Cistercian abbey and medieval settlement at Pipewell


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Kettering (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 83767 85724, SP 84019 85653

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 75 of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks", on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen, dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on sheep farming. The Cistercians 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 Cistercian abbey at Pipewell survives well as earthwork and buried remains and several waterlogged areas, which include a variety of different features including the abbey church and cloistral buildings, as well as parts of the wider precinct. There are a number of surviving documentary sources referring to the abbey, and comparison between the written record and the physical remains will contribute to the wider understanding of the order at the height of its development. Buried remains including 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, will illustrate the development of the monastery. Although Cistercian monasteries conformed in general to a standard architectural plan and the monks lived by a strict code of statutes governing many aspects of their lives, the architecture of individual houses developed over the centuries of their occupation. The Brakespear excavations confirmed that whilst Pipewell conformed to the general Cistercian plan, it also retained its own individual elements of style and design, and the survival of buried architectural fragments will further enhance our knowledge of the abbey at Pipewell and Cistercian abbeys in general. The survival of the monastic cemetery will provide an opportunity to examine the skeletal remains of a discrete medieval community providing insights into living conditions, diet, health and funerary practices. The low lying, waterlogged position of the mill, leats and fishponds of the abbey suggest a good level of survival of organic remains within the monastic precinct. This environmental evidence will provide information about the local landscape and also the economic development of the house through preservation of remains indicating the changing agricultural regimes. Medieval rural settlements in England were marked by great regional diversity in form, size and type, and the protection of their archaeological remains needs to take these differences into account. To do this, England has been divided into three broad Provinces on the basis of each area's distinctive mixture of nucleated and dispersed settlements. These can be further divided into sub-Provinces and local regions, possessing characteristics which have gradually evolved during the last 1500 years or more. This monument lies in the East Midlands sub-Province of the Central Province, an area characterised in the Middle Ages by large numbers of nucleated settlements. The sites of many of these settlements are now occupied by modern villages, but others have been partially or wholly deserted and are marked by earthwork remains. Most of these settlements were first documented in the 11th century, in the Domesday Book. The southern part of the sub- Province has greater variety of settlement, with dispersed farmsteads and hamlets intermixed with the villages. Whilst some of the dispersed settlements are post-medieval, others may represent much older farming landscapes. The Soar Valley and Nene Plateau local region comprises the low hill country of the Soar Valley and, to the south east, a low plateau dissected by the tributaries of the Nene and Welland. Nucleated villages and hamlets dominate the region, but gaps are found within the pattern in Rockingham Forest, in Rutland and in High Leicestershire where they are linked to the location of woodland in and before the 11th century. The crofts and building platforms of the medieval settlement which predates the foundation of the abbey and may have continued to survive as an element of the monastic holdings, will contain buried evidence for houses, barns and other structures related to the development of the settlement. Buried artefacts, in association with the buildings will provide further insights into the lifestyle of the inhabitants and assist in dating the development of the settlement over time. Environmental evidence may also be preserved, illustrating the economy of the hamlet and providing further information about its agricultural regime prior to the foundation of the abbey as well as comparative information highlighting the changes made by the monastic community. The archaeological remains will also demonstrate the interaction between the settlement and the abbey, illustrating the relationship between the monks and the surrounding population.


