Sources for Thornton Abbey

These lists provide a summary of the main sources for our knowledge and understanding of Thornton Abbey. A report on English Heritage’s research on Thornton Abbey, published in 2010, offers a detailed, up-to-date analysis of the site and a comprehensive overview of the sources. The excavation programme by Sheffield University, which began in 2011, can be followed on a dedicated project website.

Samuel Buck engraving (1726), Thornton Abbey and Gatehouse
Samuel Buck, 'The West Prospect of the Ruins of Thornton College near the Humber in the County of Lincoln', engraving (1726)

Primary Sources

The key primary source for the abbey’s history is the Thornton Chronicle (c 1533), held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford; various partial translations have been published (see below). In most cases, passing references in medieval royal and ecclesiastical records simply confirm the accuracy of the chronicle without adding significantly to our knowledge. This information can be supplemented by the inventories and grants arising from the suppression of the abbey and, later, Thornton College.


Bodleian Library, Oxford

  • Tanner MS 166: Thornton Chronicle (c 1533)


The National Archives

  • DL 42/21 fols 32v–33v: agreement of 1306 between the abbots of Selby and Thornton concerning construction of marshland drains and causeways


Lincolnshire Archives, Lincoln

  • YARB/11/2/4: ‘Yarborough Scrapbook’ [a wonderful miscellany of cuttings and original documents relating to the site, compiled c 1850–c 1910, including a letter to Sir Vincent Skinner of 1606, and several of the visual sources listed below]
  • YARB 5/1/52: 1823 valuation of Yarborough estates, including the former abbey lands
  • Box 92/6/1/a: 17th-century commentary on a cellarer’s account of 1525, referring to a windmill.


Published Partial Translations of the Thornton Chronicle

These can be found in:

Chancery Records

Calendar of Close Rolls, Henry III, vol 14, 1268–72 (London, 1938) [accessed 31 Oct 2012; subscription required; fol 485 refers to a grant of 12 oaks from Sherwood]

Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward I, vol 2, 1281–92 (London, 1893) [accessed 31 Jan 2013]

Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward I, vol 4, 1301–1307 (London, 1898) [accessed 31 Jan 2013; fol 376 refers to a pardon for taking 8 additional oaks from Sherwood]

Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward I, vol 5, 1302–07 (London, 1908) [accessed 31 Oct 2012; subscription required; fol 232 refers to a pardon for taking 8 additional oaks from Sherwood]

Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward II, vol 3, 1318–23 (London, 1895) [accessed 31 Oct 2012; subscription required]

Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward III, vol 13, 1369–74 (London, 1911) [accessed 31 Oct 2012; subscription required]

Calendar of Patent Rolls, Richard II, vol 2, 1381–1385 (London, 1897) [accessed 31 Jan 2013; fol 166 refers to the construction of the gatehouse]

Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward VI, 1547–48 (London, 1924) [fol 153 refers to the grant of part of the estate to Bishop Henry Rands, aka Holbeach]

Calendar of Patent Rolls, Edward VI, 1549–51
(London, 1925) [fol 97 refers to the grant of part of the estate to Robert Wood]


Other Published Primary Sources

Brewer, JS (ed), Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, 3:1 (London, 1867) [accessed 23 Jan 2013]

Dugdale, W, Monasticon Anglicanum, vol 2 (London, 1693), 152 [accessed 31 Oct 2012]

Minns, EH, ‘Documents relating to the dissolution of the monastery of Thornton Curtis in the county of Lincoln left by the Rev Charles Parkyn to Pembroke College, Cambridge’, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 10 (1898), 482–95

Pryme, A de la, The Diaries of Abraham de la Pryme, the Yorkshire Antiquary, Surtees Society, 54 (Durham, London and Edinburgh, 1870) [accessed 31 Oct 2012]

Roberts, DL, ‘John Thorpe’s drawings for Thornton College, the house of Sir Vincent Skinner’, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 19 (1984), 57–64

Summerson, J (ed), The Book of Architecture of John Thorpe in Sir John Soane’s Museum, Walpole Society, 40 (Glasgow, 1966)

Intricately carved stone corbel from the gatehouse at Thornton Abbey and Gatehouse
Corbel from the abbey gatehouse. English Heritage’s collection of architectural stonework from Thornton can provide much information about the style and date of the main monastic buildings

Material Sources

English Heritage

There are more than 900 separately catalogued items in the English Heritage Thornton Abbey collections. They range from stone sculptures and architectural stonework to dress fittings. Significant small finds include a late 16th-century coin hoard and the Thornton College seal.

