Thursday 14 January 2016

PhD research paper #2. The study of monastic landscapes

From time to time I will post 'bite size' chunks of the material I am preparing for my PhD thesis: works in progress, but content which I feel may be of interest to a wider audience. All will be very much draft versions, not necessarily - probably not - reflecting the final wording that will eventually appear in the Thesis. In-text references are included but a full bibliography is not. This paper is based on a section of the initial literature review. 

The study of monastic landscapes

An overview
The wider landscapes of monastic estates, in contradistinction to monastic precincts and their buildings (see Figure 1), have often received only limited attention from landscape archaeology practitioners and few studies have attempted to examine the symbolism and perception of the landscapes of monastic estates, particularly as they evolved after the Dissolution (Aston 2007, 185; Bond 2004, 10; Everson and Stocker 2007, 215). This is despite the fact that, in contrast to other elements of the medieval landscape such as rural settlements or field systems, a clearer evidence-base for monastic operations is often available to the researcher.

Figure 1: The precinct of Llanthony Priory, Cwmyoy, Monmouthshire in its landscape setting (Author).

Comprehensive contemporary documentary evidence is frequently (though not always) readily accessible for monastic houses, including charters and other legal papers, manorial records and tax and valuation surveys (in some cases collected together in cartularies or other registers). Such documents provide detailed information on the physical appearance, topography and development of estates: an example of the symbiotic relationship between the work of the monastic population and the agricultural landscape around them (Davies 2014, 140; Moorhouse 1989, 29-30). In addition, there is also often a survival of a greater degree of physical evidence of buildings and large-scale landscape development projects (Aston 2007, 20).

This rich documentary legacy has facilitated a vast corpus of academic literature on the history of monasticism in Britain. Whilst generally little focussed on the wider landscape per se, there are numerous works that provide important contextual information on the architectural, agricultural and economic activity of monastic operations.[1] Often such narratives are driven by long-standing orthodoxies, such as the foundation of monastic houses in reclusive areas of wilderness, based on the non-critical use of contemporary sources that have more recently been challenged (Pestell 2004, 1).

Picturesque monastic ruins were also a popular topic of interest for antiquarians from Dugdale[2] onwards and a conservative agenda primarily interested in the physical appearance of the church and cloistral architecture has in many ways remained until relatively recently, itself influenced by the interest of the Romantic Movement in monastic ruins from an artistic perspective - a theme explored in more detail later in this chapter (Pestell 2004, 1-2). A narrow focus on architectural survey and developing ground plans of the central buildings of the precinct based on excavation became the long dominant mode of fieldwork for monastic sites, supplemented by a spotlight on the workings of individual granges and out-farms as part of the study of the wider economic framework as outlined below (Austin 2013, 4-5).

Monastic holdings are well represented in the long tradition of historical study of well-documented medieval estates (Pestell 2004, 7). Much of what has been written is from an historical geography or economic history perspective, often focussed on particular economic, organisational and agrarian aspects and mostly taken from documentary research though still of great value in landscape terms (Moorhouse 1989, 43; Rippon 2009, 230) (see Figure 2).[3] The focus has often been on the very particular estate management system of the Cistercian Order. For instance, Donkin’s (1978) overview of the historical geography of the Cistercian houses of England and Wales provides a detailed analysis of the estates and holdings of individual institutions, and the particular economic and agrarian model initially practised by the Cistercians in rejecting the manorial system of the generally longer-established Benedectine houses in favour of direct land management through the grange system.[4]

Figure 2: Broadshawe, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire. An upland stock farm for cattle (vaccary), part of the network of granges and specialist farmsteads described in Kershaw’s economic history of Bolton Abbey (Author).

