Pinley priory: a Cistercian nunnery and post-Dissolution garden


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


Ordnance survey map of Pinley priory: a Cistercian nunnery and post-Dissolution garden
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Warwick (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 21378 65773

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.

The remains of Pinley priory, together with those of the post-Dissolution garden, survive well as earthworks and buried deposits which have been undisturbed by excavation. The central core of the site will retain important buried structural and artefactual evidence for the conventual buildings which existed here, providing information on the secular activities of a Cistercian nunnery as well as information regarding date and layout of the church and cloister. Extensive earthwork remains within the outer precinct, exemplified by the building platforms and the watermill site in the western part of the monastic complex here, are rare survivals and will provide a valuable insight into the agricultural and industrial activities at the site. The remains of the post-Dissolution gardens at Pinley priory have been relatively unaffected by later activity and are of interest in their own right, illustrating the formal style of garden layout which was typical of the 16th and 17th centuries. The linear pond will retain waterlogged deposits suggesting a high level of survival for organic remains which will allow an insight into the post-medieval economy and diet.


The monument includes the ruins, earthworks and buried remains of the Cistercian nunnery of Pinley which was founded in the early 12th century and dissolved in 1536. The monument also includes a number of earthwork features associated with the ornamental garden belonging to the post-Dissolution house and sample areas of ridge and furrow cultivation. The conventual precinct originally occupied a roughly rectangular area measuring approximately 200m by 160m and is now partly occupied by the buildings of Pinley Abbey Farm. The precinct boundary can be traced as earthworks along much of its length. It is represented by a linear earthwork to the south west, and on the south eastern and north eastern sides by a waterfilled linear pond. This pond is thought to be of post-Dissolution date, but is believed to be sited along the original line of the precinct boundary in this part of the site. At its north eastern corner the pond partly overlies the earthwork remains of an infilled ditch and a parallel low bank which are thought to be the remains of the eastern corner of the precinct boundary. Here, the precinct boundary turns westwards and continues adjacent to a modern field boundary, as far as the farm track which leads to Pinley Abbey Farm. This farm track is thought to mark the original approach route to the nunnery.

On the western side of the farm track, the precinct boundary is represented by a former field boundary. The ground falls away to the north and west of this boundary and a several masonry blocks are visible in the ground surface. A stone wall is, therefore, thought to have originally defined the precinct boundary in this part of the site. Near the centre of the precinct is a slightly raised area on which the present dwelling and outbuildings stand. Finds of sculptural and architectural fragments, including grave covers and ornamental bosses, indicate that this area is the site of the priory church and other conventual buildings. Adjoining the south east angle of Pinley Abbey Farmhouse is a 6m length of walling which is thought to represent the remains of a monastic building. It is built of coursed ashlar and retains a 15th century doorway with moulded jambs and a four-centred arch in its fabric. The walling has been incorporated within Pinley Abbey Farmhouse, a Grade II* Listed Building, which dates from the mid 15th century with later alterations. It is in use as a dwelling and, together with the adjoining length of monastic masonry, is not included in the scheduling. A second fragment of in situ monastic walling survives to the east of the farmhouse and now forms a western extension to the north wall of a workshop and storage building. The 3m section of original walling is built of coursed squared stone and has a double chamfered string-course and is included in the scheduling. A large quantity of ex situ medieval stone has also been used in the construction of this workshop building. This building is Listed Grade II* and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground below is included. To the north west of the farmhouse is a cottage, probably once the priory guest house. It dates from the 14th century but has been altered in subsequent centuries. This building, which is Listed Grade II*, is excluded from the scheduling, but the ground below it is included. To the north east of the workshop, part of the nunnery site is intensively occupied by the agricultural buildings and stable blocks of Pinley Abbey Farm. These structures are considered to have modified the archaeological remains here and this area is, therefore, not included in the scheduling. In the southern part of the precinct are a pair of fishponds. The ponds are now dry; the larger of the two is 26m long and relatively shallow. They are interconnected and drain into the linear pond to the north east via an outlet channel. Approximately 85m north west of the fishponds is the site of a watermill which probably had its origins in the nunnery complex. It survives as a levelled platform, where the mill building was situated, with a large hollow to the east; the former mill pond. There is no surface evidence for the mill building but it will survive as buried features. The steep-sided mill leat is visible to the west of the platform and originally provided the water supply to power the mill wheel. A 40m length of the mill leat is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the relationship between the leat and the watermill site. Further platforms are visible to the north and north east of the mill site. They have been constructed on a south east facing slope and are thought to mark the site of agricultural buildings which were situated within the western part of the outer precinct of the nunnery. Beyond the south eastern precinct boundary are extensive earthwork remains of ridge and furrow cultivation. These earthworks provide evidence for the land use of the area surrounding the nunnery and a 12m wide sample area of ridge and furrow is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the stratigraphic relationship between the ridge and furrow and the precinct boundary. Ridge and furrow cultivation is also visible beyond the south western and north eastern precinct boundaries. Here the ridge and furrow clearly respects the nunnery precinct and 12m wide sample areas of these earthworks are included in the scheduling in order to protect their stratigraphic relationship with the precinct boundaries. The linear pond to the south east, south west and north east of the central core of the nunnery is thought to represent the remains of an ornamental feature associated with the post-Dissolution occupation of the site. The north eastern arm of the ornamental pond is visible as a dry ditch, while its southern end and the south eastern arm remain waterfilled. The south western arm is now used as a farm track. A linear platform runs parallel to the south eastern arm of the pond. It is raised c.1.5m above the surrounding ground level and has a level surface. It is thought to represent a terraced walk from which the post-Dissolution house and its gardens could be viewed. These later features provide an insight into the continued use of the site after the nunnery was dissolved and are included in the scheduling. The central part of the nunnery is intensively occupied by the agricultural buildings and stables of Pinley Abbey Farm. These structures are considered to have modified the archaeological remains here and this area is not included in the scheduling. The house and the outbuildings of Pinley Abbey Farm, and the converted barn situated in the western part of the site are excluded from the scheduling although the ground below is included. The surfaces of all paths and driveways, all fence posts, the garden furniture and modern walling are also excluded 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire , (1908), 82
Tibbets, E, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire: Pinley, (1945), 148
Stocker, D.A., (1993)
Warwickshire SMR 5434,


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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