Aerial view (from the West)

The Great ChurchCloisterLavatorium (hand washing area)Monks’ Dormitory (Dorter)Chapter House, below DormitoryWarming HouseDormitory ExtensionBridge to Toilet BlockOriginal Toilet Block (Reredorter)Later Toilet Block (Reredorter)Monks’ Dining Hall  (Refectory/Frater)KitchenPrior’s LodgingPrior’s KitchenPrior’s GardenSt. John the Baptist Church  formerly the Guest HouseNew Guest HouseGreat GateCellarer’s Store below Prior’s Guest RoomsCemeteryInfirmary Chapel  (originally first Priory Church)InfirmaryInfirmary KitchenInfirmary Toilet Block (Reredorter)Herb GardenFish HouseFish PondsWharfCockshut StreamPigeon HouseWater MillForgeBrewhouseCulvertsBakeryOrchardGranaryStablesGreat BarnStables and Cart ShedsPrecinct WallCemeterySt. James's Hospital

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The Great Church

1: The Great Church

The Great Church was consecrated on St Pancras Day (May 12th) 1146 but its towers were still under construction in the mid 13th century. The church was modelled closely on the Abbey of Cluny, with five chapels at its eastern end and ornately decorated pillars and wall paintings. It was 420 feet (128m) long by 69.5 feet (21.12m) wide with 16 pillars on each side of the nave. Its central vault stood 105 feet (28m) high.

cloister

2: Cloister

This was a grassed area surrounded by an elaborately carved colonnade. Here monks could enjoy peace and quiet for prayer and study.

Lavatorium (hand washing area)

3: Lavatorium (hand washing area)

A large ornate circular raised carved wash basin fed from an underground beehive-shaped cistern stood on the southern side of the cloister where monks would wash their hands before entering the Great Church or Refectory.

Monks’ Dormitory (Dorter)

4: Monks’ Dormitory (Dorter)

The original dormitory provided sleeping quarters in an open-plan room for twelve monks and the Prior who slept on straw-filled mattresses. Later individual cubicles might have been added when the Prior himself acquired separate lodgings.

Chapter House, below Dormitory

5: Chapter House, below Dormitory

This was where the monks assembled each day. A chapter from the Rule of St Benedict was read out to them and the day-to-day business of the priory was discussed and conducted. It was here also that the remains of the founders, William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, were transferred from the Infirmary Chapel (the first Priory Church) and where other important persons and members of the de Warenne family were buried.

6: Warming House

Below the original dormitory was probably the Warming Room, which with the Kitchens and the Infirmary was one of the few heated rooms in the Priory.

Dormitory Extension

7: Dormitory Extension

As the original community of four monks increased the original dormitory had to be extended through the first toilet block (Reredorter) in the late 12th century so that a new toilet block had to be constructed further south.

Bridge to Toilet Block

8: Bridge to Toilet Block

The sloping nature of the Priory site meant that a ‘bridge’ had to be constructed at first floor level to connect the extended dormitory block to its new toilets.

original toilet block

9: Original Toilet Block (Reredorter)

This may have included a small bathroom and was attached to the original dormitory. The toilets provided ten toilets set into its walls, with chutes underneath discharging their waste into a vaulted sewer beneath.

Later Toilet Block (Reredorter)

10: Later Toilet Block (Reredorter)

This impressive building with easy access from the new dormitory measured 51m (167 feet) by 10m (33 feet) and provided 59 cubicles. Chutes allowed waste to be collected in a sewer that ran inside the whole length of the building. In 1538 this building was saved from demolition and served later as a malt house.

Monks’ Dinning Hall  (Refectory/Frater)

11: Monks’ Dining Hall (Refectory/Frater)

Only part of the basement of this building survives today. In the hall above monks ate their meals in silence and listened to readings from the Bible and other pious works. Their diet was healthy and frugal. Food was grown in the Priory gardens and produced on the numerous farms they possessed. Food left over after meals was distributed to the poor and needy by the Almoner at the Great Gate.

