Denny Abbey, Cambridgeshire

Feature Sets (3)


What survives of the 12thc. work is the nave of two bays with a W doorway and a S aisle arcade, and the crossing with N and S transepts. In the 1340s, when the 12thc. church was converted into private apartments for the Countess of Pembroke, a floor was inserted just below the level of the crossing capitals and the crossing arches were blocked. At the same time the S aisle wall was removed and a new wall built further S, to convert the area into a guest range with an upper hall. The 12thc. work recorded here consists of the crossing arches, the W doorway, the S nave arcade, the windows of the nave and N transept, and an arch in the E wall of the N transept, presumably leading to a chancel aisle originally. Its counterpart in the S transept is largely obliterated by the insertion of a window during the farmhouse phase of the site's history, but its presence is attested by the N jamb and the outer relieving arch, both visible on the E face.


Benedictine Priory (cell of Ely) (1159–70), Knights Templar preceptory (1170–1308), since 1997 part of the Farmland Museum

Denny was established as a dependent cell of Ely Abbey in 1159, at the instigation of Duke Conan IV of Britanny. In 1170 the Ely Benedictines transferred the cell to the Knights Templar, originally as a preceptory, but by the early 13c it had become a hospital for old and infirm members of the Order. When the Templars were suppressed in 1308 it passed formally to the Hospitallers, who made no use of it. In 1324 it reverted to the Crown. It was formally granted to Aymer de Valence's widow Mary de Valence, Countess of Pembroke, in 1337. Two years later she received a licence to transfer the house of the Franciscan Order of Minoresses (Poor Clares) at Waterbeach to Denny. The Waterbeach site was liable to flooding, but the transfer was not achieved without some opposition. A new church was built to the E of the 12c crossing. At the Dissolution, the Franciscan church was demolished and the remaining buildings were converted for use as a farmhouse. In the early 20c they were acquired by Pembroke College, who placed the site in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works in 1947.


Exterior Features


W nave doorway

Round-headed, four orders, of clunch. In the jambs are the remains of four similar orders with bases of indeterminate form on square plinths with upper angle rolls. Of the capitals, only those of the 3rd and 4th orders on the S side retain any indication of their original carving.

First order: both plinths survive, along with the N base and part of the N nook-shaft. Nothing remains of the capitals, imposts or arch.

Second order: both plinths survive, and the N base. On the S is most of the nook-shaft and the capital and impost, both too worn to decipher. Of the arch there is the S springer and most of the voussoir above it, decorated with centripetal face chevron — a single quirked angle roll.

Third order: plinths, bases and nook-shafts survive, in part, on both jambs. Both capitals and their imposts also survive as badly worn and largely shapeless blocks, but on the S capital the remains of palmettes at both outer angles can be distinguished. The arch is carved with a single row of directional chevron on face and soffit, over an angle roll. This points downwards on either side of the apex.

Fourth order: parts of all jamb elements survive on either side. The S capital retains flat leaves at the angles. The arch is effectively a label, of a more resilient stone than the clunch used elsewhere on the doorway. It has a keeled angle roll with a face hollow. Owing to the dilapidated state of the doorway, neither its height nor its width could be measured.


Nave N clerestorey (two windows)

Both windows are round-headed, but little remains to show the exterior design. Of the E window there is a plain arch and part of the W jamb. The W window has more, but the ashlar may not all be original. What is visible is a two-order arch, the outer order with a slight chamfer and the inner plain. The jambs of the outer order have been reconstructed, but there are sections of nook shaft included. On the interior there has also been a good deal of reconstruction, but what survives indicates a two-order window with a plain, continuous, splayed inner order and an outer order on en-delit nook shafts with a quirked angle roll in the arch and (curiously) a chamfered label. Capitals have plain square neckings. One impost survives (E window, W jamb), and this is hollow-chamfered with an angle roll between face and chamfer. Only the capitals of the W window survive:

W window, E capital: triple scallop with zigzag shields and wedges between the scallops.

W window, W capital: triple scallop with zigzag shields.

Nave, S clerestorey (two windows)

Both windows are round-headed and of two orders on the exterior. The first order is continuous with a slight step for glazing and a slight chamfer. The second has en-delit nook-shafts on attic bases, capitals with roll neckings and hollow chamfered imposts with angle rolls between face and chamfer, and an arch with an angle roll. Differences are in the capitals as follows:

E window, E capital: multi-scallop with zigzag shields finished with an angle roll at the lower edge and cylindrical slipped scallops.

