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Historic England Research Records

Newsham Abbey

Hob Uid: 80495
Location :
Lincolnshire
West Lindsey
Brocklesby
Grid Ref : TA1283013220
Summary : Premonstratensian abbey founded in 1143, also known as Newhouse Abbey. It was the first house of the order to be established in England and was the mother church to eleven other houses. It was suppressed in 1536. The site was in use as a private residence after the dissolution and incorporated into a landscape park during the 18th century. Parts of the abbey including the precinct boundary are visible as earthworks. practically the whole precinct of Newsham Abbey appears to be definable and to survive in a relatively undisturbed state, with the principal exception of the southern fringe. This includes the survival of outer courts and closes. Though the surface remains exhibit little coherence, and the form of the earthworks perhaps owe more to the activities of post-Dissolution stone robbers than to the original structures, the site of the core abbey buildings may be identified as an area of approximately 250m x 170m. This area is defined by the pier base to the north, the scatter of building debris and soil marks, and to the south by the area earthworks. The depth of burial of the pier base and the possibility of floor levels within the stippled area are indicative of the potential quality of the buried archaeological deposits. During the long history of this house further undocumented building campaigns can be presumed to have taken place, among which the building work at the end of the fifteenth century perhaps represents a particularly extensive campaign. As the site appears unlikely to have been occupied as post-Dissolution house all the deposits ought to be medieval in date, albeit disturbed by the activities of the later stone robbers
More information : TA 1283 1322. Site of Newsham Abbey. Premonstratensian abbey founded in 1143. (1)

The Premonstratensian abbey of Newhouse, or Newsham, dedicated to St Mary and St Martial, and founded in 1143, was the first house of the order to be established in England. Between 1147 and 1200 some 100 canons left Newsham to colonise new houses in England. The house was suppressed in 1536. (2-3)

Extensive earthworks occupy the area, and there is a heavy scatter of building material, and grassed over foundations, at TA 1298 1339. The latter fall within an area of re-afforestation and could be neither completely perambulated nor surveyed. Published survey (25") revised. (4)

The site of Newsham Abbey (TA 1283 1322: GCE) is situated at the northern end of Brocklesby park and civil parish close to the county boundary with South Humberside. The site lies at around 15m above OD over Cretaceous chalk (British Geological Survey 1979 Geological Map of the UK). The surrounding landscape is almost flat, dissected by minor dry valleys, within which the majority of the abbey site lies on a slight eminence. The natural hydrology of the area is difficult to reconstruct owing to the extensive drainage that has taken place in the area, although Newsham Lake may have made use of a former stream bed.

The abbey of St Mary and St Martial was the first Premonstratensian house founded in England, in or around 1143 (5a). The abbey was founded on the principal holding of Peter of Goxhill at Newsham (5a), on land that probably coincided with the township of the same name. Parts of the thirteenth and fourteenth century cartulary are preserved in 'The Black Book of Newsam' held by the Earl of Yarborough (5b). Statutes within the order insisted that at least thirteen canons were sent to establish a new abbey (5a), and we may therefore presume this was the minimum number sent to Newsham. The abbey was the mother church of eleven other Premonstratensian houses in England. Between 1147 and 1200 it may therefore also be presumed that over 100 canons must have passed through Newsham to colonise these other houses. Despite the abbey's early importance it may only be regarded as a medium sized establishment. After the Black Death twelve canons were recorded in 1377, and this rose to a recorded maximum of twenty four by 1381. This number had fallen back to seventeen at the end of the fifteenth century. At the Dissolution
there were twelve canons, and after the house's suppression the abbot and ten of the canons were granted pensions (5c).

Construction of the new abbey would have begun immediately after its foundation for under the statutes of the order certain essential buildings had to be built before an abbot could be sent. These buildings included; an oratory, a dormitory, a guest chamber, and a porters lodge (5a). Indeed until the chapel had been dedicated the convent had no legal existence as a Premonstratensian community. Further building works may be presumed to have taken place during the life of the abbey. Those undertaken by abbot William Sawndalle at the close of the fifteenth century were apparently on such a scale that Bishop Redman expressed his astonishment at the work during a visitation in 1503 (5d).

The Valor Ecclesiaticus of 1534 gave the value of the abbey at 99 2s 10 1/2d. While the Minister's Accounts of 1536 gave the value at 182 11s 0 1/2d (5e). Either value placed the abbey below the 200 limit for the suppression of lesser houses in 1536.

