Letheringham Priory and remains of 17th century walled garden


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014859

Date first listed: 16-Dec-1977

Date of most recent amendment: 01-Aug-1996


Ordnance survey map of Letheringham Priory and remains of 17th century walled garden
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Suffolk

District: Suffolk Coastal (District Authority)

Parish: Letheringham

National Grid Reference: TM 26831 58536


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.

Letheringham Priory is of interest as one of the smaller and poorer Augustinian monasteries, and notable in particular for the gatehouse, which stands as a well preserved example of a late medieval brick building. The area of the monastic church and conventual buildings around the cloister remains largely unencumbered by later structures and, although little of them apart from the nave of the monastic church remains visible above ground, the foundations of these buildings, together with other buried remains below the ground surface, will retain archaeological information relating to the life and organisation of the monastic community and the history of the priory before and after the Dissolution. The earthworks to the south of the churchyard are likely to include evidence for domestic and agricultural activities associated with monastic life, and the remains of an early post- medieval garden on part of the site give the monument additional interest. The priory is also one of several monuments, including moated sites in and around Letheringham, which have historical connections with the Wingfield family, prominent in the later medieval and early post-medieval periods, and when viewed as a group they provide a valuable insight into the social structure at the end of the Middle Ages locally.


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


The site of Letheringham Priory is on a north east facing slope on the west side of the valley of the River Deben, c.250m west of the river and c.1.15km west of Easton village. The monument includes the priory gatehouse and buried remains of the conventual buildings and the eastern part of the monastic church, together with earthworks within what is believed to be part of a 17th century walled garden situated to the south of the present churchyard.

The priory, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was founded towards the end of the 12th century as a cell of the Augustinian Priory of St Peter and St Paul in Ipswich, and was served by three or four canons under a prior appointed by the mother house. In the taxation roll of 1291, the annual income of the priory is shown as 12 pounds 11 shillings, the greater part of which derived from lands at Letheringham and from the church at Charsfield. The valuation of 1535 gives the clear annual value as 26 pounds 18 shillings and 5 pence. The house was suppressed in 1536, the mother house having already been dissolved nine years earlier by Cardinal Wolsey to found his college in Ipswich. At the time of the foundation of the priory, the manor of Letheringham was held by William de Bovile, and the de Boviles retained the lordship of the manor and patronage of the priory until the mid 14th century, when it passed by marriage to Thomas Wingfield. In 1539, after the Dissolution, the priory was granted to Sir Anthony Wingfield. The priory buildings, with the exception of the church, were badly damaged by fire early in the 17th century, and soon after this Sir Robert Naunton, Secretary of State under James I and the great grandson of Sir Anthony Wingfield, built a large mansion c.120m south of the church. The monastic church, which contained the burial vault and memorials of the de Bovile and Wingfield families, remained standing and eventually wholly replaced the original parish church of Letheringham which is thought to have been situated c.1.3km to the south east, near Letheringham Old Hall and mill. By the mid 18th century the former monastic church was in a serious state of disrepair, and a painting dated to the 1780s shows it as a roofless ruin. In 1789 the eastern end, containing the choir and presbytery, was demolished, and the nave reconstructed in its present form.

The gatehouse which was the entry to the monastic precinct still stands c.40m WSW of the present church. According to the documentary evidence, which is supported by archaeological finds, the conventual buildings occupied a level platform to the north east of this and north of the church. The earthworks to the south of the gatehouse and the churchyard are thought to be of monastic date and include part of a hollow way leading to the gatehouse from the south west. They lie within a pasture field enclosed by brick walls which are considered to be largely of early post-medieval date and to mark the boundary of a garden associated with the 17th century mansion.

The gatehouse, which is dated to the late 15th or early 16th century and is Listed Grade II, is built of brick and is of two storeys. It is rectangular in plan, measuring c.6m south west-north east by 5m, with polygonal clasping buttresses at the external angles and with double chamfered gate arches in the south west and north east walls. These arches are blocked with much later brickwork, with a doorway in the blocking on the south west side. Immediately above the arch on the outer (south western) side is a blocked statue niche, and above this, at upper storey level, a blocked window opening of three lights with brick mullions. Above the gate arch in the opposite wall are two blocked rectangular openings and between these, on the internal face of the wall, are remains of a fireplace. The level of the floor of the upper chamber, which no longer survives, is marked by a rebate on the internal wall. The entrance to this upper chamber was probably from a building abutting the eastern side of the gatehouse. Traces of a blocked opening can be seen on the external face of the upper east wall, and below it there is a shallow concave recess which may mark the position of a newel (spiral) stair. The lower walls of the gatehouse are rendered internally with cement, but above this there are remains of plaster with traces of red paint.

