Ruined Abbeys of Southwest UK




Neath Abbey Margam Abbey Netley Abbey Glastonbury Abbey

Hundreds of Catholic monasteries were founded in the UK during Saxon, Norman and medieval times, typically being enlarged in several stages, and generally based around a large, cruciform church adjoining square cloisters lined with subsidiary buildings such as a chapter house, dormitory, hospital and living quarters. All were abruptly closed in 1539 as part of Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, and while the majority were either entirely demolished or incorporated into other buildings, some survive in a ruinous state, and these structures are rivalled only by castles for spectacular architecture and atmospheric settings, and the great age of the remains.

In the UK there are three main types, or orders, of monasteries, depending on the precise rules followed by the monks or nuns; Augustinian, Benedictine and Cistercian. Most monasteries were abbeys, presided over by an abbot, while some of slightly lower status were priories managed by priors, or friaries, managed by friars. Many counties had several dozen such institutions but typically only one or two are visible today in a ruined state. In southwest UK the principal sites are Glastonbury Abbey, Hailes Abbey, Llanthony Priory, Margam Abbey, Neath Abbey, Netley Abbey and Tintern Abbey.

Some of the most notable surviving abbeys and priories, reconsecrated as parish churches, are at Bath, Christchurch, Great Malvern, Pershore, Sherborne and Tewkesbury.

Other religious ruins are scattered across the counties, including several fortified, castle-like residences once used by cathedral bishops, for example at Cardiff and Wells, and, more numerous, abandoned churches, some intact and preserved, others incomplete, such as Chisbury Chapel, Edvin Loach Old Church, Runston Chapel and St James Church.



Devon



Cornworthy Priory
Cornworthy Priory
Ruined but mostly complete gatehouse from a minor 14th century nunnery, abandoned in 1536; in a field a few miles south of Totnes

Rating: ★★★★

Dorset



Abbotsbury Abbey
Abbotsbury Abbey
Relics from a once large monastery near the coast; a wall fragment, a tithe barn, church foundations and the detached St Catherine's Chapel

Rating: ★★★★★
Cerne Abbey
Cerne Abbey
Limited remains of a Benedictine monastery; a porch (once the entrance to a great hall), a guest house and a tithe barn

Rating: ★★★★★
St Andrew's Church
St Andrew's Church
Overgrown ruins of a 15th century church, on the Isle of Portland, in use until the 1750 when it was abandoned because of nearby landslips

Rating: ★★★★
Shaftesbury Abbey
Shaftesbury Abbey
Relics from an ancient abbey (founded 888), mostly low foundations, now incorporated into a garden, accompanied by a museum

Rating: ★★★★

Gloucestershire



Greyfriars, Gloucester
Greyfriars, Gloucester
Walls, windows and arches from the church of a medieval friary, founded around 1231 and rebuilt in 1531

Rating: ★★★★★
Hailes Abbey
Hailes Abbey
Limited but atmospheric and picturesque ruins of a Cistercian monastery; arches of the cloisters, and foundations of other buildings

Rating: ★★★★
St James' Church
St James' Church
Ruins of a small church in the Wye Valley, the only remnant from the medieval village of Lancaut

Rating: ★★★★★
Kingswood Abbey Gatehouse
Kingswood Abbey Gatehouse
Intact gatehouse of a Cistercian monastery, the remainder having been completely demolished

Rating: ★★★★★

Hampshire



Netley Abbey
Netley Abbey
Large, well preserved, 13th century monastery near Southampton Water, later converted to a Tudor mansion

Rating: ★★★★★

Herefordshire



Dore Abbey
Dore Abbey
Parish church with medieval, cathedral-like architecture. Founded in 1147 as a Cistercian monastery, and occupying just part of the original structure; ruins of other sections adjoin the current church

Rating: ★★★★★
Edvin Loach Old Church
Edvin Loach Old Church
Minor but interesting ruins of an 11th century church, on the site of a small Norman castle; adjoins a replacement, Victorian church

Rating: ★★★★★

Monmouthshire



Llanthony Priory
Llanthony Priory
Ruined Augustinian priory in a remote location within the Black Mountains; dark, aged masonry and soaring Gothic arches

Rating: ★★★★★
Runston Chapel
Runston Chapel
Roofless ruin of a small Norman chapel, in a rural location southwest of Chepstow

Rating: ★★★★
Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
Substantial, beautiful ruined abbey on the floor of the Wye Valley, beneath steep, forested slopes; established in the 12th century

Rating: ★★★★★

Neath Port Talbot



Margam Abbey
Margam Abbey
Parish church occupying the nave of an ancient abbey, beside monastic remains including a 12-sided chapter house

Rating: ★★★★★
Neath Abbey
Neath Abbey
Substantial remains of a major Cistercian monastery including a huge church, and a 16th century mansion

Rating: ★★★★★

Powys



Cwmhir Abbey
Cwmhir Abbey
Low walls from a once great monastic church, in peaceful countryside a few miles north of Llandrindod Wells

Rating: ★★★★★

Somerset



Bishop's Palace
Bishop's Palace
Extensive, moated, castle-like residence of the bishops of Bath and Wells, begun in the 13th century; one ruined section, the great hall, but otherwise intact

Rating: ★★★★
Burrow Mump
Burrow Mump
Isolated, conical hill rising 70 feet above the flat, marshy farmland of the Somerset Levels, topped by a ruined, 18th century church

Rating: ★★★★★
Cleeve Abbey
Cleeve Abbey
Cistercian monastery in a quiet, rural setting with many original, well preserved buildings, mostly from the 13th century, plus the foundations of the abbey church

Rating: ★★★★
Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey
Imposing and evocative ruins of a famous and wealthy monastery, established in the 7th century

Rating: ★★★★★
Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury Tor
Famous limestone hill topped by the ruined tower of the 14th century St Michael's Church

Rating: ★★★★★

Vale of Glamorgan



Ewenny Priory
Ewenny Priory
Parish church occupying part of a 12th century abbey, with a partly ruined fortified exterior

Rating: ★★★★★

Wiltshire



Chisbury Chapel
Chisbury Chapel
Small 13th century church, later used as a barn but retaining some original features

Rating: ★★★★
Malmesbury Abbey
Malmesbury Abbey
Parish church occupying part of an older, much larger building, the remainder of which was destroyed in the 1500s

Rating: ★★★★★
St Mary's Church, Wilton
St Mary's Church, Wilton
Victorian chapel occupying the chancel of a medieval church, adjacent to the ruins of the original nave

Rating: ★★★★★

Worcestershire



Little Malvern Priory
Little Malvern Priory
Picturesque parish church at the foot of the Malvern Hills, occupying part of a larger building from a 12th century Benedictine monastery

Rating: ★★★★★