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


Ordnance survey map of Egglestone Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: inner precinct, monastic enclosures and post-medieval house
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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 scheduling. 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)

End of official listing