Some of the most significant sculptures and architectural carvings are on display in the gatehouse. Architectural fragments are in open storage to the north of the church and around the east footings of the gatehouse.

Further architectural fragments are in covered storage on site and at English Heritage’s archaeology store at Helmsley. These have all been fully photographed and recorded, and the archive is kept at Helmsley, as are small finds, ceramics, and samples from site excavations and clearances. The accompanying paper-based archives at Helmsley include archaeological recording from the 1950s to 2006, correspondence, research notes and photography of other items in the collection.


Other Collections

Scunthorpe Museum holds some small finds and an archive relating to the precinct.


Published Collections

Gibbons, GS, ‘Seal of Thornton College’, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries, 21:6 (1931), 81–2

Maddison, AR, ‘Notes taken of the excavated floor at Thornton Abbey, 31st August 1835’, Lincolnshire Notes and Queries, 11 (1911), 16–17

Rigold, SE, ‘An Elizabethan hoard from Thornton Abbey, Lincs’, British Numismatic Journal, 35 (1966), 200–201

Visual Sources

Copies of many of the items listed below can be seen in the ‘Yarborough Scrapbook’ (Lincolnshire Archives, Lincoln, YARB/11/2/4). Several are also reproduced in A Oswald et al, Thornton Abbey, North Lincolnshire: Historical, Archaeological and Architectural Investigations, English Heritage Research Department Report 100/2010 (Swindon, 2010).

Engravings and Paintings

These are listed in chronological order.

  • Stukeley, W and Harris, I, ‘Inside View of Thornton College Gate House July 1726’, reproduced in Stukeley, W, Itinerarium Curiosum (London, 1776), facing p 100 [accessed 31 Oct 2012]
  • Buck, S, ‘The West Prospect of the Ruins of Thornton College near the Humber in the County of Lincoln’, engraving (1726) [see above]
  • Gale, B, ‘The West View of Thornton upon Humber’, engraving (1783)
  • Abbot’s Lodge, pencil drawing (1787), Lincolnshire Archives, Lincoln, YARB/11/2/4 (‘Yarborough Scrapbook’)
  • Nattes, J-C, three watercolours of the gatehouse and one of the chapter house, part of a series commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks (1797), private collection [details available from English Heritage]
  • Howlett, B after Girtin, T, ‘East View of Thornton Abbey and West View of Thornton Abbey’, reproduced in Howlett, B, A Selection of Views in the County of Lincoln (London, 1801); the original drawing by Thomas Girtin of the West View of Thornton Abbey is held by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge [accessed 31 Oct 2012]
  • Fowler, J, painting and engraving of the west front of Thornton Abbey gatehouse (1818), Lincolnshire Museums Service Archive, Normanby Hall, Fowler Collection, vols 3 and 4
  • Rhodes, JN and Watkins, A, ‘Thornton Abbey’, engraving (1832; see Research on Thornton Abbey)
  • Watercolour of the 14th-century bridge north of the church, dated July 1883, pasted into the ‘Yarborough Scrapbook’.

Maps and Plans

These are listed in chronological order:

  • Fowler, W, floor plans of Thornton Abbey gatehouse (1821), Lincolnshire Museums Service Archive, Normanby Hall, Fowler Collection, vols 3 and 4
  • Ordnance Survey, 1-inch scale map sheet 86 (1824), before 1824, British Library Map Room
  • Greenwood, C and Greenwood, J, ‘Map of the County of Lincoln, from an actual survey made in the years 1827 & 1828’ (1830), British Library, Maps C.23.c.13
  • Anon, ‘Boundary award between the parish of Thornton Curtis and the adjoining parish of East Halton, county of Lincoln’ (1867), unpublished plan, private collection
  • Wallis, TW, ‘Thornton Abbey: plan of the grounds, history of the abbey and sketches taken during the encampment of the 1st Administrative Battalion of the Lincolnshire Rifle Volunteers 27th June–2nd July 1870’, unpublished (and privately printed?) plan, private collection (1870) [with a series of vignettes of key buildings around the margins; see History of Thornton Abbey]
  • Priestly-Shires, B, ‘Entrance gateway to St Mary’s Abbey, Thornton, North Lincolnshire’, Building News (19 July 1878).


