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
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: South Somerset (District Authority)
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
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)
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