Tichfield Abbey

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There is a tantalising glimpse of the remains of the gatehouse set among trees from the A27. The Abbey is signed from the main road and is surrounded by a stone wall. Entry is through the double wooden doors, just beyond the garden centre and opposite the pub. There is parking inside by the Abbey ruins. It is a lovely setting with grass, trees and a picnic table. Traffic noise is muffled and you are surrounded by bird song.

The abbey was founded in 1213 by Peter de Roches, Bishop of Winchester and 14 or 15 white canons were based here. It was dissolved by Henry VIII and several of the monastic buildings were demolished. The land and the remaining buildings were given to Thomas Wriothesley, a loyal servant of Henry who played a key role in the suppression of the monasteries. He transformed the remaining buildings into a large courtyard house here, Place House. It was eventually dismantled in 1781 and these are the ruins you see today.

The impressive gatehouse was built across the nave. Behind it was the courtyard which was built on the remains of the cloisters and chapter house. The Long gallery along the west wall incorporated the remains of the chapter house. Across the courtyard from the gatehouse was the great hall with the kitchens beyond. Nothing remains of these buildings.

There are two octagonal towers with crenellated tops built from pale ashlar stone on either side of the main entrance with its massive double wooden doors. Above are beautiful mullioned windows. To the right are the remains of the principal building with a glorious Tudor chimney stack remaining. To the left were the lodgings for guests. These were built of rubble and brick with plaster.

The inside of the gatehouse is an empty shell. There had been three floors with brick fireplaces. The wooden lintels above the windows are still in situ with a semi-circle of brick above them. Large double doors lead into the courtyard behind. On the left is a door into the main apartments which have splendid brick fireplaces with a decorative herring bone pattern on the back wall. A spiral staircase in a corner gave access to the upper floors. A doorway leads out into the courtyard. There are the remains of a fireplace on one of the walls of the cloisters. On the opposite wall is the remains of the front of the chapter house, which was converted into a private chapel by the Wriothesleys. In a corner of the courtyard is a well, still with water in it.

Round the edges of the cloisters are some of the finest remains of medieval tiles in England. These had been covered by the construction of Place House until they were rediscovevered 90 years ago. These are covered with black polythene weighted down with sand to protect them. Make a point of lifting the polythene (and give the resident woodlice a fright) to see the beautiful terracotta tiles with inlaid patterns in a paler clay. Those at the entrance to the Frater have a Latin inscription on them. When translated it reads “Before you sit down to meat at your table first remember the poor”.

There isn’t a lot left of the abbey, but it is a delightful place to drop out on a sunny day.

Entry is free and the ruins are open 10-5 when the main gateway is locked.

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