Easby Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: monastic precinct, cultivation terraces, water-management features and ancillary buildings


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013759

Date first listed: 08-Feb-1915

Date of most recent amendment: 28-Mar-1996


Ordnance survey map of Easby Abbey Premonstratensian monastery: monastic precinct, cultivation terraces, water-management features and ancillary buildings
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: Easby

County: North Yorkshire

District: Richmondshire (District Authority)

Parish: St. Martin's

National Grid Reference: NZ 18583 00213


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

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.

Easby Abbey retains considerable well-preserved ruins of its core monastic buildings and also the remains of ancillary features including a barn, water- management works and a mill. Easby was among the first Premonstratensian houses to be established in England and, in view of its good survival, it is important for any study of the development of this order in England.


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


The Premonstratensian Abbey of St Agatha at Easby is situated on the east bank of the River Swale south east of Richmond. The monument comprises the standing remains and inner precinct of the monastery and a number of associated features including the gatehouse, the remains of cultivation terraces, a mill-race and drain, and the ruins of a monastic barn. The Parish Church of St Agatha and its attached churchyard, both of which are adjacent to the abbey and in current ecclesiastical use, are totally excluded from this scheduling. The situation of Easby Abbey, sandwiched between the River Swale and the steeply rising slope to the east, led to a number of irregularities in the layout of the cloister ranges. It was usual for the monks' dorter (dormitory) to occupy the first floor of the east range, providing easy access both to the reredorter (latrine) and the quire of the abbey church, that is, the stalls between the east end and the nave where the monks sang the offices. However, the position of the former was usually dictated by the availability of natural or canalised running water and, at Easby, this led to the dorter, guesthouse and reredorter being incorporated into the west range in order to take full advantage of the river's proximity. A channel was taken off the river north of the cloister buildings and ran north-south, acting both as a mill-race for the abbey mill and as a drain, flushing the reredorter and surviving underground as a flagged and canalised `tunnel' 1.5m high. This drain curves back to rejoin the river through the gardens of properties on Easby Green. One of these, Abbey House, incorporates a monastic barn or granary. The barn has six single light windows in the west wall at ground level and two at first floor level. An arched doorway survives in the east wall but another in the west wall is now blocked. The relative narrowness of the abbey site also dictated that the infirmary buildings, instead of being built to the south east of the cloister as was usual, were placed to the north and are unique in that they were approached through the abbey church. The south east area was already occupied in any case by the existing parish church. The abbey church, which formed the north cloister range, was begun in the late 12th century and the quire, nave and parts of the transepts date to that time. It was built almost exactly on an east-west axis and, ordinarily, the west, south and east ranges would have formed a regular quadrangle to the south. At Easby, however, the shape and orientation of the cloister was decided by the position of the west range. This was built at an acute angle to the church, parallel with the steep bank above the river. The south and east ranges were subsequently also built at an angle, resulting in an irregularly shaped enclosure. In other respects, however, they adhered to the traditional layout of sacristy (where sacred vessels were kept), chapterhouse and parlour in the east range and kitchen and frater (refectory) in the south range. Of the standing remains, the earliest are those of the late 12th century abbey church. This, however, excludes the presbytery and later sacristy which, like the surviving west range and parts of the infirmary, is early 14th century. The buildings of the south and east ranges are early 13th century and the infirmary is largely of a similar date. In c.1300, lodgings for the abbot were added west of the infirmary, in part above a room which has been identified as a misericord, a room where the monks might eat flesh. To the south east of the cloister buildings, opposite the parish church, is the rib-vaulted gatehouse which is entire and was rebuilt in the first half of the 14th century. Around the cloister buildings lay the open court or curia which formed the outer area of the precinct and would have contained a wide range of ancillary buildings such as barns, a bakehouse and a brewhouse. Foundations west of the infirmary range are believed to represent some of these features and further building remains are likely to survive elsewhere in the precinct. Included in these is the site of the medieval abbey mill, lying to the north west and now occupied by the buildings of Easby Abbey Mill. Around the edge of the precinct, on the slope curving round the site from north to east, are earthworks representing the remains of cultivation terraces. Easby Abbey was founded for Premonstratensian canons by Roald, Constable of Richmond Castle in 1155. Premonstratensian houses were exempt from episcopal jurisdiction. Consequently the abbey is rarely mentioned in diocesan records, which usually form the main documentary source for monasteries, and little is known about its internal history save that it suffered, like many northern houses, from Scottish raids and was billeted on in 1346 by the English army, causing great damage. At this time patronage of the abbey was acquired by Sir Henry Scrope whose son, the builder of Bolton Castle, increased its endowments in 1393 to support ten more canons and founded a chantry in the abbey church. The abbey was suppressed under the Act of Dissolution in 1536 and ownership of the site went to the manor of Easby. The site is now in private hands and has been partly in State care since 1930. The abbey ruins and gatehouse are both Grade I Listed while the barn and mill are Grade II listed. The Parish Church of St Agatha is also Grade I Listed while its gateway is Grade II Listed. The parish church and its churchyard, however, are both excluded from the scheduling as they are in current ecclesiastical use. A number of other features are excluded from the scheduling: these are all the buildings of Easby Abbey Mill, including the stables to the north east of the main buildings, the bungalow on Easby Green, and the Grade II Listed Abbey House (with the exception of the ruined section of the monastic barn which does not form part of the inhabited house); also excluded are the surfaces of all roads, paths and the car-park, all modern buildings, including the 19th century building immediately south east of the monastic barn, walling and fencing, all English Heritage fixtures and fittings such as notices, grilles, the ticket booth and exhibition building. Except in the case of the church and churchyard the ground beneath all these features is however included in 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: 13283

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Coppack, G, English Heritage Book of Abbeys and Priories, (1990)
Hamilton Thompson, A, Easby Abbey, (1936)
St. John Hope, W, Easby Abbey, (1899)

End of official listing