Bourne Abbey Church



dig 1985

It is now more than 30 years since archaeological work was carried out to the north of Bourne Abbey Church, prior to building of the Vicarage.

The dig was led by Miss Christine Mahany who found, as expected, foundations of the stone-built north range and the likely position of the timber built west range. It was suggested the cloister covered an area of approximately 95 square feet internally.

The east range was outside the area where excavation was allowed.

Much of the west range evidence had been disturbed by the foundations of Abbey House (pictured top) which was built in the late eighteenth century and demolished in 1870.

The only item of carved stone found during the dig was a half gargoyle.


Trust for Lincolnshire Archaeology

Interim Report on the Excavation at Bourne Abbey

Introduction: Bourne Abbey was a house of Augustinian canons of the Arrouasian reform. It was founded in 1138 by Baldwin FitzGilbert de Clare in and to the north of the existing parish church, which was in existence by 1086 and probably existed as an Anglo-Saxon minster church. The establishment of the abbey was linked to the re-building of the parish church, and much more of the nave appears to date from the period immediately after the abbey's foundation. The conventual buildings were assumed by Pevsner to lie to the north of the church, on the basis of architectural evidence.


The Excavation: The building of a new vicarage on the bowling green adjacent to the north side of the church provided the justification for mounting a small excavation in August 1985. The funds available were exceedingly limited (£2,000), and the aims were correspondingly restricted. It was hoped merely to establish the existence of  claustral or other buildings and to gain some idea of their nature, state of preservation, and date. In fact, because of the very good support received from unpaid volunteers, it was possible to investigate quite a substantial proportion of the conventual buildings.

Archaelogical dig site BA monastic buildings
BAC Abbey House2 sepia

The North Range: A substantial range of stone buildings lay on the north side of the cloister garth, separated from it by a wide alley. The south wall of the frater was represented by a robber-trench five feet thick, and its west wall, which was partially robbed was six feet thick. (Imperial measurements are given as being more closely related to the builders' requirements). The frater was 23ft in width internally, and plaster/mortar floor levels of several periods survived. The cloister alley had a mortared floor surface. The cloister wall itself had been rebuilt in the fifteenth century, and provided with an internal drain, and possibly battlemented parapet.

The rest of the north range was considerably disturbed by the 18C Abbey House which had occupied the site, but it was clear that west of the frater the claustral buildings were of slighter construction, and were indeed misaligned to the frater, forming a dog-leg with its south wall.


The West Range: The west range had been much disturbed by post-dissolution buildings of which ample evidence remained in the form of brick and timber foundations.

The expected stone foundations of the abbey buildings were notable by their absence and it seems clear that the west range never was completed in stone, or certainly not to the standards and scale of the north range. That there was a good deal of twelfth century activity on this part of the site was evident from the presence of a large pit containing much charcoal and Stamfordware, just where the western range might have been expected. The area was too disturbed by later structures to be certain of the presence of twelfth century timber buildings. On the whole the likelihood is that the early buildings were offset somewhat east of the  thirteenth century west front of the church, and related to a previous west front which has been obscured by the construction of foundations of the two west towers.


The East Range: The evidence for the eastern range was limited to the discovery of the eastern extension of the cloister wall. It was clear that the eastern range of buildings lay outside the area available for excavation. The scale of the cloisters was probably approximately 95 feet square internally.


Earlier Structures: There were some small features that could be assigned to the period 1 - 4th centuries AD, and some Roman pottery was recovered. The site was evidently peripheral to a more substantial Roman settlement.

Abbey House: this was built in the late eighteenth century, and survived until the late nineteenth. Photographs show an imposing double fronted building with a porch and bay windows. Excavations showed that the southern bay extended back into an octagonal room.


Acknowledgements: The excavation was directed by C M Mahany, and supervised by Jim Hunter, to whom all gratitude is due. Thanks are also due to many volunteers and helpers, and to Coun Fisher, and the incumbent Mr J Warwick, for their help and co-operation. Thanks are also due to Dr R Halsey and Dr A Taylor, for visiting the site and discussing its interpretation.


C H Mahany 17-9-1985