St Martin's Benedictine Priory, Richmond


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


Ordnance survey map of St Martin's Benedictine Priory, Richmond
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Richmondshire (District Authority)
St. Martin's
National Grid Reference:
NZ 17757 00735

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. Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The remains of St Martin's Priory survive well as standing remains and as buried deposits which have been undisturbed by excavation. The monument is at the edge of Richmond, a thriving town in the medieval period which also had several other monastic houses. Thus the monument is important for the study of both the development of minor monastic houses and their wider setting.


The monument is situated at the head of a river terrace, with a slope to the east and north, south of the River Swale and to the east of Richmond. The monument includes both standing masonry and buried remains of the priory. Although the full extent of the monastic complex is not fully understood, significant standing remains are preserved and indicate that the site followed the traditional layout of monastic houses, with an east to west orientated church forming the north range of a four-sided complex known as the cloister, the remaining sides containing accommodation, as well as buildings for domestic and administrative functions. The church is preserved as a small rectangular building at the north east of the standing structures. The west gable and west sections of the south and north walls stand to first story, whilst the east wall has been destroyed. The west gable has a 12th century segmental-arched doorway with a large late 15th century window inserted above. There is the east end of a small building standing 20m to the south, on the same aligment as the east end of the church and which formed the south east corner of the claustral range. Fifty metres to the west is a small tower gatehouse, standing to its full height, which still retains much original fabric. The tower dates to the 15th century although the crenellations are a 19th century addition. Connecting these three structures are a number of medieval walls, which reflect the medieval claustral layout. At the south east of the site are two building platforms, which represent the remains of ancillary structures. The remainder of the area retains further remains of the priory buildings, although these survive only as buried features.

The priory was founded in 1100 when land and a small chapel, already dedicated to St Martin, was given to the great Benedictine house at York, St Mary's Abbey. A cell was established on the site under a prior, with a complement of nine or ten monks. The cell also held the manors of Kikby Stephen, Evesham and Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland and further manors in Cumberland. However, St Martin's gradually declined and, as numbers grew fewer in later years, the church was shortened. At the dissolution the priory was valued at 47 pounds 16 shillings, after which it passed through several hands and was quarried extensively. The remains of St Martin's Priory are Listed Grade I.

Modern fences crossing the site and the surface of the farmyard are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Hatcher, J, Richmondshire Architecture, (1990), P223


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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