Premonstratensian abbey at Sulby Abbey Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017186

Date first listed: 14-Dec-1999


Ordnance survey map of Premonstratensian abbey at Sulby Abbey Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Northamptonshire

District: Daventry (District Authority)

Parish: Sulby

County: Northamptonshire

District: Daventry (District Authority)

Parish: Welford

National Grid Reference: SP 65807 79986


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. The Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

The earthwork and buried remains of the Premonstratensian abbey at Sulby Abbey Farm survive well and include the remains of a variety of different features including the abbey church and cloistral buildings, as well as parts of the wider precinct and several waterlogged areas. Buried remains will also include evidence for the church, cloisters, ancillary domestic buildings and other structures used for agricultural and industrial purposes, accompanied by a range of boundaries, refuse pits, wells and drainage channels, all related to the development of the abbey. Buried artefacts, in association with the buildings will provide insights into the lifestyle of the inhabitants and assist in dating the development of the abbey over time. Environmental evidence may also be preserved, particularly within the waterlogged areas, providing information about the economy of the abbey and its agricultural regime. The abbey will have had its own cemetery around the church, and this will preserve buried human remains which will provide information about the inhabitants of the abbey, illuminating their diet, standards of living and life expectancy, as well as providing information about funerary practices and rituals.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the known extent of the buried and earthwork remains of the Premonstratensian abbey of Sulby, located in a broad valley on either side of the River Avon. Also included are the earthwork and buried remains of the enclosures, fishponds, watermill and warren associated with the abbey. The abbey, a house of Premonstratensian canons, was originally founded in 1155 in the adjacent parish of Welford, by William de Wideville, who donated the church of Welford and lands in Sulby. The community soon relocated to Sulby and the abbey may have been built on the site of an earlier settlement, recorded in the Domesday Book, which may already have been abandoned by the 12th century. The abbey was favoured by Edward II, who stayed there several times during the 14th century. No more than 13 canons were recorded in 15th century visitations however. The abbey was dissolved in 1538, and the land was occupied by a succession of land owners. The abbey is approached by a broad track orientated north east to south west, running from Naseby which marks the original entrance. The approach is bounded by a ditch 0.5m deep on the western side, and a bank measuring up to 1.5m high on the eastern side. On either side of the track are the remains of at least five large enclosures, measuring up to 100m wide and 150m long, defined by banks and ditches measuring up to 1m high and 3m wide. The enclosures are believed to be the remains of the stock pens and animal enclosures of the abbey. These are overlain by medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains, indicating later reuse of the area as arable fields. The main building complex of the abbey is located at the southern end of the track and includes an area of low earthworks lying to the south east of Sulby Abbey Farm. This area is believed to include the buried remains of the abbey church and cloistral range, although it has been somewhat disturbed by later quarrying and the construction of the 18th and 19th century farm buildings. Medieval tiles and stone foundations have been found beneath and around the outbuildings of the farm, and further remains of the conventual buildings are believed to be located beneath the buildings of Sulby Abbey Farm. Sulby Abbey Farm, which is a Grade II Listed Building, is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. To the south of Sulby Abbey Farm is a complex of small fishponds and associated water management features. Two water courses flow east to west along the valley. The northernmost of these, which occupies the lowest point of the valley, is believed to represent the original course of the River Avon. The southernmost channel was constructed when the river was diverted by the canons to create a leat higher up the valley side, in places occupying a cutting up to 4m deep. During the 19th century, the northern channel was straightened and modified, in order to act as a feeder for the Grand Union Canal system. The remains of a large earthen dam, measuring up to 2.5m high and 8m wide, orientated north to south, cross the valley floor. The dam originally retained a large shallow pond located to the south east. This was partly modified when the canal feeder passed underneath the dam. To the west of the dam are at least three smaller interlinked ponds which are believed to have acted as stew ponds for fish breeding. The ponds are up to 0.5m deep and have been partly infilled, but survive as waterlogged buried features. Two further ponds to the north of the river have been infilled but also survive as below ground features, together with a third located to the west of Abbey Farm. Immediately to the south east of the dam, and to the south of the River Avon is a waterlogged area including a large earthen platform measuring up to 25m square, which is believed to be the location of a watermill. To the south east of the River Avon the land rises and includes an area of earthwork enclosures defined by remnant banks and ditches, and partly overlain by medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains. The south easternmost enclosure is believed to be the remains of a rabbit warren and includes a long earthen mound or pillow mound measuring up to 20m long and 4m wide, as well as a series of other lower mounds. To the south of the River Avon, occupying the break of slope on the rising ground, is a banked and ditched linear feature, measuring up to 8m wide, orientated north west to south east and surviving for over 500m. This is believed to represent part of the boundary of the abbey precinct incorporating a perimeter road. A shallow hollow way orientated north to south and surviving for 200m runs from the boundary, through the medieval ridge and furrow, towards the south. Sulby Abbey Farm and all modern surfaces and fences are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath 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: 30072

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
RCHME, , 'The county of Northamptonshire' in Sulby Abbey, , Vol. iii, (1980), 182-7

End of official listing