The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of the Cistercian abbey of Pipewell, and the medieval settlement which predated the foundation of the abbey. The remains lie within two areas of protection on either side of the village street, in the valley of the Harper Brook. The abbey was founded in 1143 by William Batevileyn, as a daughter house of New Minster Abbey, and its lands fell within two parishes. The original monastic buildings were constructed soon after the foundation of the abbey, but were entirely rebuilt in the early 14th century, the church being dedicated in 1311 and the cemetery, cloisters and chapter house in 1312. The abbey was dissolved in 1538, and by 1548 the buildings were ruinous and were later systematically demolished for their stone. Small scale excavations, carried out in 1909 by Brakespear, discovered the site of the church and cloisters and a stone coffin containing an undisturbed skeleton in the chapter house. Elsewhere small areas of surviving walling were noted associated with the finds including decorated stonework, animal bones, and ornamental tiles. The first area of protection includes the earthworks and buried remains of the cloistral range and church located to the east of the road and to the rear of the buildings of Home Farm. The Old Farm House, Abbey Cottage and Home Farm as well as their ancillary buildings are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these buildings is included. The west end of the church and the western range of the cloisters partly underlie the buildings of Home Farm, and stone foundations have been noted during previous building works in the vicinity of the farmyard. The grave found in the chapter house is marked by a modern stone slab. Immediately to the west of this is the site of the cloister garth, a level area bounded to the south and east by low earthworks. An area of further low earthworks lies to the south of the cloisters, and is believed to include ancillary buildings associated with the southern range of the cloisters such as the remains of kitchens and food storage and preparation areas, as well as the remains of the water supply and drainage systems and sluices. A large earthen and rubble mound measuring over 4m high and 12m in diameter, is located to the south east of the cloistral range close to the stream. The mound stands on a level platform 0.5m high defined by the stream on its southern side and elsewhere by a curving ditch measuring 2m wide and 0.75m deep. This is believed to be the location of a windmill mound, and an adjacent watermill may also survive. To the south west of the cloistral range, adjacent to the road, are the partly infilled remains of two parallel rectangular fishponds. The easternmost fishpond is dry and largely infilled, although its location can be identified. The westernmost fishpond survives, partly modified, as a water-filled feature. To the south of the brook and west of Abbey Cottage is an area of further earthworks, cut into terraces, where stone foundations have been noted and a large number of oyster shells were uncovered during previous ground disturbance. The location and the occurrence of oyster shells in the vicinity suggest that this area may have been the site of the infirmary of the abbey, although the remains of the settlement at Pipewell which predated the foundation of the abbey may also survive as buried features. The second area of protection lies to the west of the road and is located in the park of Pipewell Hall. This area has been somewhat disturbed in places by the modern firing butts of the rifle range which has been constructed in the park, however further earthwork and buried remains of the abbey survive here. The butts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included. A massive sinuous earthen bank, measuring up to 5m high and 8m wide, runs for approximately 200m to the north west from the stream near Pipewell Hall. This bank or dam retained a large shallow pond occupying much of the land to the north and north west of the hall covering at least 2.5ha. The limits of the pond were formed by the naturally rising contours of the landscape, and it is now dry, although a smaller pond was later constructed as part of the garden features associated with the hall. A 10m sample of the pond bay, lying immediately to the south west of the dam, is included in the scheduling. Immediately to the east of the dam are the remains of two large stone quarries with a number of associated hollow ways. The quarries are believed to have provided the source of some of the building stone for the abbey complex. They appear to have been adapted later to form part of the water supply system for the ponds, and remnant leats are located in the base of the quarries. The area between the quarries and the road includes a number of low earthworks measuring 0.75m high, and forming at least two platforms and enclosures, defined by shallow banks and hollow ways. Further partly damaged platforms are aligned along the western edge of the road. These earthworks are believed to be further remains of the early medieval settlement which predated the foundation of the abbey. A small settlement, with nine households, is recorded in the Domesday survey, and it formed part of three manors, located in Stoke Hundred to the north, and Rothwell Hundred to the south of the Brook. There are no further records of the settlement, which must have been depopulated or incorporated into the abbey estates at its foundation in 1143. The inhabitants may have become labourers for the abbey or joined the monks as lay brothers. Documentary references indicate a secular population continued on the abbey estates. Home Farm, The Old Farm House, Abbey Cottage and their associated ancillary buildings as well as all modern surfaces, post and wire fences and the modern firing butts of the rifle range 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.

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Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire: The Abbey of Pipewell, (1980), 116-120
RCHME, , 'County of northamptonshire' in Pipewell Parish, , Vol. 111, (1981), 170-173


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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