E window, W capital: multi-slipped scallop.

W window, E capital: triple zigzag scallop.

W window, W capital: as E window E capital but better preserved.

On the interior the windows are of two orders, the first continuous and deeply splayed, the seond with en-delit nook shafts on hollow chamfered or low attic bases. Imposts and neckings are as on the exterior, but the arch has a keeled angle roll and face hollow. Capitals are described below:

E window, E capital: triple scallop with leaf-shaped, concave scallops bearing central conical ribs, and pointed shields.

E window, W capital: badly damaged but probably as E capital. There are remains of pointed shields.

W window, E capital: waterleaf.

W window, W capital: triple scallop with groove defining lower edge of shields.

N transept, N wall (two windows?)

On the exterior the E jamb and round arch of the blocked W window are visible. In the jamb is a coursed nook-shaft with a scallop capital, and the arch has an angle roll. This corresponds to the edge of a square reveal on the interior. The evidence for a second window in a symmetrical position is indirect. There is nothing to see on the exterior, but inside the transept is a central flat buttress with nook shafts to E and W, which might have formed part of a symmetrical, two-bay elevation with a window in each bay.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Arch from N transept into N choir aisle

Round-headed, two orders to E and W. The arch is blocked, and on the E face it is broken by a late-medieval vault respond running up the centre.

1st order (shared):

Carried on coursed half-columns with worn, probably attic, bases. The capitals have square neckings and hollow-chamfered imposts with an angle roll between face and chamfer. The arch has angle rolls to E and W, presumably with a soffit quirk or slim roll between them as in the nave arcade.

S capital: the E face is lost, but the W view shows a plain scallop form with a semicircular bite taken from the shield and a corresponding flute cut out of the W face scallop. The angle scallop is plain.

N capital: the E and W faces show abbreviated trefoil forms, the central part of the shield with a semicircular bite, and corresponding flute on the scallop. At the angles are rolls, and the shields are outlined with a groove.

Second order (E and W):

Carried on coursed half-columns, only those on the W side surviving. Neckings and imposts as first order. The E face capitals and arch have been cut back and are not readable. The W face arch is plain and slightly chamfered.

W face, S capital: multi-fluted, the cusps with pointed arches defined by a groove. At the angle is a double roll within the cusp.

W face, N capital: trefoil scallop form with grooved shield.

E Crossing arch

First order (shared):

Half-columns with hollow chamfered bases. The capitals have square neckings and hollow chamfered imposts with an angle roll at the bottom of the face. The arch has quirked angle rolls to E and W, presumably with a quirk between them as in the nave arcade, on each face is a slender half-roll.

N capital: multi-scallop, the shields with a nebuly edge outlined by a groove at the bottom of the shields, but broken at the bottom of each cusp to form sheaths on the bell. At the bottom of each shield is a round pellet, and at the angle an elliptical one with a central keel. The design is most clearly seen from the E.

S capital: multi-scallop with hyphenated scallops and on the bell, below each hyphen, a wedge between a pair of rolls. The design is most clearly seen from the E.

Second order

Coursed nook shafts to E and W, on bases as 1st order. Imposts and neckings also follow the 1st order design. In the arch to the W is an angle roll, while the E arch is chamfered.

W face, N capital: slipped multi-scallop with zigzag shields and slipped roll scallops.

W face, S capital: multi-fluted. The shields are cushion-shaped but with their lower edge scalloped to form flutes on the bell.

E face N capital: slipped multi-scallop, the angle scallop with a keel on its upper surface.

E face S capital: zigzag multi-scallop with wedges between the scallops.

N crossing arch

First order (shared):

As E arch except for the capitals, which are only visible from the S.

W capital: plain zigzag multi-scallop.

E capital: double scallop with shields outlined. The angle has no shield but a keel, and the shield alongside it has a step indicating sheathing of the scallop.

Second order:

The S face of the arch is chamfered, the N face is not visible, otherwise as E arch except for the capitals:

S face, W capital: trefoil with outlined shield and slim rolls on the bell alongside the central scallop.

S face, E capital: slipped scallop, the shields plain with a nebuly lower edge.

N face, W capital: plain cushion with angle tucks.

N face, E capital: plain cushion with a tapered flute taken out of the centre of the bell on the N face.

S crossing arch

First order (shared):

As E arch except for the capitals.

E capital: triple scallop with shields outlined by a groove. The two angle scallops have circular shields and a groove running down the scallop. The central shield on the main face is enlarged.

