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St Osyth's Priory ruined east ranges of the Darcy House including the Tower and Chapel

A Grade I Listed Building in St. Osyth, Essex

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Latitude: 51.7997 / 51°47'59"N

Longitude: 1.0757 / 1°4'32"E

OS Eastings: 612167

OS Northings: 215707

OS Grid: TM121157

Mapcode National: GBR TQW.2ST

Mapcode Global: VHLD3.L1J4

Entry Name: St Osyth's Priory ruined east ranges of the Darcy House including the Tower and Chapel

Listing Date: 21 February 1950

Last Amended: 20 March 2014

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1337159

English Heritage Legacy ID: 120035

Location: St. Osyth, Tendring, Essex, CO16

County: Essex

District: Tendring

Civil Parish: St. Osyth

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: St Osyth Saints Peter and St Paul

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

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Ruinous parts of the first and second Lord Darcys' mansion, including the early C12 and C13 remains of the dorter range of the abbey, remodelled and extended in the mid-C16 and 1600, as well as Lord Darcy's tower and the C19 conversion of the C13 frater passage into a chapel.


Ruinous parts of Lord Darcy's mansion, as well as Lord Darcy's tower: early-C12 and C13 remains of the dorter range of the abbey, remodelled and extended in the mid-C16 and 1600; C19 conversion of C13 frater passage to chapel.

Stone rubble with some septaria; ashlar chequer work. The early-C17 range is constructed of brick.

The ruinous parts of the house built by the 1st Lord Darcy and his son form an L shape, extending east from the surviving wing of the Darcy House (to the south of the Abbot's Lodging), turning north to follow the footprint of the east monastic dorter range. The Darcy Tower is attached to the east elevation at the south-east corner of this Range. To the north of the former dorter range, now freestanding and slightly offset to the east, is a ruinous wall, with an octagonal turret to the south.

The wall between the surviving southern wing of the Darcy House and Darcy Tower is of red brick laid in English bond. It stands about 7-10 metres high, breaking forward and higher to the western end. The first floor windows are blocked and have moulded labels over. The chequerwork of the upper course of a C16 wall can be seen above the roof-line of a lower, later lean-to structure which links the 1600 wall to the Darcy Tower.

The Darcy Tower is built of ashlar stone and septaria with flint galletting and has three stages above the ground floor. It has a moulded plinth, with octagonal turrets to the two south and the north-east corners rising above roof level. Between these are parapets with slight gables. Rising above the fourth, north-west corner are two diapered stone chimney shafts with octagonal moulded bases and spiked caps. The south-west turret contains the stairs, lit by a vertical line of small two light windows in the south face.

A chamfered entrance to the ground floor on the east side of the tower has a Tudor arch with square label over. Each stage of the south elevation of the tower has three arched light windows under square heads, labels over, with segmental relieving arches. The east elevation has three similar windows and there are similar smaller windows to north east and south east turrets. The west elevation has a similar window to the upper storey and round headed window to second stage.

Immediately to the west of the ground floor of the tower is the south bay of the dorter range sub-vault, fronted to the west with chequered stone work and entered through a segmental pointed archway with square label over. To the north of this the C19 chapel, converted from the passage to the east of the frater, projects west from and also incorporates part of the dorter range. Built of rubble, ashlar and some brick, it has a pitched tiled roof; the north and south elevations are crenellated. The west elevation has a patched appearance representing several phases of work, with some chequerwork to the south end and to the parapet. It has a buttress to the north and a gable outshot to south. The first floor window has three lights under a square head, with moulded bands above and below. At ground floor level are the remains of a four bay trefoiled arcade. The chapel is lit by C19 or early-C20 windows, those to the west elevation inserted into the arcade. The window to the north end is within a C16 doorway which was itself inset into the arcade. The south elevation has a two light window with moulded label with foliate stops; the north has a doorway of c.1500 with moulded arch and C19 or C20 doors with ornate hinges. To the east of the door is a three light window under segmental head, and to the west is a square headed two light window. The east elevation has one window with plate tracery, with hood mould over, inserted into a blocked arched entrance and a second window with five graduated lancets.

The two C16 upper storeys of the Darcy House rise to the east of the chapel, to the north of which are the fragmentary remains of the C12 dorter sub-vault. The surviving east wall of the house contains the whole of one chequerwork gable and part of a second. The windows are all of the same type with four-centred lights and square heads with moulded labels. The wall has a series of mid-C16 buttresses and a chimney stack with an embattled offset and two diapered brick shafts with concave octagonal caps and moulded stone bases. Below this stack, inside the building, are three mid-C16 fireplaces, two with moulded jambs, all with depressed heads.

