In the same parish of Leiston-cum-Sizewell that contains the nuclear power station of Sizewell there stands beside grain fields what is left in flint and brick of one of the principal monastic monuments to be seen in Suffolk. The choir and transepts of its late 14th-century church have endured almost to their full height; and portions remain of three ranges of its cloister which were dominated by the chapter house (east), refectory (south), and cellar or store-house (west). Built into the nave and north side of the cloister is a Georgian dwelling now used as a place of retreat for the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
Leiston Abbey belonged to the Premonstratensians, a reformed Order of white-habited canons founded by St. Norbert in northern France. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, it was established on Minsmere marshes in 1182 at cost of Ranulf de Glanville, Henry II’s Chief Justiciar – “the King’s eye”, a chronicler calls him. About 1363 new and bigger buildings were erected on the present ground, a mile inland from the other, by Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk. This second abbey had several chapels with altars, fine chequer-work on outside walls, delicate tracery in Perpendicular style for windows. The domestic buildings were damaged by fire in 1389.
In 1535 the clear annual value of the abbey was £182, and it fell within the scope of the Act suppressing smaller religious houses. The King bestowed it on his brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, in 1537. Abbot Carleton received an annuity of £20, but the brethren got nothing. For centuries the precinct was used as a farm, its church a barn.
In later years, the Abbey ruins and chapel served as farm buildings. The Tudor house, timber-framed, was built into the nave, and later a Georgian front was added. In 1918 the site was bought by Ellen Wrightson, who restored the Lady Chapel as a house of prayer, and between the wars retreats were conducted. On her death in 1946 the property passed to the Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. The Ministry of Public Building and Works assumed custody of the ruins in 1964. The retreat house was purchased by Pro Corda in 1977.
To find out more about Leiston Abbey and site hire, please contact us here.