Often emphasised in this research is how the very underpinning values of the Cistercian Order in seeking independence from the outside world, and (in contrast to other orders) requiring the White Monks to work the land themselves and reject dependence on the feudal labour of the manorial system, directly impacted on the management of their estates. In particular through the development of the grange system and the subsequent innovation of deploying a lay workforce as economic operations flourished and expanded into areas of marginal land (Burton 1998, 13; Coppack 1998, 95-6; Knowles 1963, 215-16). Some of these ideas are now contested as generalisations. For instance, Davies (2014, 133) argues that the desert eremitic ideals of early monasticism were maintained through a more pragmatic, sometimes even ruthless, policy during the central Middle Ages: ‘Monasteries might create deserts in order to have a place of withdrawal, as the Cistercians were accused of doing in twelfth-century England’. Such manipulation of the landscape to provide secluded space included the reorganisation of estates and land-use, for instance to create consolidated blocks of arable fields or the draining of marshland, and could lead in practice to desertion (forced or otherwise) by former inhabitants (Moorhouse 1989, 32; Rippon 2004b, 127-8).

Archival and spatial data on the holdings and estates of the Augustinian Order have been catalogued and analysed by Robinson (1980a, 1980b) on a national scale. As with the Cistercian research discussed here, this document-based historical geography analysis provides landscape evidence incidentally. An important point highlighted is that Augustinian houses operated with a greater flexibility than other denominations. Individual houses could therefore reflect either extreme of monastic estate management practice, that is a network of conventional manors following the well-established Benedictine model with income largely received from the rents of tenants, or manors which consisted mostly of demesne land with all produce and profits used by the monastery, in effect operating as granges akin to those in the Cistercian system (Robinson 1980, 309).  

Two scholars have been particularly prominent in foregrounding the landscape in monastic research. Mick Aston and James Bond were responsible for early multidisciplinary attempts to recreate the landscape of monastic estates during the 1970s and have, more recently, published comprehensive overviews of the core elements of monastic topography based on their long-standing research work (Aston 1972, 2007; Bond 1973, 1979, 2004). Austin (2005, 108; 2013, 8-9) has argued that this has provided a necessary first step of classification and typology, of amassing data but is also indicative of an instrumentalist approach apparent in monastic landscape archaeology: the artificial separating out of functional and technological elements to describe how monastic estates worked rather than an analysis of the landscape in a more holistic sense.

Both Aston (2007, 128) and Bond (2000, 12-13) have pointed out that the impact of medieval monasteries on the landscape has often been underestimated and remains largely unexplored due to limited detailed research on the topography and topology of individual estates, despite the fact that, at their height, monastic houses had rights of exploitation (through endowment of land and other privileges) over as much as a quarter of the whole land mass of England and Wales. Their major contribution has been to continuously underline that the very practical requirements of monastic houses scattered across all parts of town and countryside inevitably led to a considerable impact on the medieval landscape. In Bond’s (2000, 63) words: ‘Their needs placed demands on the resources of the land, for food, water, fuel and building materials. In consequence, even the most deliberately secluded communities could hardly avoid becoming focal points in the landscape, as landmarks and route centres’.

At the height of the expansion and development of monastic lands the wealthier houses were undoubtedly trail-blazers in estate management through the enclosure of uplands, mineral extraction and so on (Waites 2007, 215-16). Aston (2007, 23), however, cautions that twelfth century England and Wales were already anciently settled countries with all land owned and utilised in some way, including woodland, waste and fen, therefore ‘the idea of pioneer monks moving into unknown and undeveloped primeval lands in this country in the early Middle Ages is a romantic but untenable myth’. Interplay with the wider secular landscape was also an important element, not least because monastic and lay estates would have many commonalities (Everson 1989, 141). As Moorhouse (1989, 50) has shown, monastic estates would reflect economic and social changes in the outside world, for instance the rapid increase in leasing for a secure income in the later Middle Ages. The Dissolution then led to a renewed period of change and development as secular owners created new estates and residences out of the legacy of the monastic houses (Aston 2007, 15). 

