Humberston Abbey


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020424

Date first listed: 24-Apr-2002


Ordnance survey map of Humberston Abbey
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: North East Lincolnshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Humberston

National Grid Reference: TA 31062 05230


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

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 Tironian order was founded by Bernard of Tiron who established an abbey at Tiron in Northern France in 1109. In his order much emphasis was placed on manual activity and contemplative exercise and consequently religious services were short in length. The order preferred isolated rural locations and they acquired large estates on which they practised self-sufficiency. The Tironians established at least four priories in England during the first quarter of the 12th century. These were known as `alien' houses because of their dependency on the French mother house. Because of their close involvement in rural life and industry many of their houses bore similarity to large farms, with the addition of a chapel and some simple monastic-type buildings. This order did not include a workforce of lay-brothers to work for it. Always poor and never attracting a great following the order was suppressed in 1391. As a rare type of monastery with only four known foundations, all examples exhibiting good archaeological survival will be identified as nationally important. The simplicity of their buildings demonstrates well the diversity of form and scale exhibited by monastic sites.

Humberston Abbey was the only Tironian foundation in England to have been an independent abbey rather than a priory, and the only foundation of the order to survive until the Dissolution. Excavation has shown that significant remains of the abbey survive in situ and earthworks to the west and south of the church demonstrate that surviving remains are much more extensive than the small areas investigated in the 1960s.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes standing, earthwork and associated buried remains of a small medieval abbey and the site of a post-dissolution manor house. It also includes a small icehouse, which is a Listed Building Grade II. The monument does not include St Peter's Church and its surrounding churchyard as these remain in ecclesiastical use. Humberston Abbey was founded in the reign of Henry II (1154-89), probably around 1160, by William FitzRalph, a local landholder. Dedicated to St Mary and St Peter it was a house of the Tironian Order, a reformed branch of the Benedictines. Although it had links with Hambye Abbey in Normandy, it was never regarded as an alien monastery and thus avoided the general confiscation by Richard II in 1391 that saw the closure of other Tironian houses in England. It was never a large or rich establishment and is thought to have only housed a dozen monks at most. However, it was an important local landowner with nearly 1000 acres (over 400ha) in northern Lincolnshire, as well as holding other lands managed by bailiffs elsewhere in the country. Badly damaged by fire in 1226 and 1305, 14th and 15th century records note many disagreements between the monks and lapses in discipline. The house was one of the first to be suppressed by Henry VIII at which time the annual income was 34 pounds, supporting an abbot, four monks and a lay-brother. Most of the abbey buildings were demolished by 1562, with the western end of the abbey church retained as a parish church. Apart from the 15th century tower, the church, now just dedicated to St Peter, was rebuilt in 1720-22. Following the Dissolution, a manor house, recorded as Abbey House in 1708, was built on a raised platform to the south of the original abbey buildings. This was later demolished and replaced by the current house closer to the church in the late 18th or early 19th century. This is also a Listed Building Grade II. The abbey is believed to have been constructed on an earlier Christian site as examples of Anglo-Saxon carved stonework, of mid-10th to early 11th century date, are built into the walls of St Peter's church. Other fragments have also been unearthed during excavation in the area. Amateur excavations, conducted by A Tailby between 1965 and 1970, uncovered substantial remains of the cloister, typically standing up to 0.75m high, immediately to the south of the churchyard. Two graves and part of the east end of the abbey church were also uncovered within the paddock to the east of the modern churchyard. These excavations also demonstrated that the icehouse, 40m east of the manor house, is an original part of the southern range of the cloister and is in fact a vaulted passageway through the south cloister range. It now appears semi-sunken into the raised modern ground surface, and is 6m by 3m by 2.5m high and lies beneath an earthen mound 10m across and up to 3m high. Nearly 100m south of St Peter's Church there is a moat ditch that runs WSW to ENE for just over 120m and then turns NNW as a narrower ditch. This forms part of the boundary of the abbey precinct and is included within the monument. The northern and western precinct boundaries are not known, although they are presumed to be approximately followed by the modern road line. Centred about 90m south of the church, bisected by the eastern wall of the garden to the south of Manor Farm, there is a raised level platform some 20m by 8m. This is a building platform that coincides with the position of the former manor house depicted on an 18th century estate map. The field to the west of Manor Farm retains further earthworks. These include a number of smaller building platforms along with a raised trackway that runs WSW to ENE towards the northern side of the church. This area, which also retains a pond, is considered to be the outer court of the abbey. This would have included ancillary buildings such as a bake house, stores and possibly a brewery, along with the abbey's home farm. The later farm buildings to the south, which are not included within the monument, probably also lie within part of the abbey's outer court. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling: these are the house and associated out buildings (excepting the icehouse which is included), all modern fences, walls, stiles and gates, water troughs and the platforms that they stand on, telegraph poles, sign posts and all road and path surfaces; however, 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.

Legacy System number: 34712

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Kirkby, A E, Tailby, A, The Abbey of St Mary & St Peter Humberston, (1974)
Hayfield, C , 'Lincolnshire History & Archaeology' in Late Medieval Pottery Group form Humberston Abbey, , Vol. 19, (1984), 107-110
I Tailby, Trial excavations at Humberston, 1965, Typescript report

End of official listing