Bushmead Priory: an Augustinian priory 800m north east of Bushmead Cross


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014455

Date first listed: 09-Oct-1981

Date of most recent amendment: 13-Nov-1996


Ordnance survey map of Bushmead Priory: an Augustinian priory 800m north east of Bushmead Cross
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Bedford (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Staploe

County: Cambridgeshire

District: Huntingdonshire (District Authority)

Parish: Great Staughton

National Grid Reference: TL 11627 60773


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. 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.

Bushmead Priory is a well documented example of an Augustinian foundation with historical records from its inception continuing to the mid 14th century, and further details from the Dissolution and after. The extensive earthwork remains of the priory buildings, fishponds, and other features survive in good condition, undisturbed by excavation. These, together with the standing and buried remains of the claustral buildings, reflect both the religious and domestic elements of the monastery's life. The sequence of alterations to the refectory demonstrates evolving architectural fashions within the period of monastic use, and its changing use in subsequent centuries. The proximity of the medieval moated site Bushmead Camps, belonging to the the priory's benefactor, is a significant indication of the close relationship between the Augustinian order and the minor nobility which provided the mainspring of their support. The wall paintings within the refectory are of particular interest. Old Testament scenes are comparatively rare in English medieval murals, and the narrative scheme of the creation is without parallel amongst the few surviving figure subjects in English refectories. The creation theme (Adam and Eve) is only known at one other ecclesiastical site in this country (Easby Church in North Yorkshire), and only one example still exists in Europe, that from the nunnery of Sigena in Northern Spain. The refectory, which is in the care of the Secretary of State, is accessible to the public, and provides a graphic illustration of the nature of the Augustinian house and the subsequent use of the property following the Dissolution.


