Drax Priory

Has been described as a Possible Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are earthwork remains

NameDrax Priory
Alternative NamesLong Drax
Historic CountryYorkshire
Modern AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
1974 AuthorityNorth Yorkshire
Civil ParishLong Drax

Buried and earthwork remains of an Augustinian priory sited on an island of high ground which is now partly occupied by Drax Abbey Farm, just south of the River Ouse. The monument is also known as Drax Abbey, although this is a misnomer. It is in two areas of protection, separated by a land drain connecting Carr Dyke and Lendall Drain. Drax Priory was founded in the 1130s by William Paynel upon the advice of Thurlston, Archbishop of York. William, who was a major landowner and held the manor of Drax, granted an island in the marsh known as Hallington and Middleholme for a priory of Augustinian canons dedicated to St Nicholas. He also granted other land in Drax including a mill and the parish church, together with five other churches across the country. The priory is recorded as having a church, cloister, infirmary, refectory, prior's chamber and dormitory in 13th century documents which also detail discipline problems between the canons. In 1324, towards the end of the unstable rule of Edward II, Archbishop Melton wrote that the priory had become impoverished through flooding, and invasion by the Scots and other enemies. The priory was suppressed in 1535 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when there were 10 canons and 29 servants and boys, with the priory valued at just over 92 pounds. The priory was then leased to a local landowner, Sir Marmaduke Constable, as a farm. In the 18th century the farm was used as a Quaker meeting house and by 1907 there were a number of structures built on the site, including a large house and walled garden. During the 20th century the site saw further redevelopment, including the re-alignment of Carr Dyke to its present line which is to the west of its old course. It has been suggested that the earlier line of Carr Dyke, which is the drain that lies just to the west of Drax Abbey Farm, may be the 'Karregote' mentioned in a document of 1410

Drainage works have converted the marsh into farmland, with the original island granted to the Augustinians now standing around 3m to 4m above the surrounding area. This high ground is orientated WNW to ESE and is at most 7m above sea level, typically only 4-5m. The priory is thought to have occupied all of this island, with buildings located within a precinct enclosure. The whole of this precinct, as currently understood, is included in the scheduling. During the middle and later medieval period, the low lying areas of the Humber basin were subjected to increased levels of flooding. Archaeological excavation on a similar low lying priory site in the Humber basin revealed that several metres of archaeological deposits had been built up from the 13th century by successive rebuilding on land raised with imported material. A similar response to the problem of flooding is expected to have been taken at Drax. The main route to the priory is thought to have been along Pear Tree Avenue, labelled as Ave Maria Lane on 19th century maps. The route approaches the monument from the east and would have provided access to the priory through a gatehouse thought to have been located in the area of the western part of the modern farmyard. To the north of the modern farm buildings there is a section of bank and ditch which is identified as remains of part of the priory's eastern precinct boundary. This was preserved as a field boundary until at least the mid 19th-century. The auxiliary buildings of a priory were frequently located just inside the main entrance in an outer court. These would typically include a guest house, stabling, brew house, granary and other storage buildings, and might include a complete range of buildings for a home farm. The buildings of Drax Abbey Farm, which lie within the area of the monument, are thus thought to overlie remains of the priory's outer court, which would have formed the core of the farm leased to Sir Marmaduke Constable after the Dissolution. The inner court or core of the priory, including the church and the cloistral ranges which formed the domestic quarters for the community of canons, would normally lie beyond, sometimes separated from the outer court by a boundary ditch or wall. At Drax, these buildings are thought to have been located on the highest ground to the west of the original line of Carr Dyke. In 1997, part of this area was geophysically surveyed and was shown to include a large number of geophysical anomalies suggestive of pits and wall lines, with a marked concentration to the west of Foreman's Cottage. To the west of this area there is a dog-legged depression at the foot of the slope. This was recorded as a moat on the 1907 Ordnance Survey map and is considered to be part of the western precinct boundary. In common with other monastic sites, the precinct boundary is believed to have taken a variety of forms on its circuit around the priory according to the local topography and the varying needs for drainage and defence. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Obtained a licence to crenellate in 1362. The precinct was moated (for flood protection reasons) but there is nothing to suggest anything other than the usually monastic features.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSE667284
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  • Ingham, Bernard, 2001, Bernard Ingham's Yorkshire Castles (Dalesman) p. 18-19
  • Emery, Anthony, 1996, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 1 Northern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 319
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R Neville, 1971, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longman) p. 156
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1913, 'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Drax' VCH Yorkshire Vol. 3 p. 205-8 online transcription
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 416 online copy



  • Coulson, C., 1982, 'Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation: An Essay in the Sociology and Metaphysics of Medieval Fortification' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 69-100 see online copy

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1912, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1361-64) Vol. 12 p. 237 online copy


  • Northern Archaeological Associates, 1998, Drax Abbey Farm North Yorkshire Archaeological Evaluation (Typescript report)