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St Albans Abbey

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Great Gatehouse

In the civil parish of St Albans.
In the historic county of Hertfordshire.
Modern Authority of Hertfordshire.
1974 county of Hertfordshire.
Medieval County of Hertfordshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: TL14390710
Latitude 51.75096° Longitude -0.34427°

St Albans Abbey has been described as a certain Palace, and also as a certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.

Description

Abbot granted licence to crenellate in 1357. C14 Great Gatehouse survives, but walls and three storey watergate vanished. Retained by Henry VIII, and Abbot's house used as an occasional residence, after the dissolution in 1539.

On the north side stood, and still stands, the great gate built by Thomas de la Mare after the destruction of its predecessor in a great storm of wind, probably in 1363. Its site seems to have been formerly occupied by an almonry built by Richard of Wallingford, (Gesta Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 282) 1326–35, and a new almonry was built from the foundations, perhaps on the east side of the new gate, as a wall is said to have been built to it from the aula regia. (Ibid. iii, 386. This was part of the boundary wall of the abbey, running from the west front of the church westward towards the great gate, and was probably built in pursuance of the licence to crenellate in 1357.) This, which was primarily intended to accommodate the king on his visits, or people of royal blood, (See the story in Matt. Paris, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), sub anno 1252.) seems to have stood on the east side of the great court, conveniently close to the abbot's lodging, from which it would be served. It is probably to be identified with the ampla et nobilis aula cum duplici tecto, built as a guest house by Geoffrey of Gorham, 1119–46, with a queen's chamber (thalamum reginae) adjoining it. (Gesta Abbat. i, 79.) A guest hall built by John of Hertford, 1235–60, of two stories, the lower being vaulted and having fireplaces, (Ibid. i, 314.) is called aula regia in the Book of Benefactors, ('cum thalamis et adjacentibus capellis.') and may have been a rebuilding of Geoffrey's work. In Thomas de la Mare's time it was in bad repair and he built two buttresses against it, and took down its high-pitched roof to lessen the strain on the walls, replacing it by a leaded roof of low pitch. (Gesta Abbat. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 386. The number of buttresses is given in the Book of Benefactors, Cott. MS. Nero, D. vii.). (VCH 1908 p. 509)

The Great Gatehouse, on the N. side of the former court, is an unusually fine example, and now forms part of the Grammar School.
It is a three-storeyed building of flint rubble with stone dressings, considerably repaired with brick, and has an embattled parapet, behind which is a tiled roof. It was built by Thomas de la Mare, probably in 1363. In the middle is a large vaulted passage two storeys in height. On each side of this are two vaulted chambers entered by doorways in the S. archway. One of the chambers on the W. has vaulting made up of re-used 13th-century vaulting-ribs. On the first floor there are three rooms on each side of the archway. Above this on the second floor are two large rooms with a third smaller room over the archway. The N. or outer elevation has two moulded arches of unequal size, one for foot, and the other for horse traffic. The S. elevation has one large arch of two moulded orders which is flanked by the projecting staircase turrets. The windows, some of two lights, other single lights, have cinque-foiled heads under square-headed labels: they are mainly original, but have been considerably restored. Over a fireplace on the second floor are the arms of Charles I. The ceilings of the second floor rooms are carried upon heavy joists on carved stone corbels. The Waxhouse Gate in the High Street still exists in the form of a plastered arch of uncertain date; this gave access from the town to the lay cemetery and the door of the N. transept. There are also some remains of the walls of the Sacristy N. of the N. transept, but though much of the foundations exists, only small fragments of the walls remain above ground. (RCHME)

C14, 3-storey gatehouse of flint with freestone dressings, restored and given its high pitched, tiled roof in C17. Roman bricks set at random in walls. Archway of 2 storeys' height through centre is divided by pier on north side and flanked by half-octagonal turrets on south side. Battlemented parapet with brick coping in outer portions, renewed stone coping in centre. 5 irregularly placed. One- and 2-light, leaded casement windows with hoodmoulds, many renewed. Much repair work in brick on north face. Inside, archway has lierne vault with octagon at centre. 1892 west extension in red brick and flint with tiled, pent roof. (Listed Building Report)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1357 June 17 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).

Comments

The licence to crenellate was for a mansum probably the abbots house rather than for the gatehouse although it is possible that many of the abbey buildings were remodelled by Thomas de la Mare including being dressed up with decorative crenellations. The Great Gatehouse does have crenellations. The abbot's house and the other monastic buildings do not survive.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated before 1 February 2016

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