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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Free Guided Walk of the Abbey – 10th September

Heritage Open Days 2016

Kenilworth Abbey ‘Barn’ Museum & Heritage Centre open both Saturday and Sunday 10th & 11th September 2.30 to 4.30 pm. On Saturday 10th there will also be a free guided walk of the Abbey ruins at 3pm.

The Abbey Barn
The Abbey Barn

If you have ever wondered who built Kenilworth Abbey, why it is sometimes called a Priory, what it looked like, who lived there and why it is now a ruin then do come along and joint our free guided walk.

Buck Engraving of St Mary's Abbey, Kenilworth
Kenilworth Priory ruins as they appeared in 1729, in an engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck (image source: English Heritage)

Meet outside the Museum & Heritage Centre, Abbey Fields (just beyond children’s play area).

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St Nicholas Church – Then & Now

St.Nicholas Church from south-west. 1963. (photo J.Tarver)
St.Nicholas Church from south-west. 1963. (photo J.Tarver)

Another shot attributed to J. Tarver from 1963, this time of St Nicholas Church taken from within the Abbey ruins, with matching a 2016 counterpart shot.

It is not known when St Nicholas’ Church was established. The nearby Priory (later Abbey) of St Mary was established by Geoffrey de Clinton in 1122 and we do know that there was a church on this site in the patronage of the Priory as of 1291.

The monks would be expected to have sole use of the abbey itself and local worshippers would be expected to attend a separate parish church nearby.

Parts of the church are Norman, including the base of the tower and the west door. Later alterations include the fashioning of the square tower into a pointed steeple, plus the addition of transepts in the 19th century. The West Door is made up of Norman sculpture, and was created, probably in the 16th Century, from pieces rescued from the recently demolished Abbey. Pevsner’s Warwickshire and the revised edition of that work describe it as the ‘most sumptuous Norman doorway in Warwickshire’, the new edition acknowledging that it is a later composite. Visitors should compare it with the entrance to Leicester’s Gatehouse in the Castle.

Little has changed in between the 1960s and 2016 shots however, save for the growth of a few trees and the loss of a stone cross atop the gravestone in the foreground. A flag pole can be seen in the background of the 1963 shot. Individual stones can be matched between the two photos in the wall in the foreground.

More on the history of the church can be read on the St Nicholas and St Barnabas website.

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Garden of Rest Stonework part 2 – Then & Now

This Then & Now set is part 2 to the earlier part 1 posting here: http://www.khas.co.uk/garden-rest-stonework-pt1-now/

Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey stonework - part 3
Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey stonework – part 3

According to The Abbey of St Mary guidebook by E. Carey-Hill (Odiboure Press, 1985) “What is now known as the Lapidarum Wall was completely rebuilt from its foundations, including the bench, in 1984. The work was carried out by Messrs. A. C. Lloyd (Builders) Ltd of Leamington Spa for Warwick District Council, with advice from the Inspectorate of Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission for England. The Lapidarum Wall was designed by Dr Richard Morris of the University of Warwick, who was assisted by members of the Kenilworth History & Archaeology Society in the arranging of material prior to rebuilding”.

Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey stonework - part 4
Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey stonework – part 4

Messrs. A. C. Lloyd (Builders) Ltd of Leamington Spa for Warwick District Council, with advice from the Inspectorate of Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission for England. The Lapidarum Wall was designed by Dr Richard Morris of the University of Warwick, who was assisted by members of the Kenilworth History & Archaeology Society in the arranging of material prior to rebuilding”.

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Garden of Rest Stonework part 1 – Then & Now

Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey Stonework - part 1
Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey Stonework – part 1

According to The Abbey of St Mary guidebook by E. Carey-Hill (Odiboure Press, 1985) “When the north cloister wall of 1890 was rebuilt in 1984, the carved stones were grouped according to architectural type”.

Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey Stonework - part 2
Garden of Rest walls being built from the Abbey Stonework – part 2

He goes on to say “Not all examples of each type have been exposed, as some are buried in the wall for better preservation. The majority of stones are from the Decorated period, c1280 – 1370, and from the Priory Church, which was given an extensive facelift at this time, including new windows. The length of the wall is approximately 95 feet.”

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St. Nicholas Church from South-West, 1963 – Then & Now

St.Nicholas Church from the South-West,1963
St.Nicholas Church from the South-West,1963

This pair of pictures from 1963 and 2016 shows the Abbey’s Tantara Gatehouse with St Nicholas’ Church in the background. The 1963 shot is labelled as having been taken by a J. Tarver.

As can clearly be seen from the ‘then’ picture, the gatehouse had become overgrown and it was later designated as dangerous and fenced off altogether in 1967. That same year the abbey ruins were finally reburied to prevent deterioration. The gatehouse was later extensively consolidated and repaired in 1977, at a cost of £20,000 raised by the Abbey Advisory Committee.

The ‘now’ photo shows that the graveyard is much more neatly trimmed than in 1963. A few gravestones have developed a lean and the cross in the foreground has lost its head, as seems to be the case in many of these now and then photo pairings.

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Free Guided Walk of Kenilworth Abbey – 31st July

Free Guided Walk – 31st July 2016

Festival of Archaeology 2016

A reminder: On 31st July 2016 KHAS members will be hosting a free guided walk of  Kenilworth Abbey ruins in support of the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology 2016.

KHAS Events for 2016
Council for British Archaeology (CBA)

Take a walk back in time to when Kenilworth’s St. Mary’s Priory, later Abbey, was one of the wealthiest and most prestigious Augustinian houses in the Midlands. Hear about the men who lived here, what their lives were like and what happened to them and their beautiful buildings.