Medieval monasticism was, of course, a transnational phenomenon, perhaps the first since the fall of the Roman Empire (Bond 2000, 64), and a recent pan-European landscape perspective is provided by Davies (2014, 138), who emphasises that monastic houses across the continent obtained most of their income from the collection of rent or in kind rather than through the sale of produce, with direct management of estates and other economic resources mostly restricted to larger houses, generally through a wide variety of labour services from tenants. She also argues that across Europe monastic communities developed landscapes of power, through services and rents from tied tenants (although the extent of service required could vary considerably) and the exercise of patronage over smaller scale landowners and richer peasantry, as well as social memory through, for instance, the siting of marker stones and crosses in the landscape (Davies 2014, 141-2). She concludes that ‘the capacity of some monasteries not simply to sit on the land surface but to mould and change the landscape is as significant for the changing visual environment as it is for economic growth’ (Davies 2014, 143).[5]

Examples of monastic landscape studies

Stephen Moorhouse (1989) produced probably the first published overview of monastic estate development in Britain from a landscape perspective, following a conference on rural monastic archaeology in 1988, though using evidence largely restricted to the north of England. Here the importance of reading the physical remains of the landscape in the context of the ‘constantly changing economic machine of which they were a product’ was underscored. Furthermore, ‘the monastic estates could not survive in isolation. They thrived on commercialism and exploitation, particularly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and thus were both socially and economically integrated into their own region’ (Moorhouse 1989, 68). This sense of dynamism and the impact of the outside world is emphasised by Bond (2001, 55) who has highlighted the different phases of estate management during the long centuries of monastic activity. For example, the practical difficulties in managing production from often scattered estates as more holdings were accrued in the early period of monastic growth that led to renting out of more land. This was followed by a return to more direct management of estates as a result of population growth and a period of rising prices and demand in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, with a subsequent return to leasing out to tenants once more as the population reduced and labour costs rose in the early fourteenth century.

Moorhouse (1989, 67) also made the case for further archaeological fieldwork and mapping of the integrated networks of landscape features making up specific monastic estates, based on the often detailed topographical descriptions spread amongst the various types of archival documents where they survive, as well as other sources such as field- and place-name evidence. The historic landscape and related sources can potentially hold evidence of a wealth of topographical features associated with monastic operations, ranging from communications routes, mills and farm complexes to fishponds and processing infrastructure, mineral extraction and even many of the more ephemeral features essential to day to day monastic activity and economy (e.g. wayside crosses, kilns, ovens, bird or animal traps, archery butts, animal pounds, dovecots, sheep washes etc.) (Moorhouse 1989, 59-65). 

In reviewing progress in this area as the current century commenced, Bond (2000, 72) concluded that ‘the potential for continuing enquiry remains vast’. More recently Davies (2014, 143) has noted: ‘We could do with more archaeology of monastic landscapes: evidence of physical change in settlement patterns and in types of structure, as well as those underlying economic strategies; clearance, planting, changes of crop and of stock, erection of boundaries, could all be revealed’. It remains the case that much archaeological fieldwork focusses on case-studies of individual houses and is still largely concerned with the precinct, home demesne or manor and other immediate landscape features (Brown 2012, 8; Pestell 2004, 1; see, for example, Coppack 2003; Greene 2004; Ludlow 2002). Pestell (2004, 6) reflects that, despite some new approaches such as Robinson’s investigation of geographical patterns of monastic foundation already mentioned, theoretically-based research in monastic landscape archaeology has been quite rare,[6] with a general bias towards an economic analysis (monasteries as a capitalistic model) at the expense of addressing the spiritual elements of activity and the place of the monastery in its wider landscape and community context.

