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Winchcombe Abbey was founded by King Kenulph of Mercia in 798 on the spot where a nunnery had been created by King Offa in 787. It was restored in 969 and shortly after Benedictine monks were introduced and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Kenelm. After destruction by fire in 1151 it was rebuilt and dedicated in 1239, finally to be demolished after the Dissolution.
County: Gloucestershire
NGR: SP 02 28
Monument Number: 39
Scheduled Monument Description: -
Winchcombe is situated in a wide combe on the north west edge of the Cotswolds, and the abbey and its precinct lie towards the southern central side of the town. Winchcombe was an important centre in the Saxon period; by the early eighth century it had become one of the chief royal centres of the sub-kingdom of the Hwicce, who owed their allegiance to the kings of Mercia. Offa is said to have built a nunnery at Winchcombe in the late eighth century, although there is no indication that this is linked to the abbey. The construction of the abbey was begun by Venwulf in 798 and dedicated in 811 to St Mary. During the next 150 years monasticism declined in England and at Winchcombe monks gave way to secular clerks; but in about 969 the clerks were made to withdraw, and the monastery was re-founded as a Benedictine community. In 1151 the church and monastic buildings were seriously damaged by fire, and books and charters were destroyed. The abbey was endowed with extensive estates, and various abbots brought wither prudence or reckless expenditure with their tenures, but generally the abbey's importance as a landholder continued until the Dissolution. In 1539 it was surrendered, and the buildings were given to Lord Seymour of Sudeley who carried out the demolition. In 1815 the Abbot's house, which had been used as a parish warehouse, was pulled down. The abbey precinct is bounded by Back Lane on the north side, High Street, Gloucester Street and Abbey Terrace on the south side, and Malt Lane and Cowl Lane on the west and east sides respectively. Evidence for the extent of the precinct comes from documentary, topographical and archaeological sources. Although many of the abbey's records have been destroyed, surviving records show that in 1289 the abbot sought to have closed a 'way' which ran through the monastic precinct. This was known as Petticrueslane which, according to the abbot, gave unwelcome access to monastic grounds. The result of this was the establishment of Back Lane, further to the north, and outside the precinct, as the outer perimeter of the medieval town. There is an earth bank, about 2m high and spread to 25m to 30m wide, which stretches for about 260m along the Back Lane boundary. This bank, which contained 4th century pottery, has been variously interpreted as a defence, belonging to the Saxon burgh and a monastic precinct boundary. Since Back Lane was established in the 13th century, it would seem that, whatever its origin, the bank must have served as the perimeter wall of the abbey. To the south, the precinct is defined by a stone wall fronting Abbey Terrace and forms the boundary with the town. This wall is approximately 2.5m to 3m high, and turns the corner into Cowl Lane where there are two arched doorways in it. The lower courses of the wall are of large dressed sandstone blocks, which differ in form from the irregular stone of the higher courses.
The line of this wall follows the southern and eastern precinct boundary for much of its length. In addition, on the south, west and east sides the abbey boundary is hemmed in by plots of land which are characteristic of a medieval town layout, showing that these were boundaries from at least the medieval period.
The site of the abbey was excavated in 1815 and 1892-3, the latter excavation directed by Loftus-Brock. These excavations revealed the presence of the abbey church and cloistral buildings to the south of the two houses which remain in the abbey grounds. These houses are 'Winchcombe Abbey', claimed to have been the malt-house of the abbey, and 'The Abbey Old House'. In the latter, Loftus-Brock recognized 15th century roof structures, and more recently medieval roof-trusses have been noted, and it is likely that the building originated as one of the ancillary buildings of the abbey. During the excavations the foundations of the nave of an abbey church were first uncovered as well as the bases of the piers of the central tower. The post-Dissolution stone robbing and site leveling made identification of structural features more difficult, but the excavator uncovered a section of waling within the Norman monastic layout which was interpreted as part of a pre-Conquest church. A pier base in the nave supported the belief that the nave was built around a series of cylindrical piers as at Tewkesbury and Gloucester. Three coffins were found two within the Norman nave, and the other south of the chancel wall. In addition a large quantity of tiles was present. From the results of this excavation it was argues that the conventional buildings lay to the north side of the church rather than the more usual south side. The site of the great tower of the church is now marked by a stone cross and stone tablets with inscriptions in boundary walls at either end of the site to provide a guide to the alignment of the church.
Excavations by Davison in 1962 prior to the construction of 'Willow Cottage' and 'Little Keep' fronting Cowl Lane, revealed a property boundary of late 11th century or early 12th century date, a number of rubbish pits and heavy wall footings of the same date. In 1985 excavations took place prior to the building of Winchcombe Church of England Infants School. The work was directed by CJ Guy who found within the area of the abbey precinct, an aisled barn of late 13th century or early 14th century date, and other surfaces and structures thought to be associated with the abbey. In the early 1990s a small excavation by J Hoyle of Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service situated in what is now the car park to the south of the new public library, uncovered ground disturbance which was suggested to have been the remains of monastic fishponds.
St Peter's Church, in the south west corner of the abbey precinct, was built between 1470 and 1480. It is thought that prior to the building of the church the townspeople worshipped in the nave of the abbey church. Archaeological observation during renewal of floors in the church showed that although 18th and 19th century vaults take up much of the space under the church, there are areas of pre-18th century deposits. In the churchyard, the excavation for a new garden of remembrance outside the east end of the church, where previously there was an eastern annex of the church, revealed buried soil with many human bone fragments, the result of the up cast of many centuries of grave digging. Buried grave stones dating to the 17th century and cutting across earlier graves were also uncovered. On the south east side of the church, within the churchyard, is a churchyard cross which is essentially of medieval date, but was restored in 1897. The cross, which is Listed Grade II, is situated about 10m south east of the church. It has a square socket stone, partly restored shaft and restored head. The base of the socket stone, which has a deep drip moulding on its upper face, is 0.8m square and 0.45m high. Above this is the drip moulding which is 0.8m wide at the bottom, 0.55m wide at the top and 0.35m high. The whole socket stone is 0.8m high. The shaft, square at the bottom, sits in a socket which is 0.25m square. Above this it tapers, in octagonal section, to the restored head. The shaft is formed of two parts, the first 0.25m is original, and the rest restored. The total height of the shaft is about 2m. At the top of the shaft is a decorated thickened terminal, above which is the restored lantern head divided into four niches containing figures sculpted in relief. On the northern side is a figure of Christ, on the east side a shield and the remaining two figures are too worn to decipher. The socket stone bears the inscription on its west side 'Restored in the 60th year of Queen Victoria's reign June 20th 1897'.
