Thornholme Augustinian priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1017821

Date first listed: 17-Jan-1966

Date of most recent amendment: 24-Jul-1998


Ordnance survey map of Thornholme Augustinian priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: North Lincolnshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Appleby

National Grid Reference: SE 96458 12383, SE 96683 12486


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.

Thornholme Priory is a good example of a medium sized Augustinian foundation. It is well preserved with very little post-Dissolution disturbance, with the core of the priory surviving with substantial upstanding earthworks. Excavation has shown that much of the site, including those areas ploughed, retain undisturbed deposits extending over 1m below the modern ground surface. These deposits also included organic remains.


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


The monument includes the buried and earthwork remains of Thornholme Priory, including the church, cloister and other inner court buildings as well as the service buildings of the outer court. It is divided into two areas of protection by the West Drain. The Priory of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Thornholme was founded by King Stephen between 1148 and 1154 for about 12 Augustinian canons on a small island on the western edge of the Ancholme valley. Patronage passed to John Malherbe by 1202 so that later in 1271-72, when one of his descendants, Hugh de Nevill of Cadney was patron, the prior acknowledged John Malherbe as founder. Thornholme was not one of the wealthiest of priories, but it had a respectable income which was valued at one hundred and fifty-seven pounds by a papal taxation assessment of 1291. This, along with the assessments for several other institutions, was later admitted to have been too high, and is thought to have been around one hundred and twenty pounds in reality. Both documentary and archaeological evidence shows that the priory expanded after its foundation. Before the Black Death of the mid-14th century, the number of canons is thought to have reached 18 or more, but this had fallen to 14 in 1377 and nine in 1440. Bishop William Alnwick visited the priory in 1440 and recorded the presence of a number of buildings, including an infirmary, guest chambers and granaries as well as the expected church, cloister and chapterhouse. Mention is also made of fisheries, a separate house for the prior, as well as oblique references to a prison and houses for at least two permanent guests. The prior and nine canons subscribed to the King's supremacy, acknowledging Henry VIII as the Head of the Church, in 1534 and the priory was suppressed in 1536, when its income was assessed at one hundred and forty-nine pounds, twelve shillings and six and a half pennies. Unlike many priories and monasteries, Thornholme did not become the site of a country house after the Dissolution, and diarists of the late 17th century mentioned that substantial standing remains of the priory still survived over a century later. By the late 17th century a small farm was established on the site, centred to the north west of the church. This farm was ruinous by 1954. Throughout the medieval period, before later drainage works, the River Ancholme was tidal as far inland as Brigg, and Thornholme would have been an island surrounded by marsh and open water. A series of archaeological excavations between 1974 and 1980 demonstrated that over the centuries of use, the land surface of the island was raised with a succession of buildings built on top of the remains of their predecessors. This island can now be seen as an area of higher land with an embanked railway line running along its southern side, crossed WSW to ENE by a trackway and NNW to SSE by a drainage dyke, the West Drain, which was in existence by 1836. The main part of the priory lies to the east of West Drain, mostly to the south of the trackway. The priory church is cruciform in plan, about 65m long and 25m across at the transepts, with the modern trackway running along the south side of the nave and chancel. Earthwork evidence implies that the church had a substantial tower at the west end. The north transept was investigated archaeologically in 1975-76, excavating disturbed deposits but leaving the substantial in situ remains in place. This demonstrated that the priory had both glazed and unglazed windows, a leaded roof, and areas of tiled flooring. The walls, which had been rebuilt at least once, included reused stones and were plastered both internally and externally. To the south of the nave and south transept there are the substantial earthwork remains of the cloister and other related buildings. The cloister itself is about 22m-23m square. The east range, which runs south from the south transept, survives as a set of earthworks about 45m long, 10m wide and in places over 2m high. The substantial west range, which is at least partly brick built, the refectory forming the south side of the cloister and the large kitchen in the south east corner all survive as clear upstanding earthworks. To the south of the cloister, extending towards West Drain, there are the earthworks of boundary walls and small isolated buildings that are interpreted as being the remains of service yards. Further to the south and south west there are a complex set of depressions and water filled ponds which are partly overlain to the south by the railway embankment. These, especially the group to the east which includes a small island, are interpreted as ponds used for the management of water-fowl. This is supported by a documentary reference to a legal suit over the theft of 30 brood swans from the priory in 1374. To the east of the cloister, set within a large walled enclosure, there are the buried remains of a large east-west building up to 30m by 10m which has been identified as the infirmary together with a smaller, but substantial building 10m to the south west interpreted as the infirmary's kitchen. To the east of the infirmary enclosure the ground surface drops away and would have been at great risk of flooding during the medieval period. Three ditched enclosures, two containing the remains of stone buildings, have been identified in this area with finds of 12th and 13th century date. Immediately to the north west of the church, north of the trackway, there are the standing and earthwork remains of the later farm buildings which were partly built with reused stone from the priory. The farm was built in an open area which is thought to have been the priory's cemetery. An outlying cart shed for this farm was built over part of the nave of the church. Around 40m to the north of this complex there are the earthwork remains of a further group of small stone buildings with the depression of a drainage ditch beyond. The west end of the precinct lies to the west of West Drain. This area was partly excavated in the 1970s and was shown to retain a complex succession of gatehouses and other service buildings built and modified from at least the 12th century up until the Dissolution. The 12th century levels were left in situ, were carefully backfilled and will still survive below the maximum depth of the plough soil. Extending westwards from this area there were a pair of causeways, built up over the centuries, to provide cart access from the priory to the Roman Road. The remains of these causeways beyond the boundary of the adjacent monument are not included within the scheduling as they have been levelled by ploughing. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the railway line and embankment and all associated railway features, all modern fences, styles and gates, although 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: 30125

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Coppack, G, Hayfield, C, Thornholme Priory: the archaeology of a small Augustinian house, (1998), indexed
SMR record, Humber Archaeological Partnership, 78, (1997)

End of official listing