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The priory barn: remains of the Benedictine priory at Saint Ives

List Entry Summary

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.

Name: The priory barn: remains of the Benedictine priory at Saint Ives

List entry Number: 1011722


The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Huntingdonshire

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Saint Ives

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 13-Oct-1977

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Aug-1995

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 24433

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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. Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Saint Ives priory is well documented from the 12th century until the Dissolution, and its early foundation in the pre-Conquest period is of particular interest. The priory barn is the only structure associated with the monastic foundation to remain visible, and is therefore of considerable importance as tangible evidence for the priory's location. The remaining walls indicate the former dimensions of the structure and retain architectural details indicative of its function and period of construction. The foundations of the demolished walls, and evidence of floor surfaces will be preserved beneath Priory House and the adjacent car park. The importance of the barn is enhanced by evidence for an earlier structure known to exist beneath the foundations of the walls, which is of particular importance for the study of the priory's development. The barn is a significant component of the monastic establishment, and provides information concerning the economy of the priory in relation to the development of the town as a principal river port and market. Its survival enhances the historic character of the modern town.


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


The monument includes the remains of a medieval barn, the standing walls of which provide the only visible evidence of the Benedictine priory at Saint Ives. The barn lies in the southern part of the town, to the west of Priory Road, and about 60m to the north of the confluence of the Old River and the River Great Ouse. Place names recorded on maps since the early 18th century, together with occasional discoveries of masonry from the priory buildings, have enabled this area of the town to be identified with the location of the monastic foundation; although, with the exception of the barn, the precise positions of principal buildings remain unknown. The barn (a Grade II Listed Building) is considered to date from the 14th century, and remained largely intact until 1859 when the northern wall was demolished to make way for the construction of Priory House. The foundations of this wall will, however, survive buried beneath the southern edge of the later building and the surrounding car park, and are therefore included in the scheduling. The house itself is not included. The remaining three walls were retained to serve as a property boundary and indicate the former dimensions of the barn, which measured approximately 20m east to west by 10m north to south. The walls are approximately 0.5m thick, and are composed of small close-knit pieces of roughly dressed barnack stone. The western and southern walls retain about 45 courses of rubble and survive to the full height of the eaves c.2.5m). The structure was originally supported by four buttresses along the longer walls, with diagonal corner buttresses and a single support in the centre of each gable end. The buttress on the west wall and that on the south western corner still exist, together with three along the south wall, each constructed using a rubble fill with limestone facing. The bays between the buttresses each contained two simple slit windows, splayed on the inside, which measure c.1.5m in height with an internal width of c.0.5m. Those windows which remain were later infilled with reused rubble and red brick. The west wall, which measures 8.3m in length, has been truncated at the northern end, and a doorway has been inserted where it abuts the south western corner of Priory House. An earlier entrance, near the centre of the west wall is clearly visible from the red brick used to restore the inner face of the wall. The outer face, however, was repaired with reused rubble, and the former entrance is primarily visible through the use of contrasting mortar. Both entrances are thought to have replaced earlier windows. An entrance, some 3.5m in width, in the centre of the southern wall is thought to be in part original, although it has been widened to the west in more recent years with the loss of a buttress. The door jambs consist of dressed limestone (that to the west being reset) similar to that which clads the buttressess. To the north of this entrance, the base of the wall is marked by a chamfered limestone plinth. The south eastern corner has been reconstructed incorporating limestone blocks from the corner buttress, which together with two adjacent windows, was removed in the process. The east wall has been reduced to about 1.6m in height and the centre buttress demolished. However, the lower sections of three blocked windows remain visible, which together with the continuation of the foundation plinth, indicate that the majority of the fabric is original. The barn was examined during excavations in 1948-9, and evidence was found to suggest that the south and west walls were placed on earlier foundations. Contemporary excavations in the garden behind Priory House revealed a considerable depth of disturbance containing pottery from both Romano-British and medieval periods. A small excavation some 10m to the south of the barn in 1982 revealed further evidence of Romano-British occupation including ditches, pits and debris from an adjacent building. These areas however, contained no features of medieval date, and are not included in the scheduling. The priory was founded in the early 11th century as a dependent of Ramsey Abbey. According to tradition, a stone coffin containing the remains of St Ivo (a 5th century Persian bishop) were discovered by a ploughman cultivating abbey lands near Saint Ives (then known as Slepe) in about AD 1000. The ploughman, and later the bailiff received visions of the saint who convinced the latter (somewhat forcefully) to bring the discovery to the attention of Aenoth, the Abbot of Ramsey, who subsequently founded a church at Slepe in about AD 1008. The priory, founded shortly after, in about AD 1017, became a place of pilgrimage, enthusiasm for which was based on reports of miracles surrounding the relics. It has been suggested that the discovery of the burial, perhaps in reality that of a wealthy Romano-British individual, provided a convenient means by which Ramsey abbey established a presence in the town; which in the 11th century was emerging as a major river port and market. Certainly the priory attracted considerable revenues for the abbey, particularly through the regulation of the famous Easter Fair; and by the 12th century it was also supported by income from 12 churches in the surrounding area. The prior had no independent seal, and the office remained that of an obedientiary of Ramsey abbey. The priory was, however, of considerable importance to the abbey. When destroyed by fire in 1207, the priory was rapidly rebuilt and reconsecrated in 1238 by Bishop Grossteste. Several of the priors, of which the names of seven are known, later became abbots of Ramsey. However, in the 15th century the priory, which had always been a fairly modest institution, contained only five monks in addition to the prior; and at the time of the priory's dissolution in 1539 it is possible that only the prior, Robert Huchyns, remained. The following items are not included in the scheduling: the lean-to structure within the south western corner of the barn, the metal fire escape adjacent to the south wall, the surfaces of the car park, and the surfaces of all paths and driveways, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT 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.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Haigh, D, The Religious Houses of Cambridgeshire, (1988), 21-22
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 75
Page, E, The Victoria History of the County of Huntingdonshire, (1926), 389
'St.Ives Priory' in Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society, , Vol. 51, (1958), 35-36
discussion of excavation results, Green, M, St. Ives Priory, (1994)
Green, M, St. Ives Priory, 1994, Unpublished plans
RCHME, The Monuments of Huntingdonshire, (1924)
ref:2/74A, DOE, List of buildings of special architectural or historic interest, Huntingdonshire, (1951)
Title: A Map of the parish of St. Ives Source Date: 1728 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Annotated watercolour and ink

National Grid Reference: TL 31479 71081


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This copy shows the entry on 22-Sep-2018 at 06:01:24.

End of official listing