A number of finds, including medieval and Romano-British material, have been made in Abbey Field to the north of the abbey church.
St Peter's Church is a Listed Building Grade I, and the dwelling known as 'Abbey Old House' is a Grade II* Listed Building. 'Winchcombe Abbey' is a Listed Building Grade II as is the boundary wall fronting onto Abbey Terrace. A number of items are excluded from the scheduling; these are the library, the public toilets, Winchcombe Church of England Infants School, Winchcombe Junior County School and its outbuildings, St Peter's Church, the dwellings known as 'Ashbe', 'St Mary's', 'Little Keep', 'Willow Cottage', 'Abbey Court', 'Abbey Dore', and its outbuildings, 'Winchcombe Abbey', 'The Abbey Old House', the East Gloucestershire Health Service Trust building, all fences, road surfaces and pavements, walls and telegraph poles. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included. {Source Work 2873.}
Winchcombe was a leading Mercian centre, a royal burial-place and later the cult-centre of the alleged royal child-martyr Cynhelm. The antiquary Leland refers to an ancient chapel of St Pancras at Winchcombe lying between its two major medieval churches, both of which are arguably of Anglo-Saxon origin. (This comment has been discounted by Rev J Stevinson - see HER 27738) The chapel is very probably one described in 1320 as having a cellarium, which may have been a crypt. S. R. Bassett has suggested that this chapel was, until the late tenth or early eleventh century, the free-standing mausoleum of Cynhelm and perhaps also of his father, King Coenwulf of Mercia. {Source Work 5989.}
Winchcombe Abbey was founded by King Kenulph of Mercia in 798, on the spot where a nunnery had been created by King Offa in 787. It was restored in 969, soon after which, Benedictine monks were introduced and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Kenelm. After destruction by fire in 1151 it was rebuilt and dedicated in 1239, finally to be demolished after the Dissolution. In 1815, the Abbot's house, which had been used as a parish warehouse was pulled down.
The Abbot's House site is occupied by a modern dwelling, and fragments of dressed and moulded stone are built into the boundary wall. Of the two houses noted by Loftus Brook that at SP 0232 2832, 'St Mary's Abbey' (now called Winchcombe Abbey) has an east wall showing features of probably 15th-16th century and later. {Source Work 862.}
Two houses now stand on the site of the Abbey; one is possibly the abbey malthouse, the other the former Abbey Hotel (18th century). There is a 19th century cross in the grounds commemorating St Kenelm {Source Work 290.} It has since been thought that these two buildings were guest houses {pers comms Rev J Stevinson}
Winchcombe churchyard contains a modern cross erected over the remains of the Perpendicular original. The base is illustrated by Dent, but not described. It is omitted by Pooley. {Source Work 862.}
A churchyard cross in good condition. The medieval moulded base, 0.85m square by 0.8m high and the lower 0.25m of the octagonal shaft are original, as illustrated by Dent. A metal plate affixed to east side of the cross records a restoration in 1897.
The abbey at Winchcombe is noted as one of the major English wool producers of the medieval period, with other Cistercian and religious houses across the county. {Source Work 10704.}
1815 - The earliest recorded excavation of the Abbey was by Mr Williams of the Abbey House who traced the foundations of the church. Two stone coffins, one containing a knife with skeletal remains, were recovered at the east end of the present church. They were claimed to be the coffins of the Mercian kings, Kenulph and Kenelm. Inspection showed the coffins to be of clearly different dates and that they are both full sized adult coffins. They are now said to be located on either side of the west end of St Peter's church {Source Work 8570}.
1893 - D Mullin commented on this excavation in his 2006 conservation management plan. He noted that during the 1893 excavation Loftus Brook supervised the excavation of two trenches across the rampart at Back Lane. {Source Work 8570}. An excavation was also made in the raised banks to the east; here foundations of loose stones were located but no other features. A pond located between the two abbey houses is thought to have been a fish pond. Prior to a larger excavation Loftus Brook surveyed the interior and exterior of the two abbey houses. The result of this survey showed that parts of the abbey had survived, and it was surmised that the Abbey Church would have stood next to the High Street, with the cloisters, chapter house, refectory, etc on its north side.
After the survey a trench was cut over the believed site of the church. The trench located foundations at either end which proved to be the north face of a massive wall at one end and the foundations of a huge pier at the other. The wall was found to extend to the east and west, and the pier divided the nave from the south aisle. The trench was extended north and reached another wall parallel to the former one; these walls were followed until the outline of the nave of a large church was visible. To the east the southwest respond of a central tower was cleared, together with a large number of broken masonry pieces, which represented a former supporting pier. The walling was located only 14-15 inches (35-38cm) below the surface and the whole area was covered with broken mortar and plaster from the demolished buildings. A few slabs of oolite paving were located in-situ, adjoining the line of the north aisle wall, where a 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5m) height wall remained, the only part of the inner face of the wall found to survive above ground. Later in the excavation the lower slopes of an external plinth were identified, after which the excavation looked to trace the extent of the building by following the walls. The entire nave was identified along with the foundations of two large pinnacles at the west end, a few plain tiles with red and black glaze were found at the west end of the nave.
