UK “Real” Estate: Coggeshall Abbey in Essex


The town’s sign depicts a Cistercian farming sheep at the abbey. On the other side is a weaver by his loom.

In 1140, Coggeshall Abbey was founded by King Stephen and his wife Matilda as a Sauvignac Abbey.. It was designed to house the monks of the Savigniac order. The earliest English use of bricks as building materials can be found in the remains of Coggeshall Abbey. The Savigniacs were assimilated into the Cistercian order some seven years later. Unfortunately, Coggeshall Abbey did not know the growth of other more well-established abbeys.  By the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries the number of monks had shrunk to just 6, who were pensioned off by Henry VIII. 

Tension rose between the villagers and the abbey when King Stephen presented the abbot rights over the town. The abbey made several blunders in their negotiations – or should we say, their lack of negotiations – with the village residents. They diverted the course of the river, causing hardships for those who depended upon the land. The monks placed a fence about their lands. In those days, livestock grazed wherever, but not so with the abbey’s land. They also built a small chapel, offering religious services, which competed with the parish church. During the Peasant Revolt in 1381, the villagers broke into the abbey and destroyed the abbey’s archives, as well as attacking the abbot. 

The Abbey, Coggeshall, an extraordinary medieval building on the banks of the River Blackwater in rural Essex.


Monastic Building, Little Coggeshall Abbey (Guest House, later Boiler House} ~ via Wikipedia

In 1538, under King Henry VIII’s order, Coggeshall Abbey was closed. “The abbey buildings were sold off and the site robbed for building stones. Sections of the claustral ranges survive at Abbey Farm, at the end of Abbey Lane. Two walls of the dorter stand, and foundations of the chapter house. The abbots lodging survives, as does the guest house. These remains are open to view by arrangement with the owners. Visitors may view the Abbott’s House, Cloisters and and Guest House as well as parts of the 16th century manor house attached to the Abbey. The combination has been called one of the finest medieval buildings in England. 

“The oldest parts of the monastic buldings are the abbot’s house and guest house, dating to 1190. The cloisters are slightly later, around 1215. There is also a restored stew pond (where live fish were kept). The real historical importance of Coggeshall Abbey comes from its extensive use of red brick. Though brick would later gain a reputation as a ubiquitous, rather low-class building material, it was hardly used at all after the Romans left in the 5th century, and when it was reintroduced in the early medieval period it was as a high-status, luxury building material. The quality of the bricks at Coggeshall suggest that they were locally made rather than imported from the European continent.” (Britain Express)

 The Abbey has enjoyed a rich and varied history with many different owners, including Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of King Henry VIII’s favourite wife Jane.  Later owners included the Paycocke family who were wool merchants and a family of great importance in 16th century Coggeshall.  The Abbey, Coggeshall is now in the hands of Roger and Jill Hadlee.

The 13th Century Cistercian Abbey Gatehouse Chapel, Goggeshall, Essex.

One of the most popular buildings associated with the abbey is St Nicholas Church. It was originally a small chapel situated next to the entrance to the abbey precinct. “This delightful little church began as a small chapel beside the entrance to the abbey precinct. It dates to the early years of the 13th century. The Cistercians often built a chapel beside the main abbey gates for the use of travellers, or for local residents who could not enter the abbey precinct. St Nicholas was probably not used for regular services, thus it has no font. After the Dissolution the chapel building was used as a barn, but was purchased by the parish church of St Peter ad Vincula in 1860. It was restored in 1896 and once again used for worship. It is a very simple Norman structure, of charming simplicity.

The oldest surviving timber-framed barn in Europe dates from around 1140 and measures 120 feet long by 45 feet wide and 35 feet high at the apex of the roof. The roof would have originally been thatched but was replaced with tiles around the 14th century. This barn was originally part of the Cistercian Abbey of Coggeshall.

“A far more famous remnant of the abbey presence is Grange Barn,  now owned by the National Trust. The barn stands opposite the end of Abbey Lane, off the B1024 (Grange Hill). It was built in the mid-13th century and is one of the oldest surviving timber-framed buildings in Europe. This enormous structure is 130 feet long and 45 feet wide, and when you stand inside and look up it is not hard to see why it is often called ‘cathedral-like’.


English: St Stephen’s Bridge, Coggeshall, Essex. A three-arch bridge, the closest brick work is from the 13th century original narrow bridge. The butresses and girder, and the brick work on the far side of the bridge are from 20th century widening of the bridge.

“South from Market Hill is Bridge street, where a peculiar iron bridge crosses a small stream that marks the original course of the River Blackwater. The bridge marks the traditional boundary between Little and Great Coggeshall (look for the initials LC at the base of the bridge). The main bridge across the Blackwater has 12th century bricks embedded in its arches; this is one of the earliest uses of bricks in post-Roman Britain. By the bridge is Rood House, its name a reminder that a great cross once stood here to mark the boundary of lands owned by Coggeshall Abbey on the south bank. The bridge was built by monks of Coggeshall Abbey when they diverted the river to drive their mill. On the south bank stands Monkwell, one of the 19th century silk mills that once abounded locally.” (Britain Express)

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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