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Canons Ashby: the remains of a medieval monastery, castle, settlement and fields, post-medieval houses, gardens and park, and a series of five dams

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: Canons Ashby: the remains of a medieval monastery, castle, settlement and fields, post-medieval houses, gardens and park, and a series of five dams

List entry Number: 1015534

Location

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Northamptonshire

District: Daventry

District Type: District Authority

Parish: Canons Ashby

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 30-Nov-1972

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Feb-1997

Legacy System Information

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System: RSM

UID: 13643

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

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.

The remains of the Augustinian priory at Canons Ashby survive well as a series of earthworks and buried deposits. Limited archaeological excavation in the area of the church and cloister has demonstrated the survival of archaeological layers while leaving the majority of deposits intact. The remains of the monastery are associated with those of an early post-Dissolution house and formal garden; as a result of documentary research these features are closely datable to a limited historical period, and as such the garden is one of the earliest identified post-medieval gardens in the country. The Augustinian priory and post-Dissolution house at Canons Ashby are part of a rare piece of the landscape in which a concentration of superimposed archaeological remains enables the impact of successive generations of inhabitants to be deciphered. The preservation of the stratigraphic and spatial relationships between the remains of a variety of religious, domestic and economic activities over a period of nearly a thousand years will enable us to understand how these activities developed and interrelated within a particular historical and environmental setting. An unusual degree of continuity in ownership and land use over this period has resulted in the survival, relatively intact, of a medieval monastic estate; the management of this land unit in the post-medieval and modern periods has involved the adaptation and reuse of earlier features rather than their destruction. The remains of the medieval settlement and motte and bailey castle survive in good condition, and the protection of those areas of ridge and furrow cultivation which were incorporated into the landscape park, including complete furlongs, will preserve evidence both for medieval agricultural practices and for the post-medieval transformation of an arable landscape into a largely recreational one. The formal gardens and landscape park of Canons Ashby House overlie rather than cut into medieval remains and themselves represent a largely complete garden layout which has been little altered by later activity. Much of the monument is managed by the National Trust as a historic property open to the public and therefore serves as an important educational and recreational resource.