A second phase of excavations was designed to trace the foundations of the south transepts, but all that was located was the west wall. The northern transept produced rough foundation lines, which contained evidence for reconstruction, one half of a head of a pointed window with a 13th century trefoil. As the foundations were followed northwards the four piers of the central tower were uncovered. When the excavations were extended to the northeast it was found that this area had been used as a gravel quarry and back-filled with the demolition debris from the abbey buildings. Some of the worked stone removed from the in filled quarry indicated that the nave was of a Norman date with large cylindrical piers, and 14th -15th century additions had been made to the west end of the nave. The southern wall of the nave had a gap and a porch indicating the entrance of apparently Norman date, along with zigzag mouldings.
During the excavations a stone coffin was found to the east of the nave pier, which still contained a few bones that were re-interred. On the north side of the nave a coffin was found, buried in the manner of an external graveyard, yet within the aisle of the church. 58 feet (17.5m) east of the coffin, masonry different to that of the church was found including door jambs of a Saxon date indicating that the coffin belonged to an earlier smaller church. {Source Work 6758.}
1893 - Rev C S Taylor included Winchcombe in his article on the Benedictine Revival in Huiccian Monasteries. He notes that Winchcombe became Benedictine at the same time as Worcester in AD969. Germanus ruled Winchcombe (he was the dean of the monastery at Ramsey). Taylor suggests that the abbey may have been involved with some local resistance to William I and that the monastery was deprived of many of its lands. These losses seem to have been repaired by the time of the Domesday survey {Source Work 1608}.
1939 - A report by Eric Gee is in the site file for HER 39 indicating two visits by the University of Birmingham Cotswold Survey during Easter and Whitsuntide 1939 and an excavation between 21st August 1939 and 11th September 1939. A trench was put through the north rampart at its highest point. The trench was four feet wide and dug in three sections. Section one was 16 feet long on the north side and ran from the hedge bordering Back Lane to the summit of the rampart, section two was a four feet wide baulk left in situ as a layering check and section three was 15 feet long from the top of the rampart to the south, or inner, side. At the north end of the trench the summit of the clay bank was level for four feet but was cut away parallel to the line of the rampart. Over the whole level portion of the bank, in the hollow and on the part dropping towards the hollow was a skim of mortar. On the mortar on either side of the hollow was a fall of limestones. It has been interpreted as a narrow wall that stood in the hollow and fell towards the road. Although there was no direct dating near the wall spill there were many finds of bones, teeth and sherds on the surface of the clay on the long slope to the south, including a piece of Samian and other Romano-British red-wares. No medieval ware was retrieved from the excavation. {Source Work 8146.}
1947 - Excavated by Birmingham University in c.1947 "somewhere at the back of the church near the rampart". In the Bristol and Gloucestershire committee minute book Mrs. Clifford stated that nothing of interest was found. A deposit in Gloucester Records Office contains a few uninformative photographs of the excavation as well as notes, drawings and photos of the buildings of Winchcombe. The excavation photos show the rampart and various fragments of 12th century carved stone. A photograph of one trench is held in the site file (HER 41867) along with a sheet of 'Arrangements For Winchcomnbe Aug 22nd - Sept 4th 1948', four pages from the excavation notebook and a Church Magazine. {Source Work 484 and also Source Work 8570}.
1962 - Excavations in 1962 at SP 024 284 revealed a property boundary of the late 11th or early 12th century, intensive rubbish pit digging and heavy wall footings of the same date. Loftus Brook noted two houses north-east of St Peter's Church containing 15th century work which may have been a portion of the abbey buildings, and a much restored house, now known as "St Mary's Abbey", originally the abbey malthouse. Stone coffins, tiles and other relics of the abbey are preserved in the parish church. {Source Work 862.}
Excavations near St Mary's, Cowl Lane identified a number of Saxon features towards the east of the site. The features included three ditches and two pits of which the largest ditch was v-shaped running northwest - southeast which measured 4m wide and 1.3m deep and contained limestone tempered 10th to 11th century pottery. This ditch may represent the precinct boundary of the abbey in the Saxon period and the other features may be a trackway. Two flat based shallow ditches were located to the east of this and another v-sectioned ditch measuring 1.15m wide and 0.75m deep at right angles to the first v-shaped ditch. The v-sectioned ditch was filled with gravelly soil containing slag and sealed by a layer of soft soil containing charcoal and limestone tempered 10th to 11th century pottery. There was no evidence of a boundary bank associated with these ditches but one might be inferred as the second v-sectioned ditch terminated to the west of the first v-shaped ditch.
During the medieval period a robber trench had been cut into the fills of the Anglo-Saxon ditch, possibly representing the abandonment of this boundary in the 10th or 11th centuries. The top of the upper fill was located at 1.2m below ground surface (92.8m AOD). A wall foundation was also excavated and found to run north-south, parallel to the Saxon ditch. This survived as a single course of limestone blocks in a cut in the natural gravel and possibly represents a boundary wall or part of a building, dating to the rebuilding of the abbey in the 12th-13th century. The top of the surviving wall was 1.2m below the surface at 92.8m AOD. The features have produced pottery, animal remains, charcoal and slag. The site also revealed numerous medieval deposits, one of which appears to be the reused Saxon precinct boundary. In the medieval period it appears that the boundary was defined by a wall, due to the presence of foundations and robber trenches.
The cellar of a building measuring 5m x 2.5m was found during a watching brief on a swimming pool 11m to the west of the main excavation on Cowl Lane. This was cut at least 1m into the natural gravel but the floor was not reached. The walls of the cellar were formed of limestone blocks, mortared and laid in courses. This was interpreted as possibly forming part of the Abbot's House which was demolished in 1815. Heavy post-medieval truncation was noted across all of the areas excavated. {Source Works 8570, 1106.}
1963 - In 1963 an excavation was undertaken at Convent Close by B Davison for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. In the medieval period the former Saxon Burh Bank showed evidence of slumping, some of which fell forward to Back Lane. The recovery of a 12th century silver penny and pottery of an 11th-13th century date at the foot of the wall indicates that the wall was present until at least this period. A cut in the section may be associated with a later medieval ditch associated with the abbey. The track to the rear of the rampart was sealed by deposits containing a 12th century coin and two medieval keys, indicating that the track was also in use until this period. The western part of the track was cut by hollows which showed evidence of successive intercutting pits, which were used for gravel extraction of a 13th-14th century date. Post hole around these pits may indicate a boundary for the extraction areas. {Source Works 1106, 8570.}
The first v-shaped ditch was interpreted as the eastern part of the precinct of the abbey of Ss Mary and Kenelm. The bottom of the ditch was 2.6m below present ground surface (91.4m AOD) and a possible intact buried soil was present c1.5m below surface (92.5m AOD). {Source Work 8570}.
