Tortington Augustinian priory and ponds, including part of priory precinct


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Tortington Augustinian priory and ponds, including part of priory precinct
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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This copy shows the entry on 19-Oct-2019 at 03:10:42.


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

West Sussex
Arun (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 00643 05879

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.

Despite the removal of much of the above ground remains of the priory, it survives well as buried archaeological remains with great potential. The church, including a chapel to its north and also the claustral buildings to the south of the church have been located through small scale excavation, watching briefs and air photographs. The precinct beyond the immediate remains of the church and cloister will contain archaeological features relating to the construction and occupation of the site and will also yield information about the way in which the priory was organised and life in the priory. The ponds, although modified in the 20th century will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence in the form of organic remains such as leather, wood, seeds and pollen, which will relate both to the priory and the landscape within which it was constructed. Documentary evidence including the 1606 map by John Norden and ecclesiastical documents relating to the priory will also add to our understanding of the site. The fishponds at Tortington, despite landscaping and modification, are recognisable of their type. Their close grouping and association within the precinct of the priory site will produce evidence for the economy of the site and the management of fish stocks. Environmental evidence will be present which will relate to the priory, the fishponds and the landscape in which they were constructed.


The monument includes an Augustinian priory comprising the church, claustral buildings, ponds and part of the priory precinct lying just above the flood plain in the valley of the River Arun. There are few standing remains of the priory church; some fragments have become part of the 17th century or 18th century barn (listed Grade II), and there are free standing rubble cores belonging to the east wall of the north transept lying to the east of the barn. The remainder of the church has been traced by air photography, archaeological evaluation and watching briefs. The south wall of the barn incorporates the north wall or north aisle of the nave of the church with two 13th century vaulting shafts extant. The east wall of the barn is considered to be the west wall of the north transept and in lean-to sheds to the south of the barn was found the remains of the west wall of the nave. A 1909 excavation by PM Johnson, but not published, is said to have uncovered foundations of the priory church and buildings to the south of it including a gatehouse (partly of timber), halls and chambers. A 1997 evaluation found the south and west sides of the nave. In 1999 further test pits and monitoring found the west wall of the church including a step for the west door and the north and south aisle pier bases; a threshold step for a door in the west wall leading from the north aisle; tiles south of the south wall of the church indicative of cloisters; a door step and jamb leading out of the cloister; evidence of the south transept; evidence of the south aisle, and four burials: two burials in the nave, one south of the chancel and one outside the church south east of the chancel wall. The interpretation of the church was aided by air photographs taken in September 1997 by Sir Arthur Watts. These showed as parch marks, a chapel to the north of the chancel, an offset at the east end of the north aisle and the possibility of a screen a third of the way along the chancel. In 2001, an archaeological watching brief on work to Priory Farm found foundations of the south wall of the cloister and a drain and the edge of a wall belonging to an east range of buildings within the precinct. In 2002 evaluation at Priory Farm found an east-west wall with a brick and ceramic tile fireplace on the west side of the cloister. The lozenge shaped pond about 50m to the east of the barn measures about 58m north-south by about 12m east-west and the three ponds about 100m to the SSW of the barn are circular in shape with diameters of about 20m, 15m and 30m. These are considered to be the locations of the original priory fishponds which subsequently silted up. They are shown on earlier maps, such as the Ordnance Survey map of 1876, as being of different shapes; but 20th century modification has changed their shape and further water features have been added to the north east and south east of the barn. The extent of the original priory precinct is shown on a map of 1606 by John Norden. It is defined by a water-filled ditch on the south side, a minor road to the north and property boundary to the west. On its east side it extended to a canalised water feature which can still be seen on modern maps. However the Ford Road now bisects the eastern part of the precinct and will have destroyed the archaeological features which were present. Similarly, building work in the north west quadrant of the precinct will have removed the archaeological potential there. History: Roger of Montgomery, who had been a chief adviser to William I during the invasion of England and who owned the manor at Tortington, founded two monasteries at Sees in Normandy to which he granted land at Tortington. Tortington Priory was founded before 1200, probably about 1180 and probably by Hadwissa Corbet (Alicia de Corbet), a mistress of Henry I and a daughter of the d'Aubigny family who held the manor of Arundel. The priory was a cell of the Cathedral of Sees (Normandy) and dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It was a small Augustinian community consisting of a prior and four or five canons together with a cellarer and bailiff, novices and servants. Philip Mainwaring Johnston in an article in 1904 indicated that for most of its history the record of the priory was one of decay, neglect and disorder. The establishment was never large and its revenues were small, but as its benefactors increased the canons were able to enjoy an enviable lifestyle. Tortington had a number of manors from which it collected rents. As one of its duties the priory was expected to involve itself in drainage and checking the regular overflow of the River Arun, and for this work Commissions of Sewers had been awarded at an early period in the priory's existence. The priory fell into a state of neglect and decay by the end of the 15th century and the Bishop of Chichester reprimanded the canons on their maintenance of the buildings, their dress, the way the accounts were kept and their pursuance of games and hunting. By 1518 a general tightening up of monastic life was called for, but the decline continued until the Dissolution. In a visitation in 1527 it was reported that the priory church and brewhouse were in a ruinous condition. The Act of Suppression of 1536, which gave the sovereign the discretion to dissolve the smaller religious communities (i.e. those with an income of less than £200 per annum), proved the end of the priory. At that time Tortington's income was £75 12s 3 ½ d and came automatically within the scope of the Act and Thomas Cromwell's local commissioner John Morris. At the time of the Dissolution the priory's agricultural land was divided into two separate holdings; the area immediately adjacent to the priory (called Priory Farm), and Priory Manor. The priory was bought by Lord Maltravers, a member of the family who held Arundel Castle at that time, and was subsequently sold on to various other owners. The primary interest for the owners of the priory was the agricultural land and so the priory buildings were allowed to fall into ruin. By 1707 the farmhouse was described as consisting of a parlour, kitchen and offices with chambers above. Even the farmhouse itself was demolished in 1782, and, in a survey of 1909, other properties in the area were reported as incorporating worked stone from the ruins. All above ground structures such as Tortington Priory Barn, Priory Farm, the hangar building and hard landscaping such as ornamental steps, bridges, pergolas, fence post, gates and sheds are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath all of them is included. There is a grave and mausoleum to Mr Bridges within the scheduled area, a previous owner of the site, which is excluded from the scheduling, although again the ground beneath is included. Other water features lie to the west and east of the site; but they are not included in the scheduling. These features remain to be archaeologically evaluated, but may relate to further water management at Tortington.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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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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