Historic England Archive

Items in the Historic England Archive at Swindon relating to Thornton Abbey include:

  • Over 150 survey photographs, all taken on 15 May 1951 (AL0943 and AL0944).

The archive also holds a series of aerial photographs of Thornton Abbey and its surroundings (not yet catalogued online). The pre-1955 images all show earthworks surviving in the North Bail. Successive images up to the present show this part of the site under plough, revealing corresponding cropmarks. They include:

  • RAF 1946 verticals, CPE/UK/1748, frame 4047, photographed 21 September 1946
  • CUCAP 1948 obliques, film/frames BS16–23, photographed 22 July 1948 [copies held in North Lincolnshire Historic Environment Record]
  • CUCAP 1951 obliques, film/frames FO73–86, photographed 8 June 1951
  • 1999 obliques, TA1118/38, accession number 17295-09, photographed 19 July 1999.

More details of these and many other items can be found in the online catalogue. Some material is not yet listed in the online catalogue; for a full search, please contact the search team. Copies of images and documents can be ordered through the website or by contacting the archive. For details of current charges for these services see the archive’s price list.

Secondary Sources (Published)

Items marked * represent key works in which our understanding was significantly altered, summaries showing the state of knowledge and theories at particular dates, or works detailing recent discoveries.

*Alexander, JS, ‘The building of Thornton Abbey chapter house’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 146 (1993), 113–20 [accessed 23 Oct 2012; subscription required]

*Anon, Handbook for Visitors to Thornton Abbey (London, 1851)

*Baillie Reynolds, PK, Supplement to the Official Guide to Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire: the Monastic Buildings (London, 1954)

Bennett, S and Bennett, NH (eds), An Historical Atlas of Lincolnshire (London, 2001) [for locations of the abbey’s haven, saltworks, turbaries etc]

Beresford, MW, ‘Inclesmoor, West Riding of Yorkshire’, in Local Maps and Plans from Medieval England, ed RA Skelton and PDA Harvey (Oxford, 1986), 147–61

*Binnall, PBG, Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire: An Historical Guide (London, 1931)

*Binnall, PBG, ‘Thornton Abbey’, Lincolnshire Magazine, 1 (1932), 41–7

Bond, J, Monastic Landscapes (Stroud, 2004) [pp 59 and 256: references to the abbey’s wool production in 1313 and 1163 respectively]

*Boyle, JR, A Handbook to Thornton Abbey in the County of Lincoln, with Brief Notices of Adjacent Places of Interest (London, 1897)

Cameron, K, The Place-Names of Lincolnshire, Part 2: Lincolnshire, Lindsey North Riding: the Wapentake of Yarborough, English Place-Name Society 64/65 for 1986–7 and 1987–8 (Nottingham, 1991) [149–150 for Skitter Ferry (a late medieval Humber crossing) and Skittermilne (a tide-mill on the Skitter Beck) between 1155 and c 1550; 287–90 for references to a park in 1547 and 1558, and a ‘Little Park’ between 1578 and 1720; 292 for the abbey’s bailiff’s of the Skitter Haven]

*Clapham, A, ‘Thornton Priory, Lincolnshire’, Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 172–4 [accessed 23 Jan 2013]

*Clapham, A, Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire (London, 1951)

*Clapham, A and Baillie Reynolds, PK, Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire (London, 1956; reprinted 1963)

Coppack, G, The English Heritage Book of Abbeys and Priories (London, 1990) [despite subsequent research, this remains a good general work]

*Coppack, G, ‘The precinct of Thornton Abbey, south Humberside: the planning of a major Augustinian house’, in Land, People and Landscapes: Essays on the History of the Lincolnshire Region, ed D Tyszka, K Miller and G Bryant (Lincoln, 1991), 37–44