1972 - An archaeological excavation was undertaken by J Hinchcliffe prior to the construction of new classrooms identified four phases of activity. Two ditches cut a middle Saxon ditch and were interpreted as 13th century agricultural features, probably associated with the abbey, and one contained a Roman bracelet. The Saxon burh bank shows evidence of medieval reuse with 13th century pottery being recovered. Post holes containing pottery from the 13th and 14th centuries also attest to reuse in this period. {Source Work 5469 held in site file 7524.}
To the rear of the rampart a number of postholes were found which possibly formed a six post structure 4.6m long and 2.7m wide, and may have been associated with postholes forming a boundary line. The pottery associated with these postholes was of a 13th-14th century date and may indicated that the abbey only took hold of the land after this period. {Source Work 1106.}
1976 - A note on a watching brief which appears to have been undertaken by A Vince and S Brown during May 1976 along the eastern part of Back Lane just to the west of the junction with North Street. No evidence of the ditch was visible at that point. {Source Work 8147, Held in HER 39 site file.}
1985 - Excavations were carried out from the 1st-26th July 1985 on the site of a proposed Infants school by Cirencester Excavation Committee at Back Lane, Winchcombe. The work was directed by C. J. Guy and funded jointly by Gloucestershire County Council and HBMC. Two trenches and three test pits which were dug within the area of trench 2. In the north-west end of trench 1 an aisled barn of late 13th or early 14th century date was identified. This was thought to have belonged to the abbey which lay to the south-east of the site. Other surfaces and structures in this trench were probably also associated with the medieval abbey. In trench 2 disturbed ground to a depth of 1-1.5m was encountered, which may have been a quarry. {Source Work 4808.}
1986 - Four test pits were excavated on the 7th January 1986, to the northwest of the 1985 excavations (HER 41890), to test the soil conditions before the final plans for the proposed new school were drawn up. The work was observed by J Wills (Gloucestershire County Council) but no archaeological features were encountered. {Source Work 7195 held in site file HER 4859.}
1987 - Archaeological observations were carried out by Jan Wills (Gloucestershire County Council) during the excavation of foundation trenches for a new infants school at Back Lane Winchcombe in January and February 1987. The overlying deposits were removed down to the natural lias clay in the north-western end of the site without any visible evidence of the rampart, which survives as an earthwork to the south-west.
The build up of deposits across the rest of the site was comparable to the deposits recorded in the test pits recorded in 1986. A layer of limestone rubble was recorded in the south-eastern part of the site, which increased in thickness to the south-east, where it was 0.3m thick. This deposit did not contain any cut or shaped stone, mortar, burning or finds, but may represent demolition debris from a structure further to the south-east. {Source Work 7196.}
1988 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on 24th December 1988 in connection with the excavation of house foundation trenches. The deposits indicated that the area had been disturbed or made up to a depth of 0.7m. {Source Work 2492}
1993 - A stone bowl was found in the garden of a house in Winchcombe during gardening in 1993. The address is unknown but is said to be within the scheduled area of the former abbey.
1993 - A geophysical survey was carried out on an area of Winchcombe Abbey, to the north of Abbeydore House in November 1993 by Barlett-Clark Consultancy, Winchcombe. The survey failed to provide any evidence for a moat, but did produce results consistent with the presence of in-filled ponds or pits. {Source Work 10972 - Held in site file for HER 39}
1993 - A geophysical survey carried out to the east of St Peter's Church's chancel, Winchcombe, over the suspected site of a Saxon mausoleum, in 1993 by Dr A Marshall. The survey found a wall with rubble running north-south, parallel with the east of St Peter's Church's chancel, which Marshall suggests is the remains of a wall formerly forming the east end of the shurch.No other buried structures were seen in the area. A mound in the northeast corner of the surveyed area was found to be rubble and is possibly associated with a nearby sunken way providing access to Winchcombe Abbey. {Source Work 3218.}
1994 - An archaeological evaluation was undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service between the 5th-20th September 1994. Four trenches were excavated, a single trench was excavated on the site of the proposed public conveniences and no finds or features were recorded. Three trenches were excavated in the field to the south east of the library car park. Material dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries overlay large features containing late medieval to early post medieval pottery and have been interpreted as monastic fishponds {Source Work 2690, 6679 held in site file HER 4859.}
1995 - An archaeological watching brief was carried out by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on 7th September 1995 during the excavation of two geotechnical trial pits, relating to the proposed construction of public conveniences at Back Lane, Winchcombe. Two trial pits 2m x 1m squared were excavated. Layers previously discussed by Reilly (1995) were recognized to depths of 1.40m and 1.60m, respectively. Natural was recognized in pits 1 and 2 at 0.90m and 1.85m. No archaeological features were recognized. Some animal bone and post-medieval pottery were recovered from modern debris. {Source Work 3142 - held in site file HER 4859.}
1996 - An archaeological watching brief of groundwork’s in connection with the construction of new public conveniences and a car park extension at Back Lane was carried out by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service in February and April 1996. The convenience site observations concurred with the 1994 evaluation and 1995 watching brief. The car park observations were only made on topsoil stripping, a depth of removal of up to 0.2m. No finds or features of archaeological significance were recorded. {Source Work 5125 held in HER 4859 site file.}
1997 - An archaeological evaluation was undertaken on the site at Pidgeon Close by Gloucestershire Archaeological Service during October. Two trenches were excavated; post medieval finds were recovered from a large feature which was undated.
D Mullin commented on this evaluation in his 2006 conservation management plan. The area Pidgeon Close has now been renamed Ashby. He commented that the undated feature may have been a fishpond or a quarry and appeared to have been backfilled in the post-medieval period {Source Work 8570}.
