Bury St Edmund's Abbey: including the monks' cemetery and outer precinct and vineyard walls
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1021450
Date first listed: 19-Apr-1915
Date of most recent amendment: 03-Mar-2011
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: St. Edmundsbury (District Authority)
Parish: Bury St. Edmunds
National Grid Reference: TL 85572 64076
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.
St Edmund's Abbey is historically significant as an early Benedictine foundation that grew to be one of the wealthiest and most powerful monasteries in England. It is unusual in retaining a complete and integrated precinct enclosed by a considerable extent of its original wall, including two gates to the west which survive as substantially complete structures; a third gate to the south has been demolished but will survive as buried archaeology. Substantial fragments of the church and claustral ranges also survive; the scale of the church in particular is impressive, and gives some sense of the abbey's size and wealth. However, the main body of structural evidence is buried under the gardens of the public park. This area has been a garden since the early C18, providing favourable conditions for archaeology which will have benefited considerably from the preservation afforded by large stretches of lawn. Foundations and archaeological deposits will remain in situ, charting the development of the precinct and providing undisturbed contexts for material evidence of the life of the monastery, while the cemetery in the south-east corner of the precinct will contain more immediate evidence of the life and health of the monks. The abbey was built over the earlier Anglo-Saxon settlement and extended over the early medieval town, and the site will retain evidence of its physical structure and social and economic life. Further evidence of the social and economic life of the monastery survives in the two outer precincts, the abbey vineyard to the south and tenements to the north. The area of the vineyard is well defined by the surviving wall, and medieval foundations will survive below those sections rebuilt in the C18 and C19. To the north of the vineyard excavation has revealed a site of considerable archaeological potential. Although the 2009 excavations were limited in extent, the quantity and quality of evidence was good. Archaeological remains here may confirm the documentary evidence for a medieval tanning industry in this area and will provide information on the economy of the abbey and its role in the development of industry in the town. This information will contribute to our general understanding of the economic development of medieval monasteries, and their place in the wider economy.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The scheduling includes the precinct wall and all the open ground and
upstanding remains of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds within the Abbey precinct
to the north and east of St James' Cathedral, as well as the area to the
south-east of the abbey church containing St Andrew's Chapel and the monks'
cemetery. It also includes part of an outer precinct to the north-east, south
of Eastgate, the wall around the abbey vineyard to the east of the River
Lark, and isolated sections of the precinct wall to the north and west, as
well as two entrances, St James' Tower to the west and St Margaret's Gate to
Most of the upstanding remains of the Abbey, including the surviving
gatehouses, several sections of inner and outer precinct walls, as well as
the ruins of the church, claustral ranges and associated structures are also
listed at Grade I. These are identified in the scheduling documentation.
The Abbey is on the east side of the historic centre of Bury St Edmunds, with
the town centre immediately outside its west precinct wall. The main precinct
is to the west of the River Lark, which forms its east boundary, with the
outer precincts, including the vineyard, to the east.
In c.633 a small religious community was founded by the Anglian king,
Sigebert, in a settlement then known as Bedericsworth. This settlement,
thought to have been centred on what is now the west side of the Abbey
precinct, developed in the later Saxon period into a place of pilgrimage to
the shrine of Saint Edmund, king and martyr, killed by the Danes in c.869.
His body was brought to Bury St Edmunds in 903, and the name of the town was
changed to Bury St Edmunds in the course of the C10. In the early C11 Cnut
re-founded what was by then a community of secular priests as a Benedictine
monastery, and the first stone church was built. After the Norman Conquest
and during the time of Abbot Baldwin a grid pattern of streets was laid out
to the west of the Abbey Church, and the church and claustral ranges were
rebuilt. Abbott Anselm continued this work in the early C12 and also
formalised the extent of the precinct, enclosing it with a wall and extending
it further west, interrupting the alignment of Northgate and Southgate
Street. By c1200 most of this work was complete, although riots in 1327
destroyed the main gate, which was replaced by the present Abbey Gate.
