Site of a Cluniac priory immediately east of Abbey Farm


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1019898

Date first listed: 11-Jun-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 07-Nov-2001


Ordnance survey map of Site of a Cluniac priory immediately east of Abbey Farm
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Somerset

District: South Somerset (District Authority)

Parish: Montacute

National Grid Reference: ST 49683 16805

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 Cluniac order had its origins in the monastic reformations which swept across continental Europe in the tenth century. The reformations which occurred were partly a response to the impact of Viking raids and attacks on established monastic sites in the preceding century but were also a reaction against the corruption and excesses which were increasingly noted amongst earlier establishments. The Cluniacs were amongst the most successful of the new reformed orders that developed. The founding house of Cluny in south-east France was established in AD 910. Here the community obeyed a stringent set of rules which, amongst other things, involved celibacy, communal living and abstention from eating meat. The ideals of the Cluniac reformers passed on to England in the tenth century. Influential Cluniac houses had been established in England by 1077. Once established, Cluniac houses were notable for the strong links they maintained both with the founding house of Cluny in France and also with other houses of their order. Most Cluniac houses in England were established near major towns and they particularly sought locations in valley bottoms within the protection of a nearby castle. Cluniac monasteries are notable for highly decorated, elaborate buildings. Cluniac houses are relatively rare, with some forty-four houses known in England, and all examples exhibiting good survival of archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The site of the Cluniac priory immediately east of Abbey Farm is well- preserved and the priory's importance is clearly reflected in the high status of gifts endowed to it upon its foundation, which included the castle and the manor and the newly formed borough. The monument has the potential to provide archaeological information about the layout of a priory of the Cluniac order and will also provide information also about the changes which would have occurred when the priory became subject to an English order. Components of the monastry, such as the fishpond and dovecote will contain information illustrative of everyday monastic life in the medieval period.


The monument includes the remains of a medieval priory, an associated fishpond and dovecote, all located within two fields at Abbey Farm. The site of the priory occupies an area of level ground which rises gradually to the south towards a narrow ridge of woodland, and more steeply to the west and north west to St Michael's Hill, an isolated hill which is occupied by a medieval motte and bailey castle. To the north east and east lies the town of Montacute, the origins of which can be traced from the seventh century. The Cluniac priory was founded in 1102 by the Mortain family who owned the nearby castle, and as part of its foundation charter, was granted the castle and chapel, orchards and vineyards, the Church of St Peter, the newly formed borough of Montacute, the manor of Bishopton, and the hundred of the mill. The priory, having been endowed with such wealth, contributed greatly to the town's prosperity during the 13th and 14th centuries. The priory had ceased to be a dependant of Cluny by 1407 after which time it became recognised as an English house. This state of affairs continued until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The priory precinct was laid out in a broadly square plan and the remains are now visible as a series of rectangular earthen mounds and other low earthworks. An earthwork platform approximately 50m from east to west and 30m from north to south and up to 2m high above the surrounding ground level on the east side, is located about 100m to the south east of the church. The substantial dimensions of this platform indicate that this was probably the site of an important monastic building. The traces of an oval shaped earthwork are visible adjacent to the east side of the fishpond and although its extent cannot be clearly defined at ground level, it is however visible on aerial photographs from which it can be calculated to be approximately 40m by 30m. Further less well defined earthworks probably indicate the positions of various auxiliary and support buildings all of which would have been necessary for the administration and maintenance of a medieval priory. A fishpond, known as Priory Pond, is Listed Grade II. It has medieval origins and is located on the west side of the site. It is sub-circular in plan and approximately 30m in diameter and is recognised to be a surviving fishpond belonging to the priory and used for breeding or storing fish. Dredging in the early 1980s revealed the pond walls to be stone-lined. It has in recent times been edged with flat stones around its perimeter and is water-filled with a small island located off-centre. The dovecote, which is Listed Grade II, is located on the north side of the priory precinct 90m south east of the church. It is about 5m square in plan and constructed from coursed rubble local Ham stone, with ashlar quoins and dressings and has a hipped plain tiled roof. A low door is located in the south face which has a near triangular arched head in a deep lintel. The architectural style of the dovecote suggests a 17th century date, possibly with 15th century origins. Further standing remains associated with the priory are incorporated within the standing structure and fabric of Abbey Farm, which is a Listed Building, Grade I. The farm house is not however included in the scheduling. The stone floor remains of a farm building located on the north eastern side of the site, together with all fencing and fence posts, and all gates and gate posts are excluded from the scheduling, 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.

Legacy System number: 33723

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Aston, M, Leech, R, Historic Towns in Somerset, (1977), 104-105
3251, CPE/UK/2491, (1948)

End of official listing