History

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

Details

Canons Ashby is situated on a low hill which slopes gradually down to the west and south. The present village, which stands at the top of the hill, originated in the early medieval period as a small settlement aligned along a trackway which ran from south west to north east up the hill in the area now partly occupied by Canons Ashby House and gardens. During the Middle Ages a motte and bailey castle was constructed to the north west of the settlement and a monastery to the south east; the settlement subsequently expanded towards these features and, when the castle was abandoned later in the Middle Ages, onto the bailey itself. After the Dissolution the monastic buildings were converted into a secular residence which was succeeded in less than 20 years by a country house established in the original core of the village, now Canons Ashby House. With the development of the house and gardens during the 16th to 18th centuries the early trackway was diverted to the south east through the former gateway into the monastic precinct, north of the church. During the medieval and post-medieval periods a flight of dammed pools was created along the water-course to the west providing power for a series of watermills. In the late 18th century the earthwork remains of the medieval castle and settlement and some of the fields and pools were partly altered and incorporated into the design of a landscape park. Canons Ashby House, gardens and park and St Mary's Church are now managed by the National Trust as a site open to the public. The monument is protected in four areas. The largest area includes, to the south east of Canons Ashby House, the remains of the medieval monastery and post-Dissolution house, together with associated garden remains and water-control features; to the north west of Canons Ashby House it includes the earthwork and buried remains of the medieval castle and settlement and those areas of ridge and furrow cultivation which were incorporated into the landscape park. The earthworks constructed during the creation of the park are also thus included. Canons Ashby House, which overlies part of the early settlement and trackway, is Listed Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling although the gardens and the ground beneath the house are included. St Mary's Church is also Listed Grade I and is similarly excluded from the scheduling although the churchyard, which is no longer used for burial, and the ground beneath the church are included. The south western part of the monument includes the remains of two dams, formerly the sites of watermills, which were altered to create ornamental lakes; the remains of three further dams are protected in three separate areas. In the south eastern part of the monument are the remains of a priory of Augustinian canons founded in the mid-12th century and dissolved in 1536-7. The present St Mary's Church represents the standing remains of the western part of the nave of the monastic church. Adjacent to the east is a raised rectangular platform about 50m long and 20m wide which was partly excavated in the 19th century revealing the foundations of the eastern parts of the original church. Adjacent to the south of the remains of the church are those of the monastic cloister, also revealed by part excavation; these were found to have been converted in the late 16th century into domestic outbuildings associated with a country house which was constructed on the site by Sir John Cope, who bought the property from Sir Francis Bryan soon after the Dissolution. The remains of the house are believed to survive as buried features beneath the present houses and gardens. The boundary of the monastic precinct and of the country house which developed out of it is represented by a series of earthworks and buried deposits and by a fragment of standing masonry. Along the northern and eastern sides of the present churchyard is a linear depression which is considered to represent the north eastern part of the precinct boundary; where this is projected across the present road north of the church, the chamfered jamb of a gateway stands to a height of about 1.4m built into a later stone wall. This fragment, which is included in the scheduling, represents the standing remains of the gateway through which the monastic precinct was entered from the north; further remains of this gateway are believed to survive as buried features. Adjacent to the south of the churchyard the eastern boundary of the monastic precinct is overlain by part of a walled garden, believed to have originated in the 16th century in association with Cope's house. The standing parts of the north and east walls of this garden are included in the scheduling. The south eastern part of the precinct boundary is represented by the earthwork remains of an L-shaped moat with an external bank, which is also thought to have been altered and reused as the boundary of the post-Dissolution house. The western part of the precinct boundary is overlain by post-medieval and modern features to the west and south of the present road, and its position is indicated by the recorded extent of ridge and furrow cultivation which lay adjacent to the west. The monastic precinct occupied an area approximately 180m square. To the east of the monastic precinct is an area of pasture known as Canons Walk, bounded on the north and east by a linear bank approximately 1m high and 2m wide at the top with a ditch on each side. The interior of the enclosure is largely level; on its western side is a shallow depression representing the site of a building, and to the south is a circular mound about 0.5m high. These features are considered to represent the remains of a post-Dissolution garden established by Cope in the mid-16th century. The linear bank served as a raised walk from which planting on the interior of the garden would have been viewed; the circular mound is a prospect mound constructed as a vantage point from which the whole garden could be seen. Adjacent to the south east, also within the enclosure defined by the linear bank, are a series of waterlogged depressions; these are thought to have originated as medieval fishponds associated with the priory and to have served in the post-medieval period as a feature of the garden. Adjacent to the north of the monastic precinct is a modern enclosure known as The Orchard which contains the remains of water-control features associated with the monastery and post-Dissolution house, including on its eastern perimeter a linear ditch and pond. This enclosure, referred to in a 15th century documentary source as Well House Close, contains two wells which are believed to have originated in the medieval period. Over one of these is a stone-built well-house known as the Norwell, a structure of 16th century date with 18th century alterations, which is included within the scheduling. It is associated with two underground reservoirs which were located by part excavation in the 19th century, and with two courses of pipes: one, of lead, extends southwards though the churchyard to the site of the monastery and post-Dissolution house while the other, of oak, leads westwards to Canons Ashby House. In the northern part of The Orchard and in the pasture field to the north of Canons Ashby House are the earthwork remains of the medieval village of Canons Ashby. The settlement was first referred to as Ashby in the Domesday Book when the population was recorded as 16; houses and plots of land were granted to the Augustinian priory when it was founded in the mid-12th century, and by the mid-13th century it was known as Canons Ashby. The settlement grew during the 14th century but contracted in the later 15th century when the prior enclosed land for sheep-pasture. The population diminished further in the 16th and 17th centuries and by the early 18th century there remained about five dwellings. The earliest part of the village is believed to be represented by the earthwork remains of plot boundaries which lie on the north side of the Adstone Road. The plots take the form of a series of small, roughly rectangular enclosures defined by banks and ditches; each plot would have contained a house and garden or yard. Further plots are evident to the north west, on the east side of the Preston Capes Road, and are believed to be associated with the expansion of the settlement in the 14th century; further plots are believed to have been located on the west side of the road. Adjacent to the east of the present road and extending to the west of it are the earthwork remains of the hollow way which preceded it; there is another hollow way, representing a back lane, running behind the plot boundaries to the east. Approximately 350m to the north west of Canons Ashby House is a hexagonal mound, now planted with trees, known as Castle Hill. The top of the mound is about 3m high and 30m-40m in diameter; it is nearly entirely surrounded by a shallow ditch about 15m wide. The mound stands within a roughly rectangular area bounded on the south, west and north by a broad depression up to 20m wide; on the east side of the road this boundary continues as a narrow ditch with an internal bank. These features represent the remains of a medieval motte and bailey castle which have been altered by later medieval and post-medieval activity. The bailey is represented by the area enclosed by the linear depression and covers an area approximately 180m square; it has been cut through from north to south by the Preston Capes Road which is thought to follow part of the course of an earlier trackway through the bailey. The castle was abandoned during the medieval period when that part of the bailey to the east of the road was overlain by the settlement which expanded northwards onto it. In the late 18th century that part of the bailey to the west of the road, and the motte which stands within it, were adapted to form features of the landscape park around Canons Ashby House: these works included the levelling of the top of the motte, the alteration of the sides to hexagonal plan and the planting of trees on it. Also at this time the area between the motte and the house, formerly occupied by part of the medieval settlement, was partly levelled and banks were raised for the planting of trees in order to create an enhanced vista towards the castle. Adjacent to the north of the settlement earthworks is a complete furlong of ridge and furrow cultivation in reversed S-shape aligned north east to south west. It is separated from the field to the north east by a linear ditch with a bank on its eastern side; this bank overlies the heads of another furlong of ridge and furrow to the east and is thought to represent a trackway established in the post-medieval period. To the west and south of the motte and bailey castle and settlement are further remains of ridge and furrow cultivation including several complete furlongs. These earthworks represent part of a wider agricultural landscape which was abandoned in favour of sheep- rearing in the mid-16th century. While other parts of the parish later returned to arable, these earthworks were incorporated in the late 18th century into the design of the landscape park; tree-planting, which included the establishment of avenues aligned upon the house and its formal gardens, was partly achieved through the employment of medieval cultivation ridges as planting banks. To the west of The Orchard stands Canons Ashby House, a country house first constructed on an H-shaped plan by John Dryden who acquired the former monastic estate on the death of Sir John Cope in 1558. The house, which is thought to incorporate part of an earlier farmhouse, overlies the buried remains of part of the medieval settlement and part of the trackway which formed its south west/north east axis. In the 1590s it was enlarged to create a courtyard and was further altered during succeeding centuries. Extending south westward from the house are a series of levelled rectangular terraces ranged down the natural slope in four steps; the terraces are separated from each other by scarps linked along a central linear path. These terraces represent part of a formal garden created in 1708-10 by Tilleman Bobart and Henry Wise for Edward Dryden, and overlying further remains of the medieval trackway. Documentary sources indicate that the two upper terraces were laid out as gravel parterres and the lower two were planted with vegetables and fruit; the former have now been partly overlain by grass and gravel with some flowerbeds and the latter planted as an orchard. Adjacent to the north west of the upper terraces is another levelled area, now lawn, which was formerly divided into two parts corresponding to the upper terraces and is believed to have been occupied by a bowling green and two small ponds. The whole L-shaped area is bounded by a stone wall. Adjacent to the north east is another walled lawn know as the Green Court, also of early 18th century date. The garden walls, gates and original garden furniture are Listed Grades II and II*. Running south westward from the south west end of the formal gardens is a broad hollow way which represents the earthwork remains of the medieval trackway upon which the settlement of Canons Ashby was established. It runs towards an earthen dam which crosses the valley bottom on the north side of the Eydon Road. The dam is now retained on its northern side by a brick and stone wall of 18th century and later date but is believed to have originated in the medieval period to provide water-power for milling. Near the south western end of the dam are two leats representing a millrace and an overflow leat; adjacent to the south east of the millrace are the standing remains of a watermill which have been incorporated into a dwelling and are therefore excluded from the scheduling. This mill, which was in use in the 19th century, is believed to represent a rebuilding of an earlier watermill. The dam in the south western part of the monument is the lowest in a series of five earthen dams which extend up the valley north westward form the Eydon Road. The area of the ponds formed behind the dams varies between 2ha and 3ha. The shape of the two lower ponds, which are still water-filled, and of the dams behind them dates from the late 18th century when they were altered to form ornamental lakes within the landscape park around Canons Ashby House. The three upper ponds are now only partly water-filled and lie within a plantation. The dams built to retain these ponds are protected in three separate areas; each of the upper two, which were not significantly altered during the creation of the landscape park, includes the remains of a millrace and an overflow leat. The uppermost dam is further associated with a linear bank which was constructed to retain the north eastern side of the pond behind it; along the outside edge of this bank is an artificial bypass leat through which the water-course now runs and from which the pond was fed through an inlet leat near its north western end. The full flight of five ponds is believed to have been developed during the medieval and post-medieval periods as a source of water-power. A sample of the deposits on the floor of each pond is included within the scheduling. The remains of the medieval and post-medieval dams which lie across the water-course to the west of Canons Ashby House are also included. Canons Ashby House and all other standing buildings are excluded from the scheduling except the well-house known as the Norwell, which is included; all standing walls and fences are also excluded except the old stone wall to the south east of the church and the gatehouse fragment to the north west of the church, which are included. All modern road surfaces and street furniture is also excluded. The ground beneath all excluded features is included.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 24/05/2016

