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Battle Abbey

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Bello

In the civil parish of Battle.
In the historic county of Sussex.
Modern Authority of East Sussex.
1974 county of East Sussex.
Medieval County of Sussex (Rape of Hastings).

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ74911568
Latitude 50.91504° Longitude 0.48599°

Battle Abbey has been described 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

The monument includes the Benedictine monastery of St Martin, founded on the site of the battle of Hastings by William I. It includes the remains of the church which was destroyed after the Dissolution. Only the foundations, crypt chapels and fragments of wall in the south and south-west corner still survive. South of the church nave lies the position of the cloister, surrounded by the east, south and west ranges. The east range includes the remains of the chapter house with the lower courses of the apsidal-ended building still surviving. South of this was the inner parlour and then further south the dorter range which survives largely complete except for the roof. This includes a common room and novices' chamber on the ground floor with the monks' dormitory above. Projecting east from the southern end of the dorter range is the reredorter or monastic latrines. The south range included the refectory and monastic kitchen, both of which now only survive as foundations and below ground features. The west range has been incorporated into the buildings now used by Battle Abbey School which include the abbot's house, the remains of the outer parlour, abbot's chapel and great hall. West of this are the remains of the outer court. The ground surface here was built up after the Dissolution and this has caused the earlier medieval deposits to be well- preserved. To the east of the claustral buildings are believed to be the remains of the infirmary. Although there are no above ground remains, excavations have revealed the footings of buildings in the position usually occupied by the infirmary. To the south of the west range are a series of 13th century vaulted undercrofts, once situated below the monastic guest range. To the west of these is the remaining wall of a medieval monastic barn. The Great Gatehouse, which is listed at Grade I and is situated at the entrance to the monastic precinct, mostly dates from the 14th century and survives in a remarkable condition. To the east is the courthouse which, although largely 16th century, incorporates traces of earlier buildings probably used by the almoner who dispensed charity to the poor and sick. Running east from here are the remains of the precinct wall (Listed Grade I) which continues along the northern side of the precinct and still delimits its northeast corner. The wall has also been incorporated in a later house wall on the outside of the eastern return. Here the fabric of the wall is included in the scheduling although the remainder of the later house is excluded. Also included are the rest of the known area of precinct within the wall to the north and east of the church, the area to the south of the reredorter and as far as the lower edge of the upper terrace to the south of the guest range. The Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror as a penance for the death and plunder which took place during the Conquest. He insisted that the Abbey be built on the exact site of his victory over Harold and the high altar was positioned at the spot where Harold was killed. The history of the Abbey is well documented, particularly in the early part of its life by chronicles which continued up until 1176. By 1076 the eastern arm of the abbey church was consecrated but it took another 18 years before the whole church was consecrated in the presence of William II. By then it was already the 15th wealthiest religious house in England. All the land within a league of the high altar was granted to the Abbey by the Conqueror which gave it widespread immunities from the secular authorities. Little survives above ground of the original Norman buildings except for parts of the precinct wall, the south west corner of the nave of the church, a tower incorporated into the gatehouse and fragments of a building to the east of the courthouse. Rebuilding began in c.1200 with the chapter house while most of the buildings around the cloisters were renewed during the 13th century with the abbey church being extended to the east. From the 1330s to the end of the 14th century the abbots were the main organisers of defences from French raids on the coast between Romney Marsh and the Pevensey Levels. In 1338 the Abbey was granted licence to crenellate and the gate was rebuilt as a stronghold. The 15th century saw the rebuilding of parts of the cloisters and extensive alterations to the abbot's lodgings. On the 27th of May 1538 the monks surrendered the Abbey to officials of Henry VIII who then granted the Abbey to Sir Anthony Browne. He demolished the church, chapterhouse and part of the cloisters and adapted the west range as his residence. He also rebuilt the monastic guest house as a possible royal residence for Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth. In 1715 it passed from his family into the possession of Sir Thomas Webster, and, apart from the period 1857-1901 when it was owned by the Duke and Duchess of Cleveland, it remained in the hands of his family until 1976 when it was acquired by the government. Excavations in the early 19th century uncovered the crypt chapels and later in the century trenches were dug on the major range lying east of the parlour. Between 1929 and 1934 excavations were carried out by Sir Harold Brakspear which enabled him to establish the plan of the original east end of the church and the central area of the monastery. Excavations between 1978 and 1980 by J N Hare studied the chapter house and area to the east of the parlour as well as the area of the reredorter. (Scheduling Report)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1338 June 9 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).
A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1554 July 28.

Comments

Abbey has substantial gatehouse of C14 date and precinct wall with possible wallwalk. Possibly fortified in response to French raids, peasant unrest or purely for status reasons. Licence to crenellate granted to Abbot Alan of Kertling in 1338. A licence was also granted to Sir Anthony Browne to 'embattle and fortify buildings within the site of the late monastry of Battle' in 1544. However, he shortly after this obtained Cowdray and it is doubtful if he lived here although he did commence some work, possibly for a palace intended for Princess Elizabeth. Within the Abbey gatehouse a small door, giving access to the upper chambers, has a stair with portcullis and murder holes. A cramped chamber services these. It is difficult to see any defensive value to these features, since a serious attacker, having gained access to the bottom of this stair, would merely set fire to the building. However as it is likely the Gatehouse was used to administer the Abbey's estates those paying rents to the abbey would have gone through this nicely symbolic entrance.
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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 26/08/2016 09:30:55

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