Leicester abbey and 17th century mansion and ornamental gardens


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Leicester abbey and 17th century mansion and ornamental gardens
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1012149 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 18-Sep-2019 at 20:40:57.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

City of Leicester (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:

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. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Leicester abbey retains extensive standing and buried remains of one of the richest and most important Augustinian monasteries in the country. The site has detailed documentary evidence for both the monastic and post-Dissolution periods and these provide a valuable insight into the economy of the monastery and of the mansion which superseded it. The precinct wall is an important feature which rarely survives intact at monastic sites. Partial excavation has indicated that the remains of buildings and archaeological deposits associated with the occupation of the abbey survive undisturbed beneath the ground surface. The post-Dissolution house and the walls of its associated gardens also survive well and provide a valuable example of the conversion of a major monastic site for secular use following its Dissolution.


The monument is situated on the west bank of the River Soar, approximately 1km north of the medieval town of Leicester, and includes the standing and buried remains of an Augustinian abbey and its associated home farm and those of a 17th century mansion and ornamental gardens. The abbey ruins are Listed Grade I. The abbey was founded in 1143 by Robert le Bossu, Earl of Leicester, and was endowed with large areas of land and many parish churches both in Leicestershire and further afield. Documentary evidence indicates that it became one of the richest and most important Augustinian houses in England. Leicester abbey was surrendered to the Crown in 1538, at which time a survey of the monastery was drawn up. After the Dissolution a mansion was built at the site, occupied first by the Hastings family and then by the Cavendish family. By 1928 the 17th century house was in ruins and the land was given to the City of Leicester by Lord Dysart. A precinct wall of stone and brick defines the abbey site and encloses an area of approximately 13ha. The entrance to the abbey was near the centre of the northern wall and remains of masonry structures survive against the wall in this vicinity. The construction of the precinct wall is attributed to two of the monastery's abbots, Abbot Clowne (1345-78) and Abbot Penny (1496-1505), and it is now known as Abbot Penny's Wall. The wall, which is Listed Grade I, is approximately 5m high and is included in the scheduling. It is visible along much of its length except for several gaps along the eastern side and one in the south eastern side, which has been partly rebuilt using modern brick. This latter section of the wall is excluded from the scheduling although the ground below is included. In the north eastern part of the site, approximately 25m of the wall has been rebuilt on a different alignment in order to accommodate a modern gate and this section is also excluded from the scheduling; the foundations of the medieval boundary wall will survive, however, as buried features and are included. The precinct wall is built mostly of stone but red brick has been used for the south western and southern sections. Here, patterns, including Abbot Penny's initials (JP), elaborate crosses, a chalice, the sacred monogram (IHC) and more abstract designs have been picked out in darker brick. The remains of a statue niche, set into the wall, can be seen at the south western corner of the site. The eastern precinct wall retains a number of monastic and post-monastic features within its fabric, including an arch for a drain, loop windows and two garderobes which are set within a tower. The abbey church and claustral buildings were situated in the north eastern part of the precinct. Since the 18th century there have been a number of excavations at the site and the foundations of the main monastic buildings are visible on the ground surface, providing evidence for their layout. The abbey church, which is over 100m long, has a cruciform plan with a tower at its western end. Cardinal Wolsey, who died at Leicester abbey in 1530, was interred within the church. The traditional site of his tomb is within the Lady Chapel to the north of the chancel, marked by a modern cenotaph which is not included in the scheduling, although the ground below it is included. The cloister, which measures approximately 30m internally, is situated to the south of the monastic church. It has buildings along its western, southern and eastern sides, namely the frater to the south, and the chapter house and library with the dorter above to the east. To the south of the southern claustral range is a further courtyard bounded by chambers, kitchens and offices. No foundations are exposed beyond these buildings; however, an excavation has uncovered evidence for buildings extending at least a further 100m to the west, one of which has been identified as the infirmary. The abbey home farm was situated in the north western part of the precinct and continued as a farm into the post-medieval period. Modern buildings now occupy this area but archaeological deposits asssociated with the monastic farm are thought to survive as buried features and will provide valuable evidence for the agricultural activities of the monastery. The southern part of the precinct is known to have been occupied by fishponds and an orchard. This area has been landscaped but the buried remains of the ponds will survive beneath the ground surface. The northern part of the monastic precinct is partly occupied by the ruins of a post-Dissolution house, known as Cavendish House, which is Listed Grade I, it incorporates medieval masonry within its fabric. These ruins are located approximately 60m to the south of the north precinct wall and are approached along a driveway which is bounded on either side by a wall. The ruins include the north wall of the house which is built of stone and retains a number of architectural features within its fabric including, mullioned window openings and a square-headed doorway, above which is an arched opening. The north western part of Cavendish House is overlain by a 19th century house known as Abbey House. Abbey House is not included in the scheduling although the ground beneath is included. South and south west of Abbey House are three ruined walls, all containing 17th century windows and door embrasures. These walls are partly free-standing and partly built into modern outbuildings. They form part of the standing remains of Cavendish House and are included in the scheduling. During the Civil War Cavendish House was used by Charles I as the Royalist headquarters prior to the Battle of Naseby, but following his defeat the retreating army looted and fired the house. Formal gardens associated with the house were laid out during the 17th century and are known from early maps. A stone wall which formed part of these gardens is visible running westwards for 50m from the central part of the eastern precinct wall. At its western end, the wall turns north for approximately 6m. The wall provides important evidence for the layout of these formal gardens and is included in the scheduling. The dwelling known as Abbey House and the park maintenance buildings in the northern part of the site, the modern cenotaph commemorating Cardinal Wolsey, the toilet buildings, the pavilion; and Wolsey's statue and the refreshment building in the eastern part of the site are all excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. All garden furniture, the concrete-lined pool, the animal pens, sand pits, and the surfaces of all paths, tennis courts and driveways are also excluded, however 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Hartley, R F, The Medieval Earthworks of Central Leicestershire, (1989), 48
Liddle, P, A Guide to Twnty Archaeological Sites, (1983), 20-1
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, (1984), 249-50
Thompson, A H, The Abbey of St. Mary of the Meadows, Leicester, (1949)


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

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].