Figure 3: Oblique aerial photograph of the extensive earthworks at Monknash Grange, St Donats, Glamorganshire (

The monastic grange is one feature of the wider landscape that has been subjected to a relatively high degree of analysis. Until relatively recently this has tended to focus on their role in the economy of monastic communities rather than archaeological or topographical fieldwork, perhaps in part due to the fact that granges often form the nucleus of later and still extant farmsteads and so are relatively inaccessible, though there are a handful of sites that have now been investigated in more detail (Butler 1989, 7).[7] Moorhouse (1989, 45) points out that upland areas provide the greatest potential for understanding the layout, different functions and evolution of granges as they experienced less subsequent agricultural development (because of abandonment or contraction due to climatic change or economic factors) and therefore landscape features have often survived relatively undisturbed as shrunken or abandoned farmsteads.[8] The most conventional general text on the subject remains The Monastic Grange in Medieval England (Platt 1969), which first highlighted the long-lasting significance of the grange system for the landscape, particularly in more marginal agricultural terrains, with archaeological, cartographical and architectural evidence brought to the fore. Williams (1976, 1984, 1990) has also researched the spatial development and economic activity of the granges of the Welsh Cistercians, with direct relevance to this study. The prevailing Cistercian grange model as a particular typology of enclosure, function and built structures has begun to be challenged as more detailed assessments of individual granges and regional distributions are carried out (Brown 2012, 294-6; Waites 2007, 57-89). For instance, at Strata Florida (Cardiganshire) the evidence has demonstrated a pragmatic hybrid of local and Cistercian practice often retaining pre-existing tenurial and land management processes (Bezant 2014).

In response to the relatively underdeveloped monastic landscape research agenda a number of projects and studies have offered new methodological and theoretical frameworks which seek to place the monastery in a wider landscape, local and regional setting and challenge orthodox thinking (Gilchrist 2009, 387; Keevil 2001, 137). The most sustained example of this more holistic archaeological investigation of a medieval monastery and its landscape has been the Bordesley Abbey (Worcestershire) project run by the University of Reading since 1969, inspired by the pioneering work of Aston and others in highlighting the untapped potential of the extensive earthworks in and surrounding monastic precincts to increase knowledge of the workings of monastic houses (Aston 1972) (see Figure 4). Bordesley has demonstrated the value of a detailed long-term research programme integrating architecture, archaeology and archival work, including pre- and post-monastic study of the local countryside and wider regional landscape context (Astill et al 2004). For instance, the project has identified three zones of granges with distinct land-use and settlement patterns: a model of economic management which enabled the abbey to exploit the resources of different pays (Astill et al 2004, 139).

Figure 4: The extensive earthworks of the Bordesley Abbey precinct, Alvechurch, Worcestershire

This approach, familiar in other medieval research studies such as Wharram Percy (Yorkshire), Whittlewood (Buckinghamshire/ Northamptonshire) and Shapwick (Somerset), has now been applied in a Welsh Cistercian context through the Strata Florida project commenced in 1999 (Austin 2004; Bezant 2014; Rippon 2009, 237). Here the aim has been to place the monastic precinct in its wider landscape, environmental, social and economic contexts, addressing wider issues such as identity, spirituality and cultural resistance, and contributing to the heritage and regeneration agenda for the Cambrian Mountains region (Austin 2004, 193-4; 2013, 4). Landscape archaeology techniques have been applied to enable the detailed reconstruction and interpretation of the late twelfth-century precinct and core estate, the abbey’s grange system and a well-preserved monastic communication route (Bezant 2014; Fleming 2009, 2010; Fleming and Barker 2008). In formulating a detailed ‘biography of place’, the project is providing evidence that normative rules for behaviour, management, architecture and so on were flexible and changeable over time and location, and subject to complex, sometimes subtle, local variation (Austin 2013, 10).

