Bury St Edmund's Abbey: including the monks' cemetery and outer precinct and vineyard walls


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

West Suffolk (District Authority)
Bury St. Edmunds
National Grid Reference:
TL 85572 64076

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.


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 the south. 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' Cathedral. 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.

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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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