Notley Abbey: an Augustinian abbey and associated post-Dissolution dovecote


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017516

Date first listed: 26-Oct-1934

Date of most recent amendment: 08-Dec-1997


Ordnance survey map of Notley Abbey: an Augustinian abbey and associated post-Dissolution dovecote
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Buckinghamshire

District: Aylesbury Vale (District Authority)

Parish: Long Crendon

National Grid Reference: SP 71404 09317, SP 71499 09118


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.

Notley Abbey was one of the most wealthy and influential abbeys in the region. Documentary evidence survives from the abbey's inception in the 12th century to its suppression in 1538, as well as from the period of reuse following the Dissolution.

Although many of the buildings have been demolished and parts of the precinct obscured by later developments, the abbey's full extent can still be determined, and the buried remains of the church and other claustral buildings are known to survive. The standing parts of the claustral range although much altered, still provide a clear indication of monastery's original layout. The outer ward to the west is particularly significant. The extensive earthwork remains of further buildings and paddocks survive in good condition and, together with other elements which may be found in this area (such as lay cemeteries and gardens) will contain valuable evidence reflecting the economy of the community and their dealings with the secular world. Other aspects of communal life are represented by the fishponds which, in addition to providing a sustainable food supply, would have enabled this austere branch of the Augustinian Order to comply with religious strictures of diet. All buried features on the site will contain artefactual evidence related to the occupation of the abbey, and the fishponds and other waterlogged features may also provide environmental evidence relating to the economy of the institution and the management of the landscape in which it was set.

The dovecote survives as one of the finest examples in the region, containing many of the original features relating to its use. Since the structure post-dates the abbey's suppression, the reuse of building materials is particularly interesting, and the elaborate nature of its construction provides an important insight into the status of the private residence established within the former monastic buildings after the Dissolution.


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


Notley Abbey is located some 600m to the north west of the A418 Aylesbury Road, between the north bank of the River Thame and Notley Farm. The monument is in two areas of protection. The first includes the buried remains of the abbey church, conventual buildings and other features within the area of the inner precinct; a group of fishponds and leats extending to the north east, and a series of earthworks representing further buildings and related structures adjacent to the precinct to the south west. The second area includes an elaborate 16th or early 17th century dovecote, situated on the hillside to the north of the abbey.

The abbey church and the majority of the original abbey buildings survive only as buried remains, although portions of the claustral range (which formed a square to the south of the church) were retained within the house and outbuildings of a post-Dissolution farm - now Notley Abbey House. The enclosing wall at Notley Abbey House is Listed Grade 1 and follows the line of the east range of the cloister, incorporating stones probably of 13th century origin. The house itself, which stands some 100m north west of the Thame, is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. The house was adapted from the abbot's lodgings and guest house, which were constructed in the 15th and early 16th centuries, and stood toward the north west corner of the claustral range. The present house, a Grade I Listed Building, contains elements of the abbot's hall, parlour and a western solar wing. The attached western arm of the cloisters has largely been rebuilt as a long service wing, although the east wall and the single doorway which it contains, survive from the original structure. The south wing, formerly the refectory, kitchens, warming house and reredorter (lavatories), was illustrated as a ruin by Buck in 1730. At the time the west wall stood fully to the gable containing three tiers of lancet windows, although it was subsequently demolished and rebuilt as a barn in the later 18th century. Fragments of the original architecture remain, most notably a section of 13th century blind arcading against the east wall. The barn is Listed Grade 1.

The remains of the eastern arm of the cloisters, which contained the chapter house and dormitory, lie beneath a modern range of outbuildings and were partly revealed by excavations in the 1930s when the foundations of the 13th century chapter house were discovered near the location of a stone coffin, unearthed some years before. The abbey church (which lies partly beneath the Grade II Listed walled garden to the north of the present house) was more extensively excavated in the 1930s, to reveal the foundations of a cruciform building, some 67m in length. In a departure from tradition, the normal east- west orientation of the church (and therefore the claustral range) was abandoned in favour of a south east to north west alignment, parallel with the course of the Thame. The excavation determined that the transepts and crossing were constructed around 1160, and that the aisled nave was completed some 40 years later. The chancel was extended to the east around 1300, at which time the crossing was remodelled in the perpendicular style. Only a few fragments of the church foundations, such as a pier base from the south aisle of the nave, remain visible today; these are included in the scheduling.

The abbey precinct, which surrounded the conventual buildings, monastic cemetery and other facilities of the order, is thought to have followed the River Thame to south east, which is mentioned as the boundary in the foundation charter. The north western boundary can be traced in a series of aerial photographs taken in 1934 which record the imprint of a large, partly buried ditch following the foot of the hillside parallel to, and some 160m from, the river. This ditch turns through a right angle corner some 70m to the north of the abbey church, forming the north eastern boundary of the precinct.

