Kenilworth's Abbey celebrates 900th anniversary this year

Gatehouse from the Abbey at Abbey Fields in Kenilworth
Gatehouse from the Abbey at Abbey Fields in Kenilworth

Kenilworth’s Abbey - one of the most significant historical landmarks in the town - celebrates its 900th anniversary this year.

The Kenilworth Weekly News met up with Norman Stevens, the vice chair of the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society (KHAS), at the ruins of the ancient building to find out more about its history.

Norman Stevens, the vice chair of the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society (KHAS)

Norman Stevens, the vice chair of the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society (KHAS)

Volunteers have been opening the doors of the Abbey Barn Museum and Heritage Centre in Abbey Fields on Sunday afternoons from Easter to mid September in an effort to share some of its history with people.

The abbey was founded in 1119 during the reign of King Henry I by one of his treasurers Geoffrey de Clinton.

At its peak it housed a community of 70 to 100 people.

The size and wealth of the priory was such that in 1447 it was raised to the status of an abbey by Pope Nicholas V at the suggestion of King Henry VI, who was a regular visitor.

The Abbey Barn Museum and Heritage Centre in Abbey Fields of Kenilworth

The Abbey Barn Museum and Heritage Centre in Abbey Fields of Kenilworth

Mr Stevens said: “When it was being built in 1119 it was considered one of the top churches in the country.

“This is due to the quality of workmanship, and the fact it was vaulted in stone and built to the highest standards.

“The abbey was big, much bigger than most people realise.

“The church was twice as long as St Nicholas Church today.

“The Abbey Fields is enormous. It’s 24 acres. We have got it because it’s the immediate land owned by the abbey. It almost certainly had an orchard.

“The abbey was a significant resource to the town, providing employment to many. Nearly all the people in town would’ve been involved in some labour.

The abbey was close to a self-supporting community.

Mr Stevens also said abbey served people by helping the sick and offering some educational opportunities.

“But the spiritual side was kept apart,” he added.

“People were generally only allowed in part of the nave of the church.

“It was also designed for 24 priests to live in. But many more people called the abbey home because those priests probably had servants and gardeners too.”

He also explained that the main industries during the times were the abbey and the castle.

Other industries such as the making of horn combs and leather making rose after the closure of the abbey in 1538. The castle later closed in

1649.

Mr Stevens added: “The abbey closed as a result of the dissolution of its charter by King Henry VIII as he separated from the Roman Catholic Church.”

All that remains of the abbey is its gate house, part of the chapter house and the barn, which currently houses the museum.

The museum includes many large stones, a few as large as a person, which represent all that remains of the abbey. The stones were discovered in a dig nearly a hundred years ago.

The Abbey Museum and Heritage Centre is open on Sunday and bank holidays from 2.30-4.30pm until mid-September.

Entry to the museum is free but donations are accepted.

For more information on the Kenilworth History Society see their website at https://www.khas.co.uk/

Mr Stevens added: “It’s our heritage. People have to be reminded that this is where we come from.”