Monument record LCS 002 - Site of first Leiston Abbey

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Site of the first Premonstratensian abbey at Leiston, founded in 1182 and moved to its present site in 1363 (see LCS 001).


Grid reference Centred TM 4727 6598 (442m by 299m)
Map sheet TM46NE


Type and Period (3)

Full Description

Site of the first Premonstratensian abbey founded by Glanville in 1182 and moved to present site, LCS 001, in 1363. About 2 miles away from later site on a slight rise in the marshland a few hundred yards from the sea. In the middle of the field stand ruins of small rectangular building, roughly built of various local materials (with World War 2 structure in its E end), which appears from APs to lie on the S side of the cloister. The photos show the plan of claustral and outlying buildings beneath the soil (S1). 1981: Masonry on ruin in reasonable condition, weed free, but weeds, scrub growing up around base both exterior and interior. Large elder branches eroding bricks from top of wall. Surrounding fields wheat & barley. Tile, bone and oyster noted in ploughsoil to N (S1).
Later cell?
Base of Rhenish frilly based tyg, C16, brown and buff salt-glaze. Ploughed up on Chapel Field, Lower Abbey Farm. Given by owner G A Rope to Ipswich Museum (S2).
Chapel probably that of John Greene (1531) who `became consecrated hermit after resigning as Abbot of new Leiston Abbey. Lived at Chapel of St Mary in the old monastery' (S3).
1991: Said to be falling. A brick and concrete pill box was built inside in the last war. Access across a ploughed field (S4).
1995: Fieldwalking identified three dense scatters of pottery (late twelth century to fourteenth century) with the one around the chapel also containing peg-tile and ashlar blocks, see details (S10).
January 1996: Scheduled area revised to include further area to NW and exclude area on S side (S1)(S5).
The site of the first Premonstratensian abbey at Leiston is visible as cropmarks and parchmarks on aerial photographs, centred on circa TM47256601 (S6-7). An incomplete plan of the church and claustral range can be seen centred roughly on circa TM47346598. The removal of much of the masonry in or around 1363 probably resulted in the creation of 'robber-trenches' which are visible as cropmarks. These can be seen outlining part of the church and conventual buildings, and possibly marking the previous location of pier bases in what might have been the dormitory range at circa TM47336603. However, a number of the visible parchmarks are probably due to in-situ masonry, for example as at circa TM47306603. This is possibly the location of the refectory or kitchen range. Compacted flooring, possibly of mortar, probably accounts for the large areas of parching that appears to differentiate the internal areas of some of the probable structures across the site. However, to the east of the area it is less easy to distinguish this from natural parching due to changes in surface geology. In the east, centred on about TM47406604, it is possible to see further probable robber trenches as cropmarks. These may represent the location of a further range of buildings, possibly an infirmary complex or guest accommodation. Towards the west of the area fishponds and a number of drainage or water management channels can be seen as cropmarks. The largest and most obvious fishpond, circa 85m long and 15m wide, is centred on circa TM47246605. A smaller pond or reservoir may be located at circa TM47156599. Substantial drainage channels cross the site connecting the ponds to the surrounding water management systems. This would have been essential in an area prone to flooding. Ultimately it was the risk of repeated flooding that prompted the relocation of the site in the 14th century. Cropmarks of a probable later track or drainage system can be seen centred on circa TM47196599, running from circa TM47076598 in the west to circa TM47256601 in the east. This feature may continue eastwards across the site of the Abbey, but as with many of the features relating to the Abbey complex itself, it is not possible to be more certain of the details from the limited photographs available to the survey. It is possible that ploughing has damaged the remains. It is also probable that a number of the cropmarks that are visible on the photographs, but that have not been mapped, are a result of modern drainage.

Circa 2005: geophysical survey - details details in 2008 report (S9).

2008: As part of a grant aided programme of consolidation works to the building known as Minsmere Chapel, English Heritage required archaeological recording and interpretation to be undertaken. Aerial photographs and geophysical survey (S9) suggest that the building was constructed within the body of the original abbey church that itself lay immediately south of a cloister. Three main phases of construction were recognised. The first, represented by the lower sections of the standing walls, had evidence surviving for three contemporary windows, a doorway and an enigmatic internal niche. This initial phase was thought to date to soon after the abandonment of the abbey in 1363. The second phase was represented by the upper sections of the wall with their characteristic use of brick and evidence two additional windows and the blocking of the Phase II windows. This phase has tentatively been associated with John Green who when he retired as Abbot of the abbey at the new site in 1527 lived out his years as a hermit at the chapel. The third phase involved the insertion of a World War II pillbox into the eastern end of the structure and utilised the existing architectural openings (S8).

Sources/Archives (12)

  • <M1> (No record type): SAM file: (S1)(S5).
  • <S1> Unpublished document: Department of the Environment. Scheduling information.
  • <M2> (No record type): AP: AP AJN 14.
  • <S2> Index: Ipswich Museum. IPSMG card. IPSMG, card 967-11, 1967.
  • <S3> (No record type): Goult W, A Survey of Suffolk Parish History: E Suffolk I-Y, 1990.
  • <S4> Unpublished document: Suffolk Preservation Society. 1991. Suffolk Preservation Society Survey. Suff Pres Soc Survey, 1991.
  • <S5> (No record type): English Heritage (Bamford H M), sketch cropmark plot, (1997?).
  • <S6> Photograph: CUCAP. CUCAP aerial photograph. CUCAP (BYZ27-28) 03-Jul-1976.
  • <S7> Photograph: Norfolk Landscape Archaeology. Norfolk Landscape Archaeology Air Photography. TM4765/313 JFT9 20-Jul-1996.
  • <S8> Excavation archive: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Excavation Report. Boulter S, SCCAS 2008/090.
  • <S9> Unpublished document: Black A & Black D. 2008. Geophysical Survey Report, at Leiston Abbey (first site).
  • <S10> Unpublished document: Newman J. 1995. Fieldwalking Survey, Leiston Abbey (first site), Leiston.

Finds (1)

Protected Status/Designation

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Events/Activities (7)

Record last edited

May 19 2021 7:41PM

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