Canonsleigh Abbey, Devon

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Abbey ruins – accessible via public footpath

Situated on the edge of the idyllic Grand Western Canal in Devon, between Fossend and Fenacre bridges are the ruins of Canonsleigh Abbey (sometimes also called Canonsleigh Priory). There isn’t much left of the original site but the ruins that remain, provide a small glimpse into the importance of the Abbey and its purpose in Medieval times. The remains are now a combination of Grade two listed and scheduled monuments, protected by Historic England, meaning that they cannot be changed or destroyed.

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Abbey ruins – accessible via public footpath
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The Abbey Gatehouse – now private property

An Abbey/Priory has been in existence on the site for almost a thousand years, but the exact date of its original creation is uncertain. The closest determination is that some time around 1161 and 1173 a Royal confirmation for a Priory on the site was granted. It is thought however, that a Priory may well have been in operation before that date. In 1086 Walter I de Claville, a Frenchman from de Clavile in Rouen, France was gifted the land in the area of “Leigh” by William the Conqeror after his success at the Battle of Hastings. The landowner at the time had been a female Saxon called Aelfrun, a fact documented in the Domesday book in 1086.

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Upper part of the Abbey

 

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Hole (likely a window) in the side of the Abbey wall

The Priory at Leigh became known as Canonsleigh. It was a small Priory of Augustinian Canons/Priests, with just twelve in the order to start with, and was dedicated to St John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary. It operated as most Priory’s did in those days, with the Canons/Priests having ties to neighbouring villages such as Sampford Arundel, Netherton and Pugham. There were areas for prayer, gardens and kitchens. The Priory was subsidised by the Plympton Augustinian Priory, sadly however this had an impact on the Priory, and the it eventually found itself in financial difficulties. Isabella de Fortibus and the Countess of Gloucester (a dowager called Matilda, who wanted a memorial for her late husband), set about a chain of events that would see the Priory given over to them and turned into a nunnery. In 1284, after nine days of negotiations, the Canons were forced from the site by Bishop Quivel and men armed with bows and arrows. Canonsleigh Priory then became known as Canonsleigh Abbey, formally ending the Augustinian order at the site.

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The Abbey Gatehouse through trees by Westleigh Quarry

Canonsleigh Abbey was set up for around forty Canonesses, but their life at the Abbey wasn’t easy, and like the Canons/Priests before them they suffered hardship. They drew income from a variety of sources, including their relationship with Burlescombe Village Church, and donations from wealthy landowners, but it wasn’t enough. Money that had been set aside in the Bishop’s treasury by Matilda was borrowed by King Edward I, and it took the Canonesses fifty years of fighting to get it back. Eventually King Edward III (Edward I Grandson), returned the funds.

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View of the Abbey remains from private property 
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The Reredorter
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View of the Abbey remains from private property 

In the 1500’s life at Canonsleigh Abbey became even more difficult. Henry the VIII ordered the dissolution of all Convents, Friaries, Monasteries and Abbeys between 1536 and 1541 in England, Wales and Ireland. This act saw thousands of religious buildings razed to the ground, and income seized from the respective religious chapters. Canonsleigh Abbey didn’t escape, and even though it managed to carry on for a number of years after the Act was created it finally met its demise in September 1539, when the Abbey was razed to the ground and the Canonesses pensioned off.

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Roof line view of the Abbey
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View of the Abbey remains from private property 
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Wood post/beam holes

Nowadays, Canonsleigh Abbey/Priory, is a small cluster of ruinous stone buildings that are slowing being claimed by ivy, trees and bushes. Many don’t know of its existence unless they happen to know someone who lives in the area. There has been much discussion about what buildings do remain on the now abandoned site. We know that Canonleigh Gatehouse exists, standing away from the other ruins, surrounded by modern builds. Amongst the other ruins, called the eastern ruins of the Abbey, it’s documented that there’s a Leat (millstream/artificial watercourse), a Reredorter (possible waste channel from privies and kitchens) and a maybe even a mill, as well as walls, partial buttresses, and a ‘room’. Thoughts are that one of these sites may actually be a kitchen area; likely in the Gatehouse.

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The Leat (looking at where water enters from a natural stream)
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The Leat
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The Leat 

Evidence suggests that the site was much larger when in use, and housed St Theobalds Church, a chapel of Holy Trinity (now two cottages in Westleigh), Ancient chapel ruins (unnamed) at Fenacre farm, and two chapels dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr and All Saints (site location unknown). When the Lime Kilns at Cracker Corner by Westleigh quarry, were built, an ancient burial site was uncovered which included a lot of ancient bones. Experts believe that the area at Cracker Corner may have been the burial ground of St Theobalds Church.

