The North Gate and part of the precinct area of Buckfast Abbey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of The North Gate and part of the precinct area of Buckfast Abbey
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Teignbridge (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SX 74055 67367

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.

Although Buckfast Abbey began life as a Benedictine monastery it was under Cistercian rule for much of its life. Certain of the abbey buildings survive well as adapted structures from the earlier periods of the abbey's history whilst others have been rebuilt directly on 12th century Cistercian foundations. Those remains of the abbey included in the scheduling have been demonstrated from partial excavation and survey to retain information about the abbey, the lives of its inhabitants, and their relationship with the outside world. The remains convey, along with the archaeological and historical material presented by the abbey to the public, a sense of the monastic life of the Middle Ages. This combination of standing remains, coupled with academic and popular accounts of the abbey buildings, enhances the educational quality of this monument which still functions as a monastery.


The monument includes part of the north west area of the precinct of the outer court of Buckfast Abbey including the standing arch of the North Gate, the below ground remains of buildings and courtyards of the outer court, the standing remains of a kitchen and service block, and the below ground remains of the medieval guesthouse and Abbot's guest hall. The abbey is sited on the west bank of the River Dart on the southern edge of Dartmoor, just north of the town of Buckfastleigh. Although originally a Benedictine foundation, and for a short time under Savignac rule, the plan of the abbey largely reflects the Cistercian monastic arrangement following the absorption of the abbey into the Cistercian order in 1147. The present plan of the abbey also reflects the ancient division between an inner and outer court, a common feature of Cistercian houses, the inner court being reserved essentially for the monastic community whilst the outer court catered for the needs of guests and visitors. The abbey was in monastic occupation from its foundation until 1539 when it fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It reverted to the role of a monastery from 1882, however, and was rebuilt largely on the original foundations. The inner court of the monastic complex at Buckfast has as its focus the abbey church, a Grade II* Listed Building, which was re-erected on exposed 12th century foundations. The claustral ranges were also rebuilt on the existing plan and they incorporate the remains of a barrel-vaulted undercroft of probable 12th century date. The building known as the Abbot's Tower, which dates from around the 14th century and which adjoins the south west corner of the claustral block, survived later depredations largely through its incorporation into a mansion built on the site in about 1806 by Samuel Berry; both the claustral block and the Abbot's Tower are Listed Buildings, Grade II*. Further below ground remains, suspected but not confirmed to be those of the abbot's house and the infirmary, have been recorded to the south east of the claustral block, those of the suspected abbot's house have been reported by Brown in 1996 to be in a particularly good state of preservation. The inner court does not form part of the scheduling owing to the presence of a monastic community at Buckfast, where regular worship takes place in the abbey church and where other buildings and areas of the inner court are utilised for prayer and contemplation. The scheduling encompasses part of the area of the outer court of the ancient abbey on its north western side. Visible remains exist within the outer court in the form of a number of ruined and adapted structures and archaeological investigations have demonstrated the presence of the below ground remains of buildings, enclosure walls, surfaces, and archaeological deposits of the 12th-19th centuries. The principal above ground survivals of the medieval period are the 14th century guesthouse, the 15th century Abbot's guest hall, and the southern arch of the North Gate. In addition, there are fragmentary standing remains of what is considered to be a kitchen block and service buildings attached to the guesthouse and guest hall. The two adjoining buildings of the guesthouse and Abbot's guest hall, both Listed Buildings Grade II, are in use and only the ground beneath them is included in the scheduling. The 14th century guesthouse has been shown by the excavator (Brown) to have developed from a smaller 12th century building of likely similar function. It comprised a ground floor hall, an upper end, probably of two floors providing sleeping accommodation, and the lower end of a chamber above two service rooms. In post-Dissolution adaption the building was narrowed and the original outer west wall survives exposed at ground level with modern consolidation. Also surviving are the remains of an 18th century garderobe. The Abbot's guest hall, known as Abbey Farm after its later period of use, survives as an adapted structure with all four of its medieval walls standing to nearly full height. It was a 15th century addition to the guesthouse suite standing almost at right angles to it and it has been shown in archaeological excavations to be overlying earlier remains including 12th century drainage channels. Abbey Farm is a Listed Building Grade II. Excavations have also taken place