2016 is the 750th anniversary of the Great Siege of Kenilworth. In 1266 King Henry III (the Priory’s Royal patron) spent six months besieging Kenilworth Castle. Hear how this momentous event affected the Priory and its Canons.

The Abbey Barn
The Abbey Barn

The walk will commence at 3pm and lasts about one hour. We will meet outside the Abbey ‘Barn’ Museum and Heritage Centre on Abbey Fields, Kenilworth.

Jan Cooper
Chairman, KHAS.

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‘Clappergate’ Stile – Then & Now

Copy of old post card of 'Tumbledown stile' or 'Clappergate Stile’
Copy of old post card of ‘Tumbledown stile’ or ‘Clappergate Stile’

In the days when the Abbey Fields was a patchwork of farmers’ fields, the ‘tumbledown’ or ‘clappergate’ stile shown in this old postcard was situated in the Abbey’s Tantara Gatehouse to prevent cattle straying out of the fields. A larger field gate was situated in the main archway.

In June 1973 it was destroyed by vandals. Cyril Hobbins collected the remaining bits together and restored it. The restored clapper-gate is now situated in the ‘barn’ museum.

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Abbey Ruins 1960s – Then & Now

Today there is comparatively little to see above ground of the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey in the Abbey Fields. Following the Abbey Excavations in 1840, in the 1880s and in the 1920s, in which the ruins were steadily uncovered for the first time since their destruction following the Reformation, the ruins have long since been covered up.

But, as these photos show, they weren’t covered up until as recently as 1967, by which time this series of remarkable colour photos from July 1963 had been taken.

The pair of shots below show the ruins of the quire and presbytery with St Nicholas’ Church in the background. In 1967 the area was covered and landscaped by the council to protect the ruins from the elements and from damage by vegetation:

Overgrown area of Chancel, July 1963
Overgrown area of Chancel, July 1963

In the then & now pairing below we can see the chapter house wall, now fenced off to protect it. As the ‘then’ photo from 1963 shows, the excavated remains around it were fenced off and still visible, if somewhat overgrown:

The Chapter House wall, July 1963.
The Chapter House wall, July 1963.

And finally, here’s another shot facing downhill towards Bridge Street. In the July 1965 shot, the overgrown remains of the south transept and slype can be seen, surrounded by railings, two years prior to their re-burial. Once again, in the 2016 the remains have long since been landscaped over.

Overgrown area of Chancel, July 1963
Overgrown area of Chancel, July 1963

 

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The Abbey ‘Barn’ – Then & Now

The Abbey 'Barn' 1963 and 2016
The Abbey ‘Barn’ 1963 and 2016

This shot from 1963 shows the Abbey building known as the ‘barn’, clad in ivy and bathed in the July sun. There appears to be a rickety fence and style between the barn and the stone wall opposite. Other than that, and the loss of a stone cross grave stone head, the scene is relatively timeless and unchanged.

Whilst it is known colloquially as the ‘barn’, we are in fact unsure of what its original purpose was. There have been numerous articles in Kenilworth History over the years debating its construction, whether the upper floor was a later addition and documenting masons marks and the dating by dendrochronology of the roof. The late Harry Sunley wrote a fascinating article in Kenilworth History 2011 entitled “The Barn – A Guest House, a Fish House or what?” in which competing theories of its original purpose were examined.

One such theory was that it was used for drying, salting and storing fish as per a similar known as ‘Fish House’ at Meare in Somerset, a part of Glastonbury Abbey. Harry Sunley summarised that it was probably built by the Prior, Thomas Warmington between 1312 and 1343: “There is a strong case for concluding that the upper floor of the Barn was created in the first instance as a prior’s dining facility, and hence that the lower level was used as a buttery, larder and pantry. Both these were connected to an external kitchen annexe by means of a covered way.”

Whatever its original purpose, the ‘barn’ is now used as the Barn Museum and Heritage Centre to showcase the history of the abbey and the town as well as numerous artefacts and finds.

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Heritage Open Days 2016

Kenilworth Abbey ‘Barn’ Museum & Heritage Centre open both Saturday and Sunday 10th & 11th September 2.30 to 4.30 pm. On Saturday 10th there will also be a free guided walk of the Abbey ruins at 3pm.

The Abbey Barn
The Abbey Barn

If you have ever wondered who built Kenilworth Abbey, why it is sometimes called a Priory, what it looked like, who lived there and why it is now a ruin then do come along and joint our free guided walk.

Buck Engraving of St Mary's Abbey, Kenilworth
Kenilworth Priory ruins as they appeared in 1729, in an engraving by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck (image source: English Heritage)

Meet outside the Museum & Heritage Centre, Abbey Fields (just beyond children’s play area).

 

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Appeal: Stolen Mediaeval Stone Heads from Kenilworth Priory

Appeal for Information

These carved stone mediaeval heads were discovered during excavations at Kenilworth Priory. They were housed in the ‘Barn’ museum in the Abbey Fields, Kenilworth, from which they were stolen in December 1992. At the time of writing they are still missing.

Leamington Spa Police (+44 1926 451111) would be pleased to hear from anyone who can assist in locating their whereabouts. The associated crime number is SL/10826/92.

Stolen medieval head from Kenilworth Priory
Stolen medieval head – Click on the image to enlarge.
Stolen Mediaeval stone heads from Kenilworth Priory
Stolen medieval head – Click on the image to enlarge.

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