A series of fishponds occupies the eastern corner of the precinct and extends slightly beyond the area thus defined. The four ponds, each between 30m and 40m in length and 10m to 15m in width, are arranged side-by-side to the north of a broad supply channel which flows in a south westerly direction toward the Thame. The ponds are marshy and heavily silted, and only one still retains a body of open water. The northern end of the southern central pond is linked to a broad but largely buried channel leading towards the south eastern corner of the cloisters. This is thought to have supplied water for the kitchens and reredorter, the outlet from which appears to have rejoined the supply channel at a T-shaped junction immediately prior to its convergence with the river. The south western boundary of the precinct follows the southern boundary of a small pasture to the south of the driveway to the Abbey House, where a broad ditch or hollow way ascends the gentle slope from the river. The field itself contains a pattern of shallow earthworks, some resulting from the planting of rows in a former orchard; others, particularly towards the northern corner, indicative of earlier structures. The boundary ditch, accompanied by a low bank on the eastern side, continues to the north west along the boundary of the adjacent field for approximately 35m, at which point it is joined by a second ditch crossing the field on the same alignment as the north western precinct boundary recorded on the aerial photographs.

A large rectangular enclosure, measuring 70m by 35m, lies on the slope above this western corner of the precinct, defined by embanked ditches to the north west and north east and by the precinct boundary to the south east. The interior is divided into two levels, the higher platform occupying all but the eastern third of the enclosure and suggesting the location of a substantial structure. Slight terraces are visible to the north and south of the enclosure and a further building platform, measuring approximately 15m by 10m lies about 50m to the north east, on the far side of a trackway leading to Notley Farm. These platforms are thought to indicate the locations of barns, stables and various outbuildings associated with the domestic life of the abbey, but kept separate from the religious life within the precinct itself.

Walter Giffard, 2nd Earl of Buckingham, and his wife Ermengard are thought to have founded the abbey around 1162, within the demesne lands of the Earl's deer park at Crendon. The abbey was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and John the Baptist, but also known as `Abbatia de Parco super Thamam', or `de Parco Crendon', and as `Noctele, Nutleigh, Nutley and Notely', the latter apparently in reference to the abundance of nut trees in the area. The community of Augustinian canons followed the regulations of St Nicholas of Arroasia, a reformed branch of the order which adhered to strict customs of diet, dress and observance. Although the monastery was subject to a number of enquiries in the 13th and 14th century regarding internal order, its reputation for discipline remained such that the abbot was frequently called upon to settle the disputes of other houses. The abbey acquired further lands and titles through later endowments and became in time the most wealthy foundation in Buckinghamshire. At the Dissolution the abbey was valued at nearly 450 pounds, having the patronage of 11 churches, control of the Priory of Chetwode and title over six manors in the county. Both Edward II and Edward III used occasionally to quarter their old servants at Notley and, in 1529, Henry VIII stayed at the abbey on his progress through the Midlands. By the time of the Dissolution the abbey lay under the direct patronage of the crown, and the final act of submission took place in an orderly fashion with pensions and benefices allocated to the abbot and the dozen or so remaining canons. Henry granted the abbey lands to Sir John Williams and others in 1542, and the site of the abbey itself was later granted to Edward VI's Secretary of State, Sir William Paget. Towards the end of the century the abbey passed to the Bertie family, and in 1791 Colonel Albermarle Bertie conveyed the estate to Henry Reynolds, whose family still own much of the property.

The square, stone built dovecote located on the hillside some 150m north west of the abbey church, incorporates reused masonry from the abbey buildings and is thought to have been constructed in the 16th or early 17th century, during the conversion of the abbey to a private dwelling. The dovecote is a Grade I Listed Building and measures about 10m square, with walls 5m high and a steep hipped roof clad with tile and supported by complicated queen post trusses. The interior walls are covered from floor to eaves with a chequerboard pattern of nesting boxes created from limestone ledgers and blocks. The nesting boxes also extend into a cruciform arrangement of internal walls which divide the interior into four compartments and help support the roof.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all standing buildings with the exception of the dovecote and the bases of church piers in the gardens of Notley Abbey House, all modern made surfaces, walls, fences, gates, bridges and the propane tank in the field to the south of Notley Farm; 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: 29409

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1905), 377
The Victoria History of the County of Buckinghamshire, (1905), 377-80
Bryant, , County of Buckinghamshire, (1824)
Buck, S, N, , The East View of Nutley-Abby in the County of Bucks, (1730)
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, (1960), 217-18
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England, (1960), 586
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 374
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 375
Sheahan, J, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire, (1862), 372-5
'Records of Buckinghamshire' in Proceedings, , Vol. 11, (1922), 216-7
'Records of Buckinghamshire' in Proceedings, , Vol. 12, (1929), 200-202
'Records of Buckinghamshire' in Proceedings, , Vol. 14, (1941), 25
'Buckinghamshire Herald' in Lessor Religious Houses of Buckinghamshire, (1888)
'Records of Buckinghamshire' in Proceedings, , Vol. 13, (1934), 58-60
Pantin, W A, 'Oxoniensia' in Notley Abbey, , Vol. 6, (1941), 22-43
Notes on trial excavation, 0630: Notley Abbey, Long Crendon, (1995)
Oblique series (copies in Bucks Mus), 887-889, (1934)
Plan of earthworks (this proposal), Went, D, Notley Abbey (SM:29409), (1997)
Site visit notes and recommendations, Schofield, J, Memo to D Stocker, (1995)
text and plan, RCHME, Inventory of Historic Monuments, Buckinghamshire, (1920)
Title: Long Crendon Inclosure Map Source Date: 1827 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: PRO ref: IR/95 Q
Title: Ordnance Survey 25" Source Date: 1932 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing