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


Ordnance survey map of Drax Augustinian priory
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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 1410. 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)

End of official listing