A regional perspective is provided in Pestell’s (2004) analysis of the patterns of monastic foundation in East Anglia, which seeks to shift the agenda away from the previously discussed innate conservatism and enduring perceptions of monastic archaeology through, for instance, the foregrounding of symbolism and iconography when considering the monastic landscape, and countering the prevailing vision of Norman monasteries colonising new territory without previous monastic antecedents. Menuge’s (2000, 22) examination of the symbolism in contemporary medieval written evidence for Rievaulx and Fountains abbeys (Yorkshire) also questions ‘the agenda of the medieval foundation myth’ of civilising waste and wilderness that still permeates the landscape history of the Cistercians.[9] Another regional study, Waites’ (2007, 216) analysis of the monastic landscapes of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds, highlights correlations between monastic development and patterns of subsequent continuing prosperity, agricultural specialism (particularly sheep farming), settlement and land-use. A legacy particularly of the ‘unique instrument’ of the grange as a ‘unit of exploitation’ with a range of functions, reflected in a pattern of dispersed farmsteads still occupying many grange sites to this day.

One of the few attempts to survey the landscapes of a specific monastic house and its estates in forensic detail utilising modern landscape archaeology techniques is Brown’s (2012) study of Stanley Abbey (Gloucestershire), which also assesses the impact of the suppression of the monastery on the landscape and seeks to test pre-existing models for Cistercian estate management and attitudes to the landscape in which they operated.[10]  As an example of the analysis of a particular monastic landscape resource, Rippon (2004b, 91, 129) has marshalled rich documentary records, historic maps and evidence within the historic landscape to produce an HLC reconstruction of the management of wetland resources around Glastonbury Abbey’s fish house at Meare in the Somerset Levels, previously economically marginal terrain which became one of the abbey’s most valuable manors. A fenland context is also apparent in the report on an excavation within the outer court of Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire, which both seeks to illuminate the wider landscape setting and also catalogue the processes of reuse and dilapidation following Dissolution (Thomas 2006, 179).      

A regional perspective

Until quite recently much of the regional literature relating specifically to monastic landscapes in Wales and the Welsh Marches was relatively old in academic research terms.[11] David Williams’ work on the Welsh Cistercians remains an invaluable contextual overview of the establishment of the order across the Principality combined with detailed economic histories covering all aspects of estate management synthesised from primary source material. In particular, the Atlas of Cistercian Lands in Wales (1990) provides a detailed compendium of relevant information, including an inventory and cartographical representations of all of the estates and holdings of the Welsh Cistercian houses, aerial photographs and interpretive maps and plans of individual granges etc.

The generally held view has been that monastic settlements had a lesser influence on the development of the rural landscape in Wales as compared to England and Scotland (Pryor 2010, 282). This could be an assumption based on the relative sparseness of monastic establishments across the less settled and farmed Welsh landscape but may also simply reflect the greater body of more recent research carried out elsewhere. This hypothesis, perhaps misleading in a heavily Norman influenced Welsh Marches context anyway, is now being challenged. For instance, Burton has argued that many Welsh houses founded in the early period of the monastic revival were part of an overt Anglo-Norman landscape of conquest and discontinuity in colonised areas, with little native Welsh input and support (Burton 1998, 22). In contrast, in areas under the influence of Welsh lords, the founding, endowing or taking over of patronage of Cistercian houses became a notable feature of Welsh kingship.[12] In turn the abbeys regularly provided political support to Welsh causes and rebellions, often to their cost. In such cases the monastic house and its estates became more integrated into the surrounding society and landscape (Bond 2005, 55; Gray 2005, 17). Often, in fact, operating as a key geographical central place in terms of communications networks (Fleming 2008, 96). Bond (2005, 57) has also shown that, even in seemingly more remote foundations in the Welsh uplands, few monasteries were sited outside the margins of previously settled land and the disruption and resettlement of existing communities as already discussed was not uncommon, particularly as the grange system spread the monastic influence over larger tracts of agricultural and upland grazing land (as documented, for example, on the estates of Margam Abbey, Glamorganshire).   

