St Osyth's Priory, Gatehouse and East and West flanking Ranges


Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: I

List Entry Number: 1111495

Date first listed: 21-Feb-1950

Date of most recent amendment: 20-Mar-2014

Statutory Address: The Priory, St Osyth, Clacton-on-sea, CO16 8NZ


Ordnance survey map of St Osyth's Priory, Gatehouse and East and West flanking Ranges
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Statutory Address: The Priory, St Osyth, Clacton-on-sea, CO16 8NZ

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

County: Essex

District: Tendring (District Authority)

Parish: St. Osyth

National Grid Reference: TM1210815637


The late-C15 Gatehouse, East and West Ranges to the monastic complex, part converted into a residence in the C20.

Reasons for Designation

The C15 Gatehouse and attached East and West Ranges, St Osyth’s Priory, Essex, are listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: the Gatehouse is considered by some to be one of the finest monastic buildings in the country and is the most prominent monastic building of the Priory. It is finely detailed, evident in the carved stonework and gate-hall vaulting and is an elegant and authoritative composition befitting the entrance to one of the wealthiest Augustinian order houses in the country. The east range, in particular, retains significant early monastic and post-monastic fabric, including the external walling, C13 entrance to the Priory, window and door detailing and dressings; * Historic interest: the Priory buildings are important examples of monastic buildings of the Augustinian order which individually and collectively played a significant role in the religious, economic and social life of medieval England. The post-Reformation evolution of the Gatehouse and Ranges by nationally significant historic figures contributes to the unique character and overall architectural and historic interest of the site; * Materials: the materials used in the construction are of high quality, handled with dexterity, reflecting the wealth and importance of the Priory and contributing to the exceptional interest of the buildings; * Intactness: the Gatehouse, East Range and exterior of the West Range have a high degree of intactness; * Interior: the survival of the interior plan-form and structure, and high quality interior fixtures and fittings such as the lavabo, C15 fireplaces, doors and door frames, the C17 staircase in the west range and C18 fixtures and fittings further add to the exceptional interest of the buildings; * Group value: this group of structures form the focus of the Priory complex, thus have group value with the other designated buildings and structures on the site, the Scheduled Monument and the registered Park and Garden.


The settlement now known as St Osyth is recorded as Chicc in the Domesday Book of 1086, and is said to be the location of a C7 convent founded by Acca, Bishop of Dunwich. Its first Abbess Osyth, daughter of the Mercian king Frithwald and wife to Sighere, the first Christian king of Essex is purported to have been brutally martyred at the hands of Danish marauders in 653. Her name was later commemorated by the renaming of the village as St Osyth, although it continued to be known also as Chich into the post-medieval period. The location of the convent is unknown although Nun’s Wood to the north of the Priory may be relevant. Within Nun’s Wood a possible moated site and a series of fish ponds may relate to pre- or early Priory occupation of the estate.

Archaeological finds of the C8 to C10 indicates a settlement of that date at or near to the present village. The Church of St Peter and St Paul is thought to be the site of St Peter’s Minister mentioned in a document of c.1050. The Domesday Book records that there were three Manors at Chicc in 1066.

The Priory was founded shortly after 1120 by Richard de Belmeis, Bishop of London, as a house for Augustinian canons from Holy Trinity, London. The Priory was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, and St Osyth and became an abbey before 1161. It is most likely that a park was associated with the abbey, possibly from 1268 when a charter was granted to the abbey allowing some hunting rights. Of the monastic buildings, the earliest remaining work is the sub-vault of the Dorter range which is of the period of the foundation; the still existing portions of the walls bounding the Cloister on the east and west are possibly also of this date. The fragmentary upstanding remains of what was probably the Kitchen are of the early-C13; to the same period belong the remains of the early gatehouse. In c.1230–40 the Frater was rebuilt with the vaulted passage to the east of it; at the end of the C13 the vaults in the former west range were built. The Great Gatehouse and the ranges flanking it and projecting south from it were built in the late-C15; the eastern of these ranges incorporates the earlier gatehouse. In about 1527 extensive additions were made by Abbot Vyntoner who built the Abbot's Lodging, aligned east west on the north side of the court, with an adjoining range running north-south (known as the South Wing in 2012). These abbey buildings survive to varying degrees of intactness, the most prominent today being the gatehouse and the Abbot’s Lodging, both reflecting the abbey’s wealth in the late medieval period.

