Founded in the early 12th century, Haughmond abbey was a ruined, medieval, Augustinian monastery with a community of canons and priests whose daily life was reined by monastic rule. But, unlike most monks, they did not all lead secluded lives and often travelled around providing spiritual support. Monasteries are the homes of communities of men or women who lead a religious life. During the middle ages, they were central to the social, political and devotional life of Europe.
It was closely associated with the Fitz-Alan family, who became Earls of Arundel. Haughmond was a important, successful and wealthy house for most of its four centuries, although evidence of abuses appeared before its dissolution in 1539. The buildings fell into disrepair and the church was largely destroyed, although the remnants of some of the domestic buildings remain inspiring.
After initially being wowed by the sheer size of this site you’re immediately drawn to the impressive abbot’s hall, which can easily be mistaken for the abbey church with its huge highly decorated window. The light would have flooded into the abbot’s main hall, which was a room to impress, decorated and furnished to show the importance and status of an abbot of Haughmond. There would have been a platform for the abbot’s high table, and off the main hall, the abbot had a suite of private rooms that may have even included a Garderobe – the medieval version of an en-suite.
You’ll then see Haughmonds abbey panorama where you get an overview of the entirety of the abbey complex. Standing in the courtyard you’ll see an open space; this back then was a lawn and was enclosed on all sides by various buildings. To the left was the Canons kitchen, with its substantial fireplaces and in front are the remains of the refectory where the canons ate and drank. The ruins of the communal dormitory are to the right of where we are standing.
The refectory was built in 1180 and was a two storey structure with the refectory on the second floor. Entrance to the refectory was from the main cloister to the right and against the wall of the cloister is a pair of high arches. The building had a timber roof and raised over a pillared under croft, this was more than likely used for storage. It was also lit by several beautiful high windows, some which we can still see today and tables were positioned along the sides of the room, this meant that the canons were to be served from the centre, a high table for the senior canons were positioned at the end of this room. Meals were often eaten in silence and to the addition of religious readings.
The most impressive building is the chapter house; just looking at the ornamented sculptures surrounding the entrance to the house is absolutely beautiful. So much work and elegance and craftsmanship went into decorating this chapter house. The chapter house was the most important building on site, and its importance was reflected with the design and finish. The highly decorated arched doorway has the carvings of eight saints. It would have been so impressive back in the abbeys heyday and would demonstrate the abbeys wealth. This was the building where the canons would meet every day to discuss business. It still has its original fine timber ceiling from around the 1500’s. Arranged on the floor of the house are a font and some 14th century decorated tomb slabs, these were cleared from the abbey church.
Across from the Chapter House is another highly decorated doorway with fine foliage moulding that lets you move from the cloister into the church. Here the decoration includes the carvings of St. Peter and St. Paul. Very little of the church remains, but you can make out some of its plan from the stone in the ground. It was 200 feet in length, and was built into the hillside. Close by on Haughmond Hill is the spot known as Douglas’s Leap – where the Earl of Douglas, in flight from the Battle of Shrewsbury, was thrown from his horse and captured by Henry 4ths men.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, the abbey eventually passed to the ownership of the Barker family, who tore down the church and dormitory range, and converted the east range and southern cloister into a mansion. The mansion was destroyed in the Civil War by a fire that broke out, afterwards the buildings were used for farming with a small cottage built for this purpose that still stands near the abbot’s house until the site was passed over in 1933, but today it is a free to roam and maintained site by the English Heritage. We very much have enjoyed exploring the abbey today and hope that you have too.