Early medieval urban burh remains E of St Stephen's parish church, including remains of the early medieval Christian enclosure and monastery


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013339

Date first listed: 26-Apr-1991


Ordnance survey map of Early medieval urban burh remains E of St Stephen's parish church, including remains of the early medieval Christian enclosure and monastery
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Launceston

National Grid Reference: SX 32547 85719


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

The early post-Roman church in Celtic and Saxon Britain was organised around either diocesan centres, normally ruled by bishops located in urban seats, or monasteries. The former system had its origins in Britain in ecclesiastical organisation established during the Roman period. The latter were largely a post-Roman introduction influenced by developments in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Monasteries comprised enclosed religious communities led by an abbot (for male foundations) or an abbess (for female foundations) in which the inhabitants were obedient to a set of rules. The main feature of the monastic buildings was the church, to which were attached a range of domestic and other buildings in which the inhabitants lived and worked. Burial grounds and garden areas were also included. Normally these were surrounded by some form of boundary. No standard plan for the development of buildings existed at this time, rather each site evolved to meet its particular needs. The outward manifestations of monastic life included deliberate missionary work and education. With the growing acceptance of Christianity monasteries became popular institutions and many members of leading secular families joined them. Because of increasing grants of wealth in the form of goods and lands given to them out of pious respect for the new religion, many monasteries developed into wealthy and powerful institutions, as a result of which they frequently came to dominate local life. The requirements of managing their resources often led their inhabitants to become involved in local trade and exchange, and this frequently led to their development as foci for such activity. Early monasteries are normally identified on the evidence of documentary sources and, where the evidence is available, surviving archaeological remains. The numbers of such early monasteries is not accurately known, but they are relatively rare nationally and all of those where remains survive and which can be linked to a specific site, as at St Stephen's, are considered to be of national importance. Additionally, the monument includes the last open and largely undeveloped area within the early medieval town of St Stephen's. This town is historically well-documented, indeed it was the earliest recorded town in Cornwall and the only one to have held a mint.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument comprises the only remaining open space not developed or regularly disturbed within the boundaries of the enclosure for the early medieval town of St Stephen's. Documentary sources confirm that it has been open space since at least the early 18th century. It contains undisturbed sub-surface foundations and deposits of the early medieval borough and monastic site. The monument is situated on the crest of a spur on the north side of the River Kensey valley. Archaeological remains are visible as low earthworks, but more extensive buried deposits have been identified through geophysical survey, including features interpreted as stone structures and ditches. The remains of stone building foundations were also discovered immediately west of the monument during construction of the Church Hall in 1909. The site of the town's Saxon mint has been traditionally located within the monument, but recent research has identified the archaeological remains as belonging to the early medieval monastery which played a central role in the foundation and development of the town of St Stephen's. A section of the town's defensive enclosure crosses the S edge of the area. The present church is thought to be on the site of the early medieval church. Place-name and documentary evidence provide the historical context for the structures and deposits in the area. The original name 'Lanstefan' denotes an origin as an early medieval Christian enclosed site. This grew to comprise a monastery which, in common with several other Celtic monastic sites in western Britain, became the focus for the development of an associated trading area. By the 10th century, St Stephen's combined the monastery with a town containing the only Cornish mint and, by implication, borough status. Its growth also reflects the town's location close to the main land route into Cornwall where it crosses the River Tamar. By the 11th century the town had a market but, while remaining a borough, the market was removed in 1086 by the Count of Mortain to his castle at Dunheved on the opposite side of the Kensey valley. In the mid 12th century, the monastery was re-founded on a new site in the valley floor at Newport and records of coinage from the mint cease. The old monastic church was rebuilt and re-dedicated in the mid 13th century to serve the parish of St Stephen's. The town appears to have continued to survive as a borough and had a recorded 420 taxpayers in 1377, although by this time its Domesday Book name of 'Lanscavetone' had migrated to the former 'Dunheved', developing into the present 'Launceston'. The surviving pattern of property divisions in St Stephen's and early maps of the town suggest that the later medieval and post-medieval settlement concentrated west of the church, leaving the eastern half as open space, as this area remains today. The modern post-and-wire fence and the septic tank outflow drain are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them 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: 15006

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Balchin, WGV, The Cornish Landscape, (1983)
Padel, O J, Cornish Place-Names, (1988)
'Cornwall Archaeological Unit' in St Stephen by Launceston. A note on the archaeological potential, (1990)
Preston-Jones, A, Rose, P, 'Cornish Archaeology' in Medieval Cornwall, , Vol. 25, (1986)
Gater, J. and Gaffney, C., Report on Geophysical Survey, St Stephen's, 1990, Unpublished geophysical survey report
Rose, P., Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2596, (1990)
Rose, P., Earthwork Survey at St Stephen's, Launceston, 1990, Unpublished survey report

End of official listing