Cockersand Premonstratensian Abbey


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


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

Lancaster (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 42720 53747

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. The Premonstratensian order, or "White Canons", were not monks in the strict sense but rather communities of priests living together under a rule. The first Premonstratensian establishments were double houses (for men and women), but later they founded some 45 houses for men in England. The Premonstratensian order modelled itself on the Cistercian values of austerity and seclusion and founded all its monasteries in rural locations.

In addition to the upstanding medieval structural remains of Cockersand Abbey, a combination of earthworks, limited excavation and aerial photographs have shown that buried remains of the abbey are extensive and survive well. In particular, aerial photographs have shown that buried remains of a large area of the abbey's precinct lies undisturbed to the east of the core area of the abbey; this will allow the workings and development of much of the monastic precinct to be studied.


The monument includes the upstanding and buried remains of Cockersand Abbey, located adjacent to the sea shore a short distance south of the mouth of the River Lune. The most visible remains are those of the 13th century chapter house which survives by virtue of being renovated and reused as a family mausoleum from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries. Other upstanding fabric includes portions of the nave walls and the north and south transepts of the abbey church, together with various other scattered fragments of masonry. Numerous earthworks survive and represent buried walls and buildings, while to the east of the chapter house aerial photographs show crop marks of the precinct wall within which lay the canon's cemetery. Hugh Garthe settled at Cockersand around 1180 and founded a hermitage. Documentary sources indicate that by about 1184 this had become a hospital and that by about 1189 it was a monastic hospital dedicated to St Mary. By about 1192 Cockersand was an abbey of the Premonstratensian Order and functioned as such until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. At its suppresion in 1539 Cockersand is recorded as having 22 canons and 57 servants. The upstanding fabric and earthwork remains, together with an annotated plan of 1536 and limited excavation undertaken during the early 1920s, indicate the usual layout of a Premonstratensian abbey with the church running east-west and forming the north range of a four-sided complex known as the cloister. Domestic buildings such as the kitchen and frater or dining hall formed the south range of the cloister with cellars beneath. The dorter or lay-brother's dormitory formed the west range with cellars beneath, while the monks' quarters formed the upper storey of the east range with the warming house and vestibule leading to the chapter house forming the ground floor. The chapter house is constructed of red sandstone rubble with a slate roof. It is octagonal in plan with a vaulted roof carried on a central shafted pillar. There are pointed windows, now blocked, on the three east-facing sides, buttresses on the angles, and a modern crenellated parapet. On the western side the building is rectangular outside and has a round-headed doorway, now partly blocked, in which a smaller doorway has been set. The building is surmounted by a modern cross. It was used as the mausoleum of the Dalton family between 1750-1861 and is a Grade I Listed Building. Remains of the church indicate that it was long, narrow and aisleless. Fragments of the north, south and west walls of the nave survive above ground level, the latter having three shallow buttresses. Also surviving above ground level are the east walls of the north and south transepts, each with two shallow buttresses, and the south wall of the south transept. The south transept contained two chapels, and the base of the column which divided them remains in situ. The north transept contains fragments of two altar bases. The dorter and cellarium forming the west range of the cloister are depicted on the 1536 plan; the cellarium is shown with six openings in its western wall, an internal dividing wall, and a stairway in its south wall. The plan also shows the cellarage in the south range of the cloister being subdivided into two rooms. From the larger western room of this range an external porch is shown through which access to outer buildings such as a lavatory would have been gained. An inventory of 1536 indicates that cubicles for the prior, subprior, cellarer, kitchener, sexton and 12 resident canons were also provided. The site of the infirmary is represented by isolated fragements of walling, some lying partly under a modern wall, to the south east of the chapter house. Other buildings attested by the 1536 plan and documentary sources include a Lady Chapel which is thought to have stood close to the north transept, and King John's Hall, the site of which is thought to be represented by fragments of walling north of the church. To the south of the cloister the location of the abbey's east-west aligned main drain is visible as a linear hollow running from the infirmary to the sea. The seaward end of this drain was exposed by a storm during the 1980s and found to be approximately 1.5m high with a circular entrance lined with blocks of hewn sandstone. The 1536 plan indicates that the canons' cemetery was located to the east of the church, and recent aerial photographs show the crop marks of a large rectangular plot enclosed by the remains of a buried wall which is considered to be part of the abbey's precinct wall to the north east and east of the church. Internal subdivisions can be seen within this plot, indicating the presence of the remains of other structures associated with the abbey. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are all modern walls, fences, fenceposts and gateposts, the sea wall, all signs, and the surface of all paths and tracks, although the ground beneath 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.

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Books and journals
Swarbrick, J, 'TLCAS' in The Abbey of St Mary in the Marsh at Cockersand, , Vol. 40, (1923), 176
DOE, List of Buildings of Historic & Architectural Interest,
SMR No. 406, Lancashire SMR, Cockersands Abbey (St Mary in the Marsh), (1997)


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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