Burton-upon-Trent: Monastic precinct

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 9, Burton-Upon-Trent. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.

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'Burton-upon-Trent: Monastic precinct', in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 9, Burton-Upon-Trent, ed. Nigel J Tringham( London, 2003), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol9/pp48-53 [accessed 24 July 2024].

'Burton-upon-Trent: Monastic precinct', in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 9, Burton-Upon-Trent. Edited by Nigel J Tringham( London, 2003), British History Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol9/pp48-53.

"Burton-upon-Trent: Monastic precinct". A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 9, Burton-Upon-Trent. Ed. Nigel J Tringham(London, 2003), , British History Online. Web. 24 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol9/pp48-53.

In this section

Monastic precinct

The abbey church stood beside an arm of the river Trent at the south end of the town, with its west front facing onto the market place. The east end of the church was demolished after the Dissolution but the nave, which had been used by the laity in the Middle Ages, was retained as the parish church until it was replaced by the present building in the early 18th century. (fn. 8) The precinct lay on the south side of the church, and the buildings followed the normal pattern for Benedictine houses with the dorter, frater, and chapter house around a cloister. (fn. 9) Part of a 14th-century arch forming the doorway into the chapter house still survives.


Abbot Laurence (1229-60) gave the almoner a stone house next to the church, and a cloister adjoining the almonry was built in the early 1430s. (fn. 10) The 'great hall by the water of the Flete' built by Abbot William of Bromley (1316-29) evidently stood south-east of the main claustral buildings beside the Fleet, a watercourse flowing along the precinct. Almost certainly used as the infirmary, which had its own small cloister, (fn. 11) the hall survives as part of the present Abbey inn. One wing of the present Manor House dates from the mid 14th century and may have been the chamber block built by Abbot John of Ibstock (1347-66). (fn. 12) Abbot Thomas Feld (1473-93) built what was later called the 'abbot's chamber', but its site cannot be identified. (fn. 13)

There was a house for the abbey's lay chamberlain by the later 13th century, and in 1326 he was assigned a new house near the abbey gate on the west side of the precinct. (fn. 14)

Wall, Gatehouse, and Grounds

The precinct wall, mentioned in 1324, was in disrepair in the earlier 1520s, and lay people from the town were able to get into the grounds, some even living in a charnel house there. (fn. 15)

The gatehouse on the west side of the precinct had large polygonal turrets with a linking section, its south side having been rebuilt in the later 1420s and the north side some time between 1433 and 1455. (fn. 16)

The garden and fishpond (vivarium in viridario) which Abbot Laurence (1229-60) gave to the abbey for the recreation of infirm monks presumably lay in the south-east corner, beyond the infirmary. (fn. 17) The pool covered 1 1/2 a. in 1550. (fn. 18) Another pool lay in the 'le Poleyert' [i.e. the pool yard], where Abbot Bromley (1316-29) built a dovecot. The yard probably lay on the north side of the church, where land called the Pound Yard in 1546 contained a pool. (fn. 19)

Figure 27:

Burton abbey church and surviving buildings: showing (i) west end of medieval church superimposed on plan of present church; (ii) 14th-century house, possibly built as a private residence for an abbot (Manor House); and (iii) the monastic infirmary (Abbey inn, marked here as The Abbey). The market hall of 1883 stands over the cloister


The abbey's domestic buildings were used by the college established in 1541. When the college was in its turn dissolved in 1545, its possessions included goods in the great hall, dean's hall, great chamber, king's chamber, outer (utter) hall and chamber, petty canons' house with kitchen and buttery, brewhouse, and bakery. (fn. 1) It is uncertain how those buildings related to the former monastic arrangements, and when they were surveyed in 1546 for Sir William Paget only a great hall and a great chamber with an adjoining chamber were named, along with the former monastic dorter, frater, chapter house, and outhouses. (fn. 2) The survey's measurements suggest that the great hall is the present Abbey inn and the great chamber the present Manor House.