Such illustrations of the impact of the Cistercians in particular on the Welsh medieval landscape reflect the higher degree of academic discourse afforded to the denomination’s activities in Wales in recent times, with the aforementioned Strata Florida project the prime example, building on the pioneering work of Williams cited above. This interest was distilled into the content and published outputs from conferences at Cardiff in 1998 and Abergavenny in 2004.[13] In reference to the papers at these conferences, Gray (2005, 24) has emphasised that: ‘Our brief excursion into the archaeology of the sites themselves does, however, overwhelmingly present a picture of potential as yet unexploited’.

Figure 5: Speculative map of the medieval landscape around Cwmyoy, the home manor of Llanthony Priory in Monmouthshire (Map created in MapInfo, aerial photograph from RCAHMW (1975)).

Landscape-scale research, archaeological investigation and detailed topographical analysis of individual estates of the monastic houses in the study area for this Thesis has been limited. The author’s MSc dissertation and subsequent journal articles (Procter 2007a, 2007b, 2012) provide a preliminary overview of the impact of Llanthony Priory (Monmouthshire) on its surrounding environs (see Figure 5), prompted by Evans’ (1980; 1984, 52) recognition in his reports on the archaeological investigation of the Priory site in 1978 that the house’s economy, management of estates and landscape development had not been addressed. Precinct surveys have been produced for Chepstow, Llanthony and Tintern (all in Monmouthshire) and there have been a number of small-scale excavations mainly relating to monument conservation.[14] In addition, Williams (1976, 1990) has provided useful summations, analysis and mapping of the estates and granges of Dore (Herefordshire), Grace Dieu (Monmouthshire), Llantarnam and Tintern. Finally, the outcomes of site-based fieldwork activities at a number of granges have been published, including the Tintern granges located in the Monmouthshire Gwent Levels contextualised in their wider wetland landscape setting (Rippon 1996, 78-86).[15]

The monastic landscape after the Dissolution

Moving to the landscape after the Dissolution and further gaps in the research record appear. Aston (2007, 20) has noted that there is often much evidence available, both archival and in the field, of the transition and change of use from monastic to secular estates. However, as Doggett (2001, 165) has remarked, there has been little research on the demolition, conversion and re-use of monastic buildings (and their landscapes) in the vast literature on the suppression of the monasteries and its aftermath: ‘The wide question of what happened to the buildings on former monastic manors and whether the dispersal of former monastic lands among new lay landlords and tenants was in any way responsible for Hoskins’s ‘great rebuilding’ in the late sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century remains open, and can only be answered by further research, both on a regional and national scale’ (Doggett 2001, 173).

Everson and Stocker’s (2007) study of Kirkstead Abbey (Lincolnshire) is indicative of a fresh approach to the study of the monastic precinct in its landscape setting, evidencing the post-suppression conversion of the precinct to accommodate a new secular mansion and associated formal gardens. The fate of the physical structures of monastic houses and their estates after Dissolution could vary considerably: for instance, some churches transitioned to parish churches, some abbot’s lodgings became gentry houses, others became ruinous; some estates were taken on wholesale by new owners, others were split up.[16] Holtorf and Williams (2006, 242-3) have examined ‘the manipulation of monastic architecture and landscapes in the post-reformation era in which elements of the material past were selectively remembered and forgotten’ through the integration of monastic buildings into the fabric of secular houses or the deliberate ruination or retention of romantic ruins in designed landscape. This perhaps taken to a particular extreme in the continuing and evolving ‘landscape of memory and myth’ in and around Glastonbury incorporating abbey buildings and topography. 

