Leiston Abbey

Hundreds of crowdfunders helped us investigate the story of (two!) medieval abbeys in coastal Suffolk. Find out what we discovered.

102.9% Funded
£18,530 Pledged
£18,000 Goal

Widely considered to have some of the finest surviving monastic remains in Suffolk, Leiston Abbey is one of the most completely preserved examples of a Premonstratensian monastery in England. It was originally founded in 1182 close to the coast at Minsmere, but catastrophic flooding in 1363 forced the community to relocate the entire complex some five miles in land to Leiston, only to face yet another calamity when the new buildings burnt down.

Despite this rich history and archaeological potential, there is a low level of local engagement with heritage, and the wider locality faces some significant social challenges. The abbey also sits just one mile from Sizewell Nuclear Power Station in Suffolk, where EDF is planning to build a new power station within the next 10 years.

Through a mixed crowd and grant funded model, community participants completed a four-year geophysics, survey and excavation project, helping to reinterpret the archaeology for future generations, and increasing the awareness and amenity of the site as a visitor attraction.

At a glance:

We were invited by Pro Corda, a music charity and Leiston Abbey site custodians, to collaborate on a multi-year project designed to better understand the site, whilst simultaneously raising its public profile in the wake of an impending planning decision to redevelop a nuclear power station on the abbey’s borders.

The site had been sporadically excavated since the 1930s, though results were poorly archived and largely unpublished. The goal for Pro Corda was to understand the potential impact of that the new power station would have on the site, both in terms of the fragile remains as well as the impact to the site of dramatically higher visitor numbers.

A final season of excavation at RSPB Minsmere has allowed for direct examination of the earliest phase of Leiston Abbey, including impacts of climate change (inundation) and how this can be interpreted/mitigated in the current upstanding remains.

Careful project design in close collaboration with all stakeholders ensured that top-quality, CIfA-standard archaeological results were delivered alongside outcomes for the heritage, people and communities.

Through a programme of education and outreach, participants were trained in how to make, use and interpret primary archaeological data, effectively co-creating the Leiston archive. To increase accessibility and build profile, we launched the world’s first open and instantly-accessible digital archaeological recording system (Digital Dig Team), and created a ‘CyberDig’ simulated excavation and educational web app based on a child’s version of the digital recording system, for use in local primary schools and site-based family events.

Four seasons of excavation and survey, including a 3D photogrammetric (SfM) model of the upstanding building remains in both locations, have resulted in a comprehensive archaeological archive, enabling the site custodians to develop a long-term conservation and heritage asset management plan. Any effects of the planned construction works, or environmental change, can be monitored against this baseline data.

  • 51% of visitors identified themselves as living locally, while 48% had never previously visited the site
  • The average age and median age category was 35-44, considerably below the typical range expected on community archaeology projects; with all age groups represented. All professional categories were represented (as per ONS categories).
  • The website attracted an average of 45,000 unique visitors per month during fieldwork (Google Analytics).
  • The dig reached these people through a range of different media, with 70% of people responding that they were drawn by the publicity of the project (including local signage, news, social media, radio and emails).

Digital Dig Team

The Leiston Abbey dig was part of our Digital Dig Team initiative which crowdfunds and crowdsources new archaeology projects. Digital Dig Team creates greater public access to the rich archaeological heritage at sites like Leiston Abbey.

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