St Edmund's Abbey became one of the four or five most powerful and wealthy
Benedictine monasteries in England. It was dissolved in 1539, and although
the main gates and much of the precinct wall remain intact, the claustral
buildings became a quarry for construction in the town, quickly followed by
the church in the later C16. In the early C18 the north part of the precinct
containing the abbey ruins was acquired by the Davers family of Abbey House,
Angel Hill, and became part of their garden: the churchyard to the south was
bought by the Town Corporation in 1798. In 1806 the Marquis of Bristol
inherited Abbey House and its gardens, and in the late C19 the gardens were
opened to the public for a high entrance fee. In 1912 the Borough Council
leased the gardens from the Marquis, purchasing them in 1953 to unite almost
the whole inner precinct into a single public park.
To the east of the main precinct and the River Lark were two outer precincts;
the Abbey Vineyard, and to the north of that an area known as Walnut Tree
Close. Historic Ordnance Survey maps indicate that earthworks survived within
the walled vineyard until 1926, evidence of cultivation lost to later C20
development. Historical documents indicate that the northern outer precinct
was farmland until 1210, when it was taken into direct use by the Abbey.
Rental returns to the Abbey dated 1433 demonstrate that this land remained in
its ownership, tenanted in part by cordwainers. An archaeological evaluation
undertaken in June 2009 produced evidence of buildings here, as well as
material possibly related to the tanning industry. After the Abbey's
dissolution the association of this area with leatherworking trades
continued, with the two tenements closest to the river apparently occupied by
tanners in the C17 and C18. In the later C20 the north-east half of this
outer precinct was developed for housing, while the area closest to the inner
precinct was used as a plant nursery.
The abbey is enclosed to the north, west and south by a precinct wall, but
bounded to the east by the rivers Lark and Linnet. Sections of C12-C14 wall
remain standing to the north, west, south and east, in places to a height of
c3.00m - 4.5m. These are constructed of flint with some brick and stone
ashlar. To the north this includes an 85m length of wall to the rear of 19-26
Mustow Street and a buttressed section at the east end of the street. From
here the wall crosses the River Lark along the east side of the Abbot's
Bridge. On the opposite bank it continues south for c100m, forming the west
wall of the north outer precinct. It then turns east to become the wall that
divides this from the vineyard to the south. This section of wall appears to
be mainly of post-medieval construction, except for a length immediately west
of Minden Close. The south wall of the vineyard (now the grounds of St James'
School) is also medieval; and although the east wall was rebuilt in the
C18-C19 the medieval footings here are likely to remain. The line of the wall
to the north-west corner and the west and south sides of the precinct has
been largely built over by post-medieval development, and is not included in
the scheduling, but sections surviving both as upstanding remains and as
buried archaeology in open ground remain to the south between the River
Linnet and the council offices and Old Shire Hall, and to the west to either
side of the West Gate, and between St Mary's Church and 8 Angel Hill. Here a
short section of wall survives immediately to the north of the church, the
remainder defined by the bank that marks the west of the Great Churchyard;
this forms a separate scheduled area. A further short section forms the back
wall of the buildings that form the west side of the yard north of St James'
Two main west gates from the town into the abbey precinct survive as standing
structures, but that to the south, St Margaret's Gate, was demolished in the
C18. The archaeological evidence for this gate, between the Old Shire Hall
and 3 Honey Hill, is protected in a separate scheduled area. The imposing
West Gate, a C14 replacement for the gate destroyed by riots in 1327, was the
main entrance into the abbey precinct. Its defensive purpose is indicated by
the visible grooves for the portcullis. St James' Tower, immediately to the
south of St James' Cathedral, was built in the time of Abbot Auselon
(c.1121-46) as a gateway to the Abbey church, and stands in line with its
west end. It was considerably restored in the C19 (c.1846-7). As a result of
raising the ground to prevent the flooding of the Abbey and the Cathedral
church of St James, it now stands some feet below the level of the road. St
James Tower and its immediate surrounds form a separate scheduled area.
