Remains of Hoxne Priory at Abbey Farm


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


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

Mid Suffolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TM 18267 76498, TM 18330 76378

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. Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Hoxne Priory is of particular interest as an example of a small monastery dependent on a much larger monastic house. Very few such dependent cells have been the subject of archaeological investigation to date, and far less is known of them than of the larger and wealthier monasteries in England. The monument will retain buried archaeological evidence for the monastic buildings and associated features, in addition to the visible remains such as the fishponds and the moated site, which will provide valuable information concerning the layout, organisation, domestic economy and history of the priory to complement the documentary records. The possibility that it includes remains of a chapel dating from the pre-Conquest period and the association with the cult of St Edmund give it additional interest.

Fishponds and dovecotes are generally indicative of high status and are often found in association with monasteries, manor houses and castles. Fishponds are artificially created pools of slow moving fresh water constructed for the purpose of cultivating, breeding and storing fish to provide a constant and sustainable supply of food. Groups of up to twelve ponds variously arranged in a single line or in a cluster and joined by leats have been recorded. They were maintained by a water management system which included inlet and outlet channels carrying water from a river or stream, a series of sluices along the channels and leats, and an overflow leat which controlled fluctuations in water flow and prevented flooding. The tradition of constructing and using fishponds in England began during the medieval period and peaked during the 12th century. The practice declined after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, although in some areas it continued into the 17th century. The fishponds at Hoxne Priory, although no longer completely visible, are a good example of one of the simpler systems.

Dovecotes are specialised structures designed for the breeding and keeping of doves as a source of food. Most surviving examples were built in the period between the 14th and the 17th century, although both earlier and later examples are documented. They were generally freestanding structures, square or circular in plan, and normally of brick or stone, with nesting boxes built into the internal wall. Some examples in East Anglia were surrounded by a small moat, and the characteristics of the moated site at Hoxne Priory are consistent with this function. The moated site as a whole will contain archaeological information relating to its construction and use in the medieval period, and buried remains of the dovecote with associated deposits are likely to be preserved on the central island.


The monument, which is in two separate areas of protection, includes visible and buried remains of a Benedictine priory, located near the centre of the village of Hoxne. The road through the village runs along the western boundary of the monastic precinct and around the south western corner, and a track which runs eastward from the road defines the continuation of the southern boundary. The first area includes the south western part of the monastic precinct with the remains of a series of fishponds, and the second includes a small moated site in the north western part of the precinct.

The priory was a cell of Norwich Priory, centred on the chapel of St Edmund, King of East Anglia. According to an early tradition, St Edmund was martyred in Hoxne in 869 and buried there for a time before his remains were transferred to the place now known as Bury St Edmunds around 903. The chapel was in existence in the 11th century and may have had pre-Conquest origins. According to the foundation charter of Norwich Priory, dated 1101, Bishop Herbert de Losinga, who had a manor at Hoxne, gave to the monks of that priory `the church of Hoxne and the chapel of St Edmund in the same village'. Evidently it was in poor repair, since around 1110-1119 Ralph Dapifer (Steward) of Bury St Edmunds and his wife were granted the chapel and some land adjacent for their lifetimes in order that they might restore and enlarge it. In 1130 Ralph's successor, Maurice of Windsor and his wife returned the chapel and land to the monks of Norwich Priory for the purpose of founding a monastery there, and in the charter which ratified this transfer it is recorded that Ralph had rebuilt the chapel from its foundations. According to the 18th century historian, Blomefield, the monks were housed at first in the bishop's palace at Hoxne and only removed to the site of the chapel around 1226, when the endowment and privileges of the priory were confirmed by Bishop Thomas Blumville. The site of the bishop's palace at that time is uncertain, but it has been suggested that it may have been next to the parish church, on the moated site now occupied by the vicarage, about 1km to the north. The priory was not finally completed until 1267, when the burial ground was consecrated by Bishop Roger de Skerning.

Hoxne Priory was a small house of six or seven monks under a prior or warden who was appointed by the prior of Norwich. It held some land in Hoxne and elsewhere, but the principal part of its revenues, which in the 15th century were valued at 27 pounds, came from a manor in Yaxley and from the chapel in Ringshall, which came with 32 acres of land and tithes. Blomefield records that the monks kept a school and maintained two poor boys from Hoxne at their own expense. Shortly before the Dissolution of the Monasteries the last prior, William Castleton, conveyed the property of the cell to Sir Richard Gresham and the monks were recalled to Norwich.