1998 - An archaeological desk based assessment was undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on the site of the infant’s school during October 1998. A high probability of the survival of Anglo-Saxon and medieval deposits associated with the ecclesiastical site to the south of the development site was identified. Additionally evidence of the possibility of Romano-British or prehistoric remains surviving on the site was found {Source Work 4951 held in site file 4859.}
1998 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken on the site by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service in connection with groundwork’s for an extension to the rear of the house. The area involved was 14m by 4-6m, most of which lay within the Scheduled Monument area. A 1.7m length of stone wall foundation was revealed during the watching brief and this had to be removed to enable the groundwork’s to proceed. Two artefacts on the periphery of the wall suggested a post medieval date, but it is possible that these were later intrusions into a medieval wall. {Source Work 4738.}
D Mullin commented on this watching brief at Pidgeon Close in his 2006 conservation management plan. Mullin suggests that the post-medieval oolite wall found (running east north east - south west across the site) probably relates to the structures shown on the 1883 and 1900 O.S. maps and demolished between 1925 and 1977 {Source Work 8570}.
1998-1999 - Two phases of evaluation were undertaken between the 10th-11th December 1998 and the 14th-15th January 1999 by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeological Service at CEVA Infant School, Back Lane, Winchcombe. The two phases of evaluation saw four trenches each investigated.
In the first phase of evaluation trench two produced 14th-16th century pottery and floor tile fragments which were present in a deposit that is either demolition rubble or the upper fill of a large feature, probably a pond. In trench three a late medieval to post medieval ditch was identified. Whilst trench four located an undated ditch or similar feature.
During the second phase of evaluation trench 5 identified a post medieval layer, possibly a buried surface, and trench six located an undated layer of dumping above which was a deposit of 18th century dumped material. Trench seven located the possible upper fill of a large feature, and a late medieval deposit filling an unidentified feature. A medieval ditch was located in trench eight and it is thought that the deposits in trench seven belong to this feature. {Source Work 5010 held in HER 4859.}
1999 - A desk based assessment was carried out between the 22nd and 30th November 1999 by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service at Winchcombe Junior School, Back Lane, Winchcombe. Evidence for the continuation of the Saxon burh boundary from the 1972 excavation was recorded and used to show the importance of the site. {Source Work 5469 held in site file HER 7524.}
1999-2001 A watching brief was undertaken between December 1999 and February 2001by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service at CEVA Infant School, Back Lane, Winchcombe. The site revealed a number of phases of activity including the Saxon Burh Bank, undated structures possibly relating to the medieval abbey and ponds which extended across large parts of the site.
The structures recorded during this investigation were not excavated and so could not be dated; however the size, construction methods and possible buttresses suggest large scale buildings. The earliest pottery associated with the structures dates to the 11th-13th centuries, although they are thought to be residual, and that only demolition layers were actually recorded during the watching brief. It has been assumed that because of the date of the pottery and the nature of the buildings that they are associated with the abbey. The fish ponds are not clearly defined and it was thought that the post medieval deposits recovered were the upper fills of these medieval fishponds, owned by the Abbey. {Source Work 6647 held in HER 4859 site file.}
2000 - An archaeological evaluation was undertaken at St Mary's, Cowl Lane, by Cotswold Archaeological Trust between 15th-17th August 2000. A sequence of deposits dating from the medieval period to the modern day were located in two trenches. {Source Work 5972.}
2001 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeological Trust in connection with building works on the site of St. Mary's, Cowl Lane, Winchcombe between 4th July 2001 and 3rd August 2001. The soakaway which was 1m square revealed two undated layers which are thought to be Medieval because of their similarities to ones excavated during the 2000 evaluation, and two late medieval layers which contained 6 sherds of late Medieval/ early post medieval pottery, some animal bone, some ceramic tile and a number of fragments of slag. The watching brief revealed a similar sequence of stratification to the previous evaluation on the site {Source Work 6398.}
2002 - An archaeological excavation was undertaken by Gloucestershire Archaeology Service on 10th and 11th June 2002 of a gas main trench at Winchcombe Library, Back Lane, Winchcombe. A single 0.25m wide trench was excavated for a length of 30.9m, connecting the western side of Winchcombe Library to an existing gas main on Back Lane. The trench was excavated to a depth of up to 0.45m below ground level. The earliest recorded deposit was interpreted as redeposited natural clay, probably derived from the construction of the library. No archaeological features or deposits were recorded. The site archive will be deposited with Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum under accession number 2002.66. {Source Work 6883.}
2002 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Gloucestershire Archaeology Service between 18th June and 14th October 2002 during landscaping at Winchcombe CEVA Primary School, Back Lane, Winchcombe. The work comprised the cultivation and topsoil dressing of three areas around and adjacent to the school, which were disturbed during recent building works. The groundworks involved levelling areas by hand, rotivating localised areas, removing large stones and distributing imported topsoil. Groundworks did not exceed a depth of 160mm below ground level. No archaeological features or deposits were recorded. The site archive will be deposited with Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum. {Source Work 7050.}
2002 - An evaluation was carried out between the 4th-11th November 2002 by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service at The Old Abbey House, Winchcombe. The trenches to the southeast side of the house indicated the presence of a structure located only 120mm deep. A wall from which two sherds of medieval pottery was recovered was located in trench 9 and the wall continued into trenches 11 and 12, rubble from the demolition of this wall may have been the cause of the deposit in trench 10. In trench 12 a large limestone block was interpreted as a column base that was presumed to have been in-situ and would therefore suggest the presence of a substantial building. Trenches 11 and 12 also had limestone surfaces which appear to be contemporary with the walls. There was limited dating evidence but the scale of the construction of the buildings suggest that they are contemporary with the Abbey Church.