The changes and adjustments wrought by the Dissolution and Reformation to the ‘spatial context of peoples’ lives’ and their everyday ‘religious topographies’ are often under-explored territory for landscape archaeology (Whyte 2009, 7). In commenting on the widely chronicled dramatic changes to the material fabric of religious buildings during the Reformation, Alexandra Walsham (2011, 4) makes the point that ‘historians have rarely ventured beyond the doors, porches and walls of churches or the inner precincts of abbeys, priories, and convents. There has been surprisingly little scrutiny to date of the impression that the Reformation left upon the wider natural but also partly man-made environment within which these structures were situated’. Her book, The Reformation of the Landscape, provides a previously unopened window into the afterlife of the medieval religious landscape (in its widest sense), noting not only how religious assumptions impacted on perceptions of the landscape, but also how the topography of, for example, monastic houses and features in the landscape such as holy wells, wayside crosses and other sacred spaces influenced and reflected the immense societal and theological changes that sprang from the ruptures of the sixteenth century and beyond: how the landscape itself acted ‘as a form of iconography’ (Walsham 2011, 2-6).[17] Austin (2013, 4) has further commented on the legacy of monasticism in local social memory as manifested through on-going ritual practice and spiritual associations in a landscape full of meaning, often counter to official narratives.

Returning to the references to the need for more landscape research throughout this section, Walsham (2011, 17) advocates micro-level study of specific landscapes to compliment the more holistic sweep of her book. For Gilchrist (2014) this can be facilitated by a continuation and expansion of the move towards a landscape focus and utilisation of GIS, digital mapping and HLC techniques in the study of monastic archaeology observed in recent years. Moreover, with a view to increasing understanding of the totality of the monastic landscape, the benefits of an ever-expanding interdisciplinary approach, as already essayed in a wider landscape archaeology context, can be added to this.[18]

[1] See, for example: Burton and Stober 2008; Butler and Given-Wilson 1979; Coppack 2006; Greene 2005; Keevill et al 2001; Knowles (1963) for the first comprehensive historiography and outline of the way of life of all monastic orders in England during the Middle Ages; and Knowles and Hadcock’s (1971) gazetteer of all the medieval religious establishments of England and Wales.

[2] Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum (1653-1673 and revised by Caley, Ellis and Bandinel into new editions, 1817-1830) was the foremost product of the transcription of contemporary manuscripts from the monastic period that, alongside the study of remaining upstanding buildings, was a key focus of antiquarian activity.

[3] See, for instance, the economic histories and thematic studies cited by Bond (2000), including Finberg (1951) on Tavistock Abbey (Devon) and Kershaw (1973) on Bolton Abbey (Yorkshire). Both largely works of social and economic history with limited content relating to archaeological fieldwork and maps included only as distribution and location indicators rather than spatial tools.

[4] Other volumes that provide valuable information on the operation, management and topography of Cistercian estates include Burton and Kerr (2011), Coppack (1998) and, for a wider readership, Robinson (1998).

[5] As illustration, thirty years of extensive study of the lands of San Vincenzo al Volturno abbey in central Italy has demonstrated a mix of resources in the landscape including high mountain pasture, arable production in the narrow but fertile valleys and alluvial plain and evidence of several phases of planned settlements, including a proto-urban settlement during construction of the monastery (Davies 2014, 137).

[6] An example would be Gilchrist’s (1994) gender-archaeological study of nunneries.

[7] Including: Abbingdon Abbey’s grange at Dean Court, Cumnor in Oxfordshire (Allen 1994); Roystone Grange in the White Peak area of Derbyshire, a holding of Garendon Abbey (Hodges 2006); Byland Abbey’s grange at Bentley in West Yorkshire (Addy and Moorhouse 1990); and work by the Royal Commissions to produce detailed plans at Monknash (Margam Abbey, see Figure 3) and other grange sites in Glamorganshire and also across Leicestershire (Aston 2007, 185).

[8] Upland granges also often illustrate the wide range of functions of these outlying demesne operations aside from the grain production more common for lowland granges, for instance, vaccaria (cattle ranch), bercaria (sheep ranch), equicium (horse stud), and mineral working. Few have been surveyed but they often have much more complex earthwork morphology than casual observation would suggest, sometimes with evidence of the reuse of prehistoric settlements and field boundaries (e.g. Malham Moor and Levisham Moor in North Yorkshire, Monknash in Glamorganshire and Roystone in Derbyshire) (Greene 1995, 4-8; Moorhouse 1989, 45-8).

