1066 Battlefield and Battle Abbey are one of the most impressive places I’ve been to this year. On 14th October 1066, King Harold of England was defeated by William of Normandy. I’ve seen a few documentaries about the battle, I read a book on Matilda, William’s wife, so you can easily imagine my excitement to get there, especially as it is in the south of England and we live up north. Battle Abbey was erected in 1070 exactly on the spot where Harold died, as William wanted to get some brownie points after he killed a lot of people in battle.
The field can be walked on, but not on the day we went there, as it rained and it was too muddy to be opened to the public. It wasn’t very warm either, so I can’t say we missed that part of the visit. From the terrace we were able to see the field and there are a few panels with details about what happened on that day.
Here is the place where King Harold died. It is still marked with a plaque, which was a bit surprising, while I was expecting to see the 1066 battlefield, I didn’t imagine the place where Harold perished is still known. It’s also amazing that after a few decades shy of 1,000 years, the dissolution, and two world wars, the spot is still known and marked. It was such an watershed moment in the English history and it is great it is commemorated.
The abbey was completed by 1094 and the high altar was on this spot. The building was 69m long, with aisles, and three chapels. It was a plan well known in France, but new to England.
The abbey was turned into a country estate after 26 May 1538, when the abbot and 18 monks held their final service in the 450 years old church. It was given to Sir Anthony Browne and he demolished the church and other buildings and sold off the materials. It remained privately owned until 1976, when it was bought for the nation. Some parts of the abbey are used as a school these days.
One of the owners was the Duchess of Cleveland who, in Victorian times, wrote a three-volume work on the Battle Abbey Roll, including a history of the abbey, and descriptions of decorative features which are now lost.
This was used as guest accommodation from the 13th century.
All this land would have been in the property of Battle Abbey. William the Conqueror granted the land within a radius of 1.5 miles of the high altar. The abbot had immense power and the abbey was one of the richest monasteries in medieval England. The town, named Battle, developed to serve the needs of the monastery, with many of townsfolk employed by the abbey. Many of the buildings in the centre are from the Middle Ages. It’s worth walking around the town, but it was a bit too cold for us on the day, and we were also in a bit of a hurry, having only a few hours to spend visiting.
The dairy is located a few metres away from the Icehouse. These were not original to the abbey, but most likely constructed in the early 19th century by Sir Godfrey Webster. It was restored in 1991. The icehouse is entered by a small door, but this is not open to visitors. It was thatched, but now covered with grass. It has a brick vault. Ice from nearby ponds or lakes was harvested and kept in the icehouse for summer time, when it was needed to cool drinks and for preserving food too.
This was the Great Gatehouse, the main entrance for visitors, traders, abbey staff. It led to the outer court where the barns, storehouses, and workshops were. The Gatehouse was started in 1338 and it had lodgings for abbey officials. There are traces of an earlier gatehouse, 100 to 200 years older.
The address for 1066 Battlefield is Battle Abbey Gatehouse, High St, Battle, TN33 0AE. It is managed by English Heritage, so you can visit it for free as a member. Otherwise, the entry fee is £12.30 per person for adults. The car park is free for members and with a discount for non-member visitors. For more details, check their website.