Egglestone Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: inner precinct, monastic enclosures and post-medieval house
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1011642
Date first listed: 08-Feb-1915
Date of most recent amendment: 22-Oct-1993
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: County Durham (Unitary Authority)
Parish: Egglestone Abbey
National Grid Reference: NZ 06245 15094
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.
Egglestone Abbey is an important example of a small Premonstratensian house founded for a community of men. Although its standing remains survive only moderately well, having been robbed of stone in the early 20th century, the remains of a wide variety of monastic buildings have been retained and provide a good illustration of an unusual form of monastery. The buried remains of additional buildings and features survive beyond the cloister ranges and include monastic field enclosures. The remains also retain evidence of the transition from medieval monastery to post-medieval house.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Egglestone Abbey is situated above the River Tees south of Barnard Castle. The
monument includes the standing remains and inner precinct of the
Premonstratensian Abbey of St Mary and St John the Baptist, the remains of
the 16th century house converted from the abbey buildings after the
Dissolution of the Monasteries, and a number of monastic enclosures which
contain the remains of ancillary buildings and other features. Further remains
associated with the abbey are believed to survive in the vicinity of the
present day Abbey Farm and Abbey Mill. However, their extent and state of
survival is not sufficiently understood for them to be included in the
The standing remains at Egglestone Abbey show that the monastery did not
conform to the most common layout. Instead of the abbey church forming the
north range of an open square of buildings, it forms the south range and is
offset to the east so that the remaining cloister buildings lie in a square to
the north-west of the nave and north transept. The church's offset position is
due to its being rebuilt in the mid and late 13th century. The original
church, constructed soon after the abbey's foundation in the late 12th
century, was a much smaller building whose east end roughly aligned with the
other buildings in the east range. From the mid-13th century, there began a
programme of rebuilding which included the reconstruction of the presbytery,
at the east end of the church, and transepts, the widening of the nave and the
addition of a south aisle, and, in the late 15th century, the alteration of
the roof. The church contains several late medieval graves, including those of
Thomas Rokeby and at least two past abbots. Also present is the 15th century
tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes, replaced in 1929 after being removed from the abbey
in the late 18th or 19th century. The grave of another abbot survives in the
chapter house in the east cloister range. In addition to the chapter house,
located next to the north transept of the church, the east cloister range
included a two storey structure built during the first twenty years of the
13th century. This contained, on the upper floor, the canons' dorter or
dormitory. The lack of vaults on the ground floor indicates that, during the
monastic period, the upper storey of this building was timber-built. The
original ground-floor walls survive on the west, south and north sides and
include a number of original doorways. One, in the west wall adjacent to the
chapter house, indicates that, in the Middle Ages, there was a separate room
at the south end of the building. This room, interpreted as the parlour where
necessary conversation was permitted, was removed during 16th century
alterations to the building. The north end of the west wall also contains an
original doorway, as does the north wall. Next to the latter is a 16th century
fireplace which utilises the flue of a medieval fireplace on the other side of
the wall. This early fireplace served a small chamber underneath the canons'
reredorter or latrine. The precise function of the chamber is not currently
known, but it contained two single privies and may have been an infirmary. It
was altered in the late 13th century by the addition of a vault and the
reconstruction of the east and west walls. The latter includes an original
window and is understood to have replaced an earlier timber partition. The
drain which flushed the reredorter lies to the north of the chamber and would
have been fed by a leat or watercourse run off the upper reaches of nearby
Thorsgill Beck. The control and management of a local water supply was an
important aspect of monastic life and further water management features will
survive within the precinct.
The standing remains of the north cloister range are almost entirely of late
12th or early 13th century date. During the monastic period, the upper storey
was the canons' frater or refectory. The ground floor beneath was vaulted and
divided into three chambers of which the easternmost, containing an original
fireplace, was the warming house. Where the north range met the east range, a
slype or passage led from the cloister garth to the room below the reredorter.
The west cloister range was built in two phases. The earlier phase can be seen
in the inner wall which overlooks the cloister garth. This wall, which is of
early 13th century date, was originally intended to be the outer wall of the
range but was converted to the inner by the construction of new walls west of
it in the late 13th century. The remains of this earlier range will survive
beneath the cloister garth. The ground floor of the later range would have
been an undercroft used for storage and cellarage. From the lack of vaults, it
is assumed that the upper storey was of timber but its function is uncertain.
Doors leading through the late 13th century wall open onto a complex of
earthworks which lie to the west of the standing remains of the abbey. These
include a pathway and platforms denoting the sites of ancillary buildings
which will have included kitchens, a brewhouse and a bakehouse. Additional
features to the south of the standing remains include three banked enclosures
containing the earthwork remains of other ancillary buildings, assumed to be
barns or granaries. To the south-east of these is a circular feature measuring
9m wide by c.0.75m high. This has been interpreted as a haystack stand.
In 1548, following its dissolution, the site of the abbey was granted to
Robert Strelley who began its conversion into a secular residence. Many
alterations were carried out to the monastic buildings. In the east range, the
upper storey was rebuilt in stone and the east wall was almost entirely
reconstructed round the insertion of windows, a door, fireplaces and a chimney
breast. The upper storey of the north range became the main hall or public
room and a fireplace was added whose stone support can be seen built onto the
outside of the 13th century ground floor wall. The ground floor of the
west range was divided and the northern half converted to the post-Dissolution
kitchen. It does not appear to have been inhabited during the late 18th
century but, during the 19th century, it was in use as labourers' cottages. In
the early 20th century, large sections were dismantled and the stone removed
for use in building work at nearby Rokeby Hall.
The abbey was founded between 1195 and 1198 and colonised from the
Premonstratensian Abbey of St Agatha at Easby in North Yorkshire. It was
intended to house only a small community of canons and was so poorly endowed
that it became in danger of being reduced in status to a priory. It remained
an abbey but was impoverished throughout its existence; a state that was
exacerbated by its location in the Borders where it was ravaged by the Scots
in 1315 and by the English in 1348. It had been made exempt from the penal
taxation imposed by Edward I on other alien monasteries because of its refusal
to send money to Premontre, the mother house of the Premonstratensian Order in
France. This exemption from tax continued until its dissolution, due,
according to a document of 1496, to its 'notorious poverty'. Even so, in 1536
the abbey escaped the first Act suppressing monasteries valued at under 200
pounds a year and was not dissolved until 1540. After a series of secular
owners, it was sold in 1770 to John Morritt of Rokeby in whose family it
remained until being placed in State care in 1925. The standing remains are
also a Grade I Listed Building.
A number of features within the area of the scheduling are excluded: these are
all modern walling and fencing, all English Heritage fixtures and fittings,
and the surface of the car park and farm track, but the ground beneath these
features 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: 23220
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Graham, R, Baillie Reynolds, P K, Egglestone Abbey, (1958)
RCHME survey, Topping, P, Egglestone Abbey, (1991)
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