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Listed Building record MDR4438 - Calke Abbey, Calke

Type and Period (2)

Protected Status/Designation

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[SK 3679 2260] Calke Abbey on site of Priory [G.T.] (Augustinian, Founded Circa A.D. 1131) (1) A priory of canons regular of St Augustine, dedicated to St Giles, was founded at Calke soon after the conquest. The earliest charter is from the beginning of the reign of Henry I or the end of that of William Rufus. Following the dissolution the site of the priory of Calke remained with the Crown until 1547 when it was granted by Edward VI to John, Early of Warwick. It passed through several hands before coming to Henry Harpur in 1621. The present large house was built on the site of the old priory by Sir John Harpur at the beginning of the 18th century. '…Some parts of the inner walls of the mansion are upwards of six feet thick and in one place no less than nine feet. There can be no doubt that certain portions of the masonry of the old priory are incorporated with the present building, but there are no visible proofs, either external or internal, to indicate the fact, beyond the massiveness of the masonry..'. Around the end of the 18th/beginning of the 19th century, two stone coffins were discovered close to the house, on the north side, where some outbuildings now [in 1877] stand. They were reburied in the churchyard. Their finding indicates that the priory church was attached to the priory buildings on that side. (2) Priory of Augustinian Canons founded c. 1131. The priory was moved to Repton in 1172 when Calke became a cell for two or three canons until 1538. (3) The abbey is, in the main early 18th century, with a portico added to the south front in the early 19th century. See GP A0 66/7/3. In the light well are the remains of an earlier structure comprising a range of three round arches without keystones. Built of plain stone, very weathered and renovated with brick, they are now used as windows. There are no earthworks or foundations that can be attributed to the monastic occupation. (4) Calke Abbey Country House. 16th and 17th century, extensively remodelled in 1702-4, possibly by William Johnson of Nottingham. Portico 1806-8 by William Wilkins Senior when the staircase, added in 1728-9 by James Gibbs, was removed. Alterations 1841-2 by Henry Stevens. Grade I. (5) Calke priory was a small foundation of Augustinian canons situated in the extreme south of Derbyshire. Its site is now occupied by the great mansion of the Harpur-Crewe family, originally known as Calke House, but renamed 'Calke Abbey' by Sir Henry Harpur in the 1790s. Examination of charters in the Harpur-Crewe archives, previously inaccessible, led to a review of the early history of the priory. These documents indicate that it was probably founded by Richard, Earl of Chester, sometime between 1114 and his death in 1120. This puts the foundation of Calke Priory back a decade from the dates given in the standard work of reference (Authority 3). In Earl Ranulf II's charter the site of the priory is defined as 'the wood between Seggburgebroc and Alrebroc'. Alrebroc can probably be identified as the stream that runs from west to east between Calke on the north and Southwood on the south, while Seggburgebroc may have formed part of what is now the chain of lakes to the north of Calke. The site of the priory was a hollow or depression whose sides have since been rendered less abrupt by landscaping in the 18th century. With the possible exception of one doorway, half buried at the east end of the beer Cellar, not a vestige of medieval masonry is visible at Calke today, but the plan of the existing house, rebuilt in 1701-3, shows irregularities of alignment that could be monastic in origin. Reports of blocked-up arches seen in the past in the course of alterations suggest that some portions of the priory's fabric may actually be incorporated in the mansion. (6) Calke Abbey, its contents and 2171 acres of gardens, park and surrounding land were given to the National Trust in 1985. Prior to opening the house to the public in 1989, the National Trust embarked on a programme of renovation and conversion of the house and outbuildings, together with the installation of basic services. As part of this, an archaeological watching brief was carried out. The main evidence of the priory came from carved masonry recovered during the 4 year period when contractors were cutting service trenches within and around the house. None were found in situ. Several of the pieces are unmistakeably Romanesque in style. The most significant feature recorded in situ was a group of skeletons found close to the east front of the house and associated with 12th-14th century pottery. A kiln-like structure, thought to have been an oven, was found outside the south front of the house. Assuming that Calke priory conformed to the standard layout of an Augustinian community, the location of both the burial group and the oven support the idea that the house overlies and occupies the site of the monastic precinct. The finding of a 3rd century coin, several pieces of Derbyshire ware and colour-coated ware, together with the recovery of a suspected Romano-British quern stone, hint at the possibility of pre-medieval settlement on the site. (8) An archaeological watching brief was carried out in 2005 by Birmingham Archaeology for the National Trust during the excavation of trial pits to locate 18th century culverts. Three culverts were identified. One sherd of medieval pottery and one piece of (possibly medieval) dressed stone were also encountered. (9) A bell at Calke Abbey is historically significant. Dating to the 16th century, it was made by Newcombes of Leicester. (11)

Sources/Archives (10)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1955. 6".
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Cox, J C. 1877. Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire, Vol. III. p 347.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: Knowles, D & Hadcock, R. 1953. Medieval Religious Houses of England and Wales. p 131.
  • <4> Personal Observation: F1 BHS 08-JUL-66.
  • <5> Bibliographic reference: DOE Listed Bldgs. Dist of South Derbyshire. Derby 6 Jan 1987 11-12.
  • <6> Article in serial: Colvin, H. 1982. 'Calke Priory', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 102, pp 102-105.
  • <7> Index: TPAT. 2193. 2193.
  • <8> Unpublished document: Marshall, G (The National Trust). 1988. The National Trust Archaeological Survey: Calke Abbey, Volume 3, Archaeological Watching Brief.
  • <9> Unpublished document: Krawiec, K (Birmingham Archaeology). 2005. Calke Abbey, Calke, Derbyshire: an archaeological watching brief.
  • <11> Unpublished document: Church of England. 2007. Identification of bells and bell frames of historic significance.



Grid reference Centred SK 3677 2261 (84m by 103m) (Centre)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (5)

  • EDR3714
  • EDR3368
  • EDR2598
  • EDR895
  • EDR3715

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Record last edited

Feb 20 2019 9:25PM

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