The claustral buildings (dorter, frater, and chapter house), presumably converted to residential use by the dean of Burton college, were probably the house in which Sir William Paget's agents believed in 1546 that their master intended to reside when in Staffordshire; his opinion was especially sought about what was to become of the fountain in the courtyard. (fn. 3) In fact Paget chose to live in a house he had built at Beaudesert, in Longdon, but in his will of 1560 he stipulated that he was to be buried at either Burton or West Drayton (Mdx.), depending on where he died. (fn. 4) Indeed his withdrawal from state affairs on Elizabeth's accession in 1558 prompted him to plan a substantial house at Burton, apparently using the monastic cloister as an internal courtyard, and his visit to Burton in 1561 or 1562 was probably connected with the building work. The plan evidently fell through on his his death in 1563. (fn. 5)

William's son Thomas certainly lived at Burton in the 1570s. (fn. 6) According to an inventory of 1575, the rooms in his house there included a gallery (or 'long entry'), which led to tower chambers and which was probably part of a range of the converted claustral buildings. There were also chambers over a gatehouse, presumably that on the west side of the precinct. (fn. 7) In 1580 Paget and his family occupied a 'great chamber' and rooms off the gallery. (fn. 8a) In 1585, however, what was described as 'the mansion house' was 'much in decay', and when plans were made that year to move Mary, Queen of Scots, temporarily from custody at Tutbury castle the house at Burton was considered unsuitable because it was 'ruinous'. (fn. 9a)

No later member of the Paget family lived at Burton, and in 1612 what was called the manor house site was let to a servant, Richard Almond. By that date the house was evidently further decayed, and Almond was not to be penalised if he let 'the great hall' fall into ruin, along with the kitchen, adjoining gallery, and 'wardrobe chamber' between the hall and kitchen; he was also allowed to demolish 'the great malting chamber', and use its timbers to repair other buildings on the site. (fn. 10a) Demolition probably took place soon afterwards, with the resultant loss of all the abbey's claustral buildings except the former infirmary (later the Abbey inn) and the so-called Manor House. One of those buildings was occupied in 1635 by Ellen Parker, the founder of an almshouse in High Street. (fn. 11a)

The grounds were let in the early 18th century to George Hayne, the lessee from 1711 of the Trent navigation. He died in 1723, and although he had a son, John, the lease passed to George's brother Henry, along with the navigation rights. By that date there were two dwelling houses on the site, and in 1738 Henry's lease was renewed after he had made the house he occupied 'ornamental'. (fn. 12a) That house may have been the present Manor House, which was remodelled in the early 18th century; the other, known as 'the Stone House' and then occupied by a Mrs. Orme, was presumably the present Abbey inn. (fn. 13a) Henry was succeeded in 1757 by his son John, who surrendered the lease in 1775. (fn. 14a)

In 1777-8 what was called 'the upper house' (evidently the later Manor House) was prepared for Lord Paget's agent, William Priest. (fn. 15a)

From the 19th century onwards the two principal houses were the present Abbey inn and the Manor House. (fn. 16a) A third house called the Priory, on the northern edge of the precinct, was described as newly built in 1834, when it was occupied by James Drewry, the son of the proprietor of the Derby Mercury and then practising as a lawyer in Burton. (fn. 17a) Built in a Gothick style with crenellated turrets and chimney stacks, the house was demolished when the present market hall was built on the site in 1883. (fn. 18a)

Figure 28:

The Priory from the south in 1839

Gatehouse, Other Buildings, and Grounds

The lower parts of both the north and south sides of the medieval gatehouse survived in the late 1790s, but not the connecting arch; houses had been built onto the ruins and one side was used as a blacksmithy. The buildings were demolished in 1927. (fn. 1a)

In the early 18th century George Hayne erected a vault and other buildings in the south-east part of the precinct, presumably in connexion with his lease of the Trent navigation, (fn. 2a) and in 1788 a warehouse and workshop beside the Fleet were let to John Port, a hat manufacturer. The buildings were known as the Soho by 1823. (fn. 3a) Burton corporation acquired the site in 1921 (fn. 4a) and used it for new premises of Burton technical college, opened in 1955; part of the Soho warehouse was retained when an extension was built in 1969. (fn. 5a)

A lease of the Pound Yard, or the Arbour as it was known by 1612, (fn. 6a) was taken by the parish vestry in 1829, and the southern part was used as an additional burial ground. (fn. 7a) The pool in the northern part, still in existence in 1760, had been filled in by 1837. (fn. 8b)


Abbey Inn

The present Abbey inn, converted from the former monastic infirmary, forms a broad U-shaped building, running north-south along the bank of the Fleet. The north wing, which dates from the 14th century, has a large window opening at its east end, originally filled with reticulated tracery and probably intended to light a first-floor chapel. There was formerly a structure with a vaulted undercroft (for which springers remain) on the north side of the wing. The hall range, which had a large chimneystack at the north end of the east wall, retains an arch-braced double purlin roof dated c. 1445-70. (fn. 9b)