To the north are freestanding remains of the east wall and part of the south return wall, at the south-east corner of which is a semi-octagonal chequerwork tower. The tower has a two light window under a square head with label over to the east wall, and two light windows under segmental heads to south east and south west angles of upper stage. To the north of the tower, in the south- east angle of the remains, is a small brick ogee arch inserted into earlier work, above which is a chamfered two centre arched doorway. The east side of the wall north from the tower is faced in brick, and has two windows to the first floor. Below the north window is a wide arched opening.

Immediately to the south of the C19 Service Range is a fragment of the kitchen wing, standing c.3.5 to 4.0 metres high, and consisting of a double respond of early 13th-century date, with half-round attached piers with moulded capitals and bases and the springers of arches to the north and east.

The entrance to the chapel is in the north elevation, opening into the former frater passage. This has 2 x 3 bays of rib vaulting, the moulded ribs springing from stone corbels and slender Purbeck marble shafts with moulded capitals and bases. The floor has a pattern of C19 coloured tiles. A stone arcaded plinth with trefoiled arches runs around the walls and into three deep recesses to the east. The first and longest of these, to the south, is within the second bay of the dorter range sub-vault and has a patterned tiled floor and rubble groin vaulted roof. At the east end are the splays of an old doorway, blocked, with a small window inserted. The next two are formed from the west ends of the next bay or bays of the sub-vault, and are lit by the windows to the east. The narrow central recess has a vaulted roof with moulded ribs, as in the frater passage, and arched openings to the recesses to either side. The north recess has a plain tiled floor and brick barrel vaulted roof. All windows have stained glass, one depicting St. Osyth and her husband the Saxon King Sighere.

Between east end of the chapel and the Darcy Tower is the southernmost surviving bay of the sub-vault of the dorter range. This has two bays from west to east and a groin vaulted roof; the arches between the piers to north and south have been infilled to create an enclosed space. The piers are generally of early-C12 date, the lower courses constructed of Roman brick. To the east is a semi-circular 14th-century arch partly filled with septaria and brick, into which a doorway with moulded jambs and segmental-pointed head has been inserted. Towards the west end of the south wall a door opens into a narrow space with a window to the west. This west wall is of brick, while the north and east walls are of chequered stonework.

The doorway to the east of the sub-vault opens into the base of the Darcy Tower. To the south a doorway opens onto the staircase rising to the first floor of the tower. From here stairs in the south west turret give access to further stages of the tower. At each stage there are doorways with segmental pointed arches opening onto the stair and into turrets. In the two upper stages are fireplaces with moulded fire surrounds; the fireplace to the upper stage has a cast iron basket grate.

To the west of the tower a corridor above the south bay of the dorter range gives access to a flat roof over the bays that form the east side of the chapel. To the south of the corridor is a wall with wide arched openings enclosed within the lean-to structure to the south. To the west of the roof over the dorter sub-vault is the chapel roof, and to the south of that a lean-to brick structure built against a section of a Darcy House wall.


The settlement now known as St Osyth is recorded as Chicc in the Domesday Book of 1086, and is said to be the location of a C7 convent founded by Acca, Bishop of Dunwich. Its first Abbess Osyth, daughter of the Mercian king Frithwald and wife to Sighere, the first Christian king of Essex is purported to have been brutally martyred at the hands of Danish marauders in 653. Her name was later commemorated by the renaming of the village as St Osyth, although it continued to be known also as Chich into the post-medieval period. The location of the convent is unknown although Nun’s Wood to the north of the Priory may be relevant. Within Nun’s Wood a possible moated site and a series of fish ponds may relate to pre- or early Priory occupation of the estate.

Archaeological finds of the C8 to C10 indicates a settlement of that date at or near to the present village. The Church of St Peter and St Paul is thought to be the site of St Peter’s Minister mentioned in a document of c.1050. The Domesday Book records that there were three Manors at Chicc in 1066.

