Kenilworth Abbey


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of Kenilworth Abbey
© Crown Copyright and database right 2020. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Warwick (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 28437 72185

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. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

The Augustinian priory at Kenilworth survives well as both extant masonry and buried remains. The history of the abbey is well documented, and its unusually close relationship with the adjacent castle and with the growing medieval town immediately beyond its bounds is of particular interest, allowing a fuller understanding of the development of towns and social structure in the medieval period. Archaeological excavations have confirmed the survival of buried features including buildings and artefacts which, as well as providing dating information, will illustrate the daily life of the community and its relationship with wider medieval society. In addition, substantial building remains also illustrate the development of the abbey throughout time, including evidence for changes in both the plan and use of the buildings, as well as changing technologies and fashions in architecture. The monastic cemetery is believed to survive within the precinct and will provide information relating to the health, status and diet of a closed sedentary medieval population over a considerable period of time. Large areas of the precinct lie in the flood plain of the brook and will remain waterlogged; these include the earthwork remains of the priory fishponds and water mill as well as other water management features. Waterlogged features and organic deposits will help demonstrate the nature of the surrounding natural environment and agricultural regime in the area during the Middle Ages.


The monument includes the known surviving standing, earthwork and buried remains of Kenilworth Abbey and its wider monastic precinct. Kenilworth Abbey is an Augustinian monastery located on gently rising ground to the north of Finham Brook, immediately east of Kenilworth Castle, which is the subject of a separate scheduling. The High Street of Kenilworth old town is located immediately north of the precinct boundary. The parish Church of St Nicholas, which remains open for worship, is not included in the scheduling.

The priory of Austin canons in Kenilworth, which had become an abbey by 1447, was founded by Godfrey de Clinton, chamberlain and treasurer to Henry I, in 1122 around the same time as he erected his castle in Kenilworth. The monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and its foundation charter included all of Godfrey's land and woods at Kenilworth, save those reserved for the castle and its surrounding park, together with manors and churches in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. He later added a tithe on all produce brought to the castle, as well as lands and churches in Buckinghamshire and Staffordshire. The monastery was wealthy from its earliest days; Henry I was a major patron, giving land in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. Patronage passed to the crown in the 13th century, and the fortunes of the abbey remained closely linked to those of the castle. Over time the abbey accepted several royal retainers as corrodians or pensioners. By the time of the Valor Ecclesiasticus in 1535 the abbey was clearly a wealthy house with an annual value of 538 pounds, 19 shillings and 4 pence. The monastery was dissolved in 1538 when the abbot, the prior and 14 canons surrendered the monastery with all its possessions in the counties of Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Northamptonshire, Buckingham, Somerset and Oxfordshire. The abbey passed into secular ownership, and its masonry was quarried, in part to repair the castle. The remains fell into rapid decay. A depiction of 1701 shows the church and cloisters to be entirely ruinous.

Extant masonry remains of several buildings survive in situ within the monastic precinct. These include a gatehouse, a barn and remnants of the church and cloister range. The gatehouse, a Listed Building Grade I, is located to the west of the monastic church. It is constructed of red sandstone, with two vaulted chambers to the west of the cart arch on the ground floor. The gatehouse is believed to be of 14th century date, and its proximity to the west end of the church suggests it was the gate to the inner court. Another domestic building lying approximately 40m south of the gatehouse, known as the `Abbey Barn', is a Listed Building Grade I; its original purpose is unknown. Believed to date to the 14th century, it is a rectangular building of red sandstone, originally of two stories and measuring approximately 12m by 8m, with external evidence for lean-to and extension buildings.

To the east of the barn and gatehouse buildings are the remains of the abbey church and cloisters (Listed Grade I). Part of the west wall of the abbey church stands to a height of between 3m and 4m, and part of the south wall of the chapter house survives to a similar height. The footings of the western parlour and the south wall of the nave, as well as parts of the transepts and chancel of the church, are also visible. Excavations during 1890 and 1922 allowed the plan of the conventual to be recovered, and demonstrated that the building included at least two phases of stone church building, an early Norman church and a later extended church, both with square ended chancels. The plan of the abbey followed closely the standard plan of a reformed abbey, influenced by the Cistercian order. The church lay to the north of the cloister garth with the chapter house and dormitories on the east, the refectory to the south and a cellarer's range and parlour forming the west range. To the east of the cloister range was a separate infirmary building, and other ancillary buildings. Slight earthworks indicate that much of the plan survives as buried remains.