First recorded as the Abbey in 1818, it was then occupied by an attorney, Samuel Lowe. (fn. 10b) Between 1825 and 1839 it was the home of Peter French, the minister at Holy Trinity church, (fn. 11b) who may have been responsible for the square bay window which existed by 1839 on the east side at the north end of the main block. (fn. 12b) The occupier in 1851 was Robert Thornewill, the son of a Burton ironmaster, Thomas Thornewill of Dove Cliff, in Stretton. (fn. 1b) Alterations made to the house by Robert, and described as 'fanciful' by Lord Anglesey's agent, (fn. 2b) included a turret, tall chimney stacks, and black and white mock timber-framing to the west and east fronts; the exterior was decorated on the west side with a statue and medallions depicting a Burton abbey seal, a theme continued in wood panelling in the main reception room. (fn. 3b) Thornewill died in 1858, and in the 1860s the house was occupied by a brewer, James Finlay. (fn. 4b) By 1871, however, Thornewill's widow and son, also Robert, were living there and they continued to do so until the later 1880s. (fn. 5b)

Figure 29:

Remains of gatehouse to monastic precinct from west, 1790s

Figure 30:

Former monastic infirmary (now the Abbey inn) and St. Modwen's church from south-east in 1790s

By 1888 the tenant was a New Street brewer, John Allen Bindley, whose initials and coat-of-arms appear on a fireplace in the kitchen at the south end of the main range; the fireplace also has the text, 'He filleth all things living with plenteousness'. (fn. 1c) Bindley also added the canted bay window on the east side of the kitchen, bearing the Paget family's motto 'Per il suo contrario' (meaning 'By its reverse'), words repeated on glass in a porch also added by Bindley on the west front. (fn. 2c)

In 1910 the building was occupied as the clubhouse for Burton Club. A brick and timber extension on the west side at the north end was built that year as a billiard room, and it was enlarged to the north in the late 1920s. In 1975 the club retreated to first-floor rooms in the north end of the main range, and the rest was converted into the present public house, called the Abbey inn. (fn. 3c)

Manor House

The present Manor House retains as its north wing a medieval chamber block belonging to an open hall that has been largely rebuilt. The wing has an arch-braced roof of 1340-58, which unusally has a collar purlin without crown posts. (fn. 4c)

Called the Manor House in the earlier 1790s, it was then the home of Thomas Finlow, whose improvements probably included the addition of a bay window on the west side of the main range. (fn. 5c) By 1834 the occupier was the marquess of Anglesey's agent, Charles Hodson, and in 1841 his successor, Thomas Landor. (fn. 6b) Landor died at Burton in 1864, and his successor John Darling used the house when in Burton until his retirement in 1889. (fn. 7b) In 1920 the house and 3 a. were sold to Burton corporation, which let the house to a solicitor, Thomas Auden, the son of the vicar of St. John's, Horninglow; the grounds were laid out as the present war memorial garden in 1922. (fn. 8c)