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


Bushmead Priory is located on the south side of the Duloe Brook, some 6.5km to the east of St Neots, where the brook enters the Great River Ouse. The monument includes the refectory building (the only monastic structure to survive as a standing building above ground), the buried remains of the church and claustral ranges, a series of earthworks representing further buildings and related structures within the priory precinct, and a row of fishponds adjacent to the brook. The refectory (a Grade I Listed Building included in the scheduling) is a rectangular building, measuring c.22m by 8m, which stands on a slight terrace in the valley side about 60m to the south of the brook. It was built in c.1250, the walls constructed in rubble and mortar, with quoins and corner buttresses in Barnack limestone. The original main entrance (now blocked) was at the western end of the south wall, to the west of an elaborate alcove with a pointed arch which housed the lavatorium, or washing place. A simple arched doorway in the centre of the north wall (later altered externally to a square jamb) led into the kitchen, which originally extended across the north western side of the refectory and was also connected by a small square serving hatch in the wall opposite the main entrance. The main source of light in the refectory was a large west window which illuminated the seating for the canons at the `lower' end. The outline of the early window, a large pointed arch with hood mould, has survived, although the tracery of this period was later removed. The raised pulpit from which lessons were read during meals no longer exists, but its location is indicated by a partly blocked stairway within the centre of the south wall. The hall was originally open to the roof, the timber structure of which has survived with few alterations. The roof is divided into six equal bays by five massive tie beams running across the width of the building. These rest on wall plates (timbers on top of the walls) the innermost of which is carved with stylised leaves. Crown posts with carved bases and capitals stand on the centre of each tie beam, supporting the framework above. The crown posts and purlins (beams running lengthways across the hall) are an early example of methods employed in later medieval construction. However, the multiple braces springing from the posts and the parallel sets of rafters indicate an experimental and cautious transition from earlier designs. The building underwent a second phase of development around 1310 when decorated tracery was inserted in the west window, fragments of which survived in the later infill. A tall window was added at the eastern end of the north wall, providing light to the upper end of the building where the prior, senior canons and prominent guests would have sat. The upper section of this window remains mostly unaltered, with a square frame containing three lights with cusped heads set within an arched and deeply recessed embrasure. Wall paintings of this period were recorded in the 1950s and further evidence was discovered during recent restoration work. The main element is a masonry pattern imitating joints in ashlar. This survives around the north east window, the west window and on parts of the east and west walls, and is thought to have covered most of the interior above dado level. The soffit of the inner order of the west window is decorated with a vine-scroll above slender painted columns. The outer order (which was inserted in c.1310) is painted with chevrons of black, yellow and red, containing trefoil leaves. Beneath the gable rafters on the east and west walls are vine-scroll bands. The survival is best on the west wall where the scroll emerges from the beak of a crane-like bird to the south of the window, and leads to a hooded male figure in a corresponding position to the north. Part of a frieze of painted lozenge-shaped frames has been identified below the wall plate toward the eastern end of the north wall. These three frames contain small narrative scenes from the Book of Genesis, and are considered to have formed part of a creation cycle continuing around the hall. The final phase of monastic alterations is thought to have taken place around 1500. A timber floor was inserted at the level of the western window sill (about 2m from the ground). This is still in place (with modern floorboards) in the eastern half of the building, but has been removed to the west where its former position is shown by beam slots and a blocked fireplace in the north wall. The main entrance in the south wall (being now too tall) was partly blocked and a smaller archway inserted. The pulpit stairs were also blocked and the western window partly infilled and replaced by a smaller opening with perpendicular tracery. Three small windows with central mullions were added to the east of the lavatorium and two similar windows inserted in the north wall to provide light for the ground floor. A three light window was added at first floor level, near the western end of the north wall, the external tracery of which remains visible. The timber and plaster partition which crosses the centre of the hall, slightly to the east of the kitchen door, was added at this time, and the eastern chamber sub-divided by a similar partition set on masonry footings. The refectory continued in use as a private dwelling after the Dissolution. Three large rectangular windows in Late Perpendicular style were added to the south wall to light the upper floor, and the lower part of the tall window in the north wall was replaced with a doorway. A new doorway with a pointed arch (now the main entrance) was inserted in the centre of the south wall, leading into the central north-south passage which was created by adding a parallel timber partition to the west of the earlier example. Further beam slots in the walls indicate that the floor within the western half of the refectory was slightly raised, and the hearth for the fireplace in the north wall was reset accordingly. A doorway was inserted within the lavatorium arch to provide access to the lower western room and a wooden spiral staircase was inserted in the earlier main entrance, which was now completely blocked. An additional range was constructed on the eastern end of the refectory in the 1620s, joined by doorways on both floors. A Georgian wing (demolished in 1964) was attached to the south eastern corner of this range in 1762. By 1800 the west window of the refectory had been almost completely infilled and a small wooden door inserted to serve the upper western room, then used as a hayloft. The room below was used for stabling, accounting for the present cobbled floor, whereas the remainder of the building (with floors of tile and brick) stayed in domestic use. The present spiral staircase at the north end of the central passage was added at this time, together with a small doorway in the north wall which indicates that a second storey existed over the kitchen. An illustration dated 1838 shows the kitchen still in use, and, although it was largely demolished later in the century, the broad limestone arch of the medieval fireplace still stands, together with a short section of the northern kitchen wall. The area on the north side of the refectory was subsequently converted to a small cobbled courtyard with a central well. The serving hatch was also infilled during this period, and the doorway in the lower part of the tall window replaced with a window. Further partitions were added within the building, including the repositioning of a medieval screen near the top of the stairs. The refectory was placed in the care of the Secretary of State in 1973, and restored over the next ten years. The walls were repointed and modern internal and external renderings removed. The roof frame was repaired and retiled, replacing the earlier tiles which had in turn superseded stone slates depicted on an illustration of 1730. This illustration also shows the claustral range, which stood to the south of the refectory, prior to its final demolition in the 18th century. A moulded string course below the eaves on the south wall formed the crease for a pitched roof over the northern cloister walk; the floor of which (extending some 2.5m from the wall and composed of glazed tiles) lies buried beneath the present cobbled path. The cloisters continued to the south enclosing a square area, or garth. This was contained to the west by a single exterior wall (where in a larger monastery the cellarers range would have stood) formerly attached to the south western corner of the refectory. A cartulary, consisting of grants and other administrative documents relating to the priory before 1349, mentions some of the buildings which were arranged around the remaining two sides of the cloisters. The priory church formed the southern arm, and on the eastern side stood the chapter house and infirmary, linking the church's northern transept with the refectory. This area was subsequently landscaped as part of the gardens of the present house. The level terrace of the cloisters, however, remains clearly visible, together with slight scarps some 30m to the south of the refectory which indicate the position of foundations or robbing trenches for the walls of the nave and south transept. The monastic cemetery lay to the south of the church, extending some 50m to the west where human bones were found in the bank of a pond in 1923. The eastern claustral range is thought to have lain to the south of the day-room, a small extension, some 6.5m in length, attached to the end of the refectory. The northern and eastern walls of this structure were retained within the later 17th century range, which is still in residential use. The valley side to the north and west of the claustral range retains low earthworks of building platforms and associated features relating to activities within the priory precinct. An estate map dated 1624 shows a cluster of small structures on the north side of the refectory, many of which are thought to have been priory buildings retained after the Dissolution. These have since been demolished, apart from an Elizabethan coach house located to the north west of the refectory, the foundations of which are though to be medieval. A sub-rectangular terrace, approximately 15m across, lies to the west of the coach house, within the angle created by the present access road to the refectory and a disused farm track leading to the north. The track reflects the line of the western boundary of the priory precinct, and the platform is probably the location of a gatehouse. A similar sized platform, some 0.4m lower, lies immediately to the north. Further platforms flank the access road to the east, separated by a slight hollow way descending the slope toward the north of the refectory where it joins a broader terraced route extending to the north west. A south facing scarp, O.6m high, lies some 10m-15m to the south of the access road, defining the northern edge of another platform or terrace; while a further building platform lies immediately to the east separated by a narrow hollow way approaching the cloister area from the south west. A fragment of medieval wall has been incorporated in the brickwork of the later garden wall which runs along the southern side of this latter feature. The cartulary records five corody holders (benefactors of the house who were allowed to dwell within the precinct and receive support in their old age), which may explain the purpose of some of these building platforms. Others are considered to be the locations of barns, stables and various outbuildings associated with the operation of the priory. The southern and eastern precinct boundaries are no longer visible, although its northern extent is clearly defined by a section of the Duloe Brook. A series of monastic fishponds run across the valley floor on the south side of the brook (within the precinct), four of which remain water filled. The three larger ponds range between 50m and 100m in length, and between 12m and 25m in width, increasing in size from west to east. A supply channel runs to the north of the central pond in this group, linked to the western end of the pond to the east. This channel, which measures c.5m wide and 1.2m deep, remains water filled over much of its length, but has been infilled where it formerly joined the pond to the west. The smallest pond in the series lies further to the east near a marked change in the direction of the brook. This measures approximately 12m by 20m, and is thought to have served as a fry-tank, used to rear fresh stock for the other ponds. The fifth pond lies at the western end of the series. This has been infilled and remains visible only as a slight depression, although its position is shown on the 1624 map. The priory was founded around 1195 by Hugh de Beauchamp, whose family had held land in the area since the Norman Conquest, probably centred at a moated manor known as `The Camps' situated approximately 300m to the south (the subject of a separate scheduling). The foundation may have been intended to commemorate Hugh's grandfather of the same name who was killed in the Holy Land in 1187, probably during the disastrous Battle of Hattin which led to the fall of Jerusalem and the calling of the Third Crusade. The original grant, confirmed by Pope Innocent III in 1198, mentions an existing house (domus) on the site, perhaps accounting for the development of the claustral range in an inversion of typical layout. A legend that the later canons venerated a hermit as their founder probably derives from the life of Joseph the first prior, (c.1215-33), formerly the chaplain of Coppingford Hermitage, who introduced the Augustinian rule to Bushmead. The earlier community, led by William of Colmworth, followed no recognised monastic rule. Grants towards the fabric of the church were acquired under the second prior, John de Weldebof (c.1233-55), which may have been used to replace or enlarge an earlier building recorded in 1215-20. Chapels of St Stephen and St Mary Magdalene are mentioned before 1236. The Augustinian priory continued to attract grants of land through the latter part of the 13th century, reaching its fullest extent under Prior Richard Foliot (1265-98). The cartulary, compiled by the seventh prior Richard of Staughton, contains information on priory possessions in seven counties. The community, however, remained small, never exceeding six canons, with only three recorded in 1534. The priory was dissolved in 1536 and granted to Sir William Gascoigne by Henry VIII in 1537. The priory remained in his possession until 1562 when it was sold to William Gery, members of whose family have held the property since. The modern fittings within the refectory, including banisters, display boards, switches and light fittings are excluded from the scheduling. In addition to the Coach House and the later inhabited building on the eastern side of the refectory, which are both Grade II Listed Buildings, the following items are also excluded: the surfaces of the visitors' car park and of all roads, paths and yards; the 19th century courtyard surface to the north of the refectory and the associated well, walls and outbuildings (with the exception of the kitchen fireplace and supporting walls which are included), the two septic tanks to the north of the Coach House and refectory, the wooden bridge at the western end of the largest fishpond and all modern garden walls; the ground beneath all these features, below the Coach House and below the dwelling to the east of the refectory is 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: 27118