The Abbot and Canons took the Oath of Supremacy in 1534 and received pensions after the surrender in July 1539. Post- dissolution, the Priory was bought by Thomas, 1st Lord Darcy, Lord Chamberlain of Edward VI’s household in 1553. It was Darcy and his successors who, in the mid-C16 and after, transformed the abbey into a substantial house. At this time the conventual church, which flanked the cloister to the south, was destroyed together with the major portion of the east and west ranges of the cloister quadrangle; the ends of the remaining portions of these ranges were faced with chequer-work, the Abbot's and Clock Towers were built and the upper part of the dorter range rebuilt to form a residence. In the early years of the Civil War, when it belonged to the 3rd Lord Darcy’s daughter, Countess Rivers, the Priory was sacked.

It remained in the ownership of the Countess Rivers's heirs until 1714, but during this period it was largely uninhabited and ruinous. It then passed by marriage to Frederic Nassau de Zuylestein, 3rd Earl of Rochford. In the 1720s he built a new house on the north side of the precinct and restored the gatehouse. His son added the surviving C18 range and laid out the park. The Nassau’s remained in possession of the Priory until 1858, when it passed to Charles Brandreth, only to be sold to Mr (later Sir) John Johnson, a London corn merchant, in 1863. Brandreth demolished Lord Rochford’s house. Johnson began the restoration of the Bishop’s Lodging in the 1860s and went on to restore the south range and embellish the gardens and park.

The property passed through a number of owners in the C20. Between 1954 and 1999 the Priory was the home of Somerset de Chair. The house was used as a convalescent home from 1948 until the 1980s, and de Chair converted the gatehouse to a residence. His extensive art collection was displayed in the C18 phase.

The surviving buildings on the site range in date from the C12 to the C19, and are complimented by buried archaeological remains pertaining to the Priory and a late-C18 to C20 designed landscape. All of the buildings have a chequered history of alteration and change of use reflected in their fabric and the Gatehouse is no exception. Mark Girouard considers it to be ‘among the finest monastic buildings surviving in England’. Such a claim demands scrutiny, and will be addressed in the full advice for this case, but it is unquestionable that the gatehouse is the most prominent building on the site. It was built as the new main entrance to the monastic complex in the late-C15, replacing the C13 entrance which is encased in the East Range (see below). Largely intact externally, the Gatehouse was in a state of disrepair at the end of the Civil War, but was restored in the 1720s and later, attested by interior remodelling and surviving fixtures of the C17 and C18. The Gatehouse and the West Range were converted into residential use in the mid-C20 by Somerset de Chair (Darcy Braddell was the architect) who installed the late-C17 staircase in the western stair turret of the Gatehouse. The staircase, with its barley-sugar balusters and heraldic finials, came originally from Costessey Hall in Norfolk. The description is arranged so that those rooms that were part of the gatehouse historically are described as part of the Gatehouse, even though they have been subsumed into the west and east ranges. The Gatehouse was listed at Grade I in 1950. The current List description notes that the Gatehouse is also a Scheduled Monument.


The late-C15 Gatehouse to the monastic complex, with flanking East and West Ranges also of late-C15 date; the East Range incorporates the arched entrance of the former C13 Gatehouse.

MATERIALS. Knapped flint and septaria, with stone dressings and decorative flint galleting, and tiled roof covering to the East and West Ranges. PLAN. The Gatehouse has a central, arched entrance to the ground floor with a hall over and single-bay rooms to the east and west each with two turrets at the rear. The Ranges have multi-room plans attached to the Gatehouse in a linear arrangement.


