Friday 25 June 2021

A walk in Kenilworth

Needing to change our daily routine of walks, last week we decided to go for a walk in Kenilworth. We started at Abbey Fields

the buttercups are out and it's a real pleasure

we got to the end of the path, walked over the bridge

which led to the ruins of the old Priory. The Priory was founded around 1124 by Geoffrey de Clinton, Henry's I Chamberlain, at about the time he built the castle in Kenilworth. The Priory, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, was a house of the Augustinian order of canons.

De Clinton and later patrons gave the Priory extensive lands in Kenilworth.  The Priory developed gardens and a series of pools to provide water power for their mills, and fish and water-fowl for the community to eat. The present pool in Abbey Fields gives an idea of the medieval water features, but is far less extensive.

The cloister was the heart of communal life. It provided covered access to all the main Abbey buildings. Here canons went about scholarly activities such as copying documents. There were also:  a barn; a bell tower that was separate from the Abbey church; a refectory; a storehouse and rooms above which might have been the accommodation of the Abbot and his guests; the dorter, a long room with beds ranged along each side; latrines with drains flushed by water; the chapter house where the canons met daily and listened to readings from the rule of St Augustine, confessed their sins and were disciplined by the Abbot.

Gradually the Priory grew to become one of the richest landowners in Warwickshire. In 1447 the wealth and importance of the Priory was recognised by the Pope raising it to the status of Abbey.

Eventually, Henry VIII took control of the English Church away from the Pope and closed the monasteries. Abbot Simon Jeykes signed over the Abbey to the King in 1538. Most of the Abbey church and buildings were dismantled and used to repair or construct other buildings in the town, including some in the Castle. 

By about 1700 the pools had largely disappeared and the surrounding land was under pasture. The only usable buildings were the gatehouse and one known as the Barn, both of which survive today. Parts of the Abbey remains were revealed during extensions to the churchyard in 1840 and 1890. A major excavation in 1922 uncovered much of the Abbey church, cloister and surrounding buildings. These remained open until 1966, when they were covered with soil for their own protection.

The gatehouse was the main entrance to the Abbey from the High Street. Here the poor would have been given food and drink. 

We walked towards the church

St Nicholas' Church was built c1291.

We left Abbey Fields and started walking along the High Street

Some very nice houses and cottages along here

I love this bay entrance and window

and the attached courtyard

the Abbey Fields on our left

a series of thatched cottages at the end of the High Street

quintessentially English

a whole cluster of them

Once we got to the end of the High Street, we got our first glimpse of Kenilworth Castle. The castle was founded during the Norman conquest of England, with developments through to the Tudor period. It has been described by historian Anthony Emery as 'the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later middle ages, significant for its scale, form and quality of workmanship'.

Kenilworth played an important historical role: it was the subject of the six-month-old siege of Kenilworth in 1266, thought to be the longest siege in Medieval English history, and formed a base for Lancastrian operations in the Wars of the Roses. Kenilworth was also the scene of the removal of Edward II from the English throne, the perceived French insult to Henry V in 1414 of a gift of tennis balls (said by John Strecche to have prompted the campaign that led to the Battle of Agincourt), and the Earl of Leicester's lavish reception of Elizabeth I in 1575. It has been described as 'one of two major castles in Britain which may be classified as water-castles or lake-fortresses'.

The castle was built over several centuries. Founded in the 1120s around a powerful Norman great tower, the castle was significantly enlarged by King John at the beginning of the 13th century. Huge water defences were created by damning the local streams, and the resulting fortifications proved able to withstand assaults by land and water in 1266. John of Gaunt spent lavishly in the 14th century, turning the medieval castle into a palace fortress designed in the latest perpendicular style. The Earl of Leicester then expanded the castle during his tenure in the 16th century, constructing new Tudor buildings and exploiting the medieval heritage of Kenilworth to produce a fashionable Renaissance palace.

Although parts of it are now ruined as a result of the slighting, or partical destruction of the castle by Parliamentary forces in 1649 to prevent it being used as a military stronghold after the English Civil War, Kenilworth illustrates five centuries of English military and civil architecture. 

The castle is built almost entirely from local new red sandstone.

These cottages across the road have wonderful views of the castle.

We crossed the road and started walking along this lane

good views of the ruined parts of the castle from here.

We turned left and walked along this path

View of the cottages we had seen earlier

and shortly after, the remains of the castle

and the wall that surrounds it

Very Thornfield Hall

This part of the walk consisted of walking around the perimeter of the castle with the wall and ruins always on our left

Eventually a more complete view of the castle 

and then, this structure in front of us

which turned out to be the ticket office for the castle

We got on the bridge which crosses the site of the great medieval earthen dam. Built in the early 13th century, it runs beneath the entire path which joins the ticket office with the heart of the castle. For more than 400 years, this dam held back one of the largest human-made water defences in Britain. An enormous lake, or mere, stretched into the middle distance to our left.

Throughout the castle's history, it is likely the dam platform was used periodially as a tiltyard, where jousting tournaments took place as part of more extensive chivalric celebrations. In its late 16th-century form, the dam afforded  'a very stately and beautiful long entry'. Walled on both sides in stone, it was specifically referred to as a tiltyard. Tournaments would have been viewed from the remodelled Gallery Tower.

A more complete view of the castle from here,

including one of the barn, which is used as a coffee shop nowadays. But, we did not intend to visit the castle this time, 

so we scrambled down the path

aiming to return to the Abbey Fields

which we reached shortly after

We walked by the lake, a surviving small part of the medieval pools

always a pleasure seeing a heron

lots of water birds at the end of the pool

 and we reached the path we had started from - our circular walk was at an end.

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