Details of the priory buildings and precinct are recorded in account rolls of Norwich Priory dating chiefly from the 14th and 15th centuries. In addition to the chapel the buildings comprised a hall subdivided by a parclose (screen) where the monks would have taken their communal meals, a parlour, a dormitory with a chamber over it, and offices including a kitchen, bakehouse, dairy and brewery. In the surrounding precinct were a malthouse, dovecote and stables, closes for threshing and winnowing, fishponds, a garden in the southern part, and a cemetery enclosed by a wall. There was also a cistern, presumably to collect water for domestic use, and a well known as St Edmund's Well.

The only structure identified as being of medieval date and still standing above ground is in the southern part of the monument and comprises a flint rubble wall, which is Listed Grade II, approximately 40m in length and up to 3m high along the western precinct boundary to the south of the driveway to Abbey Farmhouse. This incorporates two blocked openings with pointed arches and evidently survived as the western wall of a building, perhaps also of medieval date, which is shown on an estate map of 1757 but had otherwise been demolished before 1840 when the tithe map was compiled. Dressed stone and architectural fragments from other monastic buildings have, however, been found on the site, and some have been incorporated in the walls of a post- medieval outbuilding. The principal monastic buildings were probably located in the vicinity of Abbey Farmhouse, which is a Listed Building Grade II* dated to around 1540 and standing approximately 50m to the east of the medieval wall. In the southern part of the precinct there are two roughly rectangular ponds. The first of these, which is situated approximately 45m to the south west of the house is largely silted, although seasonally water-filled. The second, some 60m SSE of the house, has maximum dimensions of approximately 15m by 15m and is said to be around 5m deep, the water level being about 1.5m below the surrounding surface. It is clay lined and thought to be spring fed, and it was probably constructed originally to supply and store water for domestic and agricultural use within the monastic precinct. About 20m to the north of the house is a well covered by a post-medieval well house. This is perhaps the well mentioned in the medieval records and it is included in the scheduling.

The fishponds run in line northwards from the southern boundary of the monastic precinct, 125m east of and parallel to the western boundary. As recorded on old maps there were three narrow, rectangular ponds, linked end to end. The southernmost pond, which survives essentially intact, though silted, measures approximately 68m in length north-south by up 10m in width at the northern end and remains open to a depth of up to 2m. This is linked to the middle pond by a narrow channel which would probably have contained a sluice to control the flow of water between the two. The middle pond was originally L-shaped, measuring about 65m NNW-SSE with an arm extending westwards from the northern end for a distance of about 35m. This westward arm and the northern end of the north-south section have been infilled but will survive as buried features and are included in the scheduling. The part which remains open is water-filled and measures about 45m in length and 12m in width. The third pond, as recorded on old Ordnance Survey maps, was on the same alignment as the main arm of the middle pond and measured about 62m in length and 11m in width, with an outlet channel about 4m wide extending from the northern end for a distance of approximately 32m. The outlet channel and a small section of the northern end remain open but the rest has been infilled, although it, too, will survive as a buried feature and is included in the scheduling. The system is fed by an inlet at the southern end, probably from a nearby spring.

The moated site in the second area of protection is identified as the probable site of the priory dovecote and is rectangular in plan, with overall dimensions of approximately 35m WSW-ENE by 32m. The moat, which is water- filled, is approximately 10m wide and surrounds a central island measuring about 15m WSW-ENE by 13m. On the tithe map of 1840 a broad projection, possibly the remains of a leat, is shown running north eastwards from the north east corner of the moat. This has been infilled but will survive as a buried feature and is included in the scheduling. Foundations are said to have been observed on the island, although the date of these has not been established.

A number of features are excluded from the scheduling. These are: the house, the well house and all outbuildings together with a greenhouse and cold frame, garden walls other than the length of flint rubble wall described above, driveway surfaces and hard standings, paving, inspection chambers, a modern cistern at the northern end of the middle fishpond, service poles, modern fences and gates, a timber jetty at the side of the pond SSE of Abbey Farmhouse, and modern timber revetting on the outer edge of the southern arm of the moat; 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Blomefield, F, An Essay towards a Topographical History of Norfolk , (1806), 607-610
Cox, J, The Victoria History of the County of Suffolk: Volume II, (1907), 76-77
Tester, A, Archaeological Monitoring Report: Hoxne Priory, (1999)
'Norfolk Record Society' in First Register of Norwich Cathedral Priory, (1939), 37f,67f
Evans, M C, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Contribution of Hoxne to the Cult of St Edmund, (1987), 182-193
Evans, M C, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in The Contribution of Hoxne to the Cult of St Edmund, (1987), 186
Manning, C R, 'Proc Suffolk Inst Archaeol' in Hoxne Priory, , Vol. 7 Pt 1, (1889), xi-xiii
Title: A Survey of Several Estates...belonging to Charles, Lord Maynard Source Date: 1757 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: SRO Ref. HB21:280/2


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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