EXTERIOR. The Gatehouse is of two and three storeys with a double moulded plinth and a crenellated parapet of chequer-work, mostly set diagonally. There are two moulded chimney shafts to the east of the Gatehouse. The principal south front, facing the Bury, has elaborate flint flush-work in trefoiled, cusped and crocketed panels and angled east and west projections, with two angles to the west projection and three angles to the east projection. There are moulded, stone, string courses beneath the parapet and upper windows. There are windows to each storey in the projections and two over the arched gateway. All windows have two cinquefoiled lights in square heads with moulded labels, but those on the ground floor are smaller. A small, single-light, spy window is located in the west projection, the location of the porters’ room.

The main, outer archway has stop-moulded jambs and a four-centred arch in a square head with a double label and carved stops; the spandrels have figures carved in high relief of St. Michael and the dragon. The two small foot-way arches are of similar character to the main arch with head-stops to the labels and carved foliage and a rose in the spandrels. Flanking the main arch are a pair of niches with ogee cusped and crocketed canopies with flint-inlay and ribbed vaults; the moulded brackets have angels holding scrolls; above the arch is a similar but taller niche, with traceried instead of inlaid panels and an angel on the bracket holding a shield.

The north front has a parapet and windows similar to those on the south front; the two semi-octagonal turrets have external doorways with four-centred heads, quatrefoiled lights, and rise above the parapet. Buttresses to the north-west and north-east have garderobes. The inner archway has stop-moulded jambs and a two-centred arch in a square head with moulded labels and traceried spandrels, enclosing blank shields; above the head is a band of flint chequer-work. The gate-hall has a ribbed lierne vault of two bays springing from grouped triple shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The intersections of the ribs have richly carved bosses, the three central ones being: (a) the Annunciation; (b) crowned and veiled head of St. Osyth; and (c) a couched hart in a park paling, with a napkin round its neck, powdered with crowns; the smaller bosses include foliage, flowers, various grotesque heads and faces, lions' faces, bishop's head, kings' heads, a double face, pelican, half-angel with scroll, shields with the later arms of the Abbey and three crowns and a head of St. John on a charger.

The porters’ room to the west of the gateway has a doorway with moulded jambs and a two-centred arch; a similar doorway is on the east wall. A panel on the west wall has a carved hand holding an ornate lamp. There are C18, wrought-iron gates to the south archway.

INTERIOR. The room over the gate-hall, the porters’ lodge to its west and the rooms over it, have been incorporated into the west range residence. The Porter's room on the west of the gate-hall has a doorway with moulded jambs and two-centred arch; in the east wall is a recess with a large square basin and drain and a niche for a lantern at the back; in the W. wall is a fireplace with moulded jambs and four-centred arch; above it is a triangular-headed niche; further south is a blocked doorway. In the room over it is a similar fireplace in the E. wall. In the main north-west buttress of the gatehouse is a garderobe or cupboard. The upper floors are accessed by the C17 stairs with barley-twist balusters, heraldic finials and a deeply moulded, wreathed handrail from Costessy Hall that is located between the turrets on the north elevation. Entrances at each floor into the north-west corner turret have pointed-arch openings. Over the gate hall is a large room with two, C18 two-panel doors with HL hinges, an encased bridging beam, a moulded cornice and two, two-light, cusped windows to the front and rear. There is a four-centred arch fireplace with stone surround. The rooms above the ground-floor porters’ lodge have deeply moulded and chamfered transverse and axial bridging beams with stops and four-centred arch fireplaces. The porters’ lodge has a similar fireplace on the west wall. At the south-east corner is the opening for the squint onto the gateway, and a lavabo to the right. A four-centred arched opening with stone surrounds and deep reveals leads to the west range, where the easternmost room has deeply moulded and chamfered bridging beams. The other rooms on the ground and first floors and stairs have all been remodelled in the C20 and there are no historic fixtures and fittings remaining.

The room east of the gate-hall is accessed by an arched, doorway. It has axial bridging beams and a fireplace with a stone surround. An earlier stairway opening to the first floor is blocked; a C20 stair case has been inserted against the south wall. A corridor parallel to the south wall leads into the east range (see below). On the first floor, the room adjacent to the gate-hall and first room of the east range have Georgian fireplaces and two-panelled doors with HL hinges set in C15, pointed-arch openings with stone surrounds. This part of the gatehouse and range appear to have been used as a dwelling at that time.


