FolkestoneJack's Tracks


Posted in Battle, England by folkestonejack on August 15, 2015

Our wanders today brought us to Battle to view the abbey constructed by William the Conqueror to celebrate his victory of 1066 and take a walk around the battlefield. I have been here before as a teenager but it was good to go back today and refresh my faint memories of the place.

13th century tracery on the west range (now Battle Abbey School)

13th century tracery on the west range (now a part of Battle Abbey School)

Wandering around the edge of the field, dodging the sheep, it was a little hard to believe that this was the spot where the Anglo-Saxon age ended and the history of England was reshaped. Mind you, it’s no less difficult to believe that the mini-roundabout down the road is the location of the battlefield (if you believe the arguments put forward by Time Team in 2013!).

After almost a thousand years I don’t think any site could recreate the peril facing the Anglo-Saxon nobles, nor the sense of England’s future sitting on a knife-edge. Nevertheless, the audio guide tells its story well and helped correct many of the myths that I have picked up over the years (many of which inevitably came from the retelling of the story by the victors).

It is hard to think of a more pivotal moment in English history, with the outcome of the battle reshaping the culture, language and social order of the country (regardless of how much William espoused a policy of continuity as the ‘natural successor’ of Edward the confessor) so it was surprising to learn that the site was only acquired for the nation in 1976.

Although it might not be immediately apparent, forty years of conservation has really helped safeguard the site for future generations and made significant improvements to the buildings that survive (for example the courthouse was roofless until the 1990s). One of the more recent developments has been the restoration of the Duchess of Cleveland’s Victorian walled garden (from Battle Abbey’s time as a country estate) with apple trees and Victorian bee hives. Next year will see a re-interpretation of the Great Gatehouse, including the opening of the roof to visitors for the first time.

The 13th century vaulted novices' chamber

The 13th century vaulted novices’ chamber

Putting the controversies surrounding the location of the battlefield to one side, it is worth visiting to hear the story of the battle afresh and to learn about the history of the abbey, which has transformed from war memorial to private house over the centuries. The stunning vaulted chambers in the dormitory range were the highlight of the day for me, but there are plenty of interesting features to this site that make a visit rewarding.