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Batey, M, Lambert, D, The English Garden Tour: A View into the Past, (1990), 204-205
Knowles, D, Hadcock, R, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1957), 132
Taylor, C, The Archaeology of Gardens, (1983), 41-42
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby - Park Restoration, (1994)
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby Northamptonshire, (1989), 4
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby Northamptonshire, (1989)
The National Trust, , Canons Ashby Northamptonshire, (1989), 35
Audouy, M, 'Northamptonshire Archaeology' in The Priory Church of Saint Mary, Canons Ashby, , Vol. 23, (1991), 70-78
Taylor, S J, 'Northamptonshire Archaeology' in An Excavation on the Site of the Augustinian Priory: Canons A, , Vol. 8, (1973), 57-67
Other
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the County of N, Archaeological Sites in North-West Northamptonshire, (1981)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Canons Ashby Northamptonshire: An archaeological survey by the, (1992)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Canons Ashby Northamptonshire: An archaeological survey by the, (1992)
Survey at 1:2500 by JK and PS, RCHME (Cambridge), Canons Ashby, (1992)
Title: 1" Ordnance Survey Source Date: 1834 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

National Grid Reference: SP 56893 50762, SP 56900 51056, SP 57080 50610, SP 57605 50776

Map

Map
© Crown Copyright and database right 2017. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2017. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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End of official listing