Work to begin on Kenilworth Abbey Gatehouse

The Abbey Gatehouse, sometimes known as the Tantara gatehouse, is one of the few surviving parts of the Abbey to still exist above ground and has the added distinction of being one of the oldest structures in Kenilworth apart from the castle and parts of St Nicholas’ church. Work has been carried out in recent years to keep the gatehouse watertight and protect it from the damage caused by people climbing on it and vegetation seeding in the gaps between the stones.

THE OUTER CHAMBER, looking south-west, with the new display unit in the centre. Drawing, Jonathan Holland
Mockup of the Harry Sunley Memorial Project
Drawing, Jonathan Holland

The Harry Sunley Memorial Project was set up some time ago with the object of preserving the gatehouse and making it safe and accessible to the public. Kenilworth Abbey Advisory Committee took up the Project and worked hard to bring it to fruition. It has been a long journey for the volunteers who have spent many hours in meetings, writing letters and cataloguing the dressed stones that were kept in the building and subsequently moving them for storage elsewhere.

At last our efforts were rewarded. In December 2016 Scheduled Monument consent was received from Historic England for the proposed work. In January 2017 Kenilworth Abbey Advisory Committee met with the architect, Jonathan Holland, and agreed a schedule for the work. Further meetings, with Warwick District Council Officers, set out the timetable for beginning the tendering process, clearing the buildings and installing a mezzanine platform in the north chamber and an oak, octagonal display cabinet in the south chamber. It is possible that this first phase of the work might be completed by early summer 2017.

A second phase will look at the provision of lighting to the gatehouse. Plans are also being developed to replace the door and windows and ensuring that the flooring is safe for visitors. All of the work will conform to the stringent conditions set by Historic England and Warwick District Council and the need to conserve this ancient structure for future generations.

Engraving of the Tantara Gatehouse
Engraving of the Tantara Gatehouse

The picture above is an engraving of the gatehouse as it appeared in the late eighteenth century. You will notice the chimneys that are visible on the top left of the picture indicating that the building was inhabited at this time. So far our research has not uncovered anything about the lives of the people living in the gatehouse after the dissolution of the Abbey in the sixteenth century. It is, for the present time, a mystery. If any of our readers has any ideas about how to solve this mystery please contact the KHAS website: KHAS Website email address

If you wish to contribute to the Harry Sunley Memorial project to make the Tantara Gatehouse accessible to visitors, a donation form can be found here: The Harry Sunley Memorial project

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Bridge Street from Abbey Fields – Then & Now

Bridge Street from Abbey Fields
Bridge Street from Abbey Fields

This postcard scene shows Bridge Street and Rosemary Hill from the Abbey Fields. The ‘then’ postcard must date to about 1905 or 1906, as the the avenue of trees along the path between Bridge Street and Abbey Hill is newly planted.

Following the dissolution of the Abbey of St Mary, Kenilworth in 1538, the land formerly belonging to the Abbey fell into private hands.  It remained largely undeveloped, being used variously for farmland and private ownership. Between 1884 and 1974 the various parcels of land that constitute the Abbey Fields today were donated by these private owners for recreation and pleasure purposes and are maintained by Warwick District Council under the control of English Heritage.

The Friends of Abbey Fields website details how the section shown here, situated bordering Abbey Hill and Rosemary Hill, “was donated in 1884 to William Evans and Joseph Roberts in their capacity as Churchwardens of the Parish of Kenilworth, as trustees, by Henry Street, George Marshall Turner and others”.

In the distance in the ‘then’ image we can see the buildings of Bridge Street and Rosemary Hill, somewhat obscured by mature trees in the ‘now’ photos. On the extreme left is J.C. Clarke’s Wheelwrights, long since demolished for now private residences. The remaining buildings remain largely unchanged up as far as the white gables of the former millinery shop that once stood at the entrance to School Lane, since demolished for road widening (right of centre). On the extreme right of the ‘then’ image we can see the rose window of the former Rosemary Hill Chapel, built in 1816, which was converted in 1945 and since heavily modified to become the the Priory Theatre.

