Denny Abbey housed three different religious communities before it became a farmhouse. The building, modified several times by different owners, has been stripped back to reveal the evidence of different periods of use. It is now in the care of English Heritage and is managed by the Farmland Museum adjacent to the abbey. A church dedicated to St James and St Leonard was built at Denny by Robert, Chamberlain of Duke Conan IV of Brittany, sometime before 1159, and handed to Benedictine monks as a cell of the Abbey of Ely. The Benedictine priory had only a short life, as in 1170 it was transferred to the Knights Templar, a crusading order of monks who remained in possession until their property was confiscated in 1308 and their Order suppressed. From early in the 13th century, Denny appears to have become a hospital for aged and sick members of the Order, and at the time of the suppression in 1308 the few remaining monks arrested at Denny were elderly.
The site was not occupied again until 1339 when the widow of the Earl of Pembroke, Mary de Valence (who had acquired the Manor of Denny in 1327), received a licence authorising her to transfer the community of Franscican Minoresses (Poor Clares) from their abbey at Waterbeach to Denny. It seems the site at Waterbeach was always liable to flooding. The move was not made without protest from the nuns at Waterbeach and, although the Countess of Pembroke and certain of the nuns were established at Denny in 1342, it was not until 1351 the remaining nuns at Waterbeach were transferred by force to Denny. The Countess had private rooms built for her when Denny was extended and maintained a close interest in the community until her death in 1377. At the dissolution of the monasteries Denny came under the 1536 Act for the suppression of smaller monasteries, but a licence for its continuation under the Abbess, Elizabeth Throckmorton, was granted in 1536. No record of its surrender has survived but in 1539 the site and its possessions were granted to Edward Elrington. Elizabeth Throckmorton and some other nuns spent their last years at Coughton, Warwicks, living an ordinary life.
The part of the original church already converted to a dwelling was used as a farmhouse and the nun’s refectory, a separate building, became a barn. However, the nuns’ church was pulled down and its stonework re-used elsewhere. Farm use continued until 1947. It passed eventually into the possession of Pembroke College, Cambridge and was taken into the guardianship of the then Ministry of Works (now Department of the Environment). Guided tour on youtube HERE.