Winchcombe Abbey

Has been described as a Possible Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are no visible remains

NameWinchcombe Abbey
Alternative NamesWinchcomb; Wynchecombe
Historic CountryGloucestershire
Modern AuthorityGloucestershire
1974 AuthorityGloucestershire
Civil ParishWinchcombe

Winchcombe Abbey lay in one of the chief royal centres of the Saxon period, which from 1007 to 1017 was the centre of a shire, a large block of land consisting of many subdivisions called hundreds. The monastery is therefore expected to preserve rare evidence for late Saxon religious building. Despite demolition following the Dissolution, the site of the monastic precinct has had only limited disturbance, and therefore good survival of below ground archaeological levels can be expected.

Winchcombe is situated in a wide combe on the north west edge of the Cotswolds, and the abbey and its precinct lie towards the southern central side of the town. Winchcombe was an important centre in the Saxon period; by the early eighth century it had become one of the chief royal centres of the sub-kingdom of the Hwicce, who owed their allegiance to the kings of Mercia. Offa is said to have built a nunnery at Winchcombe in the late eighth century, although there is no indication that this is linked to the abbey. The construction of the abbey was begun by Cenwulf in 798 and dedicated in 811 to St Mary. During the next 150 years monasticism declined in England, and at Winchcombe monks gave way to secular clerks; but in about 969 the clerks were made to withdraw, and the monastery was refounded as a Benedictine community. In 1151 the church and monastic buildings were seriously damaged by fire, and books and charters were destroyed. The abbey was endowed with extensive estates, and various abbots brought either prudence or reckless expenditure with their tenures, but generally the abbey's importance as a landholder continued until the Dissolution. In 1539 it was surrendered, and the buildings were given to Lord Seymour of Sudeley who carried out the demolition. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

As with most monastic building there were many phases of building at Winchcombe but none are clearly identifiable with the licence to crenellate granted in 1373. However, at other houses such licences tend to be associated with the building (usually rebuilding) of outer precinct gatehouses. These gatehouses were usually the place where the monastic almoner gave out dole to the poor and often were where the manorial court of the lands held by the monastery was held. Therefore such gatehouses had a complex symbolic role as both a barrier, that cut off the monastic community from the secular world; as a portal for Christian charity; and as centre of secular tenurial power. Crenellations, and royal approval for crenellations, were but one of a number of symbolic representations of these complex social functions. The reports of the lost Winchcombe Castle include references to an "Ivy Castle," a name which suggests a masonry building. This may have been, in fact, an abbey gatehouse built in a particularly 'castle-like' style.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSP023283
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  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R. Neville, 1971, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longmans) p. 80, 485
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1907, 'Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Winchcombe' VCH Gloucestershire Vol. 2 p. 66-72 online transcription
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 417 online copy


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 169
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1908, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 54 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
  • 1930, 'Proceedings at the Spring Meeting at Teddington, Hayles, Winchcombe, and Sudeley' Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Vol. 52 p. 14-15 online copy
  • Brock, E.P.L., 1876, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 32 p. 446

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1914, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1370-74) Vol. 15 p. 260 online copy
  • Royce, D., 1903, Landboc sive Registrum Monasterii de Winchelcumba Vol. 2 p. 129 online copy


  • Matthew Tilley, Tim Grubb, 2008, Extensive Urban Survey - Gloucestershire Download copy
  • Bassett, S.R., 1977, The origins and early development of Winchcombe and its District (Birmingham University unpublished M.A. thesis)