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Cracker Corner – potential site of ancient burial ground
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Fenacre Farm – potential site of Chapel ruins

The size of the original site of Canonsleigh Abbey will never truly be known, as fields have been given over to farming, roads run next to – possibly even through – the site, and quarry workings at Westleigh have encroached upon it. But what remains is a small reminder of an incredible Medieval past, dating all the way back to the Domesday book. It is a tantalising glimpse of a history of which so much is still unknown and yet, could possibly still be discovered one day.

Author note: Access to Canonsleigh Abbey is via public footpaths/fields. Some of these fields contain livestock (horses and sheep), so care should be taken, especially with closing gates. Dogs should be kept on leads.  Whilst the Abbey is fascinating, it’s an ancient and ruinous building, sometimes there are stone falls, and climbing the ruins should be avoided. As an ancient/protected monument it should be treated with care. Please also note that part of the Abbey is on private property, and only accessible with landowner permission.

Chrissie is an author who loves history, enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

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Castles

As well as travelling abroad I’m a huge history geek. I love reading about it, watching history documentaries and visiting historical places, whether it be old country houses, ancient sites or museums. One of my favourite sites to visit in the UK are castles. I think it stems from when I was a child and we used to go on day trips, many of which ended up being castles. Since then I’ve always loved them and really enjoy visiting visiting them and having a good explore. I’ve visited so many castles over the years, but in this post I’m going to write about three of my favourite castles.

Bodiam Castle

In deepest Sussex is Bodiam Castle. It’s owned by the National Trust and is a good example of a 14th century castle with existing moat. It was built in 1385 by a former Knight of Edward III. Despite some of the interior being in ruins, it’s a great example of a medieval castle, and is protected as a scheduled monument with Grade I listed status. The castle sits in the middle of a large moat, connected to land via a long wooden bride, that leads to a drawbridge section. At the end is the main entrance which has a large portcullis, and various ancient defensive mechanisms.

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Bodium Castle from across the moat
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Interior of Bodium Castle

Originally the castle had two entrances, but only one is used now. The castle is square in shape, with four towers, one at each corner, that visitors can climb via winding staircases to reach the tower roof. The views are extensive and you can see why the castle was built in the location it’s in. The castle has thick, defensive stone walls, a large open courtyard at the centre, with multiple rooms that run around the edge. These rooms include the Great Chamber, old kitchens, Lords Hall, ante rooms, service rooms, stables and even a chapel.

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Inside the Castle
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Interior of Bodium Castle
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In the entrance gatehouse

Bodium Castle is one of the best examples of this type of castle I’ve ever visited. As you wander the grounds, the old rooms and climb the towers, you get a real feel for the castle and its incredible history. It’s definitely a castle I’d recommend visiting.

Richborough Castle

Situated near Sandwich in Kent, Richborough Castle is actually an old Roman/Saxon fort, reputed to be built on the site of the first Roman landing in AD43. It is owned by English Heritage, and forms almost a perfect square on the site. It has been through many additions, and much rebuilding. A lot of what now exists are later adaptations, but the site itself is historically noted.

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Richborough Castle’s internal structures and exterior walls
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Richborough castle’s exterior walls

Many of the internal structures are no longer in existence, due a fair bit of it being built of timber, although some stone foundations do still exist.  The outer walls however still stand, and are quite imposing. There are also many other interesting Roman features inside the site that are worth visiting, such as the Mansio. The site was an important defensive and supply base, so the Mansio was an important part of the fort. There are also remnants of an old hypocaust system and a ditch and rampart system.

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Being silly in the Mansio
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Remnants of an old hypocaust system
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Me with external wall in background

As Roman forts go, Richborough Castle is pretty impressive even though it doesn’t look much from the outside and it’s incredible that as much of it has survived, especially considering the building materials used. When you stand next to one of the outer walls it’s a real shock to see just how tall they are and how massive the site would have been when first built and in use. There is also the remains of an old amphitheatre nearby, it’s quite difficult to locate, but worth a visit if you can find it. A good map is recommend though!

Rochester Castle

In the town of Rochester in Kent, stands the imposing Rochester Castle. It guards the medway river and has an interesting history. Owned by English Heritage Rochester Castle was built in 1127 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but it is thought that there has been a defensive structure on the site since about 1086, although exactly where is still up for discussion.

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The main Keep and canon
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Rochester Castle interior

The current castle is a Norman Keep that stands over 100 feet high with a protective forebuilding. The castle like so many, has seen plenty of attacks through time, and been party to many wars. So much so that it has been damaged and rebuilt a few times. Despite all it has been through, the castle continues to stand dominant on the skyline a testament to its efforts of protecting the surrounding area.

