Premonstratensian monastery and associated fishponds at West Langdon
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1012966
Date first listed: 12-Nov-1962
Date of most recent amendment: 20-Jul-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Dover (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TR 32600 46977
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. The
Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense
but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first
Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but
later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian
order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and
founded all its monasteries in rural locations.
The abbey with its associated fishponds at West Langdon is a comparatively well documented example of a Premonstratensian monastery with historical records dating from its construction at the end of the 12th century through to its dissolution in the 16th century and beyond. Although they have been incorporated into a later house and its grounds, the standing architectural fragments and earthworks reflect not only the religious aspects of monastic life but also domestic and agricultural elements. Partial excavation has confirmed the presence of below ground archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the monument and the landscape in which it was constructed. Around 2.75km to the east is the now ruined church of St Nicholas, parish church of St Margaret's at Cliff, which originally belonged to Langdon Abbey and was served by its canons. The close association of these monuments provides evidence for the involvement of the monastery in the life and institutions of the surrounding community. The parish church is the subject of a separate scheduling.
The monument includes a Premonstratensian monastery, known as West Langdon
Abbey, and two associated fishponds situated on gently undulating chalk
downland c.4km north east of Dover. The abbey buildings survive partly as
ruins incorporated within a later house, Listed Grade II*, and also within the
Grade II Listed, north eastern wall of a 19th century agricultural barn.
Elsewhere, the abbey survives in buried form and as earthworks.
The abbey was founded between 1189-1192 by Sir William de Auberville of
Westhanger for the use of white canons from Leiston in Suffolk. The church was
dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint Thomas of Canterbury. In 1535 the abbey was
suppressed with the lesser religious houses, at which time it is recorded as
accommodating an abbot and ten canons. After being granted initially to the
Archbishop of Canterbury, the abbey soon passed into secular ownership. A red
brick manor house was built on the site of the ruins for the new owner, Samuel
Thornhill in the 1590's, and his descendants lived in the house, gradually
extending and altering it, until 1700, when it was sold to the Waldershare
The abbey was partially excavated in 1882 when the flint footings of many of
the monastic buildings were discovered within an area of levelled ground now
occupied by the later manor house and garden. In common with most religious
houses, the main buildings range around a square, inner courtyard, or cloister
yard, which contained a central, open area, or garth, surrounded by a covered
walkway. To the north is the roughly east-west aligned abbey church,
originally constructed as a simple rectangular building c.43m by 9m, to which
flanking aisles were added at a later date. Running along the eastern side of
the cloister is an originally two-storeyed building containing the chapter
house, slype and calefactory, or warming room, at ground level, and the
dormitory on the first floor. The frater, or refectory, fronts the southern
side of the cloister yard. The later manor house adjoins the western side of
the cloister, and the standing remains of an earlier, medieval undercroft, or
below ground room used for the storage of provisions, have been incorporated
within its cellars. These can be dated by their Late Transitional/Early
English architectural style to the 12th century, and include a barrel vaulted
ceiling in finely-gauged chalk, several stone springers for groined vaulting,
and round-headed doorways with ashlar dressings.
To the south east of the inner cloister yard is a subsidiary cloister which
incorporates the infirmary in its north western corner. Boundary walls and the
remains of other structures were found to continue to the east, north and
south of the identified conventual buildings. Further buried features,
representing associated agricultural and industrial buildings, will also
survive in these areas. A disused, roughly circular pond c.20m in diameter and
2m deep, dug into the north eastern corner of the modern garden, is
interpreted as a later feature, post-dating the earlier abbey remains.
Around 100m to the west of the main complex is a length of stone and flint
boundary wall, dating to the medieval period, which has been incorporated
within the rear wall of a later, 19th century barn. The north west-south
east aligned wall survives to a height of up 1.8m in places, and runs along
the north eastern side of the modern access road to the manor house for a
length of around 50m. The wall has been interpreted as forming part of the
south west boundary of the abbey precinct.
Lying to the south west of the main complex are the earthwork remains of two,
adjacent, now dry, medieval fishponds. These are clearly visible on aerial
photographs as roughly oval ponds, formerly fed in series from a natural
source, although clear traces of the water management system which regulated
them are no longer visible. Along the north eastern side of the northerly pond
are the lower courses of an originally higher, stone-built revetment. A later,
small brick building, dating to the late 19th/early 20th century and now
ruined, covers a disused well situated on the south eastern side of the
The Listed Grade II* manor house, including the 12th century portions of its
cellars, all modern outbuildings, sheds, barns, except for the Grade II Listed
barn wall, all stores, modern garden structures and ornaments, all modern
walls and fences, and the surfaces of all modern roads, tracks and paths are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is
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: 25498
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
'Archaeologia Cantiana' in Archaeologia Cantiana - Untitled, , Vol. 76, (1961), lvii
Hope St John, W H, 'Archaeologia Cantiana' in On the Premonstratensian Abbey...at West Langdon, Kent, , Vol. 15, (1883), 59-67
Frames 52-57, CRW, National Monuments Record TR 32 47/1 NMR 907, (1976)
Listing Description TR 34 NW 2/31,
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