Slapton chantry college


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1011672

Date first listed: 22-Jan-1948

Date of most recent amendment: 08-Mar-1995


Ordnance survey map of Slapton chantry college
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Devon

District: South Hams (District Authority)

Parish: Slapton

National Grid Reference: SX 82170 45031


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

Reasons for Designation

The term college is used to describe a variety of different types of establishment whose communities of secular clergy shared a degree of common life less strictly controlled than that within a monastic order. Although some may date to as early as the tenth century, the majority of English colleges were founded in the 14th or 15th centuries. Most were subsequently closed down under the Chantries Act of 1547. Colleges of the prebendal or portional type were set up as secular chapters, both as an alternative to the structure of contemporary monastic houses and to provide positions for clerics whose services the monastic establishment wished to reward. Some barons followed suit by setting up colleges within their castles, while others were founded by the Crown for the canons who served royal free chapels. Foundations of this type were generally staffed by prebends or portioners (priests taking their income from the tithes, or other income deriving from a village or manor). After 1300, chantry colleges became more common. These were establishments of priests, financed from a common fund, whose prime concern was to offer masses for the souls of the patron and the patron's family. They may also have housed bedesmen (deserving poor and elderly) and provided an educational facility which in some cases eventually came to dominate their other activities. From historical sources it is known that approximately 300 separate colleges existed during the early medieval and medieval period; of these, 167 were in existence in 1509, made up of 71 prebendal or portional colleges, 64 chantry colleges and 32 whose function was primarily academic. In view of the importance of colleges in contributing to our understanding of ecclesiastical history, and given the rarity of known surviving examples, all identified colleges which retain surviving archaeological remains are considered to be nationally important.

The college at Slapton is one of only four chantry colleges recorded in the south west. The quality of the masonry in the surviving ruins indicates that the college was a structure of some status in what was an isolated part of the country in the medieval period. Documentary evidence states that the church was rebuilt in the late 14th century and that the college had a chapter house, which is an unusual feature in this class of monument, although it appears to be more common in collegiate buildings in the south west. The buried remains appear to be extensive and relatively unharmed by subsequent activity.