W capital: plain multi-scallop.

Second order:

Both faces of the arch are chamfered, otherwise as E arch except for the capitals:

N face, E capital: triple fluted capital with shield cusps outlined on their lower edges. The outer flutes on each face contain rolls (slipped scallops).

N face, W capital: badly damaged, minimal signs of scallops on bell.

S face, E capital: damaged, multi-fluted capital, the central flute on each face is a deep vee.

S face, W capital: badly damaged scallop capital with plain shields and scallops of varying sizes.

W crossing arch

First order (shared):

As E arch except for the capitals, which are visible only from the E.

S capital: multi-scallop with plain shields.

N capital: plain triple scallop, the central shield on each face larger.

Second order:

The E face of the arch is chamfered, the W face has an angle roll.

E face, S capital: worn double-scallop with sheathed scallops.

E face, N capital: badly worn. A cushion with traces of scallops on the bell.

W face S capital: trefoil scallop with outlined shield and angle wedge.

W face N capital: plain double scallop.



S arcade

Two bays, round headed, 2two orders to N and S. The E bay is still open; the W has been bricked up, not without damage, and some of the brickwork later removed to reveal the capitals.

First order (shared):

Carried on coursed half-columns with worn, hollow-chamfered bases on double plinths. The capitals have square neckings and hollow-chamfered imposts with an angle roll between face and chamfer. The arch has angle rolls to E and W with a slim soffit roll between them. All of this is visible in the E bay only.

Bay 1 (E), E capital: slipped multi-scallop with 3 cusps on the N and S faces and 5 on the main W face. On each face the central cusp is hyphenated.

Bay 1, W capital: triple scallop with shields outlined by a groove, and bites out of the shields, with corresponding flutes on the scallops. At the angles are cusps filled with conical rolls with double chamfered upper faces.

Bay 2, E capital: multi-slipped scallop with ogee cusps outlined by a groove.

Bay 2, W capital: waterleaf.

Second order:

Coursed half-shafts in angled jambs with worn, hollow-chamfered bases on double plinths. The capitals have square neckings and hollow-chamfered imposts with an angle roll between face and chamfer. The arch has an angle roll to the N, facing the nave, and a slight chamfer on the aisle side.

Bay 1, N face, E capital: triple fluted with pointed cusps defined by a groove. The angle flute carries a roll with double-chamfered top, while the others carry wedges.

Bay 1, N face, W capital: plain multi-scallop. On the faces the shields are alternately round and pointed; the angle scallop is keeled.

Bay 1, S face, E capital: triple slipped scallop with ogee cusping defined by a groove and roll scallops.

Bay 1, S face, W capital: plain triple scallop, the central scallop on each face narrow.

Bay 2, N face: not visible.

Bay 2, S face, E capital: almost entirely lost; signs of one surviving scallop on the bell.

Bay 2, S face, W capital: waterleaf.


The 12thc. sculptural decoration that survives is mainly distinguished by a wide variety of scallop capital types with plain arches except in the W doorway, which was originally richly decorated with chevron ornament. Directional chevron similar to this, and a variety of related scallop capital forms occur also at Ely Infirmary: unsurprising as this was founded as a cell of the Cathedral priory. It seems clear that the same workshop operated on both sites, and it is just possible that their work at Denny was completed by the time the Templars took over in 1170. It is more normal, however, to date at least the W doorway to the Templar period.


  • T. Baggs, "Denny Abbey", Medieval Art and Architecture at Ely Cathedral, B.A.A. Conference Transactions, II, 1976. Leeds 1979, 97.

  • P. M. Christi and J. G. Coad, "Excavations at Denny Abbey." Archaeological Journal 137 (1980): 138–279.

  • The Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, II (1948), 259–62, 295–302.

  • F. S. L. Johnson, A Catalogue of Romanesque Sculpture in Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely. M.Phil (London, Courtauld Institute), 1984.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Bedfordshire and the County of Huntingdon and Peterborough, Harmondsworth, 1968.

  • S. D. T. Spittle, "Denney Abbey", Archaeological Journal, 124 (1967), 232–34.


Site Location
Denny Abbey
National Grid Reference
TL 494 685 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Cambridgeshire
now: Cambridgeshire
medieval: Lincoln (Dorchester to 1085)
now: Ely
medieval: St James and St Leonard
Type of building/monument
Benedictine priory  
Report authors
Ron Baxter