[9] Similarly, Berman’s (1986) analysis of the estate management documents of Cistercian houses in the south of France concluded that the White Monks were generally entrepreneurial managers and agricultural innovators rather than frontier pioneers as traditionally portrayed.

[10] A further example is Ellis’ (2008) preliminary survey to locate estates of Winchcombe Abbey (Gloucestershire) in today’s landscape, including a gazetteer overview of all the abbey’s estates and a focus on one parish for a more detailed investigation.

[11] See, for instance: Cowley’s (1977) overview of monastic orders in South Wales; Rees’ historical atlas of Wales (1951); Roberts (1987); Sylvester (1969); and Williams’ (1969, 1976, 1984, 1990) on the estates of Welsh Cistercian houses. For more recent overviews see Burton and Stober (2013 and 2015), Robinson (2006) and the architecture-focused McCormick (2010).

[12] As illustration, the founding of Llantarnam (Caerleon) Abbey (Monmouthshire) as a daughter house of Strata Florida by Hywel ap Iorwerth in 1171 (Gray 2005, 17).

[13] Including a special Cistercians in Wales and the West issue of the Archaeologia Cambrensis journal (2005, vol 154) and a book on Cistercians architecture and archaeology in Wales (Robinson 2006).

[14] Grace Dieu: excavations by Mein (Williams 1970); Llantarnam: excavations by Mein 1977-1982, unreported; Margam: excavations by Jones (Jones 1981) and unpublished excavations 1959–63; Tintern: excavations by Courtney in the outer precinct (Courtney 1982, 1989) and various archaeological evaluations by Blockley (1997, 1998a, 1998b, 1999) and Schlee (2000a, 2000b). 

[15] Tintern granges: Merthyrgeryn (Upper Grange) was subjected to field survey and limited excavation in the early 1970s, which identified that the present farmstead is superimposed on the remains of a Cistercian grange landscape, including evidence of grange barns, field systems and droveways (Parkes and Webster 1974; Webster 2004). Fulford et al recorded a 12th century quay capable of handling sea-going vessels and river craft at Woolaston on the Severn Estuary at Woolaston on the Severn Estuary (1992). Earthwork surveys have also been conducted at Estavarney Grange and Grangefield (New Grange) (Rippon 1996, 80; Williams 1995, 19). Llantarnam granges: Earthwork survey of features including mill pond at Bryngwyn Grange, and site plan of Llanderfel Grange and pilgrimage centre (Williams 1995, 18). Lands of Mynyddislwyn grange were included in an analysis of the historic landscape in the Man-Moel district of Gwent in advance of a landscape restoration project (Gray 1999). 

[16] Within the study area, for example, Llantarnam was quickly converted into a mansion, the estates of Goldcliff (Monmouthshire) were purchased by Eton College, while the local estates of Llanthony remained as a single entity, eventually bought by poet Walter Savage Landor in 1809 with the, largely unfulfilled, intention of conversion into a fashionably landscaped model estate (Procter 2012).
[17] Providing a landscape perspective to complement historical studies on the impact of the Reformation on society and popular culture such as Duffy’s The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (2001) and The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700 (1996) by Hutton.

[18] As an example, see Lees and Overing’s edited volume A Place to Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes (2006), which binds and bridges a number of underlying themes relating to the meaning and perception of monastic space and place in a medieval context.


  1. A couple of very minor points, worth making if you intend this to be a PhD thesis:

    (1) In the third paragraph you have "per say" instead of "per se".

    (2) Some readers might be slightly confused by your use of the word "denomination" when "order" would be more appropriate.

    Martin Counihan

    1. Thanks Martin, always useful to have these things spotted. These papers are initial drafts and will probably go through several iterations before becoming part of the final Thesis.

  2. Hi Eddie
    Have you looked at the landscape setting of Basingwerk Abbey in Flintshire?
    The Manchester MEDIEVAL Soc is visiting in May and I am writing an essay on it for my MA!

  3. Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.


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