Leiston Abbey

Explore the impressive 14th century Leiston Abbey ruins amidst peaceful open fields on the outskirts of Leiston. Counted amongst Suffolk’s most impressive monastic ruins, the English Heritage site does not have any set opening hours and can be visited free of charge.

Parts of the Leiston Abbey site make up the home of Pro Corda, an organisation which provides education through the medium of chamber music.

Leiston Abbey by gatehouse Suffolk

One of Suffolk’s best-kept secrets  

Off the beaten track, much-loved, yet definitely less visited than other ruins dotted around Suffolk, Leiston Abbey is in a world of its own. The striking ruins remember the great abbey church and many of the monastic buildings clustered around the original cloister, sited here from around 1380 and home to a brotherhood of Augustinian monks.

Leiston Abbey is just 4 miles from Leiston and makes a great little outing from the town or coast by car or bike. But the best way to arrive has to be across the fields on foot, following the well-signed rural footpaths and tracks which lead right up to its 16th century redbrick gateway.

Plan your visit

What can I see at Leiston Abbey?

Spot towering buttressed pillars; a 14 m high abbey window and a thatched, church-within-a-church-style Lady Chapel. There are some beautiful medieval flintwork features, plus the remains of a Tudor redbrick gateway and a Georgian farmhouse directly built in to the medieval ruins.

On-site information boards are on hand to help, or why not download the fun, family-friendly digital puzzle trail for some hands-on detective work?

For great views of the abbey grounds and surrounding fields, don’t miss climbing the steps by the old refectory.

Leiston Abbey Ruins and Lady Chapel Concert Hall
Lady Chapel Leiston Abbey XH

Concerts & events at Leiston Abbey

Leiston Abbey has been home to Pro Corda, one of Europe’s leading music organisations,  where  it operates an International Chamber Music Academy for young musicians.

The organisation runs festivals, concerts, courses, workshops and more.

Venues at Leiston Abbey include the restored Lady Chapel. 

About Pro Corda

Did Black Shuck live at Leiston Abbey?

Legends of a big black devil hound, known as Black Shuck, haunting the marshes and farmlands of the Suffolk Coast go back for centuries. But real proof or the bones of the terrible hound have never been found…

In 2014, the skeleton of a great dog were unearthed during an archaeological dig near the site of one of Leiston Abbey’s kitchen buildings. Were these the remains of the legendary devil dog himself?

Maybe a hunting hound or pet, the dog had been buried with a degree of ceremony, possibly in the 1700s, well after the time of the monastery. At 7 foot long, the would-be Black Shuck was about the size of a Great Dane – perhaps he had been called Hamlet?


What’s so special about the Leiston Abbey?

The abbey site we can visit today are actually the repurposed ruins of Leiston’s second abbey! But where was the first Leiston abbey sited? What remains of it now? And how come so much of the second monastic site survives to this day in the remote Suffolk countryside near Theberton? 

In the beginning…

Ranulf de Glanville received the manor of Leiston from Henry II in 1173. He founded a Premonstratensian monastery of austere and frugal ‘white’ monks on the remote marshes in the northern part of the manor in 1182.

It was an unforgiving site and severe flooding sealed its fate in 1362. There was no choice but to relocate.

All that is believed to remain of this first monastic site are the remains of the ‘hermitage chapel’ on the Minsmere Levels. 

Time for a new ‘inland’ abbey 

Built on a much larger scale, funded by Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, Leiston’s ‘new’ abbey was built much further inland, on land better suited to farming and supporting the community. Some of the Norman stonework from the old site was incorporated into the build.

It was home to Augustinian canons who worked the land and engaged with the locals. The Abbott even benefitted from the spoils of shipwrecks off the nearby coast. In 1537, when King Henry VIII reformed the Church in England and boosted his coffers, the monastery was dissolved.

A remarkably green future

Henry gave the Leiston Abbey site to his brother-in-law, Charles Brandon who swiftly swapped it for better hunting grounds further up the coast at Henham near Southwold! But many of the monastic precincts provided ready-made farm buildings. The centuries saw large parts of the abbey survive, repurposed by tenant farmers as shelters for animals or for storing crops. A farmhouse was even built into a corner of the Abbey Church’s nave!

The Lady Chapel was used as a granary until its restoration as a venue in 1918. It is still a popular venue for recitals and used by the on-site music school Pro Corda.

Interested in visiting historic churches near me in Leiston ?

Check out these links to discover more medieval church gems in and around Leiston and its villages.