From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Denny Abbey

52° 17′ 36.81″ N 0° 11′ 11.55″ E

  • History
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
Denny Abbey was an abbey, located close to Waterbeach, north of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. It is now open to the public and is known as the Farmland Museum and Denny Abbey.

The abbey was built on land settled by farmers as early as the Roman period. The Domesday Book recorded that it was owned by Edith the Fair, the consort of King Harold, in 1066. The Benedictine monks moved here from their water-logged monastery at Elmeney a now lost settlement about a mile to the northeast, in the 1150s, at the suggestion of Conan IV, Duke of Brittany. In 1169 the monks returned to Ely Abbey, as the site was transferred to the Knights Templar.

The Templars remodeled the abbey to suit their needs. Denny became a hospital for sick members of the Order in the mid-13th century. In 1308, King Edward II had all the members of the Order arrested and then imprisoned for heresy, confiscating all their property. Denny was then given to the Knights Hospitaller, who took no active interest in the property. In 1324 it was taken back by the Crown.

In 1327 King Edward III gave the Priory to a young widow, Marie de Châtillon, Countess of Pembroke, known for her founding of Pembroke College in Cambridge. Countess Marie turned what had been the Abbey church into her lodgings. She had a new church built and gave the remainder of the priory to the Franciscan Poor Clares from Waterbeach Abbey. The priory was expanded, with comfortable quarters for the Countess, and spartan accommodation for the Poor Clares.

The abbey was dissolved in 1536, and the nuns left within two years. The Abbess's lodge, originally built for the Countess, was retained as a farmhouse, and the Refectory as a barn, but the nave was demolished. In 1628, the abbey passed into private ownership. The barrister John George Witt was born at Denny Abbey in 1836. Pembroke College, Cambridge, which had also been founded by the Countess of Pembroke in 1347, bought the site in 1928.

The Abbey, Nuns' Refectory and surrounding land were leased to the Ministry of Works in 1947. The abbey was partially restored in the 1960s, and is open to the public alongside the Farmland Museum, who manage the Abbey on behalf of English Heritage.

The Farmland Museum, which opened in 1997, has displays of local history and farming, including a 1940s farm labourer's cottage and a 1930s village shop. Many of the old farm tools and machinery came from a museum at nearby Haddenham when it closed.