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


The monument includes a chantry college situated on the northern edge of the village of Slapton in a prominent position on the lower slopes of a south west facing hillside. The village is less than 1km from the coast and the freshwater lagoon of Slapton Ley. The monument consists of the known extent of the upstanding and buried remains of a chantry college in occupation from 1373 until 1547. The visible remains consist of a ruined tower that formed the western end of the chantry church of the college. The church was aligned east-west and lay within a level area of land, of irregular shape, terraced into the natural ground slope. The buried remains of the college are more extensive and are believed to extend throughout the terraced area, the southern part of which is currently occupied by a large house. The tower is constructed of dressed and coursed rubble utilising local slate, brownish in colour, with greenish coloured quoins. It stands to a height of about 25m, in three stories, the lower of which is equal in height to the two upper stories together. It is square in plan with an octagonal stair turret forming the south west corner, and with massive diagonal buttresses, set back steeply above the first storey, projecting from the other four corners. It is decorated with two moulded string courses and has numerous putlog (scaffolding) holes. At ground level the overall dimensions of the tower are some 9.2m square. The walls are up to 1.2m in thickness, enclosing an interior space of 3.75m square. The tower is entered on its east side through a high pointed arch that spans the entire east wall, and which originally linked the tower with the nave of the church. The ground floor room had a groined vault of which only the springing survives in the north west and south west corners. The entrance to the stair turret is in the south west corner. In the west wall there is a large window with a pointed arch and internal splays. At some point the wall below the window was removed to form a large entrance passage through the tower which has subsequently been completely blocked. The stair turret gives access to the upper floors and the roof; it is lit by five small rectangular windows evenly spaced in its south west face. The upper rooms are each lit by four windows, one in each wall. The windows have pointed arches and internal splays, and some retain fragments of moulded stone. In the south and east faces the windows are not in vertical alignment, and the lower windows have been modified into rectangular openings. The beams supporting the floor of the upper room were secured by socket holes and corbels located in the north and south walls. The upper room has a small plain rectangular fireplace set within the north wall to the east of the window. Around the top of the tower there is a complete row of substantial moulded corbels projecting from the walls between the buttresses. These appear to have formed the base of a machicolated parapet. The stair turret is higher than the walls and contains a door to the parapet. The top of the turret also has a course of projecting corbels and a steep stone spire. The internal faces of the walls of the upper room narrow-in at a steep angle, either to create a wider parapet walk or to support a stone spire. It is evident that the tower was not intended to be a standard church tower in that the upper rooms were constructed as apartments, and the top appears to have included a machicolated parapet. The tower was also constructed independently of the church; it is entirely free-standing and devoid of any wall scars to show where it was structurally bonded to the nave. The line of the roof of the nave however, is visible as a deep chasing in the east wall of the tower and across the east faces of the adjoining buttresses. Both buttresses have a small niche set into their east faces just below the chasing. The lawned garden on the east side of the tower has parchmarks in the area of the nave extending for some 25m from the tower, which broadly outline the location of the foundations of the church. The external width of the church would have been at least 9.2m. The north west buttress of the tower is now abutted by a tall garden wall. In addition to the church, chantry colleges traditionally also consisted of buildings to house the priests and other staff, in a similar manner to formal monastic communities. These buildings could include a hall, apartments, service ranges and stables. At Slapton the chantry church is situated on a relatively small area of terraced ground, bounded on the east by a steep hill slope, and to the south west by the graveyard of the parish church. It therefore seems probable that the main collegiate buildings were in close proximity to the chantry church. The Chantry, the present house on the site, is an early 19th century (Georgian) remodelling of an earlier, possibly 18th century house. It is thought that the house incorporates the remains of parts of the collegiate buildings. The house is of complex plan and is linked to stables and a coach house to the rear. The front of the house faces south and is three stories in height. To the rear it is terraced into the natural ground slope so that the second floor lies at ground level, and this is in part only one storey in height. This part of the house includes a Gothick facade with a small octagonal belfry tower. The chantry college was founded in 1373 by Sir Guy de Briene, an influential figure in the court of Edward III (1327-77), within his manor of Slapton. The college was attached to an existing chapel of St Mary, built by the founders' family as their burial place. The foundation charter of the college states that the chapel was rebuilt at considerable expense, and that endowments were provided for a rector, five priests and four clerks, all of whom had to remain in residence. One priest was the minister of the adjacent parish church. The college was endowed with lands in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Other documentary sources state that in 1498 it had a chapter house within which a new rector was elected. In 1536 there was a rector, four priests, two clerks and four choristers in residence. The college was dissolved in 1547, in the reign of Henry VIII, following the suppression of the monasteries and the passing of the Chantries Act aimed specifically at colleges. A condition of the subsequent sale of such properties was that they were to be rendered unfit for ecclesiastical use, and this was greatly assisted by the Crown's sequestration of the roofing lead. Following their disposal by the Crown, the more domestic parts of the buildings were often converted to habitable use, and this pattern appears to have been followed at Slapton. In 1546 the college was sold by the Crown to Sir Thomas Arundel. The inventory describes the property as consisting of, `..the house and site, together with houses, tenements, buildings, structures, barns, stables, dovecotes, lands, meadows, pastures, orchards, gardens, ponds and fishery..'. In the early 17th century the site appears to have been in the ownership of Edward Ameredeth, a local landowner. In the mid 18th century the ruins of the college were described by Milles as consisting of the tower of the church, part of the nave with a small chapel on its south side, and an arched gateway that formed the entrance to the college. In the later 18th century the gateway was destroyed by the villagers who removed the stone to rebuild their houses. By 1878 the tower itself was in use as a gateway. The public road which divides the house from its garden to the west was constructed in the 19th century, and prior to that, a road passed around the east and north sides of the tower and along the north side of the church. It is understood that Lt Col Palmer, a previous owner of the Chantry, undertook excavations within the gardens of the property. The tower is Listed at Grade I, and the Chantry at Grade II. Three sections of garden walls associated with the Chantry are listed at Grade II, all of which are of 18th or 19th century date. The monument comprises what is currently recognised as the full extent of the chantry college. Within the designated area the following are excluded from the monument: the house and out-buildings and the public highway although the ground beneath all 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: 24844

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Stanes, R, A Fortunate Place, (1983)
Laithwaite, M, 'Devon Religious Houses Survey' in Slapton College, (1987)

End of official listing