Swineshead Abbey


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


Ordnance survey map of Swineshead Abbey
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2019. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
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This copy shows the entry on 23-Oct-2019 at 06:35:49.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Boston (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TF 24889 40689

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 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.

The remains of Swineshead Abbey survive well as a series of buried remains and earthwork features. The depth of accumulated archaeological deposits in the northern part of the monument, and the substantial earthworks in the southern part of the monument, indicate that buried structural and artefactual remains will survive largely intact. Waterlogging in parts of the site will also preserve organic materials such as wood and cloth, which will provide valuable information about the construction of timber buildings on the site and about economic, domestic and religious activity. Associated with the only surviving fragment of a once-extensive system of medieval dylings, the monument also preserves evidence for the way in which the abbey functioned as an economic unit in the wider medieval landscape.


The monument includes the known extent of the earthwork and buried remains of part of the inner precint and an associated dylings field system of the Abbey of St Mary, a Cistercian monastery founded in the early 12th century by the lord of the manor, Robert de Gresley. King John is reputed to have fallen ill at Swineshead Abbey a few days before his death at Newark in October 1216. Documentary sources suggest that the income of the abbey was based upon the export of wool. In the late 14th century there were 17 monks and three lay brothers at Swineshead; by 1534 there were only seven monks. The abbey was dissolved in 1536 and later passed to Edward, Lord Clinton, although the first documented reuse of the site dates from 1607 when a farmhouse was built out of the abbey ruins by Sir John Lockton. The present farmhouse, which incorporates the surviving parts of that building, is Listed Grade II and excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it is included.

The abbey occupies a slightly raised area in the marshland approximately 1km north east of the medieval town of Swineshead. In the raised area in the north eastern part of the monument, partly overlain by Abbey Farm, are the buried remains of the abbey's inner court where the church, cloister, dormitory and other claustral buildings would have been located. Adjacent to the west is another raised area, partly overlain by the present lane, where the remains of the abbey's outer court are located; these would include stables, barns and other agricultural and service buildings, together with the principal gatehouse of the abbey through which the complex would have been approached from the west. Aerial photographic evidence indicates that a ditched causeway formerly linked this site with The Manwar Ings, a motte and bailey castle 650m to the north west constructed by Robert de Gresley (the subject of a separate scheduling). Buried remains of part of this causeway are located on the north side of the present lane and are included in the scheduling. The foundations of substantial stone walls and fragments of medieval artefacts have been identified in the area of the outer court, and the ground level in the area of both the inner and outer courts indicates that archaeological deposits have accumulated to a considerable depth.

In the southern part of the monument are the earthwork remains of three rectangular ditched enclosures, also raised, and aligned east-west along the south side of the inner and outer courts. These enclosures represent the remains of paddocks or gardens which lay within the inner precinct of the monastery. They are bounded on the west by the remains of a north-south ditch, thought to represent the western boundary of the inner precinct, to the west of which are the remains of a pair of lower ditched enclosures thought to have lain within the outer precinct of the monastery. In the south eastern part of the monument are the remains of a series of parallel field strips separated by linear ditches, aligned roughly east-west, representing the remains of a medieval dylings field system which also lay within the abbey's outer precinct forming part of the land held directly by the abbey which originally extended over about 97ha. Parts of the ditches delineating both the enclosures and the field strips were redug in later centuries to create ponds and for drainage. A long embanked pond in the south eastern part of the monument, measuring nearly 90m in length and 10m in width, represents the remains of a ditch within the dylings which was altered to create a formal garden feature associated with the post-Dissolution house.

All standing buildings, walls, fences and gates are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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.

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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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