On the horizon of the ‘then’ image we can see the former windmill and later water tower on Tainter’s Hill, which is now a private residence, now obscured by trees. In the foreground of the ‘then’ image, a hedge line can be seen relating to the former agricultural usage of the land, the lower portion of which still exists in the clump of trees behind the dog walkers in the ‘now’ image.

Thanks to Robin Leach for additional dating information for this article.

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Rosemary Hill – Then & Now

Rosemary Hill and the Milliners
Rosemary Hill and the Milliners

This then and now view shows Rosemary Hill looking towards Bridge Street.

According to Helen Scott & Richard Storey in ‘A Second Kenilworth Collection’ (Odibourne Press, 1988) the elegantly gabled building shown (centre) was a millinery shop that once stood at the corner of School Lane and Rosemary Hill.  It was demolished for road widening to improve access to School Lane. Harry Sunley records in ‘A Kenilworth Chronology’ (Odibourne Press, 1989) that numbers 58 – 60 Rosemary Hill were demolished around 1920, which presumably relates to the demolished millinery shop.

This map from 1906 shows the extent to which the millinery shop narrowed the entrance to School Lane.

Map of School Lane and Rosemary Hill, 1906
Map of School Lane and Rosemary Hill, 1906

Directly behind the millinery shop, on the other side of the entrance to School Lane, is the sandstone Number 2, Bridge Street which has at various times been used as a market house and town gaol, before becoming the private residence it is today.

It is noticeable that the left hand side of the two pictures differ quite substantially. As this poem relating to Kenilworth at the turn of the century describes, Rosemary Hill was narrow and dark. This helps us date the ‘then’ picture as having been taken prior to road widening works carried out to the upper portions of the hill. Robin Leach tells us in Kenilworth People & Places – Volume 1 (Rookfield Publications, 2011) that this road widening work was embarked upon following a couple of small land slips from the embankment at the top of the hill in late 1912 and early 1913. Also, in the distance, the avenue of lime trees leading up to St Nicholas’ church has been planted, which means that it must be post 1904.

The gate on the extreme right of the images leads to 6a and 6b Rosemary Hill, next door to the former Rosemary Hill Chapel (now Priory Theatre) which, since the 19th Century, have been known as the Chapel Yard. For a fuller account of the history of this area, see Val Millman’s book Chapel Yard: Cottages and Gardens, Owners and Occupants, 1780 – 2015 (Dr V.E Millman, 2015).

Thanks to Robin Leach for additional dating information for the ‘then’ photo.

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3D Model of Kenilworth Castle – A Work in Progress

For a number of years a KHAS member has been researching and creating a virtual 3D model of Kenilworth Castle as it might have been in 1645. Here are some preview images of the current model.

Firstly, a view of the whole castle site from the direction of The Brayes:

Kenilworth Castle from the direction of The Brayes

The next image is of the inner bailey from the direction of The Water Tower:

The inner bailey from the direction of The Water Tower

This image shows The Keep taken from above the roof of the state apartments:

The Keep from above the roof of the state apartments.

The last image is a view from the minstrel’s gallery in the Great Hall:

View from the minstrel’s gallery in the Great Hall.

This model is still a work in progress at present and will no doubt spark some debates on the details. The model is being produced by the same KHAS member who produced the 3D model of The Abbey of St Mary, Kenilworth which can be seen here. We await its completion with anticipation!

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January 2017 Newsletter


» Last Meeting: Before we indulged ourselves in an orgy of food and drink, Chairman Jan pronounced the Siege well and truly commemorated by dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s of the Dictum and the overall settlement. She answered the outstanding questions about where Young Simon got to, and how the country settled back to normal rule. The meeting greatly appreciated her useful and very appropriate resumé.

