Nunnery at Minster Abbey


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1012674

Date first listed: 21-Nov-1994


Ordnance survey map of Nunnery at Minster Abbey
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Kent

District: Swale (District Authority)

Parish: Minster-on-Sea

National Grid Reference: TQ 95623 73010


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

Reasons for Designation

A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women. Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship, accommodation and subsistence. The main elements are the church and domestic buildings arranged around a cloister. This central enclosure may be accompanied by an outer court and gatehouse, the whole bounded by a precinct wall, earthworks or moat. Outside the enclosure, fishponds, mills, field systems, stock enclosures and barns may occur. The earliest English nunneries were founded in the seventh century AD but most of these had fallen out of use by the ninth century. A small number of these were later refounded. The tenth century witnessed the foundation of some new houses but the majority of medieval nunneries were established from the late 11th century onwards. Nunneries were established by most of the major religious orders of the time, including the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans. It is known from documentary sources that at least 153 nunneries existed in England, of which the precise locations of only around 100 sites are known. Few sites have been examined in detail and as a rare and poorly understood medieval monument type all examples exhibiting survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Despite disturbance caused by development, the nunnery at Minster Abbey survives comparatively well. It is a rare example of a pre-Conquest nunnery with royal connections which was later refounded. Excavation has demonstrated the survival of archaeological remains and environmental evidence from both the original Saxon nunnery and the later 12th century complex. This, combined with documentary evidence, can give an insight into the construction, use, destruction, reconstruction and later use of the nunnery as well as an understanding of the way of life peculiar to the inhabitants of both early and later medieval nunneries.


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


The monument includes the Benedictine nunnery of St Mary and St Sexburga situated at the west end of a ridge overlooking the Thames estuary to the north. The ground to the south drops away steeply. The upstanding remains include parts of the abbey church and the gatehouse which date to the 12th century. These are surrounded by the foundations and other buried remains of the rest of the 12th to 16th century monastic complex, all sited within the area of the precinct. In addition to these later medieval remains are the remains of the original Saxon nunnery which are known to survive within the later precinct boundary. The church, Listed Grade A (equivalent to Grade I), is double aisled and includes remains of both the monastic church and the congregational church of the nunnery. To the north are the buried foundations of the rest of the claustral complex while further north and east are the monastic burial grounds. On the south side of the church the High Street follows the line of the medieval terracing which stepped the south side of the hill on which the abbey was situated. The gatehouse to the west of the church, Listed Grade I and excluded from the scheduling, survives practically complete to a height of three storeys and dates to the 13th century. It is built of ragstone and flint and has a castellated parapet of chequerwork stone and flint. On the south side the gateway is divided into a pedestrian entrance on the east and a carriage entrance on the west. On the north side a single arch spans the whole opening. One metre to the north of the gatehouse is a stone-lined well believed to date from the 12th century. A second well is situated c.100m to the north east of the church. Its stone lining is also believed to date from the 12th century. The abbey was founded in 664 by Queen Sexburga, the widow of Ercombert, king of Kent. A large and probably wealthy foundation with 77 nuns, the nunnery had become ruined and deserted by the time of the Conquest. It is likely that it was destroyed by Danes in the ninth century. In 1130 the house was re-edified as a priory by Archbishop William de Corbevil who, as an Augustinian canon, possibly refounded it for that order. However, by 1186 it had returned to Benedictine rule. In 1396 Archbishop William de Courtney ordained that the nuns should be restored to the Augustinian order where it remained until its suppression in 1536. At the time of the nunnery's dissolution an inventory was taken and from this it is known that the nunnery included the church, a Lady Chapel, a dorter, 15 various chambers, a frater, a bathroom, two floors of kitchen, five chambers within the gatehouse, a porter's lodge, a cheese house, a bake house, a brew house, a bolting house, a milk house, a granary and a belfry. Evidence from excavations during 1991-1992 in the area to the north east of the church indicates occupation of the area between c.AD 650 and c.AD 850 with a break until c.1150. To the north of the church traces of foundations and burials were uncovered in the late 1980s. Other remains uncovered over the years during construction work in the area include the remains of a probable iron bloomery, a metalled surface, possibly of a courtyard, as well as a number of other burials. Excluded from the scheduling are the Grade A Listed church building, the Grade I Listed gatehouse, all modern buildings, garages, sheds, paving, tarmac drive and road surfaces, rubbish bins, street lights, modern walling, railings, toilet, signposts, gates, fences, and fence posts, 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: 23026

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Walcot, M E C, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Inventory of the Benedictine Priory of SS. Mary and Sexburga, , Vol. 7, (1868), 287-306
Jacobi, M, (1992)
McPherson, Grant N, (1992)
Ordnance Survey, TQ 97 SE 1, (1963)
Philp, B, (1992)
Slade, B, (1992)

End of official listing