Kitchen

12: Kitchen

At one time the Priory had over 100 monks and 80 servants. Fish, eggs, bread and, at times, meat would have been cooked in these kitchens. During one year in the 1530s the monks consumed 171 oxen, 706 sheep and 83 pigs.

Prior’s Lodgings

13: Prior’s Lodging

This stood on the western side of the Cloister and provided impressive accommodation for the Prior, important visitors and guests. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, kept this building as a house for his family at the dissolution.

Prior’s Kitchen

14: Prior’s Kitchen

Food for the Prior’s Lodging was prepared here. The Prior’s accounts refer to swans being consumed and porpoise remains found during excavations suggest that such luxuries would have been provided on important occasions.

Prior’s Garden

15: Prior’s Garden

The Priory possessed at least three gardens as well as an Infirmary Herb Garden. In the 17th century reference was made to ‘a saffron garden’ and perhaps the monks also cultivated the saffron crocus which would have been used as a valuable dye and medicine.

St. John the Baptist Church  formerly the Guest House

16: St. John the Baptist Church formerly the Guest House

The original Guest House or Hospitium had been built to house less important visitors. It was converted into a chapel by 1260 and later became the parish church of St John the Baptist. The church retains some original 12th century pillars and arcading in the nave. Here too are now preserved the two lead boxes containing the remains of the founders and the Tournai marble tomb slab which decorated the tomb of Gundrada.

New Guest House

17: New Guest House

The increasing importance of the Priory necessitated the construction of a New Guest House at some time after 1260.

Great Gate

18: Great Gate

Entry to the Priory site was through a Great Gatehouse. It had rooms over its arched doors and battlements on its roof. A surviving part of the Great Gate can be seen in Priory Crescent in Southover.

Cellarer’s Store below Prior’s Guest Rooms

19: Cellarer’s Store below Prior’s Guest Rooms

The Cellarer was considered by the Rule of St Benedict to be an important official responsible for all the physical needs of the community. He would have kept detailed accounts of all the goods purchased and from examples that survive one can discover much detail about the day-to-day life in a monastery.

Cemetery

20: Cemetery

Monastic cemeteries had different areas set aside for members of the religious community, wealthy patrons and ordinary people. The Infirmarer prepared bodies for burial and people were buried either in a shroud or coffin. Religious persons were interred with a few select grave goods and/or clothing to denote their status and to distinguish them from lay people.

21: Infirmary Chapel (originally first Priory Church)

This was the site of the original Priory Church which William de Warenne had converted from wood into stone and which he granted to the first monks sent from Cluny between 1078 and 1082 to establish the first Cluniac monastery in England. Excavations undertaken here in the 1970s revealed a number of graves including the possible burial site of the founders before their remains were moved to the Chapter House.  When the Great Church was completed this first church probably served as a Lady Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and then as a chapel for the Infirmary nearby.

Infirmary

22: Infirmary

Excavations have revealed a huge building 44.2m (145 feet) by 19.2m (63 feet) heated by two fires where sick and elderly monks would have been treated in aisled bays and attended by the Infirmarer, a monk whose presence in the community is attested from its earliest beginnings.  He probably had rooms attached to the Infirmary.

Infirmary Kitchen

23: Infirmary Kitchen

Special dietary food would have been prepared here, and sick monks were allowed to eat meat. Mediaeval Herbals contained recipes and cures for ailments.

Infirmary Toilet Block (Reredorter)

24: Infirmary Toilet Block (Reredorter)

The Infirmary had its own toilet block. The drains here flowed into a sewer which formed the last in the complex system that discharged its contents into the Ouse estuary beyond.

Herb Garden

25: Herb Garden

Herbs were grown in raised beds made of wattle or planking. The layout at Lewes is based on a 9th century architectural plan of an ideal monastery that was intended to be built but never constructed at St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Fish House

26: Fish House

Fish would have been a staple diet of the monks and would have been readily available from the Ouse and the sea nearby. The religious requirement to abstain from eating meat on certain days and throughout the season of Lent meant that fish was often consumed on days of abstinence. Shells from shell fish are common on the site and can sometimes be seen in the stonework itself.