In trench 13 to the northeast of the house a curved limestone wall was present; the whole of the exposed part was burnt. The wall has been interpreted as part of either an oven, kiln or fireplace, and although no dating evidence was recovered it is thought to be medieval and probably associated with one of the abbey's ancillary buildings. Trench 14 and 16 to the east of the house contained limestone floors which are thought to be contemporary. The rough nature of the surfaces suggest that they were yards for the ancillary buildings of the abbey. {Source Work 7142.}
2003 - A watching brief was maintained by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on the 28th April 2003 at The Abbey Old House, Cowl Lane, Winchcombe. The work involoved the excavation of footings for a garage, two trial pits and a service trench. No archaeological deposits were recorded. {Source Work 7797.}
2003-4 - An archaeological watching brief and small evaluation were undertaken by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeolgoy Service between the 27th August 2003 and the 19th April 2004 at The Abbey Old House, Cowl Lane, Winchcombe. The work identified post-medieval features. {Source Work 7765.}
2004 - An archaeological geophysical survey was undertaken by a student at the University of Bristol within the precinct of St. Mary's Abbey, Winchcombe on 29-30th March 2004. Much of the information was distorted by anomalies across the area. {Source Work 7863.}
2005 - Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service undertook a watching brief at Winchcombe Church of England Primary School during October, during the excavation of groundworks in advance of the building of two extensions. No archaeological deposits or features were found during the work. {Source Work 8382}.
2006 - Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service produced a conservation management plan for the Scheduled Monument of Winchcombe Abbey. The plan had been commissioned by English Heritage and aimed to provide a broad framework in which to consider the long term sustainable use and management of the monument.
The document considers the development of the Abbey and its associated archaeological deposits, taking into account the significance and fragility of the monument. Future ideas for developments within the scheduled area are reviewed and there is also guidance and suggestions of best practice for future management of the site.
Document Headings: description of the monument; previous archaeological interventions; historic land use and development;current land use ownershipand aspirations for future use; history of archaeological management; current management; future management. A large number of figuresand illustrations
The report also includes a table of levels at which archaeological deposits are known to survive within the Scheduled Monument
A first draft of the plan had been produced in 2005 and is also kept in the site file. {Source Work 8570}.
2006 - An archaeological geophysical survey was undertaken by Gloucester and District Archaeological Group on 9th April 2006 and 20th April 2006. The area surveyed was severely constrained due to garden features and a paved drive along the eastern boundary. A linear feature was identified running south from the south east corner of the house and may be associated with a linear feature running to the east. This has been tentatively interpreted as a possible building. {Source Work 8677.}
2006 - Further geophysical work was undertaken during August on part of the land belonging to Abbey Old House. It was expected that the survey would indicate alot of rubble dating from the 1540 demolition and 19th centruy excavation backfills. The survey results indicated that the walls of the church were not on the same alignment as that shown on Brock's plan. The results have been interpreted as showing clear indications of a north cloister, west range and probable north range. The north wall of the church is also discernible. {Source Work 8866.}
2007 - A watching brief at Winchcombe Primary School, Winchcombe, carried out on a single geotechnical test pit. No finds or features of archaeological significance were recorded. {Source Work 8957.}
2007 - A watching brief during the construction of a new play area at Winchecombe Abbey Church of England Primary School, Back Lane, Winchcombe,recorded part of a bank at a depth of 0.41m below ground level and an undated stone foundation from a structure at a depth of c.1.50m below ground level. The section through the bank had been observed previously during the construction of a flight of steps and the upper playground in 1999-2001 and was interpreted a the Saxon burh bank. {Source Work 9192.}
2008 - An assessment of the impact of unauthorised works was carried out within Winchcombe Abbey Scheduled Monument at Abbeyfields Community Centre. The Senior Archaeology Officer at Gloucestershire County Council and the Inspector of Ancient Monuments at English Heritage require that a full appraisal of the works are carried out by a qualified archaeologist and a formal report made into the findings, as the works were carried out prior to full planning permission (07/01148/FUL) being received and without Schenduled Monument Consent
The report found that it was difficult to access the exact depth of and extent of the footings as no information had been provided either in the form of plans or photographs, therefore it was not posible to accurately state if any damage was caused to archaeological deposits if they existed in these locations. However, given the probable shallowness of the foundations required for such light structures and the building up of the ground level in the front of the Horsas and the evidence for significant drainage it is unlikely in this instance that significant damage will have benn caused, although this cannot be known with any certainty. {Source Work 9245.}
2009 - A watching brief was undertaken by the Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service on the 19th January 2009 at Clerestory, Cowl Lane, Winchcombe. No archaeological finds or features were identified. {Source Work 9704.}
2009 - A desk based assessment was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology in March and April 2009 at land adjacent to Winchcombe Library, Winchcombe. {Sourcework 9722.}
2009 - An archaeological evaluation in connection with the proposed erection of a new security fence across the playing field to the west of Winchcombe Primary School, Back Lane, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.
Archaeological deposits were recorded in the undisturbed section edges of the trenches from depths of between 0.14m and 0.56m below ground level. Elsewhere, in previously unexcavated areas, archaeological features and deposits, some dated to the 11th to 12th centuries, were recorded at depths of between 0.16m and 0.88m below ground level. Identified features included two 11/12th century ditches and possible postholes, pit and a trackway. {Source Work 9743.}
2009 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by 110 Archaeology in May 2009 at Back Lane Car Park, Winchcombe. No features of archaeological importance were observed. {Source Work 9726.}
2009 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology during groundworks associated with the construction of an extension to the current library located at Back Lane, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire on 27th and 28th October 2009. No features or deposits of archaeological interest were observed during groundworks, and no artefactual material pre-dating the modern period was recovered {Source Work 14318.}
2010 - A watching brief was maintained by the Gloucestershire County Council during the installation of new fence and replacement of other fence and fence post sections around parts of the playing fields at the Winchcombe Abbey Church of England Primary School from 19 to 23 April 2010. The area of work lay entirely within the Scheduled Monument of Winchcombe Abbey and was carried out at the request of the regional Inspector of Ancient Monuments on behalf of Gloucestershire County Council Corporate Building Services. The works included the excavation of forty pits of 0.50m square and the majority excavated to 0.35m depth, with two excavated to 0.65m, for the new fence, and in total excavation of nine new post holes of maximum 0.40m diameter, excavated to a maximum depth of 0.60m, for the replacement of the other boundary features.
