Witham From Carthusian monastery to Country House
In spite of excavation in the 1920s and 1960s, Witham has for long been something of a mystery. Situated near Frome in Somerset, Witham is the site of the first Carthusian monastery in England, and the Royal Commission with English Heritage - inspired by Mick Aston - are doing a survey of all the Carthusian monasteries in the country. However time has not been kind to Witham, which survives only as a rect angular earthwork with the Great Western Railway running through a corner of it. Excavations had been carried out there in the 1960s by Messrs Barlow and Reid which were written up in the late 1980s by Ian
Burrow, the then County Archaeologist of Somerset and published in the Somerset Proceedings for 1991. When I began the survey of Witham in 1993, Ian Burrow's report was invaluable, but it was clear that doubts and many unanswered questions remained, for it did not make much sense as a Carthusian monastery.
The Carthusians were one of the most severe monastic orders. The monks did not live in dormitories or eat in a great hall but instead they lived solitary lives occupying individual cells around the central cloister. The Carthusian Monastery at Witham was founded in 1188 by Henry II as part of his
Aerial view of Witham, the oldest Carthusian monastery in England. The rectangular enclosure presumably marks the monastic enclosure with the Great Western Railway cutting diagonally across it. But the field works are those of the gardens of the later house. Photo: Mick Aston
CURRENT ARCHAEOLOGY 148
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