Tuesday 18 August 2015 – Battle, East Sussex.
I have been fascinated with the Battle of Hastings since I was a small child. King Harold, William the Conqueror, the Bayeux Tapestry, 1066 and all that stuff. I am pretty sure I have never been to the town of Battle though I am sure I have been to Hastings.
Battle is the actual site of the Battle of Hastings. Hastings, the town is 7 miles away, there is no known reason why it was called the Battle of Hastings, though it has been called that since the Doomsday Book in 1086. In 1066 there was no town of Battle, so I guess it had to be called something !
I was rested and restless after returning from my shortened walking trip along the South West Coast Path. My foot had been giving me grief for a few days, but had pretty much settled by now. I still had two more weeks off work and did not want to spend it all at home, so after consulting my list of things to do I decided to go to Battle for the afternoon and visit Battle Abbey, and the site of the battle itself.
Battle Abbey was built under the order of Pope Alexander II as a penance for the amount of men that died in the conquest of Britain and was dedicated in 1095. The town built up around it over the years. King William had the high alter placed on the spot where King Harold was supposed to have died, though there is nothing left there now apart from this plaque marking the spot.
The abbey was built and added to many times over the years with significant work being carried out in the 13th century. Like so many of these glorious church buildings, Battle Abbey was largely destroyed under the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by King Henry Viii in 1536. A part of the building were turned into a private home and preserved – and now turned into a private school. The abbey church itself is just a hole in the ground. There are still some quite good ruins to explore and it is a very popular tourist site.
I caught the train down from London, the abbey is a ten minute walk from the station.
I arrived just on lunch time, had a quick look at the main entrance and then went and had lunch in a nearby cafe.
Once I had passed through the gate house, paid the entrance fee and was in the grounds the first thing I saw was the signing prohibiting access to the school. My first thoughts were not the most benevolent as I thought that this would just be an expensive mistake and I would not be able to see or touch anything old and ruiny. There is nothing else to see from here either. So I was pretty gutted.
However….. I did not realise how big the site was and once round the back of the school, a big smile appeared on my face as the ruiny bits came in to view. Naturally I did not write any notes as I went. Lesson learned, again.
The first places to explore were the old store houses under the walls.
This is where the battle took place, looking down from the ridge where King Harold had his army to where William the Conqueror had his.
The largest remains, outside of the school are of the dorter, the dormitory of the monastery. Cool !
And the bottom end of the toilets, the reredorter.
There is an old ice house and dairy that remain from when the abbey was a private house before coming a school during the second world war.
The crypt is all that remains from the 13th century church, and I particularly liked that there was still some detail left in the stone, faint and fading, but still there.
The steps to the outer wall look like they have been well used over time.
The site is home to re-enactments and storytelling and there were things on for the family while I was there.
The back of the school is in the background, a shame it cannot be explored too.
The basement of the dorter is where the novices had their rooms. The vaulted ceilings were amazing, considering this has been built on a slope.
There were some mysterious stairs – that went nowhere, but I had to go look anyway. I love to poke my nose into all the places I can when visiting ruins, on occasion I find things that few other people get to see.
I then took a walk around the battlefield, trying to imagine what it was like just under a thousand years ago when between 10 and 20 thousand men did battle with each other, ending in the Norman conquest of England and the death of the Saxon King.
Last but not least I visited the small but interesting museum in the gatehouse, I of course had to visit the loos.
The gatehouse itself was interesting, I was fascinated by the detail in the walls, the small carved faces and the doorways as much as I was by the large gatehouse itself.
And that was that. Battle Abbey was done… Very interesting and nicely done, for a change I will say “good job English Heritage” !
There are many stories of what happened to the body of King Harold, one story has it that William ordered his body to be tossed into the sea, another has it that he was buried in an unmarked grave on the top of the cliff and the last has it that he was taken back to the church he founded at Waltham Abbey and buried there. I like the last one best as I have seen the grave marker.
There is a good Wiki entry on the Battle of Hastings, worth a read to find out more about this significant event in our history.