Bolton 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.

North Yorkshire
Craven (District Authority)
Bolton Abbey
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SE 06925 54464, SE 07327 54095

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 ruins of Bolton Priory survive well and important evidence of the original architectural detail is preserved. The precinct has remained largely undisturbed and important remains of the wider monument are preserved there as earthworks and buried archaeological remains. The barn and remains of the barnyard demonstrate an unusual level of survival and offer important scope for the study of monastic agricultural practices. The Great Barn with its timber frame, is one of the best preserved medieval timber barns in northern England. Taken together the monument is important for understanding the wider workings of a monastic house as both a spiritual centre and an important element of the medieval landscape.


Bolton Priory is situated on low ground in a bend of the River Wharfe. The monument is divided into two separate areas; one which includes the standing ruins of the priory, which are Listed Grade I, the precinct wall (part of which is Listed Grade II) and associated features, the medieval tithe barn and part of the medieval barnyard and the other area which includes the remains of a medieval reservoir on the hillside to the west of the priory. The standing remains of the priory demonstrate the usual layout of a monastic house, with an east to west orientated church forming the north range of a four sided complex known as the cloister, the remaining sides containing accommodation for lay and monastic brethren, and domestic and administrative functions. The east end of the church and the two transepts still stand to roof height. The nave, or main body of the church, stands to full height and is still roofed. The east end of the nave was blocked off at the Dissolution and is now used as the parish church, which is Listed Grade I. As it is in ecclesiastical use, it is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. The cloister ranges have been demolished but the plan of the buildings can still be identified from the footings of the walls which still survive. The east cloister range included, on its ground floor, a passage leading to a polygonal chapter house and a sub-vault extending beneath the monks' dormitory and abbot's lodgings which occupied the first floor. The south range of cloister included the monks' refectory with a kitchen attached to the south western side and the west range was occupied by the cellarium or stores with the lay brothers accommodation on the floor above.

The priory infirmary was located to the south of the abbot's lodgings. The infirmary building was partly rebuilt in 1700 as a charitable school known as the Boyle School. It later became the Rectory and is now a dwelling. The building is Listed Grade II* and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. The priory guest house was located to the south west of the cloister but only a fireplace and chimney stack remain as standing ruins. They are Listed Grade II.

In addition to the core monastic buildings the monastic precinct contained a range of structures essential for the economic and social functions of the house. The precinct was defined by the river to the east and to the west by a wall. The course of the precinct wall extends south from a bend in the river and follows the east side of the road to the green then extends eastward form the rear of the post office to the river. Adjacent to the road, the medieval precinct wall is preserved to full height for a length of 50m and elsewhere sections have been rebuilt or are incorporated into later structures along the roadside. The outer gatehouse is incorporated into Bolton Hall. This building, which is occupied, is Listed Grade II* and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. Further buildings, including Abbey Mill, which is Listed Grade II, lie on the east side of the course of the precinct wall and are in residential use, and are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.

Within the southern part of the precinct are the earthwork remains of two large tanks with associated leats and channels. These are the remains of tanning tanks which are known from documentary sources to have existed at the priory. A corn mill is known to have stood within the precinct and elsewhere within the precinct there are earthworks representing the remains of further monastic buildings and structures.

Immediately to the south west of the precinct lies the site of the monastic barnyard. Only the southern part of the barnyard complex is included in the scheduling as the remainder has been disturbed by the development of the village of Bolton Abbey in the post-medieval period. The southern edge of the barnyard is defined by an earthen bank extending west across the field from the end of the woodyard to the road. Another bank also crosses the field further to the north. The barnyard was the focus for the agricultural activities of the priory and contained a wide range of buildings including two large barns one of which survives complete. The surviving barn is stone built with an impressive timber superstructure to support the roof. Known as the Great Barn it is Listed Grade II*. It is thought to be 16th century in date with later 19th and 20th century openings. Further remains of the buildings and structures of the barnyard will be preserved below ground in the fields to the west and north west of the barn.

A complex of ponds, leats and tanks on the hillside to the west of the monastic precinct fed into a stream running through the southern part of the precinct. Of these features a dam and side walls for a reservoir survive as earthworks and are included in the scheduling. The dam is an earth and stone bank 2.2m high and 20m long which crosses part of a small natural valley. It has a stone facing on the down stream side and has been breached in the past so the stream now flows uninterrupted. The sides of the reservoir are formed by a stone faced bank to the west and a steep slope cut into the natural slope to the east. Water from here was fed to the priory along a stream bed which was partly stone revetted and canalised. However much of the stonework has been removed and the line of the stream has been modified in post-medieval times, and it is therefore not included in the scheduling.

Bolton Priory was founded in 1155 by a community of Augustinian canons. In the early 14th century the priory fell on hard times but recovered and in the later years of the century a programme of rebuilding of the church and some domestic buildings took place. It was suppressed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Following the Dissolution, the bulk of the priory estate was bought by the Clifford family, formerly patrons of the church since 1310. The priory was not immediately demolished. The nave of the church continued in use, the corn mill within the precinct operated until the end of the 18th century and some of the cloister buildings were used as dwellings. The gatehouse was eventually incorporated into the 18th century Bolton Hall.

The Church of St Mary, the Old Rectory and Boyle Room, Abbey Mill, the building to the south adjacent to the main entrance to the Abbey, all modern structures within the woodyard and all modern fences, tree guards, walls, gates, signs, the fuel tank and heating apparatus for the church and the footbridge crossing the river are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all these features is included.

The modern cemetery, which remains in use, the grassed area north of the old cemetery and the fenced area outside the east end of the church used for inhuming cremations are not included in the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 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
Moorhouse, S, Bolton Priory's Monastic Estate, (1992)
Moorhouse, S, Bolton Priory's Monastic Estate, (1992)
Watkins, P, Bolton Priory and its Church, (1989)
Watkins, P, Bolton Priory and its Church, (1989)
Listed building entry,
Moorhouse, S, Bolton Priory, (1996)


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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