Kirkham Priory Augustinian monastery: monastic precinct, three fishponds, and precinct boundary


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 73308 65920, SE 73607 65792

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to refound Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasteries formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. 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, 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 centre of a wide network including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages.

Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the Order of Saint Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of Saint Augustine. From the twelfth 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.

Kirkham Priory is particularly important for its wide range of surviving features, including both upstanding remains and monastic earthworks, which together provide important evidence of the economy and way of life peculiar to Augustinian monasticism. Fish from the ponds provided a significant contribution to the monastic economy. The location of these ponds in low- lying ground frequently waterlogged and flooded means that organic and palaeo-environmental remains will have survived.


Kirkham Priory is situated on the north east bank of the River Derwent between York and Malton. The monument comprises two separate areas, the first containing the standing remains and precinct of the Augustinian priory of the Holy Trinity and the second a line of three fishponds. The standing remains include the 12th and 13th century ruins of the priory church whose east front is still partly upstanding and the nave of which forms the north range of the cloister. The late 13th century chapter house and dorter (sleeping quarters) form the east range while the frater (refectory) is located to the south. Additional domestic buildings make up the west side of the cloister with a separate guest house and kitchen lying to the south of these. To the south of the east range lay a complex of late 13th and 14th century buildings comprising the kitchen, prior's lodging, infirmary and reredorter (latrine) with a drain running underneath. A separate gatehouse dating to the late 13th century lies to the north west, and the stump of a square-section 14th century cross, supported on a stepped plinth and with a limestone base carved with pairs of quatrefoils, stands outside. To the north and east of the upstanding remains, traces of a right-angled bank make up the visible remains of the precinct boundary. This is at its most substantial on the south east side where it runs downslope, north east to south west, and measures c.5m wide and c.1m high. To the north west of the precinct, alongside the river, is a line of three associated fishponds. Kirkham Priory is a Grade I Listed Building and the cross-stump is Grade II Listed. Extensive documentation tells us that Kirkham Priory was founded by Walter Espec, Lord of Helmsley, in the 1120s. Soon after its foundation it survived a move to transfer it to the Cistercian order and flourished in the 13th century under the patronage of the de Roos family, Espec's successors at Helmsley. A major rebuilding programme began at this time but was never completed as, by the end of the 13th century, the priory was heavily in debt. It continued to support a prior and 16 canons, however, almost up to its suppression in 1539. After this date it gradually fell into ruin until being placed in State care in 1927. Excluded from the scheduling are all English Heritage fittings such as the ticket office, benches, signs and grilles, and also the modern gate and the surfaces of paths and driveway. Also excluded are sheds inside the gate tower and against the south east boundary, a stone building lying half inside the area of the scheduling on the south east side, the water-tank next to it, two electricity boxes and all modern boundary walls and fencing. The ground beneath all these features, however, 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
'The Times' in 10/10/1927, (1927)
DOE Historic Plans room, Mitchinson, H, (DOE Historic Plans room), (1932)
Sir Charles Peers, Kirkham Priory, 1988, Official HBMC Handbook
Williams, R A W, (Archive with Williams R A W), (1978)
YAS archives MSS 397 and 399, Hope, W H St John, (YAS archives MSS 397 and 399), (1886)


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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