The excavations for the vast majority of fence post pits revealed no archaeological deposits, encountering mixed backfill deposits or previously undisturbed natural subsoils. One definite archaeological feature and one possible archaeological deposit was recorded in the work carried out in Pits 27 and 31 for the installation of the new metal fence. {Source Work 10088.} Site archive deposited at Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum under Acc No CAGM 2010.21.
2011 - An archaeological watching brief was carried out during groundworks associated with the erection of a single storey extension to the existing property of St Mary's, on Cowl Lane, Winchcombe on 27 May 2011.
This work only revealed made ground throughout the footprint of the new build from which 18th and 19th century artefacts were recovered. Undisturbed natural soil was not reached in this limited work. {Source Work 10613.}
2013 - An archaeological watching brief was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology during groundworks associated with the construction of a garage building at St Mary’s, Cowl Lane,
Winchcombe, Gloucestershire on 02/09/2013. Two probable pits were observed in the western corner of the groundworks. The pits remained unexcavated and undated {Source Work 14313.}
2013 Cotswold Archaeology undertook an evaluation at Winchcombe Abbey in July and august 2013. Residual Roman pottery and roof and flue tile fragments may indicate Roman activity on or near the site. Deposits and structures of medieval date were encountered including wall footing and flooring or floor foundation deposits in trenches 1 and 9. Dumps of fragmentary limestone and mortar in trenches 7 and 11 may reflect post-Dissolution demolition. {Source Work 12232.}
2014 An evaluation was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology in July/August 2013 and March 2014 at Winchcombe Abbey, Winchcombe. HER 45103 describes the first phase of work, the second phase is covered by this record. In 2014 Trench 5 was re-excavated and two additional trenches (12 & 13) were opened. Although no Roman features were encountered, residual Romano-British pottery, roof and flue-tile fragments may indicate Roman activity within the vicinity of the site. No artefacts, structures or deposits of recognisably Anglo-Saxon date were found. Deposits and structures of medieval and later date were encountered, including a wall footing and flooring, or floor foundation deposits, in Trenches 1, 9, 12 and 13 which may identify former abbey buildings running southward from the extant building now known as Winchcombe Abbey. The identification of structural remains south of the existing house correlates well with the results of a preceding desk-based assessment and ground penetrating radar survey. Dumps of fragmentary limestone and mortar in Trenches 7 and 11 may reflect post- Dissolution demolition activity within the site, whilst ditches within Trenches 6 and 7 may represent later boundaries, although no clear correlation could be detected between their positions and a boundary denoted on the 1883 OS first edition map. A small number of undated features were also recorded, comprising two postholes within Trench 3, a stone spread in Trench 4, a cut feature partially expoesed in Trench 8, an east/west-aligned ditch in Trench 10 and cut features in Trench 13." {Source Work 12558.}
2015- Desk based Assessment provided by Cotswold Archaeology 2015, Detailed information regarding the archaeological background of the site, found that while the site lies within the precinct of the medieval abbey, and close to the defences of the Saxon burh.{Source Work 12754}
Heritage Assessment provided by Cotswold archaeology 2014 suggested, extensive archaeological works carried out during previous development of the site and an earlier earthwork survey have allowed an understanding of the deposits likely to occur within the footprint of the proposed new extension and associated works. It is clear that the proposed new extension lies entirely within the area where deep modern and post-medieval fills occur and that they are the post-medieval and modern fill of a deep feature, possibly a former fishpond associated with Winchcombe Abbey or the result of quarrying. Part of the footprint of the proposed extension has also been previously disturbed investigated (by pipe trenches to 0.4 to 0.6m deep, as well as a deep soakaway to 1.8m depth) and also the edge of the deep footings trench for the east wall of the previous extension). The remains of the medieval buildings found to the west do not extend to the area of the proposed extension.The extension is likely to have limited or no effect on significant deposits. The impact can be mitigated by the design of foundations, service trenches and landscaping to minimise intrusion and by provision of a programme of archaeological works appropriate to the nature of the intrusions, including provision for monitoring during construction and any necessary archaeological investigation, recording and reporting, all governed by a Written Scheme of Investigation, the implementation of which is secured by condition on any planning and Scheduled Monument consent granted for the development {Source Work 13721}
2015- January 2015 and February 2017 Cotswold Archaeology (CA) carried out an archaeological watching brief for Thinking Buildings and Greenfields Garden Services Ltd, on behalf of The Diocese of Gloucester Academies Trust, at Winchcombe Abbey Church of England Primary School, Back Lane, Winchcombe,Gloucestershire
The watching brief identified a north-west/south-east aligned limestone wall 704 at 0.52m bpgl. Although no dateable material was received from the wall itself, its associated foundation trench clearly cut the post medieval/modern made-ground deposits. The function of this wall is unknown as only a small extent was exposed, and the possibility that it represent edging to a former pathway cannot wholly be dismissed. No further archaeological remains were identified within the area of observed groundworks, rather the current works further confirmed the presence of deep deposits of post-medieval/modern made-ground previously interpreted during preceding archaeological works throughout the school grounds as the deliberate infilling of the abbey fishponds.{Source Work 14655}
2017 An evaluation was undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology in September 2017 at Abbey Old House, Winchcombe. Of the three test pits, one contained a north-west/south-east aligned wall, interpreted as part of a medieval building most probably associated with Winchcombe Abbey. The other two test pits contained flagstone flooring associated with the medieval building. These features were covered by demolition layers, attributed to the destruction of the building. {Source Work 14884.}
2019 - This monument was previously recorded within the Historic England National Record of the Historic Environment. That record, formerly held within the AMIE database, is quoted below:
“(SP02372831) Remains of (TI) St Mary's Abbey (AT) (Benedictine)
(SP02412838) (Site of) Abbot's House (AT)
(SP02402826) Cross (Site of Tower) (TI)
Winchcombe Abbey was founded by King Kenulph (sic=Coenwulf) of Mercia in 798, on the spot where a nunnery had been erected by King Offa in 787. It was restored in 969, soon after which Benedictine monks were introduced, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Kenelm. After destruction by fire in 1151, it was rebuilt and dedicated in 1239, finally to be demolished after the Dissolution (2). In 1815 the Abbot's House, which had been used as a parish work-house, was pulled down. Excavation in 1962 at SP024284 revealed a property boundary of the late 11th or early 12th century, intensive rubbish pit digging, and heavy wall footings of the same date (6). Loftus Brock noted two houses NE of St Peter's church containing 15th century work, which may have been a portion of the Abbey buildings (4), and a much restored house, now known as "St Mary's Abbey", was originally the Abbey malt house (7). Stone coffins, tiles and other relics of the Abbey are preserved in the parish church.