Fish Ponds

27: Fish Ponds

The Priory fish ponds provided a convenient source of fish. At the time of the dissolution the Mill Pond and ‘Podpole’ Pond are specifically mentioned.

Wharf

28: Wharf

Goods arriving by boat would have been unloaded at the wharf south of the New Toilet Block. It was from here, perhaps, that the tomb of Richard, Earl of Arundel, who died in 1376, was removed at some time via the Ouse and the coast to Chichester Cathedral to save it from destruction at the hands of Thomas Cromwell’s demolition squad led by Giovanni Portinari.

Cockshut Stream

29: Cockshut Stream

This stream to the south of the site (together with the Winterbourne to the north) effectively created a small island of land below the de Warenne family stronghold of Lewes Castle. It was this plot of land which was granted to Prior Lanzo and his monks when they arrived from Cluny to establish the first Cluniac community in England.

Pigeon House

30: Pigeon House

This reportedly possessed recesses for 3228 pigeons which would have provided additional food for the Priory. The unusual cruciform building survived until 1804.

Water Mill

31: Water Mill

The Priory possessed two mills – a Watermill and a Horse Mill. Grain produced on the Priory’s numerous farms and estates would have been made into flour. The horse-powered mill might have provided power for a forge hammer.

Forge

32: Forge

Monasteries were often at the centre of industrial production in their neighbourhood, and the Wealden iron industry and numerous forges in Kent and Sussex might suggest that some production, albeit on a small scale, took place on the site. A blacksmith would have been needed for making horseshoes and many of the implements needed for the community.

Brewhouse

33: Brewhouse

Beer would have been brewed on site as the monks would have consumed vast quantities of beer which formed a normal part of their diet. 'The Great Malthouse’ was retained by Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution together with the Priory’s wine cellars.

Culverts

34: Culverts

These vaulted sewers channelled water and sewage from the Prior’s Lodgings, Guest Houses, Kitchens and Toilet Blocks and were controlled by sluices and flushed by the tidal flow of the Ouse estuary.

Bakery

35: Bakery

Bread made from wheat flour was reserved for the wealthy members of society, while others could often only afford bread made from barley, oats or rye. At Durham Cathedral communion bread was baked in separate bakery in the transept of the cathedral.

Orchard

36: Orchard

The Priory had its own orchard which was situated between the mill pond and the brew house. It would have been stocked with apples, plums, cherries and pears, and perhaps grape vines. The gardener had a house nearby and would have overseen production and hired additional lay staff if necessary.

Granary

37: Granary

Cluny Abbey possessed a magnificent 13th century flour store or granary with an oak and chestnut timber roof. At Lewes grain would have been stored here, and any surplus not used to produce bread might have been distributed to the poor and needy by the Almoner at the Gatehouse.

Stables

38: Stables

The Priory possessed at least two stable blocks. Horses were needed to provide transport for the Prior and the monks when they visited ‘daughter houses’ or their numerous estates and granges scattered throughout the country and to pull the many carts carrying and delivering produce.

Great Barn

39: Great Barn

The Steward or Proctor of the Priory managed the supplies stored here.

Stables and Cart Sheds

40: Stables and Cart Sheds

The Proctor had his own stables next to the Great Barn. The Priory would have been a hive of activity with builders, tradesmen, craftsmen and local farmers working on the site throughout its long history.

Precinct Wall

41: Precinct Wall

The whole of the monastic site of approximately 15.7 hectares (39 acres) was enclosed by a wall.

Cemetery

42: Cemetery

Many monastic cemeteries have been excavated and the remains studied. Those found at Lewes are currently being studied and the results of the investigations will be published on this website in due course.

43: St. James's Hospital

The Priory had two hospitals. St James’s  was situated outside the precinct walls in Southover opposite what is now Grange Gardens. Only the chapel now survives. It measured 10.3m by 4.6m, and has now been converted into a small private cottage. Another hospital, that of St Nicholas, existed at the western end of the town. Spital Road records its location.