The Priory was founded shortly after 1120 by Richard de Belmeis, Bishop of London, as a house for Augustinian canons from Holy Trinity, London. The Priory was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, and St Osyth and became an abbey before 1161. It is most likely that a park was associated with the abbey, possibly from 1268 when a charter was granted to the abbey allowing some hunting rights. Of the monastic buildings, the earliest remaining work is the sub-vault of the Dorter range which is of the period of the foundation; the still existing portions of the walls bounding the Cloister on the east and west are possibly also of this date. The fragmentary upstanding remains of what was probably the Kitchen are of the early-C13; to the same period belong the remains of the early gatehouse. In c.1230–40 the Frater was rebuilt with the vaulted passage to the east of it; at the end of the C13 the vaults in the former west range were built. The Great Gatehouse and the ranges flanking it and projecting south from it were built in the late-C15; the eastern of these ranges incorporates the earlier gatehouse. In about 1527 extensive additions were made by Abbot Vyntoner who built the Abbot's Lodging, aligned east west on the north side of the court, with an adjoining range running north-south (known as the South Wing in 2012). These abbey buildings survive to varying degrees of intactness, the most prominent today being the gatehouse and the Abbot’s Lodging, both reflecting the abbey’s wealth in the late medieval period.

The Abbot and Canons took the Oath of Supremacy in 1534 and received pensions after the surrender in July 1539. Post-dissolution, the Priory was bought by Thomas, 1st Lord Darcy, Lord Chamberlain of Edward VI’s household in 1553. It was Darcy and his successors who, in the mid-C16 and after, transformed the abbey into a substantial house. At this time the conventual church, which flanked the cloister to the south, was destroyed together with the major portion of the east and west ranges of the cloister quadrangle; the ends of the remaining portions of these ranges were faced with chequer-work, the Abbot's and Clock Towers were built and the upper part of the dorter range rebuilt to form a residence. In the early years of the Civil War, when it belonged to the 3rd Lord Darcy’s daughter, Countess Rivers, the Priory was sacked.

It remained in the ownership of the Countess Rivers's heirs until 1714, but during this period it was largely uninhabited and ruinous. It then passed by marriage to Frederic Nassau de Zuylestein, 3rd Earl of Rochford. In the 1720s he built a new house on the north side of the precinct and restored the gatehouse. His son added the surviving C18 range and laid out the park. The Nassau family remained in possession of the Priory until 1858, when it passed to Charles Brandreth, only to be sold to Mr (later Sir) John Johnson, a London corn merchant, in 1863. Brandreth demolished Lord Rochford’s house. Johnson began the restoration of the Abbot’s Lodging in the 1860s and went on to restore the south range and embellish the gardens and park.

The property passed through a number of owners in the C20. The house was used as a convalescent home from 1948 until the 1980s. Between 1954 and 1999 the Priory was the home of Somerset de Chair who converted the gatehouse to a residence. His extensive art collection was displayed in the C18 house. In 1999 the property was sold after De Chair's death.

Reasons for Listing

The remains of the Darcy House, including the Darcy Tower, chapel, ruined east ranges including the section between the Abbot's Lodging and the tower, are designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: all elements of the Darcy House are of exceptional interest for their retention of medieval and later fabric displaying finely executed detail and craftsmanship of both pre and post-Reformation date. Evidence of the quality of this work survives in the ruins of the first and second Lord Darcys' remodelling of the frater and dorter ranges, and also in the Darcy Tower, with its distinctive ashlar limestone and septaria stonework with flint galleting;
* Materials: the use of materials charts the phases of building from limestone rubble and septaria to the fine brickwork of the surviving wall of the second Lord Darcy's range. It includes the use of Roman brick in the early-C12 piers of the dorter sub-vault, and also the fine flint galleted limestone and septaria chequer work of the first Lord Darcy's remodelling of the monastic ranges, and his new tower;
* Historic interest: the Darcy House retains elements of the monastic ranges of St Osyth's Abbey, a house of Augustinian Canons, an order which individually and collectively played a significant role in the religious, economic and social life of medieval England. The later development and decline of the buildings charts the nation's religious, political and social history into the C20, including their post-Reformation remodelling, their decline following the Civil War, and their partial remodelling in the late-C19 with new wealth derived from commerce;
* Interior: the interior of the chapel, created from the frater passage and dorter sub-vault by Sir John Johnson in the late-C19, contains important medieval fabric, including the fine early-C13 quadrapartite vault; its design sensitively and successfully incorporates a mixture of medieval and Gothic Revival elements;
* Group value: the building has group value with the other designated buildings and structures on the site, the Scheduled Monument and the registered Park and Garden.

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