The Witham Abbeys
The area of the Lincolnshire Limewoods borders the eastern bank of the River Witham east of Lincoln and includes the sites of several medieval monasteries. The Witham Valley is remarkable for the number of monasteries that were founded there -six on the eastern side, with another three on the west - all within a mile or two of each other.
Monasteries were supposed to be set apart from the everyday world and were not usually built so close together - perhaps this unusually high concentration came about because of the desire to have easy access to the River Witham which was a busy trade link between Lincoln and Boston and Europe. It would have been a vital link for the monasteries whose economy was based on wool production.
The monasteries were all founded in late 11th or first half of the 12th centuries and represent several different orders - there are Benedictine monks at Bardney, Benedictine nuns at Stainfield, Premonstratensian canons at Barlings and Tupholme, Cistercian monks at Kirkstead and Cistercian nuns at Stixwould. Each of the abbey sites once had grand and impressive stone buildings but, after they were closed down by Henry VIIIth in the 1530s, the buildings were dismantled and the stone re-used.
Some of the abbey sites have standing ruins (Barlings, Tupholme and Kirkstead) but the others (Stainfield, Bardney and Stixwould) have only earthworks (humps and bumps) to show where they once stood. Only one of the sites has ever been excavated - Bardney Abbey was dug between 1909 and 1914 and its remains lay exposed until 1934 when they were covered over again.
Four of the abbey sites in the Limewoods area can be visited. They are free of charge and open from dawn ‘til dusk. Some are not easy to find so you may need an Ordnance Survey map.
- Barlings Abbey has a ruined section of the church still standing surrounded by many fascinating earthworks which include some splendid fishponds
OS Explorer 272 Grid reference: TF087 736
- Bardney Abbey has the outline of the main monastic buildings clearly visible as grassy banks
OS Explorer 273 Grid reference: TF113 705
- Tupholme Abbey has one wall of the rectory (dining room) still standing to eaves level, surrounded by the ruins of a later farm
OS explorer 273 Grid reference TF145 683
- Kirkstead Abbey has a massive crag of ruin that once formed part of the south transept of the church. It is surrounded by huge earthworks and just to its south is St Leonard’s chapel - a thirteenth century gem.
OS explorer 273 Grid reference TF189 618
The history and descriptions of Barlings, Bardney and Tupholme Abbeys can be found on the Heritage Lincolnshire website by following the link below.
For more information on the Witham Abbeys please see the Contacts tab. (The Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire is a registered charity that seeks to protect and promote the heritage of Lincolnshire for the benefit of local people and visitors. The Trust are one of the partners in the Limewoods Project.)