Lincoln had a high ecclesiastical status, and this could explain why there were once many abbeys located along Lincolnshire's stretch of the River Witham. Coupled with the fact that the river provided an easy route to Boston for trading purposes, it is not difficult to understand why the area would have offered a strong argument to found such religious houses. However, hardly any evidence of those times is now visible - the scant remains of Bardney, Kirkstead and Tupholme Abbey are probably the best you will hope to find.
Dating from the mid 12th century, Tupholme was founded by a small group of Premonstratensian canons from Newsham Abbey in North Lincolnshire. A translation from ancient times suggests that Tupholme means 'island of sheep', and it is quite fitting that a flock of Soay sheep still graze on land surrounding the ruins. Although wool production was the main source of income at Tupholme Abbey, it was never a very wealthy house.
The canons, unlike other strict Orders, were not confined entirely to their monastic precincts, and often served as missionaries in the local community. Despite their limited 'freedom', life was hard for them and records have revealed several incidents of unruly behaviour amongst the canons - for which due punishments were administered. Very little else is known about either day-to-day life or the building of the abbey itself, and virtually no relics have survived. Exceptionally, a wax impression of the Tupholme Abbey seal is held at the British Museum.
Today, in a remote spot along the Bardney to Bucknall road, stands a solitary section of the south wall of the refectory, dating from early 13th century. In the absence of any other part of the structure, this is quite a remarkable survival, and the detail of the feature is very well preserved. Part of a vaulted undercroft is clearly visible, together with five lancets and the pulpit, from which the daily sermons would be read during meals.
After Tupholme Abbey was dissolved in 1536, the site, including the church, bell tower and churchyard, were granted to Sir Thomas Heneage. A Tudor mansion was subsequently constructed on the site, which passed down through the family until it was eventually sold in 1661. The new owners soon demolished the mansion, and erected Tupholme Hall to the north of the site during the first quarter of the 18th century. A farm was later developed on the site, with cottages being built on the south side of the old abbey wall. However, by the 1970s the farmhouse had become derelict, and was demolished in the late 1980s.
In 1988, Tupholme Abbey was acquired by Heritage Lincolnshire, and made accessible to the public.