Hunting for Hailes Abbey

Over the last week I have been spending most of my time in Gloucestershire. I spent two days this week sitting at the archives going over documents transcribed by an early 20th century antiquarian and I have spent the weekend hunting down supposed stone that was once at Hailes and now in other buildings in the immediate area. This has all been rather different than my ‘day job’, but it has been fun too.

My MPhil is coming to an end and I thought that I would have one last try hunting down stone that may or may not have been removed in the post dissolution years at Hailes Abbey. An Augmentation court was set up in 1541/2 to look into the daily and diverse spoils taking place at the abbey. We know that the abbot’s lodging, or the former lay brothers’ wing of the cloister, was preserved and subsequently lived in by the local Tracy family until the end of the 17th century. Then, of course, that house was likely robbed for stone and glass if it wasn’t removed to the new Tracy seat at Toddington. (Apparently there are panels in the billiard room at Toddington from the abbot’s lodging at Hailes, but until Damien Hirst finishes his 10 year restoration of the place it might not be open to the public for a long time.)

Tracing the items taken from Hailes at the dissolution is a complicated and tricky situation. Though the depositions from the augmentation court names over 70 individuals, there were probably many more who, from 1539 through until the excavations in the late 19th century, probably reused the golden Cotswold stone. Wooden and metal items have long since gone from the place, but it is important to note that these items were not just reserved for the King, but taken, melted, burnt and reused in houses around the Winchcombe area and beyond.

The easiest way look for buildings that may contain items and are contemporary with the 1540’s date is to trace down the parsons and vicars implicated. There were three of them: Nicholas Wykes from Batsford, Nicholas Wykes from Condicote, and Kenelm Deane from Stanton. The Wykes’ parsonages may not exist still, but there is a good chance that the Glebe at Condicote is part of the earlier building. The Batsford rectory no longer exists, but cottages do and I shall see them tomorrow. As for Stanton, there is glass in the east window of the church there (St. Michael’s) from Hailes and various odds of glass in the other windows on the south side. The rectory no longer stands and was incorporated into another building. However Stanton has a rich history of buildings from the early 1600s and I bet that the many cartloads of items that Mr. Deane took can be seen in and around the distinctly Cotswold honey coloured houses.

As for Winchcombe and the surrounding area, we know that the abbey there was dissolved and virtually destroyed for stone. The deep set Hailes profiles of stone arches, columns, and window lancets help to distinguish themselves from other monastic stone in the area, but what about the large blocks of stone used for retaining walls and outer court buildings? It will be nearly impossible to trace all large building blocks taken from Hailes to any other location though buildings like the cottages at Didbrook (number 63-64) come close. Though hard to tell in the image, the quoins and in fill stone are large, golden honey coloured stones measuring about 1-2 feet square.

It is nearly impossible to trace the reuse of former monastic fabric in England and Wales. If buildings and houses survive from the 16th century, they probably won’t just have monastic fabric but everything else including the kitchen sink in it. And much of it may have been demolished, removed, or destroyed in the last 400 years since the dissolution but before buildings were listed (much to their own detriment, but that is another discussion for another time!). So why bother doing this? It is important to try at the very least for if no one does then an attempt of finding the reuse is lost. Knowing how and interpreting why people reused fabric allows for the study of local building techniques and materials as well as a look at how religious practices (and superstition) may or may not have changed.

Though I doubt that I will find much in the way of substantial reuse that I can date and confirm the provenance for, I can say that with certain that I have started to discover that the use of buildings at Hailes was completely different than originally thought. And all of this thanks to a combination of documents not otherwise put together before. Not too bad going I think.

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