Prior's Hall moated site


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013760

Date first listed: 15-Oct-1979

Date of most recent amendment: 22-Mar-1996


Ordnance survey map of Prior's Hall moated site
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Essex

District: Uttlesford (District Authority)

Parish: Widdington

National Grid Reference: TL 53711 31770

Reasons for Designation

Around 6,000 moated sites are known in England. They consist of wide ditches, often or seasonally water-filled, partly or completely enclosing one or more islands of dry ground on which stood domestic or religious buildings. In some cases the islands were used for horticulture. The majority of moated sites served as prestigious aristocratic and seigneurial residences with the provision of a moat intended as a status symbol rather than a practical military defence. The peak period during which moated sites were built was between about 1250 and 1350 and by far the greatest concentration lies in central and eastern parts of England. However, moated sites were built throughout the medieval period, are widely scattered throughout England and exhibit a high level of diversity in their forms and sizes. They form a significant class of medieval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside. Many examples provide conditions favourable to the survival of organic remains.

Prior's Hall moated site is a well preserved example of a moated site with a complex history and will contain buried deposits both on the island and the infilled moat arms relating to its occupation and development. The site, unusually, contains upstanding structures relating to all its main phases of occupation. In particular Prior's Hall itself, though excluded from the scheduling, represents a rare example of the upstanding church of a pre- Conquest manor. The barn is a particularly well preserved and complete example of this type of building and contains much information on the techniques of medieval carpentry. The surviving upstanding structures on the site serve to illustrate the site's changing use and ownership, known from historical documentary sources, and allow a study to be made of the core of an important agricultural estate as it has developed from the medieval period until the present day. In addition the waterlogged moat ditches will retain environmental evidence relating to the economy of its inhabitants at various times in the site's history and the landscape in which they lived.


The monument includes a moated site containing the remains of a pre-Conquest manor, a medieval grange and later farm buildings, including a 14th century barn, situated on high ground overlooking the River Cam, 190m west of St Mary's Church. The moated site has overall dimensions of 100m east-west by 85m north-south. The moat arms form a rectangle and are mostly infilled, surviving as buried features. They remain visible as earthworks, however, in three discrete ponds, to the north, north east and south east. The original layout of the moat is known from a map of 1767 which clearly shows the position of the southern and western moat arms which have been infilled subsequently. The north arm of the moat, which was originally 93m in length with an average width of 10m, is visible today as two water filled ponds at either end with an infilled section in the middle. The eastern moat arm is water filled at its north end and is visible as a dry depression to the south, though it has been infilled in between. It has a maximum length of 66m and an average width of c.12m. The southern moat arm is represented by a dry depression to the east and is water filled to the west, the arm has an overall length of 100m. The western moat arm is water filled at its northern end and has been infilled to the south. It has a maximum length of c.60m and an average width of c.10m. Slightly to the south east of the centre of the moated island are the standing remains of a pre-Conquest manorial church now called Prior's Hall, built of stone in the 10th or 11th century. It was altered in the 16th and 18th century and has now been converted to form part of a house (Listed Grade II*). It is excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath it is included. Part excavation to the east of the house has shown that the building once extended considerably further to the east. Prior's Hall was known as Stone Hall at one time no doubt because of this early stone building. The manorial church forms only a part of what would have been a much larger manorial complex which will survive as buried features. The manorial complex was incorporated into a medieval grange when the site and its lands were transferred to the prior of St Valery-sur-Somme in Picardy, France, after the Norman Conquest. The property was confiscated by Edward III in 1377 and given to the Bishop of Winchester, William of Wykeham, the founder of New College Oxford. The site passed to New College in 1379 at which time it was reorganised. Detailed records kept by New College show that it was still the centre of an important agricultural estate. Dating either from the time of the grange or the college farm and situated towards the north west corner of the island, is a later 14th century timber framed barn (Listed Grade I) in the care of the Secretary of State. The barn is preserved as a displayed monument and is included in the scheduling. It is an excellent example from a group of medieval barns in north west Essex. The barn is eight bays long with aisles and stands on a flint and mortar foundation which has been replaced by brick in many places. The sides are weather-boarded though they were originally of wattle and daub and then of lathe and plaster, some of which still survives in the two most easterly bays on the north side. The roof is hipped, supported by crown posts and is tiled. The barn measures 38m in length by 11m wide and 11m high and is entered by two porches on the south side. Along the sides are a series of windows, one in each bay, mainly concerned with ventilation. Adjacent to the two porches are doors which gave access to the barn when the larger porch doors were not required to be open. At the east end, the final bay was subsequently raised, using brick and pine boards, to produce a granary floor. A later door was inserted to give access to it on the south side. Also dating from the time of the barn is a 15th century building immediately south of Prior's Hall. The building is timber framed and was originally a brew house (Listed Grade II*). It is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included. The south western part of the island is also occupied by some large modern barns, modern agricultural installations and a swimming pool. The house, swimming pool, outbuildings, fences and paths are all excluded from the scheduling though the ground beneath them all, except the swimming pool, 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: 20715

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (1954), 425
Pewsey, S, Brooks, A, East Saxon Heritage: An Essex Gazatteer, (1993), 91-92
Sherlock, D, Prior's Hall Barn, (1991)
Sherlock, D, Prior's Hall Barn, (1993)
Sherlock, D, Prior's Hall Barn, (1991)
Gaimster, D R A, Margeson, S, Barry, T, 'Medieval Archaeology' in Medieval Britain In 1988, , Vol. Vol 33, (1989)
NAR No TL 53 SW 10, Information from NAR,
PRN 199, Essex County Council, Information from SMR,
PRN 199, Essex County Council, Information from SMR,
PRN 199, Information from SMR,

End of official listing