The Nuns’ Refectory, Denny Abbey, Cambridge

We are now travelling back further in time from Walnut Cottage to the Nuns’ Refectory, which are both in the Farmland Museum & Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire.  There were three religious orders which occupy Denny Abbey over the centuries, and the third religious order was that of Franciscan nuns, otherwise known as Poor Clares. Their patron and the founder of the second church, the Countess of Pembroke, converted the original church into her own private apartments and built a new church, a refectory, dormitory, cloisters and other buildings. Only the Refectory has survived.  We will see more of the Countesses home later, but for this post we are looking at what remains of the new buildings that she had built.  

After visiting Walnut Cottage, a large building opposite the cottage, catches your eye.  At first it looks like a barn, but on closer inspection the building was clearly built with more than just storage in mind.  Looking at the photo of the etching below, you can at once see the religious aspects of the building, which was built as a refectory for the nuns.  The below print is of the northeast view in 1730, the small annex,  just of centre, housed the staircase to the pulpit, which is no longer there.

 The Nun’s Refectory was a dining room built in the 14th century (1350)   This impressive building revealed an almost complete Medieval tiled floor during the 1980s. It’s long term survival was due to its later use as a barn used to house grain and then cows until the 1950s.

When looking at the drawing of the refectory of 1828, we can see the roof is thatched and the annex with the staircase is still there.   

The above photo shows the south facing view of the refectory, when it was still used as a barn in the 1950’s.  The refectory was spared from being demolished in the ‘Disillusions of the Monasteries’ in 1536, by becoming a barn, as The Abbey, Nuns’ Refectory and surrounding land remained a farm until they were leased in 1947 to the Ministry of Works, which later transferred to English Heritage, who now look after the site.

The next post will about the Farmland Museum. 


  1. Wow! I hate to think of it being used as a barn, but if that’s what saved it, better that than gone. Interesting building, thanks. 🙂

  2. It’s hard to believe that the floor survived as good as it has with cows walking on it. Lovely old place,thanks for the tour.😀

  3. Nowadays — in the case of warehouses, old chapels and former barns — it would be called ‘repurposing’. Thank goodness for that, whenever it happened, or it wouldn’t have survived at all. Great pics and info!

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