Drax Augustinian priory
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1016857
Date first listed: 03-Jul-1964
Date of most recent amendment: 07-Jul-1999
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: North Yorkshire
District: Selby (District Authority)
Parish: Long Drax
National Grid Reference: SE 66814 28491, SE 66897 28350
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.
Significant buried archaeological remains of Drax Augustinian priory are considered to survive across the island of high ground. The 1997 geophysical survey on the western side of the monument indicated marked concentrations of buried deposits. These remains will extend beneath the later earthwork remains and the buildings of Drax Abbey Farm and Foreman's Cottage.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes buried and earthwork remains of an Augustinian priory
sited on an island of high ground which is now partly occupied by Drax Abbey
Farm, just south of the River Ouse. The monument is also known as Drax Abbey,
although this is a misnomer. It is in two areas of protection, separated by a
land drain connecting Carr Dyke and Lendall Drain.
Drax Priory was founded in the 1130s by William Paynel upon the advice of
Thurlston, Archbishop of York. William, who was a major landowner and held the
manor of Drax, granted an island in the marsh known as Hallington and
Middleholme for a priory of Augustinian canons dedicated to St Nicholas.
He also granted other land in Drax including a mill and the parish church,
together with five other churches across the country. The priory is recorded
as having a church, cloister, infirmary, refectory, prior's chamber and
dormitory in 13th century documents which also detail discipline problems
between the canons. In 1324, towards the end of the unstable rule of Edward
II, Archbishop Melton wrote that the priory had become impoverished through
flooding, and invasion by the Scots and other enemies. The priory was
suppressed in 1535 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when there were
10 canons and 29 servants and boys, with the priory valued at just over 92
pounds. The priory was then leased to a local landowner, Sir Marmaduke
Constable, as a farm. In the 18th century the farm was used as a Quaker
meeting house and by 1907 there were a number of structures built on the site,
including a large house and walled garden. During the 20th century the site
saw further redevelopment, including the re-alignment of Carr Dyke to its
present line which is to the west of its old course. It has been suggested
that the earlier line of Carr Dyke, which is the drain that lies just to the
west of Drax Abbey Farm, may be the `Karregote' mentioned in a document of
Drainage works have converted the marsh into farmland, with the original
island granted to the Augustinians now standing around 3m to 4m above the
surrounding area. This high ground is orientated WNW to ESE and is at most 7m
above sea level, typically only 4-5m. The priory is thought to have occupied
all of this island, with buildings located within a precinct enclosure. The
whole of this precinct, as currently understood, is included in the
scheduling. During the middle and later medieval period, the low lying areas
of the Humber basin were subjected to increased levels of flooding.
Archaeological excavation on a similar low lying priory site in the Humber
basin revealed that several metres of archaeological deposits had been built
up from the 13th century by successive rebuilding on land raised with imported
material. A similar response to the problem of flooding is expected to have
been taken at Drax.
The main route to the priory is thought to have been along Pear Tree Avenue,
labelled as Ave Maria Lane on 19th century maps. The route approaches the
monument from the east and would have provided access to the priory through a
gatehouse thought to have been located in the area of the western part of the
modern farmyard. To the north of the modern farm buildings there is a section
of bank and ditch which is identified as remains of part of the priory's
eastern precinct boundary. This was preserved as a field boundary until at
least the mid 19th-century. The auxiliary buildings of a priory were
frequently located just inside the main entrance in an outer court. These
would typically include a guest house, stabling, brew house, granary and other
storage buildings, and might include a complete range of buildings for a home
farm. The buildings of Drax Abbey Farm, which lie within the area of the
monument, are thus thought to overlie remains of the priory's outer court,
which would have formed the core of the farm leased to Sir Marmaduke Constable
after the Dissolution. The inner court or core of the priory, including the
church and the cloistral ranges which formed the domestic quarters for the
community of canons, would normally lie beyond, sometimes separated from the
outer court by a boundary ditch or wall. At Drax, these buildings are thought
to have been located on the highest ground to the west of the original line of
Carr Dyke. In 1997, part of this area was geophysically surveyed and was shown
to include a large number of geophysical anomalies suggestive of pits and wall
lines, with a marked concentration to the west of Foreman's Cottage. To the
west of this area there is a dog-legged depression at the foot of the slope.
This was recorded as a moat on the 1907 Ordnance Survey map and is considered
to be part of the western precinct boundary. In common with other monastic
sites, the precinct boundary is believed to have taken a variety of forms
on its circuit around the priory according to the local topography and the
varying needs for drainage and defence.
A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these include all
standing buildings, all modern fences and walls, all styles and gates, water
troughs and the platforms that they stand on, telegraph poles and all road and
path surfaces; although the ground beneath all 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: 32628
Legacy System: RSM
Typscript report, Northern Archaeological Associates, Drax Abbey Farm North Yorkshire Archaeological Evaluation, (1998)
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