Canonsleigh Abbey

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Canonsleigh Abbey


Gatehouse, Canonsleigh - - 1779183.jpg
The Gatehouse of Canonsleigh Abbey,
now a barn
Grid reference: ST067173
Location: 50°56’53"N, 3°19’46"W
Order: Augustinian
Founded: 1170, 1284
Dissolved: 1539
Condition: Ruins, and reused buildings

Canonsleigh Abbey was an Augustinian priory in the parish of Burlescombe, Devon. Today its remains are visible as ruins in the fields, and as a remarkable barn converted from its gatehouse, which shows something of its ancient prosperity.


Foundations to dissolution

Canonsleigh Abbey was founded in about 1170 by Walter II de Claville,[1] lord of the manor of Burlescombe, for the Augustinian Canons Regular as the Priory of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist. He appears to have been a descendant of Walter I de Claville (fl 1086) the Domesday Book tenant of Burlescombe and of many other manors.[2] The original Anglo-Saxon name of the site donated by Walter II, perhaps a sub-manor of Burlescombe, was "Leigh" (in the Domesday Book as Leige[3]), maning simply 'meadow'. After the foundation of the Abbey it became known as "Canons' Leigh"[4] and was Latinised by mediaeval scribes to Leigh Canonicorum (i.e. "Leigh of the canons").

By 1284, the number of canons had declined to seven, and these were evicted in 1285 when the widow Maud de Lacy, Countess of Gloucester(d.1289), formerly the wife of Richard de Clare, 6th Earl of Gloucester (d.1262), refounded the establishment as a nunnery as the Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and St Etheldreda. In 1286 the abbess was granted licence to hold weekly markets. It was not especially wealthy. The number of historical records that survive for this establishment is not large which limits our knowledge of its history. However a recent article shows how it is still possible to describe some aspects of Canonsleigh's story in detail.[5]

The abbey was suppressed in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

After dissolution

Ruins of Canansleigh Abbey

In September 1546 Sir Richard Grenville (c.1495-1550), of Stowe, Cornwall and Bideford, Member of Parliament for Cornwall in 1529, together with Roger Blewett of Holcombe Rogus paid nearly £1,170 for the manors of Canonsleigh in Burlescombe and Tynyell in Landulph.[6]

Canons Leigh Barton (or "Canonsleigh") was in the 16th and 17th centuries a residence of the family of Culme (or "Columb", "Culem" etc.), which may have derived its name from some ancient landholding in the area of the River Culm, perhaps at Uffculme or Collumpton. The family is generally said to have died out in the male line on the death of Richard II Culme in 1658, although the Rev. John Culme, vicar of Knowstone-cum-Molland, to which the Culme family held the presentation, died later in 1691.

Present Remains

The remains today consist of a substantial 15th-century gatehouse, now within the yard of Canonsleigh Barton farm, and to the east stand fragments of a wall possibly once part of a mill. As no parts of machinery or workings are left inside the structure it is also speculated that it may have been an ablutions block as much of the stonework is akin to the area used for a similar function inside the gatekeeper's quarters in the Gatehouse, also known as the Almonry. There also remains part of the outer walls of the grounds, the leat and the stable block.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Canonsleigh Abbey)


  1. Thorn, part 2, 24,15
  2. Thorn, part 2, 24,15; Thorn chap.24, 1-32 lists all his Domesday Book landholdings
  3. Thorn, part 2, 24,15
  4. Thorn, Caroline & Frank, (eds.) Domesday Book, (Morris, John, gen.ed.) Vol. 9, Devon, Parts 1 & 2, Phillimore Press, Chichester, 1985, part 2 (notes) chap.24,15
  5. Atkinson, Des. "Canonsleigh Abbey: a Thriving Devon Nunnery?". Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  6. History of Parliament biography [1], quoting Letters & Papers of Henry VIII, x, xii, xiv, xvi, xxi
  • New, Anthony: 'A Guide to the Abbeys of England And Wales', p104 (Constable)
  • Thorold, Henry: 'The Collins Guide to the Ruined Abbeys of England, Wales and Scotland' (Harper Collins, 1985)
  • Ordnance Survey, 'Monastic Britain, South Sheet', 2nd Edition
  • 'The Cartulary of Canonsleigh Abbey' (British Library Harleian MS 3660): Vera C.M. (Ed.), published in Devon & Cornwall Record Society Publications, new series, vol.8, London, 1965

Further reading