Hulton Abbey: a Cistercian monastery adjacent to Leek Road, Abbey Hulton


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.

City of Stoke-on-Trent (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SJ 90575 49077

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 75 of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or `white monks', on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen, dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on sheep farming. The Cistercians 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.

Hulton Abbey is a good example of a small Cistercian monastery. The archaeological excavations undertaken here have revealed the layout of the claustral buildings and have demonstrated that the majority of these structures survive well as buried features, despite the damage caused during the use of the site as a farm and as a school. It is clear from these investigations that contemporary deposits, including floors and external surfaces, are also well-preserved. The artefacts and organic remains contained within these deposits will provide valuable insights into the daily lives of the brethren. Limited archaeological work to the north east of the church indicates that the monk's cemetery survives well. The skeletal remains that are preserved will provide significant information about the living conditions, diet, health and funerary practices of a discrete medieval community. The evidence existing here can be compared with the burials of the senior clergy and members of the patron's family who were interred within the church. The area south of the claustral buildings will provide evidence about the organisation and development of the various industries located here. Associated waterlogged deposits containing a variety of organic remains will also provide evidence about the contemporary environment, including land use in the surrounding area. The mill pond dam survives well and retains evidence relating to its construction and subsequent modification. The importance of the monument is further enhanced by documentary sources, which provide additional information about life in the abbey, the associated activities of the brethren, and about the benefactors. The monument is in local authority ownership and has considerable educational potential.


The monument includes the standing structural and buried remains of a Cistercian monastery, known as Hulton Abbey, and associated earthwork and buried remains of water management features. The abbey occupies a slightly elevated position on the eastern side of the upper Trent valley at Abbey Hulton, a suburb of Stoke on Trent. The abbey was founded by Henry de Audley, a local nobleman, and like all Cistercian monasteries, was dedicated to St Mary. The first brethren were professed in 1219 and the foundation charter issued in 1223. Its foundation was overseen by an established abbey, or mother house, at Combermere in Cheshire. Hulton Abbey was the last of three Cistercian monasteries to be founded in north Staffordshire. The other two monasteries, at Croxden and Dieulacres, are the subjects of separate schedulings.

Documentary sources indicate that the abbey at Hulton was never very wealthy, despite having acquired substantial estates in the vicinity during the 13th century. At this time much of the abbey's income was derived from sheep farming, but with a tannery and fulling mill at Hulton providing additional funds. By the 16th century the abbey owned coal mines at Hulton and Hanley, and a smithy at Horton. Documentary sources also indicate that the ecclesiastical community at Hulton Abbey was not large. In 1377 and 1381 it numbered only five (including the abbot) and in 1538, when the abbey was dissolved, there were eight monks and an abbot.

After the Dissolution, the church bells were taken down and sold, and the lead removed and melted down. The abbey quickly fell into ruins and was used by local people as a convenient source of building stone. The site of the abbe was entirely incorporated into agricultural land by the early 19th century and around 1880 was occupied by Carmountside Farm. In the 1930s Carmountside Secondary School was constructed on the abbey site. The majority of the school buildings were demolished in the late 20th century and the area is now a public open space.

The abbey was rediscovered in 1884 when drainage works at Carmountside Farm uncovered the remains of ruined buildings. This discovery prompted more extensive excavations, which revealed the ground plan of the principal structures. These buildings included the church, the chapter house (used for the regulation of religous duties and business), dormitories, a kitchen and a refectory. They were laid out around a square cloister, with the church on the northern side, and are collectively known as claustral buildings. During this investigation decorated coffin lids were found, together with numerous fragments of medieval floor tile and pottery. Human burials were also discovered in the church. Periodic small-scale archaeological excavations undertaken between 1930 and 1983 examined parts of the church and the associated claustral buildings.

A further programme of archaeological work was undertaken between 1987 and 1994, which involved the excavation of the church and the adjacent chapter house. The structural fabric of these buildings was examined in detail, and burials within the church were also analaysed. In the area surrounding the claustral buildings limited excavation also revealed the monk's graveyard to the north east of the church, and other contemporary buried remains and structural features to the south. Both of these areas are included in the scheduling.

Archaeological excavations indicate that the church is of basic cruciform design. It is about 41.5m long and 32m wide across the transepts and has a relatively short nave. The most recent archaeological work has demonstrated that the chancel and the south transept were built first, with the remainder of the church constructed later in the 13th century. The rectangular chapter house to the south of the church was built about 1270.

The eastern part of the church remains visible, with bases of walls standing up to 0.8m high. All the walls are constructed of red sandstone and some retain their ashlar facings. Column bases at the eastern end of the nave and the altar plinths in the chancel and transepts are also visible. All other parts of the church and the other claustral buildings survive as buried features.

About 150m south east of the church are the remains of a large dam, approximately 80m long, constructed of earth and stone. Its outer face stands to a maximum height of 3.2m, and has a stepped profile at its north western and south eastern ends. The dam retained a sizeable pond, which was used as the source of power for the abbey mill. The pond was drained and the area infilled in modern times. The dam is included in the scheduling, although the site of the pond is not included. Water from the pond flowed westwards into the River Trent. This area, to the south of the claustral buildings, would have served as the focus of industrial activity, which is known from documentary sources to have contributed to the economic basis of the monastery. Limited archaeological excavation here has shown that water channels of medieval date survive well as buried features. This area is also included in the scheduling.

To the west of the claustral buildings, in the valley bottom close to the River Trent, fishponds belonging to the abbey were constructed. This area was developed for housing in modern times and is not included in the scheduling.

A number of features are excluded in the scheduling. These are: all paths, paved and tarmacadam surfaces, fences, all posts and the brick-built gate piers, the utility poles, the modern free-standing brick-built walls, the concrete bridge over the stream, the education centre and the boxing club, and the associated outbuildings; 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.

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Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Staffordshire - The Abbey of Hulton, (1970), 235-37
Klemperer, W, 'Monastic Archaeology' in The Hulton Abbey Project, (2001), 183-191
Lynam, C, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in Recent Exacavations on the site of Hulton Abbey, , Vol. 41, (1885), 65-71
Wise, P J, 'Staffs Archaeological Studies: SOT Museum Archaeological Soc Rep' in Hulton Abbey: A Century of Excavations, , Vol. 2, (1985)


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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