Remains of Sibton Abbey
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Location Description:
- Statutory Address:
- Sibton Abbey, Sibton, Suffolk
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- Statutory Address:
- Sibton Abbey, Sibton, Suffolk
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- East Suffolk (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Standing ruins and buried remains of a C12 Cistercian abbey.
Reasons for Designation
Sibton Abbey is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: for the standing, buried and earthwork remains which depict the form, plan and architectural detail of the abbey;
* Potential: for the stratified archaeological deposits which retain considerable potential to increase our understanding of the physical characteristics of the buildings. Buried artefacts and sediments will also have the potential to increase our knowledge of the social and economic functioning of the Cistercian community within the wider medieval landscape;
* Documentation: for the historical and archaeological documentation pertaining to the abbey’s history and evolution, notably detailed C14 accounts which provide information about the economic organisation of the abbey estates;
* Diversity: for the range and complexity of features such as the church, claustral buildings, cemetery, water management system, causeway and bridge which, taken as a whole, provide a plan of the abbey and retain significant stratified deposits that yield details of the evolution of the monastic site;
* Group value: for the group value with the associated north grange moated site and the south grange which are both scheduled.
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.
Sibton Abbey, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was founded in 1150 by William Cheyney and colonised by an abbot and 12 monks from Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire. The community soon after this is thought to have increased to 20 monks in addition to the many lay brothers, but in 1381 numbered 11 monks and at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, only the abbot and seven monks. It was comparatively wealthy with an annual income ranging from 144 pounds, 35 shillings and 4 pence to 250 pounds, 15 shillings and 7 pence just prior to the Dissolution. In 1536 the abbey and its possessions were surrendered by the abbot and convent and granted to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and subsequently, in 1610, sold to John Scrivener. A house was built on the site, and the demolition of this in the later C18 is recorded by Davey, a contemporary local antiquarian.
The bridge, situated just outside the south-west corner of the scheduled monument, was built in 1770 by John Freston Scrivener Esq. to replace the previous bridge which had been built as part of Sibton Abbey. It would have been visible from the house that the Scrivener family had erected in the first half of the C17. The surviving remnants of the earlier bridge have been dated to the C12 or C13 based on the size and character of the bricks which are similar to those used for the remodelling of the claustral buildings during the same period. The first edition Ordnance Survey map of 1884 erroneously labels the bridge abutment as the site of the monastic hospital. In 2010 the wing of the bridge on the upstream south bank collapsed due to the erosive effects of the current which has exposed the soil core of the bridge abutment.
The current monument includes part of a Cistercian abbey situated on the north side of the River Yox. Within the area of protection are the standing ruins and buried remains of the abbey church and claustral buildings which formed the core of the monastic complex, with adjacent areas containing remains of the monastic cemetery, water management features and buried earthworks which include ditched enclosures and what was probably a system of fishponds. The scheduling includes the causeway and the medieval fabric of the bridge just outside the south-west corner of the monument.
The remains of the abbey church and claustral buildings occupy a terraced platform at the foot of the south-facing slope of the river valley which rises to a height of approximately 15m above them. All that remains visible of the church is the ruined wall of the south aisle of the nave west of the crossing, constructed of flint masonry for a length of approximately 42m and standing in places to a height of up to 4m above the ground level on the south side, which is approximately 1.5m lower than the ground level of the interior of the church. The width of the nave and flanking aisles was approximately 20m, and the foundations of the north wall are believed to survive below the ground surface. The stump of the west wall of the south transept of the church projects from the eastern end of the standing wall and approximately 31m west of this is another southward projecting, rounded stump of flint masonry with the opening of a doorway immediately to the west of it. Abutting the masonry stump and enclosing the opening on the south side is the lower part of a rectangular structure of post-medieval brick, perhaps a stair turret and part of the later house. Finds of skeletons and stone coffins recorded to the east of the site of the church mark the location of the monastic cemetery. Buried masonry, possibly the foundations of a flint wall, has been noted along the south side of this area.
The projections from the church wall, and a fragment of wall footing visible to the south of the western projection, define the eastern and western limits of a cloister measuring approximately 31m square, around which were ranged the conventual buildings. The best preserved of these is the south range which contains the remains of the monks' refectory, measuring approximately 21m in length east-west by 7m internally, with other offices, probably including a buttery and kitchen, to the west of it. The east-west alignment of the refectory, though customary in monasteries of other orders is unusual for a Cistercian house, where a north-south alignment was usually adopted. The ruined north, south and east walls of the refectory stand for the most part to almost their full original height and are built chiefly of flint masonry with stone dressings, displaying various original features of late 12th century date as well as evidence for alterations and insertions of later medieval and post-medieval date. The original features include rows of tall, round headed window arches with splayed reveals and moulded stone surrounds along the north and south walls, and a blind arch of moulded stone with carved corbels which occupies the width of the east wall, in front of which which would have stood the high table. At the east end of the south wall adjacent to this was the pulpit from which readings were given during meals, and although the pulpit itself is no longer in position, the remains of the lower part of the wall at this point show the thickening and outward projection which supported it. The windows in the south wall west of the pulpit were originally open to full length, though some are partially blocked by post-medieval brickwork. Those in the north wall are blocked to the height of the pentice roof of the south cloister alley, the upper line of which is marked on the northern, external face of the wall by a stone weathering course. The easternmost of the high window openings above this has been altered by the insertion of a mullion and moulded brick jambs of late medieval type. In the adjacent east wall there are two rows of rectangular sockets for floor joists, the upper of which may be for an inserted upper chamber or gallery contemporary with this later window, although the lower, just above the corbels of the blind arch, probably relates to a post-medieval alteration. Beneath the lower row are two rectangular openings, also probably post-medieval insertions and now blocked. At the western end of the north wall of the refectory is the plain, round headed arch of the doorway giving access from the cloister, and to the east of this, on the north face of the same wall looking onto the cloister alley are the remains of a finely decorated recess for the laver (ceremonial washing place) the construction of which is recorded in the abbey accounts for 1363-4. The remains of the north wall of the south range to the west of the refectory include a door opening with pointed arch of medieval or early post-medieval type and, above this, a row of sockets for the joists of an upper floor. Nothing of the south wall opposite remains above ground.
