- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- East Sussex
- Rother (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- TQ 74924 15696
Reasons for Designation
From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is
estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in
England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred
members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a
wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy.
As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and
layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic
accommodation for the community, and work buildings.
Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages.
Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about 530 AD by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine Order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.
Despite demolition of some of the buildings and partial excavation, Battle Abbey has survived in very good condition and contains archaeological remains and environmental evidence providing information about the economy and way of life peculiar to a Benedictine monastery. It is significant in its historical context, being the site of one of the most famous battles in British history and because of its later royal connections.
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.
The standing buildings of the Abbey are listed at Grade I.
Excluded from the scheduling are the listed buildings used by Battle Abbey
School (Grade I), which have been in the care of the State since 1976 plus all
the modern buildings, permanent and temporary classrooms, converted
outbuildings, sheds, tennis courts, fencing and path surfaces. Also excluded
are all English Heritage fittings such as benches, bins, signs, fences, gates,
gravel paths, the public toilets and adjacent electricity sub station as well
as all utilities. The ground beneath all of these features is included in the
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Coad, J G, Battle Abbey, (1984)
Hare, J N, Battle Abbey the eastern range and the excavations of 1978-80, (1985)
Salzman, L, The Victoria History of the County of Sussex
Brakespear, H, 'Archaeologia' in The Abbot's House at Battle, , Vol. 83, ()
Hare, J N, 'Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1980' in The Buildings of Battle Abbey, (1981)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing