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Thornton Abbey Medieval & Monastic Field School

Location: Thornton Abbey, Ulceby, , United Kingdom

July 6, 2014 to August 1, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Sunday, June 1, 2014

Program Type

Field school


University of Sheffield

Project Director:

Dr. Hugh Willmott & Peter Townend

Project Description

Thornton abbey was founded as an Augustinian priory in 1139 by William Le Gros and over the next two centuries expanded into one of the richest houses in England. In 1539 the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII although it continued to be used as a college of secular priests until 1547 when it was finally suppressed by Edward VI. After passing through ownership of the Bishop of Lincoln and the Tyrwhitt family the abbey was acquired in 1603 by Sir Vincent Skinner. He demolished many of the church buildings to provide building material for a newly constructed mansion situated close to the medieval gatehouse. According to the antiquarian Abraham de la Pryme, no sooner had the house been completed that it "fell quite down to the bare ground without any visible cause". In part as a result of this disaster, Skinner fell into bankruptcy and died in a debtors’ prison in 1616, although his widow continued to live in the former abbot’s lodging which was converted into a more modest dwelling.
Despite having one of the largest and best preserved monastic enclosures in the country, surprisingly little work has taken place at the abbey. The estate was acquired by Charles 1st Earl of Yarborough in the early 19th century, and he was responsible for excavating the church in the 1830s. Following portions of the site coming into state care in 1938, the Ministry of Works cleared some of the cloister area. However, since this date no excavation has taken place and the majority of the site remains in private ownership. Between 2007-2009 English Heritage undertook a detailed field survey of approximately one third of the monastic enclosure which highlighted the remarkable level of preservation of the many earthwork and subsurface features.

Since 2011 The University of Sheffield has been undertaking a five year research programme on the abbey precinct. This not only aims to undertake a complete topographical and geophysical survey of the monastic enclosure, it also include targeted excavation of the identified medieval and post-dissolution features in order to gain a better understanding of the site’s long history.

During the 2014 season we will be concentrating our excavation in the area identified last year as the possible location of the medieval hospital of St James. Trenches will target a building identified as the hospital chapel and hall, as well as the surrounding area.

Students attending the field school play a central role in continuing the geophysical and topographical survey of this area, as well as taking part in the excavation of the trenches. Whilst all work is supervised by experienced staff from the University of Sheffield, volunteers get to take part in all the key activities.

The field school fee is $1300 USD for the 4 weeks. This includes supervision, course materials, all meals, camping in tents and pick up & drop off at the local train station (Thornton Abbey).

Period(s) of Occupation: medieval, post-medieval, historical, monastic

Project size: 
25-49 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 4 weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Accommodation is provided in the form of basic camping ten minutes walk from the site. Tents and airbeds will be available for students to borrow on advance request. Domestic facilities (including hot showers, flush lavatories and access to a washing machine) will be available and all meals are provided.
Participants are welcome to stay on the campsite on the days off, when food will still be avaialble.

Accommodation and all food are included in the fee (see above)

Academic Credit

Number of credits offered A full certificate of participation can be issued in lieu of formal credit


Contact Information
Dr Hugh Willmott
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street
South Yorkshire
United Kingdom
+44 1142222940
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