*Dalton, P, ‘William le Gros, Count of Aumale and Earl of York (c 1110–1179)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [accessed 23 Jan 2013; subscription required]

English, B, The Lords of Holderness, 1086–1260: A Study in Feudal Society (Oxford, 1979) [a readable account of the life of William Le Gros and the geographical and socio-political environment in which Thornton came into existence]

*Giffard, J, Some Account of Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire (1818) [privately published]

*Greenwood, J, A Picturesque Tour to Thornton Monastery (Barrow, 1835) [privately published]

Greenwood, J, ‘A picturesque tour to Thornton Monastery’, Gentleman’s Magazine, new series, 5 (1836), 282–6 [accessed 23 Oct 2012]

Lott, GK and Cooper, AH, ‘Field guide to the Upper Permian Cadeby Formation (Magnesian limestone) of Yorkshire’, in England’s Heritage in Stone, ed P Doyle, TG Hughes and I Thomas (English Stone Forum, Folkestone, 2008) [for the locations of stone quarries used by Thornton Abbey]

*Major, A, ‘Thornton Abbey Chronicle (Bodleian Library, Tanner MS 166) with extracts relating to the fabric of the abbey’, Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 174–8 [accessed 23 Jan 2013]

Neave, S and Miller, K, 'Medieval and post-medieval settlement and land-use in the Hull valley', in Wetland Heritage of the Hull Valley, ed R Van der Noort and S Ellis (Exeter, 2000)

Oswald, A, ‘The white stone of Yorkshire’, Country Life Annual (1959), 61–4

*Oswald, A, Goodall, J, Payne, A and Sutcliffe, T-J, Thornton Abbey, North Lincolnshire: Historical, Archaeological and Architectural Investigations, English Heritage Research Department Report 100/2010 (Swindon, 2010)

Owen, DM, ‘Thornton Abbey and the lost vill of Auldleby’, Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Reports and Papers, 7:2 (1958), 112–16

*Parker, IH, ‘Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire’, Archaeological Journal, 2 (1846), 357–64 [accessed 23 Jan 2013]

*Page, W (ed), ‘Houses of Austin canons: the abbey of Thornton’, in The Victoria History of the County of Lincoln, vol 2 (London, 1906), 163–6 and 235–7 [accessed 31 Oct 2012]

Pevsner, N, Harris, J and Antram, N, The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, 2nd edn (London, 1989), 51 and 757–60

*Pyndar Lowe, F, ‘On the abbey of S Marie, at Thornton on the Humber’, Associated Architectural Society Reports and Papers, 2 (1852), 149–63 [accessed 31 Oct 2012]

Rigold SE, ‘Thornton Abbey’, Archaeological Journal, 131 (1975), 373–7

Russell, RC, The Water Drinkers in Lindsey: The Earlier Temperance Movement, 1837–1860 (Workers’ Educational Association Barton Branch, 1987), 49–55 [refers to Thornton’s use for temperance rallies]

Russell, RC, From Cock-Fighting to Chapel-Building: Changes in Popular Culture in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Lincolnshire, Lincolnshire Archaeology and Heritage Report 6 (2002), 55–8 [refers to Thornton’s use for temperance rallies]

Russell, E and Russell RC, Landscape Changes in South Humberside: The Enclosures of Thirty-Seven Parishes (Hull, 1982), 80 [refers to the abbey’s haven at Skottermouth]

Watt, SM, ‘An old English gate-house’, The English Illustrated Magazine, new series, 29 (1903), 140–44 [accessed 31 Oct 2012]

Worsley, G, ‘Thornton Hall, Lincolnshire’, Country Life, 174 (1986), 18–21 [a house built reusing stone from Vincent Skinner’s collapsed house]

Secondary Sources (Unpublished)

Atkins, C, ‘A programme of archaeological work associated with the repair and development of Thornton Abbey gatehouse, North Lincolnshire’, unpublished report (2010)

Brocklesby, GW, ‘The Skinner family of Thornton College’, unpublished typescript (2008)

It is intended that the records of the Sheffield University excavation project will be deposited with English Heritage (at Helmsley) in due course.

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