The 'Abbot's House' site is occupied by a modern dwelling; fragments of dressed and moulded stone are built into the boundary wall. Finds recorded in 1962 were exposed during the construction of a laboratory at SP02442837 (a).
Of the two houses noted by Loftus Brock,that at SP02322832 ('St Mary's Abbey', now called 'Winchcombe Abbey') has an E wall showing features of probably 15/16th century date and later. The other modernised house containing 15th century work is at SP02332835 ('The Old House'); it also has an external S wall encased in dressed ashlar, many stones have mouldings on the inward face (a), numerous mason's marks are visible.
Finds from the Abbey site are exhibited within St Peter's church (see illus card).
A modern inscribed stone cross at SP02402826 marks the centre of the tower of St Mary's Abbey Church located by Loftus Brock's excavation in 1893. See photos.
Published 1:2500 survey correct.
SP 02 28 WINCHCOMBE COWL LANE (west side)
Abbey Old House (formerly listed as
4.7.60 Abbey Hotel)
- II*
Abbey building, now detached house. C16 core but much subsequent modification, entrance facade largely C19. Originally one long block, but now with return gabled wing of C19 at east end, and C20 flat roofed addition west end. Cut and squared limestone to coved cornice on north and parapet south, coped gables, that to west with large diagonally set square base to ball finial, and to east stone stack with moulded capping, concrete tile roof to north, stone slate to south; portion of roof centrally taken up as mansard. Entrance front, gable left with 2-storey hexagonal C19 hipped roof bay with chamfered mullion casements, then, in angle, lofty 4-centred arch to part glazed 6-panel door in two-storey 5-bay extension from main roof with 2-light chamfered mullion casements under stepped drips and one canted oriel on rounded corbel at bay 2, first floor, over series of C19 casements at ground floor, also, far right, wide 4-panel flush door. Low extension, left in cut squared limestone to flat weathered parapet. Garden front, 2 storeys and attic in 7 bays, sashes with glazing bars, but far right is 2-storey bow with triple sashes, and far left 1-storey C20 bow. Central glazed door. At west end, 3-storey gable with canted bay. Interior: at east end heavy arch-braced roof with upper crucks, wind bracing and untrimmed rafters, good open well C18 or early C19 stair with turned balusters..” {Source Work 4249.}

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Protection Status

Sources and further reading
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Related records
HER   27738     The possible site of the medieval chapel of St Pancras associated with Winchcombe Abbey, Winchcombe.
HER   39462     The earthwork remains of the Saxon Burh Bank of Winchcombe are located on the south side of Back Lane, Winchcombe.
HER   37558     Listed Building grade II 15th century or earlier building, probably a malt house now a large house, known as Winchcombe Abbey, Abbey Terrace, Winchcombe.
HER   37371     Listed Building grade II status late 19th century churchyard cross about 7m south of the chancel of the Church of Saint Peter, Gloucester Street, Winchcombe.
HER   8277     Listed Building grade I Saint Peter's Church dating from the 15th century, Gloucester Street, Winchcombe.
HER   10996     A 14th century tile was found witihn the scheduled area of Winchcombe Abbey at Pidgeon Close, Winchcombe.
HER   2164     Prehistoric black urn fragments have been recovered from the site of Winchcombe Abbey, Winchcombe
HER   35585     Limestone cobbled surface (possible Medieval road surface) and clay layer with charcoal and limestone flecks of definite and possible archaeological interest respectively encountered in 2010 watching brief work for the installation of a new fence at Winchcombe Abbey playing fields Back Lane, Winchcombe.
HER   37370     Listed Building grade II* 16th century abbey building, with subsequent 19th and 20th century alterations, now as a detached house known as Abbey Old House, Cowl Lane, Winchcombe.
HER   41868     A stone bowl of unknown date was found in the area of the scheduled Winchcombe Abbey, Winchcombe.
SMC;HSD 9/2/10902
HER   41910     Saxon features have been located across the area of Winchcombe Abbey during excavations in 1962-72. The features indicate the use of the site prior to the foundation of the nunnery in 789AD, Winchcombe.
SMC;HSD 9/2/10976
SMC;HSD 9/2/10405
HER   41897     During an evaluation by Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service in 1998 on Back Lane a number of post medieval deposits were identified, Winchcombe.
HER   41912     A fragment of Roman-British tile was found within the grounds of what is now Winchcombe Junior School in 1929, Winchcombe.
HER   7526     Norman pottery was located in the garden of 16 North Street, Winchcombe.
HER   30480     Undated stone foundations revealed during excavations at Winchcombe Abby Church of England Primary School, Back Lane, Winchcombe
HER   47689     Large undated ditch, possibly relating to the Saxon burgh boundary or medieval abbey precinct, located during groundworks associated with a water main renewal along Malthouse Lane and Back Lane, Winchcombe.
SMC;HSD 9/2/14153
HER   33563     2009 - Two 11th-12th century ditches identified during an evaluation at Winchcombe Primary School, Back Lane, Winchcombe.
SMC;HSD 9/2/6472
HER   50548     Leper hospital at Charlton Abbots, Sudeley.
HER   6960     Grange to Winchcombe Abbey

Gloucestershire County Council: Historic Environment Record Archive