After the Dissolution the abbey was granted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. If the abbey was occupied as a post-Dissolution residence it would have been short lived for by 1587 it was in William Pelham's hands (5f). By the end of the seventeenth century, de la Pryme found 'not as much as one stone above another to be seen, all be pulled down and squandered' and believed that the masonry had been used in foundations for Pelham's Brocklesby Hall built in 1603 (5g).

The present setting of the abbey site has been influenced by the creation of the landscape park surrounding Brocklesby Hall (TA 11 SW 16) by Capability Brown in the eighteenth century. This resulted in the construction of Newsham Lake along the south-eastern side of the site, spanned by a fine bridge to its north. Within the woods were three cottages and a small brick structure discussed below. In addition to the hard landscaping in the area some of the remaining planting within the woods suggests they once formed part of a wider planted scheme.

The site of the abbey and its precinct as it may be defined on the ground today occupies 19.5 hectares. The southern portion of the site lies under rough grazing pasture: this is separated from the field to the north by a post-and-wire fence. This northern field is at present under arable cultivation, but a series of earthwork features were depicted by the Ordnance Survey until the 1960s (1:2500 map TA 1213, 1968). The eastern portion of the site occupying about 5.5 hectares is covered by dense mixed woodland.

The precinct boundary may be followed for most of its circuit beginning in the south-west corner at Major Wood. The boundary takes the form of a broad outer ditch around 12m in width and 1m in depth with an inner bank about 5m in width, missing for part of its length. The feature was traced for about 80m into the woodland (not fully surveyed). At the northern end of the wood the feature has been filled to create an access into the field mapped since the late nineteenth century (Ordnance Survey Lincolnshire XIII.13 1887).

North of this gate-way, the boundary is again picked up as a flat- bottomed ditch around 1.2m in depth. Internally, a slightly wider flat-topped bank, 8m in width, stands about 1m above the internal ground surface. A shallow ditch running parallel to this bank may
mark a quarry ditch . About half-way along its length this feature is breached by a former farm gate, simply marked by a gap in the earthworks in 1887. North of the breach the feature continues with similar proportions until it reaches the modern post-and-wire fence. Beyond the fence the feature could be followed for a further 230m until the late 1960s when the feature was levelled and ploughed flat. The line may be discerned on the ground by a slight linear hollow that marks the line of the westerly ditch, unsurveyable at 1:2500.

The northerly boundary is then taken up by a hedgeline, an earthwork being picked up as the boundary enters the wood to the east. At the corner of the wood, at TA 12754 13521 the bank is covered with small stone chips. For about the first 15m of its length a slight hollow
was recognised along the top of the bank, perhaps the remains of a robber trench. Internally (although not surveyed) was a slight hollow running parallel with this bank, reminiscent of a quarry ditch. About one third along the length of this feature, a dog-legged turn marks a change in character of the feature. Eastwards of this point the boundary is represented by a deep ditch between two and three metres in depth. Internally and externally this feature is defined a small bank, although these fade away towards the eastern end. The south-easterly boundary of the site is now defined by Newsham
Lake created by Capability Brown during the eighteenth century. The core of the site likely to mark the conventual buildings appears to occupy a large area at the centre of the precinct boundary defined above. The northern extent of cloistral buildings, as far as they could be recognised as surface features, is marked by the site of Newsham Cottage (TA 1284 1346). The site is today recognised as a low mound (a) standing about 0.6m above the surrounding ground surface with a scatter of nineteenth- and twentieth-century domestic rubbish and building debris. Amongst this debris were a number of medieval moulded stones. Also within this area at TA 12828 13467 is a timber-lined, undocumented excavation shaft. At the base of this shaft, about 1.2m below the surrounding ground surface is an in situ pier base about 1m in diameter.

To the south of this area, in the arable field to the east of the ploughed-out ditch (d), a concentration of small stones and brick and tile fragments were evident between the stubble. Their concentration was found to be densest within a fairly level area (b) defined by an L-shaped scarp. This area roughly coincides with a series of parch marks showing on aerial photography (1976 MAL/76037 123, 1982 NMR 2106 30). These photographs indicate a large rectangular building in this area, possibly connected by a wall running parallel to the easterly hedgeline to a further large rectangular building south of
(a). The photographs also indicate the area between (b) and ditch (d) is free of major stone features.

