Denny Abbey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 49394 68429

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to refound Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasteries formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. 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, 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 centre of a wide network including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages.

Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of Saint Augustine. From the twelfth 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.

Denny Abbey is unusual in housing three very different religious orders successively, and is the only known Franciscan nunnery in England to have surviving architectural remains. The documentary evidence for the site is exceptional, and shows Denny Abbey as being the only property in England transferred directly from the Benedictines to the Knights Templars. Apart from the survival of medieval ecclesiastical buildings, dating from the 12th to the late 14th centuries, excavations have demonstrated the high potential for survival of archaeological remains in which waterlogged deposits have provided samples of seeds and beetles important for interpreting the lifestyle of the inhabitants and reconstructing the environmental conditions at the time.


Denny Abbey is a monastic priory complex which was the home of three successive religious orders from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

The main precinct is situated on a raised platform of land containing the remains of two standing medieval buildings, a church and a refectory, both of which are listed Grade I. The rest of the precinct includes the below ground remains of ancillary buildings constructed at various times by the three religious communities. Around Denny can be seen a series of earthworks including a causeway to the south-east, now truncated, but once connecting the religious settlement with the village of Waterbeach. There is a hollow way to the north of the precinct and banks representing field and stock enclosures to the south and west. In the field to the west of the current approach road are two rectangular fishponds.

Historical documentation reveals that the site was established as a dependent priory of Ely cathedral around 1159. The Benedictines began to build a small church of cruciform plan but in 1170 it became the property of the Knights Templars who modified the church considerably and added a further building. Unlike other examples, the Templars did not turn Denny into a normal preceptory. Instead, it became a home for the aged and infirm members of the Order. Following the decline of the Knights Templars, the site was acquired by the Franciscans who established a nunnery from about 1339. Beside the new church of rectangular plan, they built a refectory and domestic claustral buildings to provide segregated accommodation for the nuns and guests and apartments for the Countess of Pembroke, the Order's principal benefactor. The establishment was finally closed down around 1539 following the Dissolution of Monasteries. Eventually, the property was converted to a farm and passed to Pembroke College, Cambridge, who placed it in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1947. Excavations undertaken at the west end of the Templar church in 1971 revealed remains of a 13th century garderobe or privy, while others conducted between 1984 and 1985 in the refectory uncovered the internal arrangements of the nuns' dining hall.

Today, part of the monument is used by a working farm. There are new buildings, barns and a swimming pool in the NW area, and a cottage close to the abbey which is currently occupied. A newly recut open-drain is also located between the main priory complex and the fishponds. All above ground parts of buildings, walls and access roads are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. The swimming pool and modern open-drain are totally excluded from the scheduling.

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
Coad, JG, Denny Abbey, (1989)
Christie, P M, Coad, J G, 'Archaeological Journal' in Excavations at Denny Abbey, , Vol. 137, (1980), 138-279
Taylor, C, 'Archaeological Journal' in The Surrounding Earthworks, , Vol. 137, (1980), 142-44


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

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