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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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 been erected. 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 range. 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 13th century. 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 buried feature. 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.

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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

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