Little is visible of the east range which included the chapter house, where the monks met to discuss the business of the abbey, and the dorter (monks' dormitory) above an undercroft containing other apartments such as a warming house with fireplace. Some internal details can, however, be seen on the eastern face of the west wall at the east end of the refectory, where the east and south ranges abutted, and these include outlines and part of the springing of the arches of two bays of the vaulted undercroft and, on the level of the upper floor, a blind arcade with round headed arches of medieval tile. The chapter house, entered from the cloister alley and aligned east-west, will have stood to the south of the south transept of the church on a levelled area which is bounded on the east side, approximately 20m from the line of the west wall of the east range, by a west facing scarp up to 1.5m in height. As was customary, the east range will have extended beyond the eastern end of the south range, probably with a reredorter (latrine block) at the southern end.
The west range normally included an undercroft used for storage and, in Cistercian houses, accommodation for the lay brothers. The fragmentary walls are of different build from the walls of the church and south range, being constructed of a mixture of flint, medieval brick and crag blocks, and are probably of later date. They define a building approximately 7.5m wide internally with a small apartment, possibly the outer parlour, at the north end. This building is approximately 10m west of and parallel to line of the west wall of the cloister, the space between representing either the site of a contiguous, perhaps earlier range, or a wide `lane' separating the lay brothers' quarters from the cloister itself. This west range is also thought to have extended beyond the south range, and although no walls remain standing here, the probable extent is marked by a roughly rectangular raised earthen platform, on the east side of which is a slightly lower raised area which is perhaps the site of part of the kitchen complex.
The plentiful supply of water needed for the kitchens and for sanitation will have been supplied by a channel from the river upstream to the west, with a concomitant drainage system. A vaulted underground conduit, now blocked, is known to run across the area to the south of the cloister, either beneath or immediately to the south of the estimated southern ends of the east and west ranges. The eastern part of the channel, which took the foul water from the kitchens and latrines and has remained open and in use into modern times, remains visible in an adjacent field.
To north and south of the open section of the drain there are buried earthworks, visible until the early 1950s, when the field was levelled, and still producing crop marks (lines of differential plant growth) which have been recorded by means of aerial photography. Those to the north of the drain, as seen in an aerial photograph taken in January 1947, resemble an array of fishponds, such as were constructed for the breeding and storing of fish, and those to the south are ditches defining rectangular enclosures which were perhaps part of the monastic gardens or orchards.
About 250m south-west of the abbey ruin is a bridge spanning the River Yox. It is constructed of brick and has a single segmental arch span of 6.15m. The keystone is inscribed with the initials ‘JS’ and the date 1770. There have been several phases of repair to the parapet and the upstream wing on the south side has been replaced. This is the section that collapsed in 2010. On the south bank are the remains of a flint abutment which was part of the medieval bridge. This lies alongside the east side and is partly buried by the C18 bridge. The abutment consists of a 1.20m thick wall that is partly buried in the bank. It appears as a rough block of bonded flint, having lost almost all of its facing masonry, but at its base at least three courses of the former brick facing remain. These are handmade bricks of red-purple sandy clay with burnt flint inclusions. Only the medieval fabric of the bridge and the ground beneath it is included in the scheduling.
The bridge is approached across the flood plain on the south side by a low causeway measuring c.123m in length. Recent archaeological investigation shows that the cut for the reconstruction of the bridge in 1770 truncated the end of the causeway, confirming that the causeway was already in existence when the later bridge was built. The height of the causeway at the bridge end is 1.45m above the level of the field to the east. A section through the west side of the causeway shows its make-up of re-deposited silty clay which includes brick and tile rubble overlying the natural ground level.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING
The scheduling is designed to protect the standing ruins and buried remains of the abbey church and claustral buildings, including the artificial scarp on the north side of the terraced platform on which the church stood; an area of the monastic cemetery to the east of the church where finds of burials have been recorded; the area between the standing ruins and the river which is believed to include evidence for the southern parts of the eastern and western claustral ranges and is known to contain buried remains of the monastic water supply and drainage system; and an area to the west of the cloister where the unevenness of the ground is indicative of buried remains. These remains lie within woodland and an adjoining field under pasture. The area of protection also includes part of a field to the east, now under arable cultivation, in which the earthworks of a probable array of fishponds and various ditched enclosures have been recorded and are known to survive as buried features; and the causeway to the south-west with a 3m buffer zone either side, the medieval fabric of the bridge and the ground beneath the bridge, although the C18 and later fabric of the bridge is excluded from the scheduling.
All gates, fences and modern road surfaces are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Brown, P (ed), Sibton Abbey Cartuleries
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907)
Knowles, D, Hadcock, R. N, Medieval Religious Houses in England and Wales, (1971)
Denny, A. H (ed), 'Suffolk Records Society' in The Sibton Abbey Estates: Selected Documents 1325-1509, vol. 2 (1960)
Hope, W. H. St J, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Sibton Abbey, vol. 8 (1894), 54-60
Lee, Lindsay (1998)
Levvett-Scrivener, J. E (1996)
Microfilm copy in SRO: ref J/400/2, Davy Coll BM Add Mss 19077-19113
RAF, CPE/UK/1937 (1947)
SAU, Sibton Abbey Nos. 11-13 (1983)
Suffolk County Council, 28/86/111 (1986)
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