Latton 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.

Epping Forest (District Authority)
North Weald Bassett
National Grid Reference:
TL 46600 06368

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.

Latton Priory is a good example of an Augustinian foundation, with historical records from its inception continuing to the 16th century, and further details from the Dissoulution and after. Although parts of the precinct have been obscured by later developments, the full extent of the moated island is known and foundations and other features, including those of the church and claustral buildings, will survive buried beneath the present buildings and surfaces. The standing part of the church is well preserved, providing a graphic illustration of the appearance of the monastery in the 14th century. The outer wards are particularly significant, as these are thought to have contained ancillary buildings, paddocks, gardens and cemeteries reflecting the economy of the community and their dealings with the secular world, and therefore separated from the religious life within the inner precinct. Other aspects of communal life are represented by the fishponds which, in addition to providing a sustainable food supply, would have enabled the canons to comply with religious strictures concerning their diet.


The monument includes the site of the Augustinian priory of St John the Baptist, now Latton Priory Farm, and is located to the south of Harlow, approximately 1km to the south west of junction 7 on the M11. It includes the crossing of the church, which is the only monastic structure to survive as a standing building above ground, the buried remains of the church and conventual buildings, the moated island which served as the inner precinct and on which the claustral range originally stood, a series of enclosures representing outer wards to the south and east of the moat, and a fishpond located to the south. The moated island lies mainly to the south of the farm buildings and is trapezoidal in plan, measuring between 70m and 100m from east to west and between 70m and 80m north to south. The northern and eastern arms of the surrounding ditch have been infilled; the former is now covered by yard surfaces and modern outbuildings, and the latter is only visible as a slight depression in the adjacent pasture. To the south and west the ditch is water filled, measuring on average 10m in width and 2m deep. The priory church, which was completely rebuilt in the 14th century using flint rubble dressed with reused Roman brick and Reigate stone, stood towards the northern corner of the island. The crossing, a Grade II* Listed Building, survives nearly to its full height, with archways on each side which lead into the transepts, nave and chancel. The north transept is represented by standing walls to the east and west. These are pierced by archways, now blocked, which provided access to the north aisle and to a chapel on the north side of the chancel. A piscina, with moulded and shafted jambs and a trefoiled head is mounted in the wall to the north of the chapel entrance. A section of east wall, with a diagonal buttress at the southern end, survives to mark the position of the south transept, which reportedly collapsed in 1806, and traces of a circular staircase can be seen in the external angle between its western wall and the nave. Short sections of the nave walls extend eastwards from the crossing for about 3.5m, retaining a blocked sexfoil circular window above the level of the north aisle roof, and a blocked processional doorway with moulded jambs in the south wall. The chancel, illustrated in 1778 prior to its collapse, is thought to have been of two bays. In its place stands a barn with a hipped roof dating from the late 17th century. A similar barn, of 19th century construction, extends across the site of the south transept, and the north transept walls are sloped off, roofed, and sealed with weatherboarding. These later structures, together with the roof above the crossing and a modern extension in the north eastern angle, are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them, and the medieval fabric to which they are attached, is included. The church is thought to have formed the northern arm of the claustral range which would have included a dormitory extending from the south transept, a cellarer's range to the east and a refectory to the south, completing a square surrounding the cloister garth. The present farmhouse, which is Listed Grade II, replaced an earlier house demolished in the late 18th century and is thought to stand on the site of the refectory. Material similar to that used in the construction of the church was found beneath the south wall during the demolition of the earlier building. The remainder of the island, to the south of the farmhouse, is fairly level and lacks surface evidence for the presence of ancillary buildings, although linear parchmarks representing the buried foundations of further structures were recorded by aerial photography in 1995. The south eastern corner of the island contains a small fishpond, measuring approximately 30m by 10m and orientated with the southern arm of the moat. A larger fishpond, similarly aligned, lies outside the moat approximately 120m to the south. This feature is depicted on a map of the property dating from 1616, which also shows the small island located towards the eastern end. The area to the south of the moat is crossed by several shallow ditches which were last recorded from the air in 1995 prior to being infilled in the following year. These leats, some of which link with other partly infilled ditches to the east of the moat, form the boundaries of two outer enclosures, or wards. The smaller ward forms a sub-rectangular enclosure extending approximately 90m beyond the southern arm of the moat, with the larger fishpond at its south western corner. In the early 17th century this enclosure lay within a larger area termed `Grave feild'(sic) and, as human bones were reportedly unearthed here in the 18th century, it may have surrounded a lay cemetery administered by the priory. The canons' cemetery would, according to the doctrines of the order, have been placed near the chancel of the priory church. The second ward represents a separate phase of development during which a larger area to the south and east of the moat was enclosed. The boundary ditch extends south across the interior of the smaller ward for some 70m, following the same alignment as the western arm of the moat. It then turns to the north east, crossing the eastern arm of the smaller enclosure before turning to the north and running parallel to, and approximately 30m from, the eastern arm. The 1616 map shows a small paddock or orchard to the south of the moat defined by a combination of boundary ditches from both wards, which must therefore pre-date its existence. A slight terrace, perhaps formed by upcast from the construction or periodic cleaning of the moat, lies between the eastern boundary of the larger ward and the eastern arm of the moat. This area, termed `the monks' bowling green' in the late 18th century, may originally have served as a vegetable or herb garden. The adjacent ditch continues to join a broad hollow way which extends across the northern edge of the pasture from east to west. This route is thought to represent the original approach to the priory leading towards the entrance to the moat which is shown as a causeway across the centre of the northern arm on the 1616 map. A short section of the hollow way approximately 30m in length is included in the scheduling as a sample of the route and in order to protect its archaeological relationship with the enclosure ditch. The priory was founded in the 12th century by an ancestor of Thomas Shaa, who was recorded as the benefactor in 1534. The original community consisted of a prior and two canons and, although the priory later acquired over 440 acres of land together with the advowson of the parish church, the priors were often appointed by the Bishop of London as the canons numbered too few for proper elections. John Taylor, the last prior and the only remaining canon at the time of the Dissolution, abandoned the priory following an inquistion in 1534. In 1536 the property was confiscated by the Crown and granted to Sir Henry Parker. In addition to the roofs and later structures attached to the crossing of the church, the following items are excluded from the scheduling; all standing buildings and walls (apart from the church walls), the surfaces of all paths and yards, all fences, fenceposts and gates, and all other modern features and fittings, the ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

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.

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Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Essex, (1920), 154
Grosse, , The Antiquities of Essex, (1787)
4/26 (Grade II*), DoE, List of Buildings of Special Historic or Architectural Interest, Epping (North Weald Bassett), (1970)
conversation with landowner, Brown, I, Latton Priory, (1996)
PRN.23 Latton Priory, (1985)
Text and plan of church crossing, RCHME, Inventory of Historic Monuments, Essex, (1921)
Title: Antiquity Model (resurvey) Source Date: 1971 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: TL 40 NE 8
Title: Survey of Latton Source Date: 1616 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Essex Record Office No. D/D Ar. P1.
Title: Survey of Latton Source Date: 1616 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: Essex Record Office No. D/D Ar. P1.
Two oblique colour photographs, Strachan, D, Latton Priory, (1995)


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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