Woodspring Priory and associated fishponds and field system


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


Ordnance survey map of Woodspring Priory and associated fishponds and field system
© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2020. 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 - 1012722.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 29-Feb-2020 at 13:39:59.


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

North Somerset (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
ST 34292 66105

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.

Woodspring Priory survives particularly well with the presence of near complete upstanding buildings being an unusual and striking feature. Previous partial excavation has confirmed the survival of archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed. The situation of the monument also provides conditions suitable for the preservation of waterlogged deposits. The site is one of only six permanent residences of the Augustine order established in the area of the River Severn and as such it will have played a major role in local society and economy during the medieval period.


The monument includes Woodspring Priory and its associated fishponds and field system, all situated on level ground to the north of Sand Rhyne and overlooked by a ridge to the north, in the area of the Somerset Levels. The monument is named after the spring which occurs in the north eastern part of the site and was originally known as Worspring. The monument survives in the form of buried remains, visible earthworks and upstanding masonry structures which are Listed Grade I. The monument was founded by Augustinian canons soon after 1230 following the abandonment of an earlier site known as Dodlinch, probably in south Somerset. The site developed from a chapel dedicated to St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury. Its founder, William de Courtenay, was the grandson of one of the assassins of Thomas Becket. This incident appears to have been an important theme at Woodspring, as the scene of the assassination was depicted in the seal of the site. William de Courtenay also provided the Manors at Woodspring, Worle and Locking in order to generate an income for the site; however it appears that the priory was not an especially wealthy one. It was finally dissolved in 1536. Partial excavations were conducted at the site in 1883, when the foundations of the chancel were revealed, and also by D Tomalin on behalf of the Landmark Trust in the early 1970s. The priory developed gradually over 300 years, culminating in significant changes in the 15th century, including the addition of a new Perpendicular style church, infirmary and tithe barn. The site was arranged around a central cloister; this was square in plan with dimensions of 30m by 25m. The priory church was situated to the north of the cloister and the dormitory blocks and associated buildings were arranged around the remaining three sides. The agricultural buildings, which were orientated north west by south east, were separated from the religious structures and were situated to the west. Several of the original medieval buildings survive largely intact. These include a rectangular stone building with dimensions of 15m by 8m situated in the south eastern area of the priory complex. This structure represents the 15th century infirmary and is Listed Grade I. It has a doorway in the eastern corner of the north-facing wall and four ornamental glazed windows. The roof tiles have been replaced, but the internal structure of the roof is intact, although restored. On the north western edge of the site is a 14th century tithe barn, which is Listed Grade I. This has internal dimensions of 40m by 12m and survives virtually intact. The remains of a stone gatehouse are located to the west of the main priory complex; the gate, its mountings and a section of wall running 20m to the south are all Listed Grade I. Some elements of the original priory church also survive as upstanding remains; these include an eastern tower, the nave and north aisle. The tower is 19.5m high and has an octagonal stair turret on the south western corner leading to the ringing chamber. To the east side of the church, the foundations of the early chancel and Lady Chapel are visible as earthworks up to 0.75m high. These features confirm that the 13th century structures were faced with a Triassic stone which was yellowish in colour, whilst in contrast, the 15th century structures were faced with the grey coloured Dundry stone. The survival of elements of the priory church were largely the result of the structure being occupied as a residence following the Dissolution. The chancel was pulled down but the remaining structure was occupied and remodelled including the blocking of large windows and the insertion of floors within the north aisle and chimneys through the roof of the nave. To the east of the priory buildings, within an area of orchard, are a series of linear depressions with average dimensions of 45m by 10m. These represent fishponds. In the north eastern area there is also a large pool which fills with water following heavy rainfall; this may well mark the site of the spring head after which the site is named. Additional fishponds are known on the western side of the monument. These remain visible as sub-oval shaped depressions with maximum dimensions of 50m by 25m and up to 1.5m deep. To the south of these fishponds are a series of linear depressions up to 125m long and 5m wide orientated north-south; some of these are likely to represent drainage channels as they clearly link the fishponds to the north, while others define cultivation plots. Some of these plots exhibit well developed ridge and furrow, produced by medieval ploughing over an extended period. The ridges have an average width of 6m and the furrows are 1m wide. The difference in height between the base of the furrow and the top of the ridges is c.0.5m. Further cultivation and drainage earthworks are visible on the northern side of the river. These survive as linear features with a maximum height of c.0.5m. A number of features within the area are excluded from the scheduling; these include: the 17th century farmhouse which is Listed Grade II* and situated to the west of the priory church, the nave and tower of the church which is Listed at Grade I, all modern cottages and modern farm buildings, the water trough, the metalled surfaces and all fence posts and gates relating to field boundaries; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included. The scheduling includes the following Grade I Listed structures: the infirmary building, the tithe barn, the gatehouse including gates, mountings and the associated wall running for 20m to the south, the chapter house wall and the eastern cloister wall.

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
Gould, P R, Woodspring Priory, (1974)
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 13
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 15
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 6
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 16
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 14
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 14
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 10
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 13
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 22
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 11
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 9-10
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 21
Tomalin, D J , Woodspring Priory, (1974), 14
Dissolution date of site,
Foundation date of site,
View of ridge and furrow,
View of site,


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].