Totnes Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020567

Date first listed: 05-Jul-2002


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

County: Devon

District: South Hams (District Authority)

Parish: Totnes

National Grid Reference: SX 80241 60476


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. 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.

Despite the demolition of some of the upstanding buildings, Totnes Priory is likely to retain important buried remains relating to its construction and use. Wall footings and occupation surfaces are likely to remain beneath the churchyard and its adjoining path, while underlying occupation deposits and a defensive rampart relating to the late Saxon burh of Totnes will be of considerable importance to the future understanding of the site.


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


This monument includes the buried remains of part of a late 11th century Benedictine priory located within the north eastern corner of the 10th century Anglo-Saxon burh of Totnes. The Benedictine priory of St Mary was founded in or just before 1088 by Judhael, Norman lord of Totnes, and granted by him to the Benedictine abbey of St Sergius & St Bacchus at Angers. This connection had been broken by 1416, and the priory was dissolved in 1539. The buildings were stripped and partly demolished after the Dissolution, but parts of the north claustral range were rebuilt in 1553 as a guildhall, and in 1624 converted into a magistrates' court and grammar school. The priory church lay in the churchyard immediately north east of the parish church, with the cloister immediately to its north. Claustral buildings on the north side of the cloister included a lodgings range and refectory, while other buildings, including a chapter house enclosed the east and west sides. The scheduling includes the buried remains of the priory church and its claustral buildings, where these lie within the churchyard and beneath the lane which follows the north and east sides of the monument. The area will also include a small portion of the Anglo-Saxon burgh including part of its defensive ramparts. The standing remains of the priory buildings preserved within the fabric of St Mary's Church and Guildhall are not included in the scheduling; both the church and the Guildhall are Listed Buildings Grade I. The scheduling includes the ground beneath the 19th century open fronted verandah along the south wall of the Guildhall. The loggia of the Guildhall, where this falls within the scheduling, the boundary walls, gravestones and path surfacings are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them 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: 34877

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Russell, P, The Good Town of Totnes, (1964), 10-49
MPP fieldwork by R Waterhouse, Waterhouse, R, (2001)
Plan, Griffiths, D M, (1982)
Thorp, J, (1996)

End of official listing