The surviving earthworks of the abbey are, however, best preserved within the area of woodland covering approximately two hectares. Due to the lack of adequate survey control and the heavy undergrowth within the wood no survey of the earthworks was attempted. The extent of the earthworks is simply marked on the diagram by the area of stippling (c). The earthworks in this area are represented by a series of mounds and linear hollows and banks up to 1.5m in height although more generally around 1m. The ground surface in this area is littered with small pieces of stone, tile, brick and flint chips. The mounds and banks being composed of a similar mix. A couple of complete bricks of probable medieval date, 26cm x 13.5cm x 5cm and 25cm x 12cm x 6cm, were also seen on the surface. Only small pieces of moulded oolitic limestone were encountered in this part of the wood. Towards the western side of the wood on the moss-covered floor north of the site of the former cottage at approximately TA 1302 1343 a spread 30m x 20m of moulded stone was located. These stones had obviously been specially selected (or discarded), as the dump was composed entirely of moulded oolitic limestone including jambs, window mouldings and ashlar blocks.

The earthworks within this central area generally displayed little coherence, although in small areas levels defined by hollows may represent former floor surfaces. Other linear hollows may be indicative of robbed wall lines. Some rectangularity between the features may indicate the lines of buildings; but they were frequently punctuated by amorphous mounding and hollows. Cutting through the area, roughly oriented from west to east and for the most part to the south of the post-and-wire fence, is a linear feature up to 6m in width and 1m in depth.

The separation between the inner court containing the major monastic buildings and the outer court is represented by ditch (d). This may be followed from north to south: to the west of the site of Newsham cottage (a) it is a deep ditch between 1.5m and 2.5m in depth. Its line continued across the arable field as a mappable earthwork until the 1960s, and then on into southern pasture field where it survives to a depth of around 1m. Its southern end is slightly widened which may be indicative of enlargement to form a stock pond. This feature
delimits the extent of the ridge-and-furrow to its west.

In the northerly field traces of ridge-and-furrow cultivation survived as earthworks into at least the late 1940s (1947 CPE/UK 2043 3013) lying at right angles to the southerly furlong. The southerly furlong formerly extended some way north of the modern fence, and ridges that formed part of it have also been lost beneath the plough. The ridges in the southern field survive as earthworks at intervals of around 8m: later cultivation has obscured the maximum southerly extent of the furlong. The north-west part of this southerly furlong
is overlain by a trapezium-shaped earthwork. This feature measures 66m x 56m with defining ditches around 1m in depth. North of the post-and-wire fence the feature has been filled and is currently under plough. This feature has apparently recognised and respected the alignment of the furlong, since its southerly ditch lies on the line of a furrow. The interior of this feature was largely featureless except for a slight internal counterscarp around the ditch. Cutting into the south-west corner of this enclosure is an irregular pit up to 2m in depth, evidently a quarry pit.

To the south of the area of ridge-and-furrow, at TA 12775 13058, is an oval mound. This mound is 19m x 18m in plan and stands to a maximum height of 1.2m. The mound has a hollow centre that appears to be contemporary. The mound is shown from 1887 onwards, although it is only on this early edition that it is shown as wooded.

Further to the south at TA 1276 1304, at (e) on plan, is a small complex of low rectilinear earthworks. Along their west side they are defined by a shallow linear ditch which may be a drain. Within the area, a number of levels are defined by low scarps that may be indicative of a small building group. Within the woods in addition to the abbey earthworks there is evidence for the post-Dissolution use of the abbey site as a component of the landscaping of Brocklesby estate. Differential growth within the woodland is also indicative of more recent felling and replanting. In the late 1940s the northern and southern parts of the wood were densely wooded while the central section was largely open (1947 CPE/UK/2043 3013). By the mid 1960s most of the wood had been felled leaving only the more substantial trees around the northern boundaries and the woodland to the south (1965 MAL/65051 124). A decade later the wood had been replanted covering its present area (1976 MAL/76037 124). The oldest part of the wood corresponds roughly with the area of stippled earthworks and appears to escaped any felling; it includes many mature beech trees. A small cast-iron plaque within the wood records that it was 'replanted 1872'. Small clusters of yew trees around the site of Newsham Cottage and the
foundations of a small brick structure TA 13008 13300 may indicate that they also formed elements in the composition of the landscape.

Within the woods were three cottages; two were placed to the north at TA 12777 13474 and TA 12838 13464 (a). The first of these was annotated as Newsham Cottage in 1887 (Ordnance Survey, Lincolnshire XIII.13), which may have been mistaken as in 1907 this title is applied to the second cottage (a). This cottage survived at least until 1951 (aerial photograph, CAP 8022 frames FO71-2). Neither cottage appeared on the 1969 Ordnance Survey 1:2500 map (TA 1213). The site of the first cottage is marked by a scatter of domestic debris and some brick fragments. The site of the second cottage is also marked by a similar scatter although here odd wall lines and garden paths may be discerned. As mentioned above a number of grown yew trees probably mark the lines of former hedges. A further unnamed cottage at TA 13028 13404 existed on the eastern side of the wood. Its site was marked by a concentration of shattered brick and domestic debris. This cottage is similarly found on the mapping between 1887 and 1932 but is absent by 1969.

