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Site record MDR4508 - Augustinian Abbey, Darley Abbey, Derby

Type and Period (3)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

The founder of the Abbey of St Mary, Darley, was Robert Ferrers, second earl of Derby. There was apparently a difficulty about the site of the new house until Hugh, rural dean of Derby, came forward in about 1160 and gave all his lands at Little Darley for the purpose of building a church and a monastery. As a result the greater part of the Austin Canons of St Helen's moved from the immediate outskirts of Derby and occupied a site a mile to the north of the town on the banks of the Derwent, under Albinus, their first abbot. Numerous gifts flowed into the new foundation, including lands at Crich, Wessington, Lea, Dethick, Tansley and Little Chester, as well as various mills and the advowsons of eight churches. A chartulary of the abbey survives in the British Museum, although it is incomplete. The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the abbey as £258 13s 5d and it therefore escaped the early destruction of the lesser houses. However, it was finally surrendered in October 1538. The abbey's belongings, of which a full list survives, together with the site were made over to Robert Sacheverell, as holder for the crown. Two years later it was granted by the crown to Sir William West and has since, like so much monastic land, changed hands with remarkable frequency. (1) The Abbey of Darley (Augustinian Canons) was founded c. 1137 and refounded c. 1146. It was dissolved 1538. (2) The "Old Abbey Building", Darley Street and No's 7,8 and 9 Abbey Lane are part of the remains all of 15th century date [see SMR 32468 and 32469 respectively]. (3) The former is a scheduled monument and both are listed buildings. (4, 5) Augustinian Abbey founded in the 12th century. The only remaining building is an upper floor hall house, now a pub [SMR 32468] built probably in c.1450. Burials located to the south in Hill Square and New Road. (6) In 1965, Derbyshire Archaeology Society's Archaeological Research Group carried out excavations after learning that building was to start on a site formerly used as allotments off Brick Row and Old Lane, which it was suggested might have come within the precincts of the abbey. Extensive trenching, however, revealed no trace of building foundations nor other occupation features. The scarcity of medieval pottery reinforced the view that the site was not within the area of the abbey. (7) Upon the dissolution of the monastery at Darley Abbey in 1538 the site was acquired by Robert Sachaverell who asset-stripped it before selling it on to Sir William West. West probably adapted the former Abbot's lodging as a capital mansion (as happened elsewhere in England) - hence the reasonable belief that the Abbey buildings must have underlain the site of the later Darley Hall [also known as Darley Abbey - see SMR 32299], erected in 1727. (8) The principal structures of the medieval abbey, namely the church and claustral ranges, have entirely disappeared, with seemingly no record of their general form, or even common agreement over their probable location. Consequently in 2001 English Heritage's Historical Analysis & Research Team carried out a basic trawl of published historical sources, complemented by map evidence and an assessment of comparative information available on other Augustinian houses in England and Wales. Based on this research, they identified at least two possible locations for the site of the principal abbey buildings, one centred on the later Darley Hall [SMR 32299] and the other around Poplar Row, Darley Street and the Abbey Pub. They also tentatively identified the possible precinct area. (9) In November/December 2006 a watching brief on the construction of a new building at c. SK 3523 3831 uncovered three walls and a narrow path. Two of the walls were substantial structural walls; the third appears to be a smaller, internal wall. Medieval pottery was discovered beneath the foundation layer of one of the walls, confirming a mid-13th to 14th century date. The archaeological remains were recorded and preserved in situ. It was suggested that the walls probably represent part of the abbey complex, although exactly which part is not known. (10) An archaeological watching brief on behalf of Derby City Council was undertaken in July 2007 at Darley Abbey, during work to locate a brick culvert. A trench on the supposed line of the culvert uncovered a structure four courses high constructed from sandstone blocks, which was left in situ and reburied. It may be a culvert associated with the medieval abbey. (11) The Augustinian abbey of St May at Darley Abbey was the largest and richest abbey in Derbyshire. It was founded c. 1146 about a mile north of Derby on the west bank of the River Derwent. Some idea of the components of the abbey on dissolution in 1538 can be gained from the sale of its property in October of that year: the church with three chapels, the cloister, chapter hosue, frater, vestry, fourteen chambers, hall, buttery, pantry, parlour, kitchen, pastry, larder, brewhouse, bakehouse, 'boultynghouse', 'yelynghouse', 'blakehouse', and a smith's forge. A garden and courtyard (which was enlarged by the enclosure of three acres of the adjacent common in c. 1308), a pigeon-house and two mills had been recorded earlier, in a document of 1287. Although the former abbey's estate changed ownership several times between 1538 and 1835, there are very few references to any buildings, either former abbey buildings or new ones, during this period. However, a document of 1608 refers to 'the Capital mansion house and site of the then late dissolved monastery of Darleigh…', suggesting that a new house had been built on the site [thought to be that later owned by the Derbyshire historian William Woolley and shown on a map of 1708 - see SMR 32684]. Two former Abbey buildings are thought to survive, namely the Abbey pub [SMR 32468] and nos 7-9 Abbey Lane [SMR 18903]. These sit on the north-west and east boundaries of an orchard shown on a map of 1708, and it is suggested that the orchard boundaries may define the precinct of the Abbey. If this is the case, then one of the possible locations for the abbey suggested by English Heritage (source 9) would be unlikely as it falls outside the orchard boundaries. Their second possible location also seems unlikely because the majority of the site lies on alluvium. It is suggested that the area around the present Village Hall might be a suitable location. (12)

Sources/Archives (12)

  • <1> Bibliographic reference: Cox, J C. 1907. 'The Religious Houses of Derbyshire', in The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Derbyshire. Volume II, pp 54-56. pp 46-54.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Knowles, D & Hadcock, R. 1953. Medieval Religious Houses of England and Wales. p135.
  • <3> Bibliographic reference: MHLG 1917/11/A,1962,5.
  • <4> Scheduling record: A.M's Eng. & Wales 1961,31 (M.O.W.).
  • <5> Bibliographic reference: DOE (HHR) Boro of Derby Derbys Feb 1977 1 26.
  • <6> Index: TPAT. 2348. 2348.
  • <7> Bibliographic reference: Bestall, J M (ed). 1965. 'Notes and News: Darley Abbey, Codnor Castle and Burley Hill', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 85, p 134.
  • <8> Bibliographic reference: Craven, M. 1996. The Illustrated History of Derby Suburbs.
  • <9> Unpublished document: Robinson, D (English Heritage). 2001. Darley Abbey: Notes on the Lost Buildings of an Augustinian Monastery in Derbyshire.
  • <10> Unpublished document: Shakarian, J (ARS). 2007. An Archaeological Watching Brief at The Old Barn, Darley Abbey, Derby.
  • <11> Unpublished document: Shakarian, J (ARS). 2007. Watching Brief at Darley Abbey, Derby.
  • <12> Article in serial: Steer, J (Derbyshire Archaeological Society). 2009. 'The porter's lodge and barns of Darley Abbey and comment on the possible site of the Abbey and its precinct', Derbyshire Archaeological Journal. Volume 129, pp 197-237.



Grid reference Centred SK 350 384 (481m by 987m) Centred on
World Heritage Site Derwent Valley Mills

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (4)

  • EDR2416
  • EDR70
  • EDR1486
  • EDR2292

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Record last edited

Dec 12 2023 10:03AM

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