EXTERIOR. The East Range of the Gatehouse has two storeys and is of three bays with buttresses in between an embattled parapet and windows, similar to those of the gatehouse. A chimney stack of stone and dressed flint topped by a spiral moulded red-brick shaft projects forward from the south elevation. The easternmost bay is an early-C13 gatehouse, re-fronted in the C15 to match the rest of the range. Between the two pairs of windows on the south face are rectangular cusped panels enclosing shields with (a) the later arms of the Abbey, and (b) three birds (? popinjays or pheasants). At the east end of the range is a heavy brick chimney-stack of the C17 with grouped diagonal shafts.

The rear (north) is not crenellated. The first-floor window range is similar to those in the gatehouse at the ground floor, with a larger window to the left, and a large stone, segmental arch visible in the wall above. To right of this window is a moulded stone doorway with a keystone; a C20 door with part of a two-light window, over lies to the right.

INTERIOR. The rooms of the East Range are accessed from the east room of the Gatehouse. On the ground floor there are medieval, plastered, brick four-centre arch fireplaces and timber framing of substantial scantling. A pegged midrail and studs probably of the C13, and C17 bridging beams supported on a carved cornice and brackets are exposed. A medieval, four-centre arch doorway with plain spandrels and a timber, decorative, panelled door with applied fillets leads into the former bakehouse. Here the blocked (and only visible internally), early-C13, wide, arched entrances to the monastic complex are evident. That in the south wall is round-headed and of two moulded orders, while the archway in the north has a segmented, pointed head; the difference in walling between this and the other bays of the range is visible on the north face. The east elevation is entirely of brick, and dominated by a shallow-arched, bakehouse fireplace.

On the first floor, the room furthest west has been converted into a residence in the Georgian period. The two eastern rooms of the range are accessed through four-centre arched door openings; the first with a plain surround and spandrels with an iron pintle. The room has deeply moulded and chamfered bridging beams. A C16 door leads to the easternmost room; its shallow, arched head has flanking painted murals, with a painted Latin script flowing from the left hand mural, through the door jamb and head. The murals depict the Tudor coat of arms, 3 crowns, vines and grapes, and C14 figures. There are blocked, bread-oven openings in the east wall and a partly exposed, post-medieval roof structure.


EXTERIOR. The West Range of the Gatehouse is of late-C15 date and of two storeys with an embattled parapet of knapped flint on the south side; the windows on this side have been much altered. There is a panelled door a with canopy over. The south face had scaffolding attached in 2012. The projecting stone chimney-stack has two, mid-C16 brick octagonal shafts with spurred caps and moulded bases, spiked and moulded capping. The north (rear) elevation has a stone plinth. The off-centre doorway of moulded stone has a segmented pointed head; another door further to the right has a chamfered, stone, square head with a label over and may be C16 in date. There is a four- window range of moulded brick and two light windows with labels over.

INTERIOR. A four-centre arched opening with stone surrounds and deep reveals, leads to the east range where the easternmost room has deeply moulded and chamfered bridging beams. The other rooms on the ground and first floors and the stairs have all been remodelled in the C20 and there are no historic fixtures and fittings remaining.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 120020

Legacy System: LBS


Books and journals
Bettley, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (2007)
Robinson, M, The Geography of Augustinian Settlement in medieval England and Wales: Volumes 1 and 2. BAR British Series, (1980)
Girouard, M, 'Country Life' in From Medieval Gatehouse to Modern Home, (August 211958)
Robinson, DM, 'Monastic Research Bulletin no. 18' in The Augustinian Canons in England and Wales; Architecture, Archaeology and Liturgy 1100-1540., (2012)
British History Online, accessed . from
Liz Lake, St Osyth Priory Estate: Conservation Management plan, 2011,
Pete Smith, St Osyths Priory: Historic Buildings Report, 2011,
Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England, Part 15 Essex,

End of official listing