The largest abbey near Halesworth was Leiston Abbey, of which the ruins
can be seen from the A1122 road between Yoxford and Leiston. It was
originally built on the marshes at Minsmere in 1182, but the area was
so unhealthy that in 1363 the monks got permission to rebuilt the Abbey
further inland. A small part of the original ruin still stands in the
centre of a field, overwhelmed by the sheer size of Sizewell B nuclear
power station which towers above it. To my surprise, although the
outside of the ruin was obviously built of 12th century stonework and
rubble, the inside was cased with thick concrete, a reminder of its use
as a gun emplacement during the Second World War.
The Abbey at Leiston was built for 26 canons (or monks) of the
Premonstratensian Rule, and it was part of the Augustinian Order which
was established at Premontre in France. They were known as the 'white
canons' because of the white habits (robes) they wore. They were not an
enclosed order, but concentrated on parish work and teaching. The
canons were hard- working and efficient farmers, helped by lay-brothers.
The extensive Abbey precinct was originally surrounded by a stone wall
which enclosed a mill, a brew house, a buttery, a malting house, a
cart-shed, granaries, a garden and orchard. The Abbey was suppressed
(closed down) by the Act of Dissolution in 1536 and the building and
ground were given to Charles Brandon, the Earl of Suffolk,
brother-in-law to Henry VIII.
A farmhouse was later built into the south aisle of the Nave in the
Tudor period and the Abbey ruins used as cow-houses, piggeries and
stables. A Georgian style front was added to the farmhouse in the 18th
century, the house was extended in the 1920s when it was used as a
house for religious retreats. The house and grounds were used by the
army in the 2nd World war, and were bequeathed in 1946 to the St.
Edmundsbury Diocese. It is now in the guardianship of English Heritage.