both to the south and north of the guesthouse. Those to the south revealed a structure interpreted as the guesthouse kitchen whilst to the north a building complex with a long sequence of use dating from the late 13th or early 14th century, and extending into the 15th century, was discovered. Recovered in excavation was a building with an associated cobbled courtyard which lay above disturbed 12th century levels. The excavator, Brown, has demonstrated that the building fell into disrepair but was restored and refurbished including the laying of new underfloor drains. The building was subsequently replaced by a smaller and narrower structure towards the end of the 15th century. An archaeological trench east of the guesthouse also revealed evidence for what may be wooden buildings and a good depth of archaeological stratigraphy was recorded including Dissolution deposits resulting from the demolition processes of the 16th century when the monastic buildings were stripped for salvage. The abbey at its outset was enclosed by a precinct wall on at least three sides, the fourth side being bounded by the River Dart. However, at some stage in the 13th century the decision appears to have been taken to enlarge the area of the outer court without replacing the western precinct wall which was removed and robbed of its stone. The robber-trench of the wall has been located in excavation and a length of this wall line along the north west side of the outer court of the abbey, where it is known or inferred, is included within the scheduling. The precinct wall would have turned east at its north western corner but it is unclear whether it took a line below the standing post-medieval wall abutting the southern arch of the North Gate or whether it included a greater area of the north west corner, perhaps linking to the northern arch of the north gate and thus enclosing the gate passage within the monastic bounds. Either way, there is a high potential for the below ground remains of monastic buildings or deposits flanking the western side of the gatehouse passage. The North Gate, which is included in the scheduling, would have comprised a gatehouse with an inner and outer arch in the precinct wall. This is considered likely to have been the main entrance into the abbey; its southern inner archway survives almost complete. It is considered to be of 12th century date with extensive later alterations and is a Listed Building Grade II. The east passage wall of the gatehouse survives incorporated into a building in use which is also a Listed Building Grade II. The east passage wall is excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath it, including the foundations of the wall and the wall footings, is included. The remaining part of the building of which the east passage wall forms part, is not included in the scheduling. The abbey, which was first confirmed in the Benedictine order, is known from documentary sources to have been founded by at least 1018 although part of its cartulary is missing. In 1136 the abbey was granted by King Stephen to the Abbot of Savigny in Normandy and it was briefly under Savignac rule until 1147 when it was transferred to the Cistercian order and subsequently became one of the richest Cistercian abbeys in the south of England. The abbey was in monastic occupation from its foundation until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1539. Following the Dissolution, Buckfast Abbey passed through a number of private owners and the buildings of the outer court were converted into a farm, before the whole site was purchased by an exiled group of French Benedictines in 1882. The Benedictine rule was re- introduced and Boniface Natter blessed as first abbot in 1903 whilst work began on the restoration of the abbey church and other buildings. These works resulted in the consecration of the new church in 1932 and its completion in 1938. The abbey was still functioning as a living monastic community at the turn of the 21st century. Included in the scheduling are the fragmentary standing remains of the kitchen block, the south west exposed walling of the guesthouse where this does not form part of the adapted standing building, and the exposed western foundation wall of the guesthouse. Some of this walling has been rebuilt and consolidated as part of 20th century measures to display the ruined walls to the public. Also specifically included in the scheduling is the North Gate arch and, although recognised to be post-medieval in date, the stretch of wall immediately west of, and abutting, the North Gate. Excluded from the scheduling are the standing buildings of the guesthouse, the building known as the Abbot's guest hall, the post-medieval cow shed west of the guesthouse (in use as a video display area), the east passage wall of the North Gate, the Methodist chapel building of 1881, the modern walkway which connects the guesthouse and the Abbot's guest hall, and all modern surfaces and pavings, street furniture, telegraph poles, and fencing, 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.

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Books and journals
Clutterbuck, R, Buckfast Abbey: A History, (1995)
Robinson, D (ed), The Cistercian Abbeys of Britain, (1998)
Brown, S W, 'Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society' in Excavations and building recording at Buckfast Abbey, Devon, , Vol. 46, (1988), 13-89
Brown, S W, (1999)
unpublished archive plan, Hall, M, Buckfast Abbey: Abbey Farm 1991, (1991)


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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