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Runciman, S, A History of the Crusades: The Kingdom of Jerusalem, (1981), 475-86
Sherlock, D, Bushmead Priory, Bedforshire, (1985), 3-19
Williams, S, The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire, (1912), 198
Alcock, N W, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in Bushmead Priory: a 13th Century Hall and Roof, , Vol. XXXIII, (1970), 50-7
Fowler, G N, Godber, J, 'Bedfordshire Historical Record Society' in The Cartulary of Bushmead Priory, , Vol. XXII, (1945)
Park, D, 'Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal' in Creation And Marginalia: The Refectory Painting of Bushmead Priory, , Vol. 17, (1986), 72-106
Robinson, B, 'The Bedfordshire Magazine' in Bushmead Priory, , Vol. 14, (1973), 45-9
Simco, A, 'Bedfordshire Archaeological Journal' in Excavations at Bushmeads Priory, 1978, , Vol. 14, (1980), 47-55
Commemorative plaque at Priory House,
CUCAP collection, RAF, 541/483, (1950)
CUCAP collection, St. Joseph, J K S, ARM 142, (1964)
CUCAP collection, St. Joseph, J K, BBK 93, (1970)
DoE/HBMC, Bushmead Priory: Ancient Monuments Terrier, (1984)
engraving: copy in Bedford CRO, Buck, S and Buck, N, The Prospect of the Remains of Bushmead Priory, Bedfordshire, (1730)
Map of the Gery family estate, CRO GY 4/1, (1624)
Map of the Wade family's estate, CRO GY 4/1, (1624)
Reproduction on EH display board, Higgins, J, Remains of Bushmead from the North West, (1838)
text in Beds SMR, Simco, A, Bushmead Priory, (1978)
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Edition Source Date: 1954 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: TL 6300
Wade-Gery, A, Flooding in the area of the western fishpond, (1995)

End of official listing