The monastic church at the time of the Dissolution had an overall length of c.35m. The surviving nave, which is Listed Grade II*, is aisleless, of two bays and measures c.14m in length by c.7.5m in width and, being still in use, is not included in the scheduling. It displays original 12th century features which include the south doorway with colonettes in recessed jambs, scalloped capitals and a round arch ornamented with zig-zag and billet decoration, and a blocked doorway with similarly decorated round arch at the western end of the north wall. The latter is one of two which provided access to the church from the monastic cloister; the outline of the second, which is plastered over, can be seen towards the eastern end of the nave. In the south wall there are two windows of 13th century type, and in the eastern end wall, which is of 18th century construction, is a large 14th century window, probably from the east end of the demolished presbytery. At the western end of the church is a large, square tower of three stages, dated to the 14th century. A brick porch over the south door is of late 17th century date. The buried remains of the eastern part of the monastic church, which contained the canons' choir and presbytery, lie within the present churchyard and are included in the scheduling. No walls of monastic date remain standing east of the nave, but foundations survive below the ground surface and the line of the south wall can be traced as a slight earthwork and by parch marks in dry weather, showing that the choir and presbytery together were square ended and slightly longer than the nave. The approximate lines of the north wall and east end are followed by the churchyard wall of flint and reused masonry, constructed in the late 18th or 19th century and excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. Also included in the scheduling is part of a substantial wall, c.10m in length, of flint rubble and mortar construction patched with some fragments of reused stone, which runs westwards from the north west buttress of the western tower of the church and is believed to be of monastic date. There is evidence that originally it continued eastwards to the north east corner of the nave, where there is a stub of similar walling, and that part was removed to accommodate the 14th century tower.

The precise layout of the conventual buildings to the north of the church is not known, but the area of the level platform here, which measures c.25m north-south, is sufficient for a small cloister c.16m square. Nathaniel Fairfax, an antiquarian writing in the late 17th century and apparently from first hand observation, noted in a description of the church that there were two doorways in the (now demolished) north wall of the chancel which he suggested had provided access from a building on that side. The position of such a building would correspond to that of the range which normally extended along the east side of any monastic cloister and contained the chapter house on the ground floor, where the community met to discuss the business of the priory, and the dorter (canons' dormitory) above, with direct access to the church by way of a night stair. Masonry footings and fragments of 13th and 14th century pottery were observed on the line of this postulated eastern range in 1975, in excavations carried out prior to the construction of a barn. If the priory followed the usual plan, there will have been other ranges of buildings along the north and west sides of the cloister, also. Fairfax noted that, although no ruins of the priory remained visible other than the foundations of a cellar, the marks of the fire which had destroyed the priory buildings were still visible on the north side of the church, and that the surface of the field immediately to the north of the church was `full of stones and brickbatts'.

In the area of pasture to the south of the gatehouse and churchyard, the eastern side of the hollow way leading to the gatehouse is visible as a scarp c.1m high, and running south eastwards from this, approximately at right angles to it and roughly parallel to the church at a distance of c.62m, is a lower scarp, the alignment of which suggests that it relates to the priory. The surface of the field is uneven in places, perhaps marking the presence of buried features such as the foundations of buildings.

The same area, which has maximum dimensions of c.91m north-south by 106m east-west, formed part of the garden of the 17th century mansion, of which the central block remained standing until 1947. The western boundary of this garden is marked by a wall, considered to be of early 17th century date though with some later patching, running south westwards from the south west angle of the priory gatehouse for a distance of c.44m and then continuing on a north-south alignment. The northern end of this wall is of separate build from the wall of the gatehouse, which it abuts with a straight joint, and the bricks, although of early type, are also of a different size to those used in the construction of the latter. The southern boundary of the field, c.88m south of the church, is formed of a length of wall thought to be of similar date. It runs eastwards for a distance of c.36m. Another length of early wall forms the boundary between the former garden and the churchyard to the north of it and continues northwards along the western boundary of the churchyard. The wall on the eastern boundary of the former garden is of similar brick. All parts of these walls which border the field to the south of the church and the western side of the churchyard and are of early post- medieval date are included in the scheduling. The length of wall between the north east angle of the gatehouse and the south west angle of the churchyard is, however, of later date, and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included.

Although adjacent to the monument and originally within the monastic precinct, the parish church and the area of the churchyard within its boundary walls are not included in the scheduling (except for the part which is the site of the east end of the monastic church).

All modern gates and farmyard surfaces within the area of the scheduling are excluded, although the ground beneath 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.

Legacy System number: 21406

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 108
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 108
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 141,164
Blatchley, J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Lost and Mutilated Memorials of the Bovile and Wingfield Families, , Vol. 33, (1976), 168-194
Farrer, E, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Letheringham Abbey, , Vol. 20, (1930), 9,10
Farrer, E, 'East Anglian Miscellany' in Letheringham Abbey, , Vol. 4634,37, ()
cited Blatchley, J (1976). Mss C17, Fairfax, Nicholas, Hengrave Mss f93,
Letter to Miss Wynne, Hines, GC, Letheringham Abbey gatehouse & precinct wall, (1977)

End of official listing