Also within the wood at TA 13008 13300 are the foundations of a small brick structure, again surrounded by a number of grown out yew trees. The building was square 2.4m x 2.4m set into a low mound, with a sandstone threshold on the northern side. The floor was supported by four walls dividing the under-floor area into five small chambers. Remains of the floor indicated it was solid, and composed of roofing slates and small roof tiles bonded together by mortar. This structure was shown in 1887 and 1907 although it was omitted from all later mapping.

A small area of enclosed woodland to the south may represent the position of a former area of ornamental planting. Running parallel to the marked boundary are a number yew trees and within the area large Beech trees and a some more recently planted Scots pine. A few scarps were encountered in this area, but owing to the dense undergrowth their nature could not be discerned.

In summary, practically the whole precinct of Newsham Abbey appears to be definable and to survive in a relatively undisturbed state, with the principal exception of the southern fringe. This includes the survival of outer courts and closes. Though the surface remains exhibit little coherence, and the form of the earthworks perhaps owe more to the activities of post-Dissolution stone robbers than to the original structures, the site of the core abbey buildings may be identified as an area of approximately 250m x 170m. This area is defined by the pier base (a) to the north, the scatter of building debris and soil marks around (b) and to the south by the area earthworks depicted as stippled. The depth of burial of the pier base (a) and the possibility of floor levels within the stippled area are indicative of the potential quality of the buried archaeological deposits. Newsham also has additional interest as the first house of the order established in England. It is untested whether this may be expressed in details of plan form that is unusual due to its commitment to the training of canons before they left to found daughter houses. During the long history of this house further undocumented building campaigns can be presumed to have taken place, among which the building work at the end of the fifteenth century perhaps represents a particularly extensive campaign. As the site appears unlikely to have been occupied as post-Dissolution house all the deposits ought to be medieval in date, albeit disturbed by the activities of the later stone robbers. (5)

The features visible on the available air photographs relating to the Premonstratensian abbey, described by the previous authorities, have been mapped at 1:10,000 scale as part of RCHME: Lincolnshire NMP. (6)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" map, 1956
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Source Number : 2
Source : The Victoria history of the county of Lincoln, volume two
Source details :
Page(s) : 199-202
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Source Number : 5f
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : RCHME ND unpublished account of Newsham Abbey forming part of the West Lindsey Archive
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Source Number : 5g
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Surtees Society 1869 The Diary of Abraham de la Pryme Surtees Society LIV
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Source Number : 6
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Helen Winton/15-JUN-1993/RCHME: Lincolnshire NMP
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Source Number : 7
Source : Register of parks and gardens of special historic interest in England
Source details : Lincolnshire
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Vol(s) : Part 27
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Source : Newsham Abbey/report
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Source : Newsham Abbey/ink survey
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Source : Newsham Abbey/pencil survey
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Source Number : 3
Source : Medieval religious houses : England and Wales
Source details :
Page(s) : 167
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Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 BHS 24-SEP-1963
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Source Number : 5
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Wayne Cocroft/09-OCT-1992/RCHME: Lincolnshire Record Revision
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Source Number : 5a
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Colvin HM. 1951. The White Canons in England. Oxford
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Source Number : 5b
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Davis G R C. 1958. Medieval Cartuleries of Great Britain a Short Catalogue. London
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Source Number : 5c
Source : Medieval religious houses in England and Wales
Source details :
Page(s) : 190
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Source Number : 5d
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Gasquet F A. 1906. Collectanea Anglo-Premonstratension III Camden (third series XII) London
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Source Number : 5e
Source : The Victoria history of the county of Lincoln, volume two
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Extant
Monument End Date : 1536
Monument Start Date : 1143
Monument Type : Premonstratensian Monastery, Abbey
Evidence : Demolished Building, Earthwork

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Lincolnshire)
External Cross Reference Number : 5005
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : MORPH2
External Cross Reference Number : LI.283.11
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : TA 11 SW 6
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 892985
Relationship type : General association
Associated Monuments : 324741
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON TA 11 SW 6
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1963-09-24
End Date : 1963-09-24
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: LINCOLNSHIRE NMP
Activity type : AERIAL PHOTOGRAPH INTERPRETATION
Start Date : 1992-07-01
End Date : 1997-03-01
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: LINCOLNSHIRE RECORD REVISION
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1992-07-08
End Date : 1992-10-09