In the footsteps of the monks

A £54k project to repair Buckland Abbey’s Grade 1 Listed Kitchen Garden wall started last winter, revealing new evidence of Buckland’s medieval history. Stone steps that may once have been trodden by medieval Cistercian monks have come to light during repair work on Buckland Abbey’s kitchen garden.

Over the winter, an archaeological dig got underway around the old walls of the kitchen garden. As Trust archaeologist Jim Parry painstakingly excavated the foundations, he discovered the hidden steps. He now needs to piece together all the evidence, including pottery, to work out what the area was used for in medieval times.

" “A new archaeological find is always exciting, and this recent discovery has uncovered tantalising new evidence of buildings probably relating to the 16th century monastery, its demolition after Henry VIII's dissolution, and redevelopment as a home for famous seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake.”"
- James Parry

Buckland's Medieval past

Buckland was founded in 1278 as one of the last of the Cistercian monasteries to be built in medieval England and Wales. During the dissolution of the monasteries 250 years later many of the abbey’s buildings were destroyed, although, unusually, the church was retained as the key component of the house.

The property is well-known for being the home of two famous seafarers, Sir Roger Grenville, captain of the Mary Rose, and Sir Francis Drake, after it was converted into a dwelling in the 16th century. Although fragments of the original buildings survive it has undergone many modifications and phases of refurbishment over the years.

Excavating the void between the walls
Excavating the medieval wall
Excavating the void between the walls

Amazing discoveries

The stone retaining wall of the abbey’s Grade 1 listed kitchen garden was recently determined to require repair work as the uneven ground levels of the slope on which is was built had caused it to lean significantly. During the course of this work several discoveries were made which provide new evidence of the site’s medieval history. 

It was revealed that the existing wall contains around 36cm of a wall belonging to a medieval building on the site, and although the two ends of the wall have been rebuilt, the central section, including a low arched opening believed to relate to a watercourse that once ran through the garden, appears to be original.

Installing a retaining wall behind the historic wall
Builder repairing the wall
Installing a retaining wall behind the historic wall

Also discovered in the foundations were a set of steps associated with a blocked doorway still visible on the downslope side of the existing wall. The material used to infill the steps contained a 16th century tripod pipkin or skillet, suggesting that it was part of the medieval monastic complex which was demolished during the reign of Henry VIII.

It is uncertain what the structure was, but the presence of a pair of garderobe chutes, associated with toilets which would have been within a projecting turret, suggest that the structure was part of a two-storey range of lodgings, roughly parallel to the Tower House.

Vital conservation work has unearthed hidden gems
Builder looking at the medieval stairs
Vital conservation work has unearthed hidden gems
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