The building of the presbytery was followed in
succession by the south transept, the north transept, the crossing and the
east part of the nave of the abbey church. This was followed by the east and
south ranges of the cloister. The nave was then completed and the west range
of the cloister was built at a later date. The infirmary was built in the late
13th century. Early in the 15th century the presbytery was extended to the
east and a chapel added to the east of the earlier south aisle of the
presbytery. The west tower was added early in the 16th century and soon after
the walls of the nave were heightened.
The crossing of the abbey church is 7m square and contains a grave-slab
bearing an incised crozier. The north transept measures 7.6m by 7.1m while the
south transept is slightly smaller, measuring 7.6m by 6.8m. In the south wall
of the latter is the ruined opening of a doorway into the vestry and there is
a similar ruined opening in the west wall to the north-east corner of the
cloister. South-east of this opening is the foundation of the night stairs to
the dorter or dormitory. The nave measures 25.6m by 7.1m. It formerly had a
north arcade of six bays but the lower parts of all the columns have been
removed except for one. The south wall exhibits the ruined openings of two
doorways from the cloister. Part of the west wall is incorporated in the
tower. On the floor of the nave 10 of the 18 original processional circles,
marking stopping points used by the canons during services involving
processions around the church, still survive. The north aisle is 3.2m wide,
was ashlar-faced externally, and retains the remains of splays of four windows
in the north wall. The west tower measures 5.6m square and is of early 16th
century date. It is ruined but retains the marks of the earlier high-pitched
roof of the nave and of the later flat-pitched early 16th century roof. The
presbytery measures 19.3m by 7.1m and retains ruined sections of its walling
on the north side and at the south-east corner.
The cloister measures 21m by 18.5m with walkways up to 2.7m wide. The east
range contained the vestry, chapter-house and warming-house on the ground
floor, with the canons' dorter above. The chapter house or meeting house
extended beyond the range, the east wall of which was carried on two arches,
both now gone. The doorway from the cloister retains part of a bench on the
north side of the outer division of the chapter-house. Within the
chapter-house is a stone coffin with a shaped head. The warming house retains
part of the doorway from the cloister and in the east wall is a blocked
doorway or window, the base of the fireplace-recess, and remains of a doorway
near the south end. Projecting east from this range are remains of the vault
of the reredorter. The south range contained the frater or dining hall and
was formerly of two storeys with a vault on the ground floor. This was vaulted
in seven bays with a row of six piers down the middle, the bases of which have
been removed. At the east end was a passage with a doorway at either end;
parts of the splayed jambs of these doorways survive.
The west range includes three cellarers' stores, above which were guests'
quarters. Two of the stores still retain rubble vaults of segmental
The infirmary was the detached block south-east of the cloister east range.
Parts of the east and north walls remain. In the former are remains of two
doorways. The hall stood above a sub-vault with three columns down the centre.
There are remains of two small wings projecting to the east.
North-west of the abbey buildings are earthworks, lying either side of a
modern access road to Shap Abbey Farm, which include: the raised causeway of
an earlier road, the approach to the site of a former bridge, the remains of
ancillary buildings within the precinct such as the almonry - that is the
department of the monastery concerned with distribution of charity to the
poor - stables, guest houses and workshops.
In Abbey Wood, on the east side of the river, are the remains of a rectangular
walled enclosure measuring c.8m by 4m and of unknown function. Elsewhere in
Abbey Wood are areas of quarrying from which some of the abbey stone was
extracted. Running along the cliff top, east of Abbey Wood, is the precinct
wall which enclosed the abbey. It survives in varying states from foundation
only to a substantial stone wall up to 1.5m high and over 1m thick. The best
preserved length lies east of the wood. Foundations of the precinct wall run
downhill and make a right-angled turn to continue to the river adjacent to the
site of the former bridge.
Some 350m south of the abbey are the remains of Abbey Mill consisting of the
lower courses of a 4-roomed building with a wheel pit at the southern end. An
access track fronts the building and on the opposite side of this track is a
semi-circular enclosure immediately north of the tail-race from the wheel pit.
On the southern side of the tail-race are the lower courses of a 4m square
room and a building or enclosure measuring c.11m by 9m. Power for the mill
came from water carried along a mill race which survives as an earthwork
running for almost 800m from Thornship Gill, south-west of Keld. It contours
along a hillside for much of its course and measures up to 2m wide and 1m
deep. It has a bank 2.5m wide on its downhill side. A crude bridge comprising
a rounded boulder partly hollowed out to accept a flat stone slab has been
arranged across the mill race.
To the north of Abbey Mill lie two fishponds, each measuring c.36m by 9m and
separated by a bank 6m wide. The easterly pond remains partly waterlogged and
the westerly is seasonally wet.
A house was founded at Preston Patrick for Premonstratesian canons c.1191 by
Thomas, son of Gospatrick. The establishment moved to Shap in 1199 and was
dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. Little was known of the subsequent history of
the abbey as nearly all records are lost, but it is known to have held lands
at Wet Sleddale, Reagill, and Milburn Grange near Appleby. The canons also
controlled parish churches at Shap, Bampton and Warcop. The most well-known
abbot was Richard Redman, who was abbot for almost 50 years during the 15th
century as well as Bishop of St Asaph, Exeter and Ely. The abbey was dissolved
by Henry VIII in 1540-1, de-roofed and allowed to fall into disrepair. It was
sold to Sir Thomas Wharton in 1729 but was later forfeited by a Jacobite duke
of Wharton. The site was partly excavated 1886-8. In 1948 it was bought by
Lowther Estates and the upstanding remains placed in the guardianship of the
State in 1955. Between 1949-61 limited excavated and consolidation work was
undertaken at the site. Several features are excluded from the scheduling.
These include all farm outbuildings, all modern field and property boundaries,
all telegraph poles and information boards, the bridge and access roads to
Shap Abbey Farm, the farmyard and stock pens although the ground beneath all
these features is included.
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.