Catley Priory


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Catley Priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Kesteven (District Authority)
North Kesteven (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TF 11870 55570

Reasons for Designation

A post-Conquest double house is a settlement built after the Norman Conquest to house a community of religious men and women. Its main buildings were constructed to provide facilities for worship, accommodation and subsistence. The main elements included one or two churches and domestic buildings, normally arranged around two self-contained cloisters. One or two outer courts and gatehouses would accompany the central cloister compound, the whole complex being bounded by a precinct wall, earthworks or a moat. Outside the main enclosure fishponds, barns and mills may be found. The tradition of establishing double houses originated in the early Anglo-Saxon period. However, early double houses were often re-founded as the more popular single sex communities. During the 12th century a new order was founded which revived the concept of the double house. This order was founded by Gilbert of Sempringham. Within these new foundations the nuns were supposed to lead an enclosed contemplative life. The houses were under the supervision of the male founders of the order or their deputies. The male canons in each house were required to celebrate the mass for the nuns. The Gilbertines founded 12 double houses; in addition, a small number of such houses were established by other orders, such as the Fontevraults and the Bridgettines. In total only 25 sites are known to have existed. As a rare type of monastery all examples exhibiting significant survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Catley Priory is one of only 12 known Gilbertine double houses in England the majority of which are to be found in Lincolnshire. The remains of the priory survive as substantial earthworks and below ground remains. Part excavation and field walking have increased our understanding of the site while leaving the majority of the deposits intact. The good condition of the earthworks indicates a high level of survival for archaeological deposits within the precinct, and water logging within the moats and ponds indicate a high level of survival for organic remains.


The monument includes the remains of the Gilbertine Priory of St Mary, Catley, a double house for nuns and canons founded between 1146 and 1154 by Peter of Billinghay. The foundation proved locally popular but the priory was never wealthy by comparison to other reformed monastic houses, and underwent economic decline from the 14th century. It was dissolved in 1538 and the site was later acquired by Robert Carre of Sleaford. Situated in the area formerly known as the Island of Catley, the monument is surrounded by low lying, formerly waterlogged land. The remains take the form of a series of earthworks and buried deposits, including an area of earthworks representing the inner court of the priory, its buildings and water management features. The monument is bounded on the south and west by two arms, now dry, of the original moated boundary of the inner court of the priory. The western arm is 6m to 8m wide, 0.75m deep and 220m long; and the southern arm is 8m to 10m wide, 2m to 2.5m deep and 240m long. Running parallel to the western arm of the moat, for a distance of 25m at its northern end, is a second inner ditch of similar proportions. This is thought to be the remains of a second moat which bounded the entrance to the inner court of the priory, and is connected to the moat by a causeway 10m wide. The moat encloses the earthwork remains of the main conventual buildings, occupied by both the canons and the nuns, and ranges of ancillary service buildings and associated enclosures. The northernmost building platforms surviving as earthworks include the remains of the church, which was partly excavated in 1775. Immediately to the south of these are two groups of earthworks which are believed to represent the two claustral complexes occupied by the canons and nuns respectively. The conventual buildings were substantial, for the priory supported a large community composed of canons, nuns and lay brethren. There is evidence of two groupings of rectangular and sub-rectangular buildings each arranged around a cloister. The cloisters lay adjacent to each other situated immediately to the south of the church. The smaller western cloister area is thought to be that occupied by the canons, whilst the larger eastern cloister with its associated service buildings to the south would be occupied by the nuns. The nuns lived a far more restricted lifestyle than the canons and this eastern position is traditionally the most secluded area of the monastic complex. The nuns and lay sisters also undertook the majority of the domestic tasks on behalf of both sexes and required immediate access to a greater number of service buildings. Earthwork banks representing the enclosures, which surrounded the cloisters and separated that of the canons from that of the nuns, can also be identified aligned north-south between the two complexes and east-west to the south of the building platforms. To the south of these features are further earthworks representing the moats, fishponds and associated water channels of the priory which also lay within the precinct. In the south western angle of the precinct are several interconnected linear ponds or channels with leats, thought to represent the priory fishponds. The ponds are now dry and their northernmost earthworks extend to within 2m of the eastern claustral range. In the south eastern angle of the monument are further linear depressions representing water channels extending to the south from the eastern range of the eastern cloister as far as the southernmost boundary moat including the remains of a further moated enclosure. Adjacent to the east of the area of earthworks are further buried remains of the priory precinct. Soil marks recorded by aerial photography, which show differential soil colour over ditches and walls, demonstrate the below ground survival of several features including the service buildings, guest housing, an infirmary and the remains of the northern and eastern boundaries. Fragments of medieval roof tiles, pottery and limestone in the plough soil indicate the presence of buried building remains extending over an area of approximately 0.55ha. The precinct boundary is visible as a low linear bank, 10m wide, running north east from the moated enclosure at the south east corner of the precinct for 150m, before turning at right angles and continuing north west for a further 140m to meet the northern end of the western arm of the moat. All the modern post and wire fencing is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Lincolnshire196-7
Hall, H Ed, The Red Book of the Exchequer, (1896), 72-90
Kowles, D, St Joseph, JKS , Monastic Sites from the Air, (1952), 250-251
Lunt, W E Ed, The Valuation of Norwich, (1926)
Owen, D M, Church and society in medieval Lincolnshire, (1971), 144
Before earthworks ploughed in E., Cambridge University, Catley Priory,


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.

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