Saturday, 30 April 2016

Haughmond Abbey

Haughmond Abbey is a few miles to the east of Shrewsbury. There seems to have been a small religious community from the late 11th century, though the formal foundation dates from 1135. It grew to a very large complex of buildings, deriving its considerable wealth from rents of farms over a wide area of local villages, as well as from the opeartion of fulling mills in the burgeoning Shropshire wool industry. The powerful local Fitzalan and Mortimer families patronised the Abbey.
    When you enter the abbey complex today, which is from the south, the first thing you notice is the unusual windows of the abbot's private rooms.

These must have been inserted long after the rest of the building had bee completed, probably in the 15th century. To the left of this is the abbot's hall, at the western end of which is an enormous window in the Decorated style.
These features suggest that the abbots of Haughmond enjoyed a very lavish lifestyle. Not all of them were personally admirable, however; and one of the last of them, Christopher Hunt, was disciplined in 1522 for administrative slackness and fornication!
   Very little remains of the great abbey church apart from the foundations, but there is a fine processional doorway leading from the cloister to the church. The arch is Romanesque, but with tall, slender stautes of saints carved on the shafts in the 14th century.
The best-preserved part of the abbey is the chapter house, where the monks would assemble every day to be addressed by the abbot. It is strange to find it has massive rectangular windows, which must have been inserted in the Tudor period.
The entrance to the chapter house has three magnificent Romanesque arches, again featuring statues of saints, including Thomas a'Becket and the locally-venerated Saint Winifred.
  All the English abbeys were closed by Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell in the 1530s. The last abbot of Haughmond surrendered his abbey to the crown in 1539, and he and his ten canons were pensioned off. This was a wise decision, since some abbots who reisted the dissolution were hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason!
   The wealth of the abbey, with an income estimated at almost £250 a year, was seized by the crown. The spoilation of the site probably began soon after; stripping lead from the roof and demolishing the buildings to reuse the stone. The dissolution of the monasteries brought Henry VIII such riches that he and his successors could have ruled despotically, without recourse to Parliament; but fortunately for the constitutional future of England Henry needed immediate cash to fight his wars, and most of the monasteries were sold off to his supporters. Haughmond was sold to Sir Edward Littleton, who rebuilt the abbot's lodgings as a residence. A whole new class of landowners was being created, grown rich on the plunder of the monasteries.

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