St Botolph's Augustinian Priory


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


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Colchester (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 99977 24951

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. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The Augustinian house of St Botolph's, Colchester, survives well both as ruins and buried remains. The upstanding remains, particularly the west end of the church, contain elaborate architectural detail which is unusual on an English building of this date. Limited excavation has shown that the foundations and crypt at the east end of the church survive below ground and, similarly, the claustral buildings are also known to survive well as buried features. As the site is on a slope there will have been a considerable build up of material in the southern area of the precinct. This will mean that many of the structures within the precinct will be well preserved in deep deposits.

It is known that the priory was the first Augustinian foundation in Britain, and one of the most important, and the site is, therefore, important for the study of the introduction and development of the order into England. St Botolph's is one of many medieval structures surviving in Colchester which are important in establishing a picture of how medieval Colchester developed and how its separate institutions related to each other. The proximity of St Botolph's to the town and to other urban monasteries, its continuing use as a parish church and its street front rents illustrate the important role monastic foundations played in the life of a medieval town. St Botolph's is a site accessible to the public and is thus an important educational and amenity resource in the town.


The monument includes the Augustinian Priory of St Botolph situated on a south facing slope south of Priory Street in the centre of Colchester at the southern gateway in the town wall. Founded in c.1100, it was the first Augustinian house to be established in Britain. The site lies on a series of terraces running east-west with the highest to the north. Towards the centre of the site are the ruins of the priory church which are Listed Grade I and in the care of the Secretary of State. Immediately to the south, and terraced below it, are the buried remains of the claustral buildings. The gatehouse was situated to the west providing access to the priory from St Botolph's Street. Terraced above the priory church to the north and west are the remains of the parochial cemetery and, to the east of the church, that of the priory. In plan the monastic church is cruciform, aligned east-west, with the nave separated from the presbytery to the east by the monastic choir. The church is 59m in length and 27m wide at the crossing. The transepts extended either side of the crossing tower and had single chapels to the east, flanking the presbytery. Part excavation of the eastern end of the church has uncovered the foundations of the transepts and presbytery and the complete plan of the church is now laid out in the grass. The upstanding ruins of the church include the west end and the arcades and walls of the nave. The west wall, which survives to a maximum height of 12.5m, contains a central doorway with intricate carving on the capitals of the shafts and is flanked by two additional, smaller, doorways. Above the doorways are two rows of intersecting blind arcading with small windows set within it. In the centre, above the arcading, are the remains of a large circular window flanked by two round arched windows. A partial row of blind arcading survives above this. Antiquarian drawings show that the gable, which was situated above the last line of arcading, now missing, contained further round arched and round windows and was flanked by two turrets. These drawings also show that the west end was originally flanked by two large towers which reached to the same height as the gable apex. Of these towers, the northern tower no longer survives above ground level, however the base of the southern tower is still visible and is lit by two small lights. Much Roman brick and tile were reused in the church's construction as well as imported stone from France. The facade would originally have been rendered in plaster though this has not survived. The western end of the nave arcades survive to the level of the clerestory. Each arcade originally consisted of eight columns, seven of which survive in the northern arcade and four in the southern. The north and south walls of the nave also survive almost to their full length and height. The recent excavation uncovered evidence for a crypt located underneath the crossing. Adjacent to the south of the church are the buried remains of the claustral buildings which are terraced in to the slope and sit lower than the church. Evidence for the southern side of the cloister was uncovered when the present Parish Church of St Botolph, situated 30m south of the priory church, was built in 1838. In the centre of the cloister was an open area (or garth) and a walkway enclosed to the north by the church and to the south, east and west by ranges of claustral buildings. The locations of the buildings within the cloister are known as they would be laid out following a pattern dictated by the procession of the monks around it. The eastern range, running south from the south transept, would have, typically, included the chapter house, the dorter and reredorter. The southern range would have included the refectory and kitchens. The western range would have been used for storage but may have included other domestic buildings such as the brew house. Possibly within the cloister or elsewhere in the precinct would be the abbot's house and, typically to the south east of the cloister, would have been the infirmary. At St Botolph's there is evidence from a historical map that a stream formerly ran east-west approximately on the line of St Botolph's Church Walk. This would have been particularly important in the location of the cloister and the infirmary as they would both have required a good water supply. The area of the cloister garth, between the modern church of St Botolph and the priory ruins, is used as a garden and is the setting for a war memorial. The exact boundary of the precinct is unknown but its extent to the north would have been confined by the ditch outside the town wall. The boundary is therefore considered to lie along Priory Street between the town ditch and the parochial cemetery north of the priory church. Situated on the western side of the precinct are a row of rents, properties built by the priory to house lay brothers or rented out as a source of income. These no longer survive above ground level though the original plots can still be traced in the existing property boundaries of the houses to the east of St Botolph's Street. Building work at one of these houses, number 38, exposed fragments of what are believed to be the remains of the monastic gatehouse. The rents and gatehouse are not included in the scheduling. As the precinct was restricted to the north and the west it would have extended mainly to the south and the east. The southern area of the precinct will contain other buildings related to the economy of the priory. As well as the possible existence of an abbot's house and infirmary, the location of the stream makes it likely that a mill, a common feature of monastic sites, as well as other service and industrial buildings may also survive as buried remains. To the east of the priory church would have been the private cemetery of the canons. Part excavation has shown that graves do survive in this area though the extent of the graveyard is unknown. The priory was founded by a community of priests already resident in Colchester. Part excavation has shown that the priory church was built on the site of an earlier structure possibly an earlier church from where the priests may have already been administering to a local parish. Two of their number, Norman and Bernard, travelled to France to study the Augustinian orders at Beauvais and Chartres. On their return the order was adopted by the community and work began on the priory c.1104. As the order was small and poor the church was not completed until 1177 when documentary evidence suggests the church was dedicated. The priory became quite wealthy and important; both Henry I and Richard I granted it considerable areas of land in Essex. Whereas all other Augustinian foundations were under the control of the local bishop, St Botolph's and Waltham Abbey were exempted. In 1116 Pope Paschal II granted St Botolph's authority over all other Augustinian foundations in England. The site remained in use by Augustinian canons until 1536 when it was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the priory and its lands were granted to Sir Thomas Audley, the Lord Chancellor. The nave of the church remained in use as a parish church while the east end of the church and the claustral buildings were probably dismantled for building stone. The church had fallen out of use by the Civil War when it suffered considerable damage during the siege of Colchester in 1648. Situated to the north and west of the priory church is the parochial cemetery. The cemetery was probably already in use by the time of the priory's foundation and continued in use as the graveyard of the Parish Church of St Botolph after the dissolution of the priory and even after the parish church had been moved to the southern part of the site in 1836-1837. Some higher status 19th century burials, within elaborate monuments, took place in the ruined nave of the priory church. The graveyard still contains gravestones relating to the latest phases of burials on the site. Excluded from the scheduling are the modern Church of St Botolph, Listed Grade B, the wooden sheds, the war memorial, the two water tanks to the south east of the site, concrete posts, display boards as well as all tarmac and concrete surfaces though 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.

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Books and journals
Peers, C, St Botolph's Priory, (1992)
Crummy, P, 'The Colchester Archaeologist' in , , Vol. 7, (1994), 22
Crummy, P, 'The Colchester Archaeologist' in The Colchester Archaeologist, , Vol. 7, (1992), 6-10
Crummy, P, 'Colchester Archaeological Trust' in St Botolph's Priory Church, , Vol. 4, (1991), 1-5
PRN 9206, SMR, (1994)
PRN 9260, Information from SMR,


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.

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