» Tonight: Gillian White will enlighten us on Bess of Hardwick.

Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, (1518-1608), usually called Bess of Hardwick
Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, (1518-1608), usually called Bess of Hardwick

» Next month, Feb 13th is the AGM. All officers and committee members are to be (re)elected, one new committee member being needed since Sue Tyler has proffered her resignation. Please hand your nomination form, suitably signed, to the Secretary no later than the 25th of this month. After the formal meeting, our Webmaster, Chris Blunt, will speak about “KHAS on the Web”. He may surprise us all! All at the usual time of 7.30 for 7.45 at the Senior Citizens’ Club.

»»»» Subscriptions fall due now. Please see the Treasurer as soon as you can. There is no increase on last year: £10 single; £15 double. Kenilworth History 2017 is now with the printers and will be ready for issue next meeting. «««

» Kenilworth Family History Society Wednesday, 8 February. Dr Sarah Richardson, whose previous talk on Warwickshire Women in the Suffrage Movement was a highlight, returns to talk about ‘Crime & Punishment in the 19th Century’, which should be particularly interesting for family historians whose forebears might have had experience of courts and the penal system in the past. Contact 511969. Senior Citizens’ Club, Abbey End, Kenilworth, CV8 1QJ, from 7.30. Non-members welcome

» Kineton Local History Group: Friday 20th January – Banbury during the first Civil War 1642 – 1646  by Gregg Arthur   7.30 in the Village Hall

» Warwickshire Local History Society: Tuesday 21 February 2017 The history of the NHS in Warwickshire and the West Midlands Start at 8.00pm, preceded by coffee at 7.30pm, in The Friends’ Meeting House, 39 High Street, Warwick, CV34 4AX

» CADAS: 14th February Buildings, Burials and Bones Lecturer: Vicky Score 7.30pm at Friends’ Meeting House, Hill Street, Coventry

» Warwickshire Geological Conservation Group: Wednesday 18th January, meeting at 7pm for coffee before a 7.30pm start. The speaker will be Dr Ralf Gertisser from Keele University on The Volcano that changed the world; Tambora and the great eruption in 1815

» Solihull Ancient History Club in association with Millennium Tours have arranged a 5 day tour of some of the outstanding French early Gothic churches from 14 to 18 June. The leader is Simon Monckton an eminent and entertaining specialist on medieval architectural history. Flights from Birmingham and coach travel throughout. Full details from Janet Ainsworth, moc.s1493067468ulp.h1493067468trows1493067468niate1493067468naj@l1493067468iam1493067468, Tel 01926748140.

» Next year’s programme can be found on the Website here and will be in Kenilworth History 2017 when you get it.

The Society still needs a new Editor, and a compiler of the Newsletter. Please speak to the Chairman if you think you can help.

Contacts: Chairman – 01676 532654; Secretary – 01926 858670; Treasurer – 01926 852655; Vice Chairman & Editor – 01926 858090 Website

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Rosemary Mews, School Lane – Then & Now

Rosemary Mews
Rosemary Mews

This pair of Then & Now photos shows a small factory on the south side of School Lane, where Rosemary Mews is now situated.

According to A Portrait of Kenilworth in Street Names – Third Edition by Robin Leach and Geoff Hilton (Rookfield Publications, 2015) Rosemary Mews was developed in 1987 on the site of 1880s workshops, later used for light industry.

Robin Leach’s book Kenilworth’s  Engineering  Age (Rookfield Publications, 1995) informs us that the site used to be Dunn’s comb factory in the early-mid Victorian years. Rosemary Mews incorporates part of the former light industrial buildings.

The corner plot behind became vacant following the demolition of a former millinery shop on the corner of School Lane and Rosemary Hill to widen the entrance into School Lane itself.

We are very grateful to Mrs Joan Heatley for providing the Then photo. Thanks also to Robin Leach for additional information for this article.

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