  • 8. Below, established church (St. Modwen's: church buildings). For a description of the medieval church see T.S.A.H.S. xxxvii. 105-18.
  • 9. The plan printed in Shaw, Staffs. i, pl. facing p. 9 does not relate to Burton abbey, as claimed, and descriptions such as that in V.C.H. Staffs. iii. 210, 212 which are based on it are invalid: T.S.A.H.S. xxxvii. 106.
  • 10. Dugdale, Mon. iii. 48-9.
  • 11. Ibid. 49; S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/2/3/9, f. 15v.
  • 12. For architectural descriptions of both bdgs., see below (surviving houses).
  • 13. Dugdale, Mon. iii. 50.
  • 14. S.H.C. 1937, pp. 70, 125.
  • 15. S.R.O., D. 603/A/ADD/1213 and 1287; S.H.C. 4th ser. vii. 145, 147.
  • 16. Dugdale, Mon. iii. 49-50.
  • 17. Ibid. 48.
  • 18. S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/2/3/112b, f. 1.
  • 19. Dudgale, Mon. iii. 49; S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/3/2/14, m. 1.
  • 1. S.R.O., D. 603/A/ADD/775; F. A. Hibbert, Dissolution of the Monasteries (1910), 262-3. The 'king's chamber' was so called possibly after the visit of Henry V in 1414: above, general hist. (middle ages).
  • 2. S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/2/3/9, ff. 15-16 (giving measurements of bdgs.).
  • 3. Ibid. D. 603/A/ADD/1944, ff. 3 and 5.
  • 4. P.R.O., PROB 11/46, f. 210.
  • 5. S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/2/3/27; D. (W.) 1734/3/3/39.
  • 6. Above, general hist. (Period 1530-1700).
  • 7. S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/2/3/30.
  • 8a. Ibid. D. (W.) 1734/2/7/8 (esp. ff. 1-2).
  • 9a. P.R.O., E 164/41, f. 9v.; Cal. State Papers, Scotland, viii. 61.
  • 10a. S.R.O., D. 603/E/1/87.
  • 11a. Burton Libr., D. 110/Parker's almshouse docs., will of Ellen Parker, 18 Feb. 1634/5; below, charities.
  • 12a. S.R.O., D. 603/E/1/205; D. 4219/1/2, burial of 26 Mar. 1723; L.R.O., P/C/11/Geo. Hayne (1724); above, communications (river navigation).
  • 13a. S.R.O., D. 603/E/1/205.
  • 14a. Ibid. D. 603/E/1/377; D. 4219/1/2, burial of 17 Sept. 1757.
  • 15a. Ibid. D. 603/F/3/13/20, bills for repairs at 'the upper house', 1777-8; below, econ. hist. (estate administration).
  • 16a. Below (surviving houses).
  • 17a. S. Glover, Hist. and Gazetteer of County of Derby, i (2) (1883), 609; White, Dir. Staffs. (1834), 322; Plan of Burton (1837); Burton Libr., D. 23/2/4/10, copy lease of 1 June 1836.
  • 18a. Underhill, Burton, 175-6.
  • 1a. T.B.N.H.A.S. viii, frontispiece.
  • 2a. L.R.O., P/C/11/Geo. Hayne (1724).
  • 3a. Above, communications (river navigation); below, econ. hist. (clothworking: felt).
  • 4a. Burton Libr., D. 23/2/4/109, copy letter of 10 Mar. 1922.
  • 5a. Below, educ. (further and adult educ.).
  • 6a. S.R.O., D. 603/E/1/87.
  • 7a. Below, established church (St. Modwen's).
  • 8b. S.R.O., D. (W.) 1734/2/3/133; Plan of Burton (1837).
  • 9b. Vernacular Architecture, xxx. 96.
  • 10b. Parson and Bradshaw, Staffs. Dir. (1818), 141; below, econ. hist. (professions).
  • 11b. H. A. Birks, Life and Corresp. of Thos. Valpy French (1895), i. 1, 4.
  • 12b. W.S.L., Staffs. Views, ii. 181.
  • 1b. White, Dir. Staffs. (1851), 534.
  • 2b. S.R.O., D. 603/K/26/32, Thos. Landor to Thos. Beer, 6 Apr. 1852.
  • 3b. For a drawing of 1857 see Rock & Co., Views of Burton-onTrent (copy in W.S.L., pamphlet box B/6/2).
  • 4b. S.R.O., D. 4219/1/31, p. 162; P.R.O., RG 9/1966; P.O. Dir. Staffs. (1868).
  • 5b. P.R.O., RG 10/2906; S.R.O., D. 4219/1/81, lease of 13 Sept. 1886; Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1884).
  • 1c. 1 Kelly's Dir. Staffs. (1892); date and initials on front porch of bdg.
  • 2c. 2 For the motto see Fairbairn's Crests of the Families of Gt. Britain and Ireland, rev. L. Butters (Edinburgh, n.d.), i. 576.
  • 3c. 3 A. Wright, All Shall Equal Be. A Short Acct. of the Burton Club 1884$1984 (Burton, 1984), pp. 24, 28, 39, and pl. facing p. 33; below, social and cultural activities (social and community groups: social clubs).
  • 4c. 4 Vernacular Architecture, xxvii. 17.
  • 5c. 5 Univ. Brit. Dir. ii [1794], 415. Finlow died at Leamington (Warws.) in 1836: Staffs. Advertiser, 12 Mar. 1836, p. 3.
  • 6b. 6 White, Dir. Staffs. (1834), 321; Staffs. Advertiser, 21 June 1834, p. 3; P.R.O., HO 107/975/10.
  • 7b. 7 P.O. Dir. Staffs. (1860 and later edns.); Staffs. Advertiser, 4 June 1864, p. 5; 5 Sept. 1908, p. 6.
  • 8c. 8 S.R.O. 3748/2$3.