Further survivals within the Abbey Fields are earthwork and buried remains of several features of the abbey precinct, including a piped water supply, the abbey water mill, fishponds, windmill, tracks and roads as well as medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains, and the remains of the precinct boundary wall. Finham Brook crosses the site and lies downslope of the abbey church and cloisters. A number of ponds are marked along its course on early Ordnance Survey maps; these include `Fermary (infirmary) Garden Pool', `Bakehouse Pool', and `Abbey Pool'. These ponds are believed to represent a string of at least three monastic fishponds, constructed in the flood plain of the brook orientated east to west. Although two of the ponds have become infilled, they will retain evidence of their construction.

Immediately to the south of the brook, in line with the abbey gatehouse, are a number of earthwork features, including several building platforms and the remains of a curving ditch or leat. Partial excavation in 1989, in advance of pipe laying, confirmed the survival of substantial below ground remains, including the foundations of at least three sandstone buildings and a number of external floor surfaces, hearths and drainage features. These have been dated to between the 12th and 15th centuries. The excavations, however, were not able to confirm the nature and use of the buildings beyond identifying that they were domestic or agricultural. Geophysical survey in the late 1990s confirmed survival of further buried remains including walls and ditches in an area traditionally associated with the priory mill. Although the excavations were unable to confirm this, documents record the existence of a water mill from the 12th century until the 18th century, and the early edition Ordnance Survey maps record this as the site of the mill. The stone abutments of a former packhorse bridge survive in the southern bank of the brook, immediately adjacent to the site. The bridge is believed to have provided access to the mill, which remained in use after the dissolution of the monastery. A number of footpaths and hollow ways converge on the site of the mill and the packhorse bridge.

Approximately 250m west of the mill and immediately to the south of the brook is an earthen mound, measuring approximately 2m high and 20m in diameter, illustrated on early Ordnance Survey maps, and believed to be the remains of a windmill mound.

To the south west of the brook the land rises steeply. Here the base of the escarpment is defined by a linear earthwork, comprising a double ditch and bank, believed to be a causewayed road leading towards the 12th century settlement located to the south of the monastery. A series of slight earthworks, which may represent the site of a number of domestic and agricultural buildings located in the outer court of the abbey, can be seen on the scarp of the slope.

Medieval ridge and furrow cultivation remains are visible on aerial photographs of the southernmost parts of the Abbey Fields, providing evidence for the agricultural landscape immediately surrounding the abbey precinct. To the north of the modern lake in the north western part of the Abbey Fields, the land rises away from the flood plain. Subsidence in 2000 revealed the remains of a medieval water conduit which is referred to in medieval documents as bringing drinking water from a spring near the king's highway to the abbey.

Excavations and a watching brief carried out in 1973 during redevelopment of properties known as Little Virginia, on the south side of Castle Hill, demonstrated the survival of the precinct wall in the north eastern angle of the precinct. A red sandstone wall, constructed of large faced ashlar blocks and surviving to a height of 2m-3m, was discovered functioning as the southern property wall of a number of lean to timber-framed cottages. This wall has been identified to be the remains of the precinct boundary wall. Cartographic evidence from the 1920s demonstrates that the wall formally survived as an extant feature extending some further 100m to the north west. Excavations to the west of the wall in 1973 confirmed it also survives as a buried feature extending to the east for a distance of over 25m. The excavations demonstrated that in this section there were two phases of precinct wall running parallel with a later 16th wall which lay outside the earlier wall. These are believed to represent both the earliest and latest phase of the precinct boundary.

All modern paths and surfaces, fences, the Abbey Barn, garden buildings, park furniture and play equipment, as well as the public swimming baths, lavatory buildings, the electricity substation, and all gravemarkers in the cemetery of the Church of St Nicholas, are excluded from the scheduling, although 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.

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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.

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