The West Gate gave access to the Great Court, an open space with service
buildings set against the precinct wall to west and north. The walls of these
survive to the north, partly concealed behind an aviary, but a number of
blocked openings survive including a wide blocked arch and small window,
visible towards the west end. These buildings probably included the brewhouse
and bakehouse, and limited excavation undertaken during the recording of the
aviary wall in 2009 demonstrated the depth and potential preservation of
archaeological deposits in the gardens immediately to the north. This range
seems to have been physically unconnected with the range associated with the
Abbot's Palace, directly opposite the gate and extending north from the east
claustral range. These are aligned with Alwyne House, and their buried
remains will survive within its gardens. To the east of this range is a
dovecot, a small hexagonal building constructed of random flint and stone,
with stone dressings. The upper storey has the remains of a stone mullioned
and transomed window with arched upper lights and a stone arched window. The
ground storey contains the remains of a narrow arched entrance doorway.
Fragments of freestanding wall also survive to the west of the dovecot. To
the south-west of this range and to the east of St James' Cathedral were the
cloister and claustral ranges; fragments of wall define elements of those to
the east, the monks' dorter and chapter house, as well as the abbey church,
particularly the east end, crossing and south and north transepts. The crypt
of the early church is particularly well defined, its apsidal end and chapels
outlined by walls below ground level. The upstanding remains of the
impressive west end, incorporated into post-Reformation houses, are not
included within the scheduling, but the building of which they now form a
part is listed at Grade I.
To the east of the south transept is a fragment of wall described on historic
Ordnance Survey maps as St Andrew's Chapel. These maps also identify the area
immediately to the south of this (now a car park) as the monks' cemetery,
based on finds of burials made earlier in the C19. A trench excavated in the
course of an archaeological assessment of the south-east precinct undertaken
in 2007 revealed two graves about 60m to the south-west of St Andrew's
Chapel. The burials were close together, possibly part of a row, and seem to
date to the C14 or later. The wall separating the present car park from the
churchyard is probably of C18 or C19 date, but at the north end a fragment of
early medieval or Norman wall survives, of coursed flintwork above a shallow
stepped footing; this may represent part of an Abbey building.
To the east of the main precinct and the River Lark were two outer precincts.
That to the north was defined on its north side by the River Lark and
Eastgate, and to the south by the boundary with the abbey vineyard. Its east
boundary is more uncertain, but seems to have been the road named in the C19
Vine Fields (now The Vinefields, the access road to a housing development
which is not included within the scheduled area). This outer precinct seems
to have been used for industrial processes mainly associated with leather
working, and contains well stratified archaeological remains ranging in date
from the C12 to the C14. The east half of this area is now housing, and the
scheduled area includes only the west part of the precinct under open ground,
a bowling green and the gardens of Abbey Cottage. To the south within the
abbey vineyard the earthworks have been lost to housing and school buildings,
and only the line of the wall is scheduled, as well as the foundations of the
bridge that provided direct access from the main precinct. A modern gate at
the west end of the boundary wall now connects the two precinct areas. Most
of the upstanding wall is of later C18 or C19 construction, but one section
of medieval wall survives between the vineyard and the bowling green.
The scheduling is intended to provide protection for all the buried and
upstanding remains of St Edmunds Abbey, and for archaeological evidence of
the earlier Anglo-Saxon settlement and early medieval town. The previously
scheduled area has been enlarged to include part of the outer precinct to the
north-east as well as the line of the abbey vineyard wall, formerly part
scheduled and part listed only; the monks' cemetery, the yard to the north of
St James Cathedral, the south gate and a section of wall to the north of St
Mary's Church are also newly included. Where the scheduling is defined by a
wall or other boundary it falls on the outside of that feature.
The churchyard to the south-west of the precinct is the only substantial part
of St Edmunds not included in the scheduling. This area forms part of the
Park and Garden registration, and many of the memorials within it are also
listed; it is considered that these designations provide an appropriate level
of protection. The area also contains a separate scheduling, the Chapel of
the Charnel, Suffolk 38.
All post-medieval and later buildings and structures are excluded from the
scheduling, as are the modern surfaces of paths, roads and pavements, but the
ground beneath them is included. The west front of the Abbey Church, and the
houses of which it now forms the main elevation (listed at Grade I) are not
within the scheduled area. The Garden of Remembrance lies just to the west of
the cathedral courtyard, but is not included in the scheduling. The garden is
in use for burial of cremations.
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: 35556
Legacy System: RSM
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