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Battle Abbey

Visited August 2015

Location Battle, East Sussex
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Battle
Parking Yes
Facilities Cafe, Gift Shop, Toilets


The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was an important turning point in English history, marking as it did the end of the Anglo-Saxon era and the beginning of Norman rule. However, the Battle did not actually take place in Hastings, but 7 miles north west in a place now named Battle; after the battle which was fought in the fields surrounding the present day town. 






The battle resulted in a victory for William the Conqueror, and the establishment of a new system of governance, much of which is still in existence to this day. However the battle was fierce and bloody, with huge losses on both sides. After the battle William started to build an abbey at the site, with the high altar sited on the exact spot which his opponent King Harold had died. This was thought initially to have been William's attempt to atone for the bloodshed, but it is now thought that William was compelled by the Pope to build it as penance for the loss of life. William died before the abbey was finished, and it was finally consecrated in 1094 in the reign  of his son William II.


The abbey at Battle housed a Benedictine order of monks, and due to the patronage of the King it became very rich. King William had granted the abbey freedom from the jurisdiction of the secular authorities, so the abbot was entrusted with a great deal of power over the local area. Due to this wealth and power more security was needed at the abbey so in 1388 a gatehouse was built , and this remains in excellent condition to this day. The gatehouse was sited so that everybody entering the abbey had to pass through it. A porter would be present to vet all those seeking entry- and although there are arrow slits and battlements, the gatehouse would not have been strong enough to withstand an attack.  However the sight of the mighty building may have deterred petty robbers hoping to steal from the monastery.






The gatehouse is without doubt the most complete building at the abbey site. There are also the remains of the crypt, a fantastic east range with impressive vaulted ceilings, and remains of the monks common room and chapter house. Some parts of buildings which did survive have been incorporated into  Battle School, which is housed in the middle of the site. The school buildings are open on certain days during the school holidays. 


Also of interest is a 19th century ice house, the monastic orchard and a terrace walk, also dating from the 19th century. The terrace walk has areas where the wall is quite low, so bear this in mind if you have very young children. These were added to the site when the monastic buildings were being occupied as a private residence. This came about, as is often the case with abbeys, due to the land being sold off after the dissolution of the monasteries. Luckily Battle Abbey was sold to the Webster family, who were interested in the 1066 connection, and so sympathetically adapted the buildings for private use.





For me personally the two highlights of the visit were visiting the spot where King Harold fell and died, and the battlefield walk. The stone laid to mark the place where the high altar once stood, which was in turn laid on the spot were Harold died, was strangely poignant. His death and defeat of the his army was such an important event in our history, but there is a great feeling of admiration for the last of the Saxon kings. The altar seemed to have been placed there by William out of respect for Harold, this feeling is also conveyed by the French memorial to the King which is found close by. 


The battlefield as we see it today gives no hints to the important events which took place here nearly 1000 years ago. Trees have grown around the site, and sheep graze peacefully on the grassy slopes. It took us about 40 minutes to walk the circuit of the field, there are information boards all along the way to describe the events of the battle, and what would have happened at certain points along the route. Some children will find this interesting, especially if you have a go at re-enacting the battle (Little Sis did the honours and shot King Harold (Mum) in the eye with an imaginary arrow) but others may not understand the significance of the place and simply be fascinated by the vast amounts of rabbit pooh!. It is however worth cajoling the children round if you can, as walks in fields go this is a pretty significant one.


This is a big site and so has the facilities you would expect- gift shop, toilets, cafe. However the cafe was massively expensive in our opinion so our advice would be to either take your own food (there are picnic tables available) or head into the town of Battle where you will find many cafes and restaurants to choose from.





More info:  English Heritage Battle Abbey

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