Then & Now

The Chapter House Wall – Then & Now

This 1980s ‘then’ image of the surviving part of the Abbey’s chapter house wall was provided to KHAS from the collection of the late Reg Palmer. The ‘now’ image was taken in the Summer of 2018. The area of the Abbey is a scheduled ancient monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archæological Areas Act 1979. The Chapter House was typically a meeting room in which the chapter of the Abbey would meet for readings or to “hold chapter” with the Abbot.

As the Historic England website puts it, “The plan of the abbey followed closely the standard plan of a reformed abbey, influenced by the Cistercian order. The church lay to the north of the cloister garth with the chapter house and dormitories on the east, the refectory to the south and a cellarer’s range and parlour forming the west range. To the east of the cloister range was a separate infirmary building, and other ancillary buildings. Slight earthworks indicate that much of the plan survives as buried remains.”

The two images show the fragility of the crumbling sandstone and the precarious nature of what little remains of the formerly great Abbey buildings. The stonework, beset by erosion, damage from plant life and damage from people climbing on the walls, has somewhat deteriorated in the 30-odd years in between the two images, particularly on the leading easterly edge of the structure. Within the last decade or so, the decision was made to erect a fence around the Chapter House remains to prevent further damage.

The definitive book on the history of the Abbey is surely Kenilworth – the Story of the Abbey (Plesaunce Press, 2015) by Harry Sunley and Norman Stevens. Here, the construction of the Chapter House is dated as follows: “From the late Romanesque chevron of the chapter house, which might be compared to that of the Augustinian Chapter House of Bristol Cathedral (1142 – 70) or Iffley Church, Oxford (1170 – 80), the chapter house was completed c1170, and the [Abbey] Church, usually the first stone building on site, somewhat earlier”.

The same book contains a description of the Chapter House as being the second most important part of the Abbey, after the Abbey Church itself, and being of approximately 15 metres x 8.5 metres in size. The lower part of the structure shown here is today buried below ground, so the full height of the remaining wall would be 6 metres. It was a rectangular structure with a semi-circular apse at the east end and stone seating round the inside.  

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