Augustinian Abbey known as Norton Priory
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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This copy shows the entry on 18-Jun-2021 at 01:48:24.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Halton (Unitary Authority)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
- SJ 54924 82992
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 abbey at Norton Priory is unusual in that it is the only example to have been the subject of recent extensive excavation. In addition, it has been located in its contemporary landscape through a survey of the medieval remains on the whole of the manor and a document survey of the total extent of its landholdings in Cheshire and elsewhere. Although there has been extensive excavation of the buildings which have been discovered so far, there remain buildings shown on a 16th century sketch plan which have not been explored. The remains of the buried moat and other water features will preserve important waterlogged remains and will give information about the domestic economy of periods of occupation from the 12th to the 18th century. The graveyard will have remains of the monastic community during the life of the monastery and will yield information about diet, disease and life expectancy of the brethren and their lay community. The quadrangular enclosure on the east side of the site may have important evidence of a monastery garden or orchard under the surface soil.
The monument includes the remains of an Augustinian abbey with the ruins of
the abbey church, cloister, chapter house, dormitory, refectory, kitchens,
Abbot's lodgings, latrines, drains, guest house, an early church building, a
bell pit, a tile kiln, the monastic cemetery and an extensive surrounding
water feature designed to create a moated site for the complex of buildings.
The priory was founded in 1133 by William Fitznigel, baron of Halton, for a
community of Augustinian canons. In 1391 the priory was raised in status to
become an abbey. The main buildings have been extensively explored by
excavation in the period 1970-1985 and the surviving foundations laid out and
consolidated for public display. To the west of the range of buildings a
museum with an interpretation centre and restaurant with attendant offices has
The site of the monastery was surrounded by a moat, visible on a 1757 estate
map, now filled in. On the west side was a millpond taking water from a small
stream flowing into the pond from the south. This feature has now been
destroyed. In the south west corner of the site a sluice took water from the
head of the millpond and fed a ditch or moat which ran eastwards for 150m,
turned abruptly to the north for 70m and then headed east for 100m. The moat
then turned north west and ran for 260m before turning south west for 140m and
apparently terminating at a point on the road from Manor Farm to the north of
the priory buildings. This northern sector of the moated platform has been
destroyed by the building of the A558. In the south east corner of the area
described by the moat was a quadrilateral enclosure also surrounded by ditches
measuring approximately 70m by 100m. On the moated platform, apart from the
abbey buildings, are a number of other features including an excavated bell
pit on the western side of the old courtyard, a moated garden or orchard on
the south eastern side, a tile kiln and an extensive burial ground on the
eastern side of the abbey buildings which ran as far as the moat ditch on the
east side of the site.
The abbey church is on the north side of the site. It was begun in c.1135 and
shows six phases of construction and alteration. The final building consists
of a nave, north aisle, north and south transepts, chancel, three chapels at
the east end and a crossing for a central tower. The church is 86m long. It is
built of local sandstone with ashlar facing blocks and rubble cored walls.
Floor levels which survived included early 14th century floor tiles and above
them a 15th century tiled floor in the choir. Within the building were stone
coffins and a large number of burials. Some of the coffins are now laid out
with the building foundations on display.
To the south of the nave are the cloister, the Abbot's lodgings and, attached
to the lodgings, the Abbot's tower. Little of the cloister remains. The garth
was 17m square. It was surrounded by an ambulatory showing four phases of
building commencing in the 12th century. During the mid-13th century the
builders elaborated the buildings and added buttresses and projecting doorways
on each side of the garth. Fragments of a fine arcade from this phase are now
restored in the museum. After the Dissolution this area was levelled and used
as a rubbish dump.
The cellarer's range with the Abbot's lodgings are the only original buildings
still standing on the site. The cellars have had a roof added by the restorers
to protect the remains below. The entrance door on the west side is from
c.1180 as is the quadripartite vaulted roof on plain columns within the
building. On the north side is a passage with blind arcading which was
revealed during the conservation of the building. During the 15th century a
tower house, known as the Abbot's Tower, was built on the west side of this
To the south of the choir was a sacristy and the original chapter house. The
later chapter house was added to this building on the east side during the
To the south of the cloister and chapter house are the refectory range with a
short passage to the dormitory range. On the south west side of the refectory
were the kitchens and on the south east end of the complex was the T-shaped
reredorter. The main drain for the abbey buildings ran across the south end of
the site and was connected to the kitchens and the latrine block. This flowed
to the east for 100m and connected with the moat ditch on the east side of the
site. The millpond and mill, together with the moats which surrounded the
site, are presumed to date from the medieval period. The moat ditch is shown
on the estate map of 1757 and has now been filled in. The excavators traced
its original extent on the south and east sides of the site and revealed that
the ditch was 10m wide and about 2m deep. It will survive elsewhere as a
At the western end of the main drain was a building complex of some quality.
This was a late construction and overlaid a small quarry pit, ditches and
drains. It had painted window glass and the overall opulence of the
construction led the excavators to believe that it had been the guest quarters
for the abbey.
Just to the north of this guest building the excavations revealed a series of
timber buildings which were interpreted as the temporary lodgings for the
monastery during the first phase of the buildings in stone in the 12th
century. These were overlaid by the kitchens during the 13th century.
Some foundations of an early building were also uncovered 5m to the north of
the west end of the abbey church. These have been interpreted as the remains
of an earlier church.
At the time of the Dissolution the priory incorporated six manors or granges
as well as the extensive lands of the manor of Norton. It was valued at 78
pounds 10 shillings 5 1/4 pence and this corresponds to the average holdings
for an Augustinian house. The remains of the abbey buildings were incorporated
into a Tudor mansion after the Dissolution. The church was allowed to fall
down. A ground plan of the mansion in the 17th century shows that there were
other, possibly medieval buildings on the west side of the site and flanking a
mill pool which lay along the western boundary of the moated platform. The
Tudor mansion was replaced by a Georgian country house built in about 1750.
This was occupied until 1921 when the family moved to a more modern and
convenient house near Worcester. The site and gardens were then left derelict
until the 1970s when the archaeological investigation began.
The modern museum buildings, the surface of paths and the post medieval
garden features on the site, including structures, are excluded from the
scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. The undercroft building,
the only part of the medieval priory still standing, is included in the
scheduling. The ruins are Listed Grade I.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 5 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), passim
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 122
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 65-7
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 26
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 79-84
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 105
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 2
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 32
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 136-8
Greene, J P, Norton Priory, (1989), 118-22
Cheshire SMR, Moat System at Norton Priory,
Norton Priory museum, (1996)
Norton Priory, (1986)
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