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Climbing castle steps
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Up on the parapets
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Inside the castle

What remains nowadays is a great example of a Norman Keep castle. The interior has lost its wooden floor levels, but it is still possible to climb the original stone circular staircases that go all the way to the top, and walk around the parapet to not only look down inside the building, but also out across the town of Rochester, over the Medway and beyond.

Even though I have only listed three favourite castles, there are many others in the UK that I love, and I’ll never say no to visiting one. Others I would recommend visiting are Caerphilly Castle, Chepstow Castle and Dunster Castle. But if you don’t live near any of those, there are plenty of castles all over the UK just waiting to be visited so they can share their incredible history. Find out more on the interactive map of UK Castles.

  • Have you ever visited any of the castles mentioned above?

Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

 

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A New Year of exciting possibilities

January is now upon us, the Christmas tree, decorations and tinsel have been packed away for another year, and ahead of us is another twelve months of exciting possibilities. We have another spring and summer to look forward to, when the world brightens with flowers, green grass and blue skies, when the sun shines and life starts anew and days lengthen.

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I love winter and all it brings, there is still so much to see and do, but I’m also every excited about the year ahead. I’m excited about all the work I have before me, and the projects I’m currently involved in. If all goes according to plan, there will be some big announcements in 2018, and as much as I’m bursting to tell you what they are I can’t just yet, as there are so many variables, but keep checking in, as I hope to be able to bring you news about some of it very soon.

The first big bit of news I can tell you though, is about my forthcoming book Wind Across the Nile. I now have a release date for it and I will be announcing it on my Facebook Group Chrissie Parker Book Group this weekend. So head on over and join the group if you would like to be one of the ones who hear the news first!

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The other bit of news is that my book Among the Olive Groves is currently on download sale on Amazon for 99p for UK readers. So if you haven’t got your copy yet, then now’s the time to grab a bargain! It’s the perfect time of year to lose yourself in a book set on a sunny Greek island.

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Enjoy January, it can be a hard month to get through after all the fun and festivities of December. Have a great year, I hope that 2018 makes dreams come true for all of you.

  • What are you looking forward to the most in 2018?

 

Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

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Saying ‘hello’ to Christmas

Christmas can be a wonderful time of year. It’s when family, friends and co-workers come together, to celebrate, spend time with each other and be thankful. It’s when people believe in the kindness of others, or when dreams come true, and small miracles happen. The expectation of falling snow, warm log fires, and comfy clothes.

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A snowy winter wonderland
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Santa slippers!

I love Christmas. Every year I look forward to it. It’s such a magical time of year and I get very excited. Christmas is also a time of year when we look back over the year that’s passed, and think about all that’s happened. The good and the bad, the highs and the low. Sometimes we end the year grateful for everything that we’ve been through, other times we are just thankful just to get to December waiting impatiently for January to arrive so that we can start a new year afresh and forget about the past.

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Christmas Chrissie!

For me, this year, has been long and challenging. Unfortunately I was very ill in the Spring, something that forced me to take months out, and recuperate. Once I was finally better and able to return to my day job, I was greeted with the news that I was about to lose that job, something that hit me hard, and I still miss it and my ex-colleagues. My epilepsy medication was also adjusted and so I had to deal with that as well, despite it being something which has, in the end, been positive, and I had to undergo further medical tests. The worst thing about this last year however, was that my next book release was delayed indefinitely due to being ill and all the combined upheaval, which for me was both frustrating and upsetting. I hate letting my readers down and that’s what upset me the most. I felt like a failure and a disappointment to them. The book still hasn’t been released, but I’m further forward and very close to being able to publish it. News on that will be announced in January!

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All five of my published books

 

Despite my struggles throughout the year, my incredibly loyal readers have stayed with me, and they understood the delays with the book. As Christmas draws near I’m so very thankful for them and their support, they make what I do special, and without them I wouldn’t be an author, so they’re very important to me. I’m also grateful for my friends, both old and new, who understand my chaotic life, but are happy to be part of it and allow me to be in theirs, even if I don’t get to see some of them very often! Most of all I’m thankful my family for putting up with me, so to speak – they’ve been a huge support and I love them very much.

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One of my all time favourite reader photos. 

So, wherever you are, whoever you’re with this festive season, make it a good one. Enjoy your time together. Be thankful for what has passed, it makes you who you are. Be thankful for what you have, sometimes it isn’t what we want or expect, but things always have a habit of turning out okay in the end.

So this is me signing off for 2017, and I’m wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for all you kinds words and support this year, it has meant a lot, and see you in 2018!

  • What are you looking forward to the most this Christmas?

 

Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com

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The beautiful capital of France

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Me looking out across the river Seine

Everyone says that you should try and visit Paris at least once in your life. A city full of famous sights, history, culture and romance, Paris is a place that I’ve been lucky to visit more than once and a city that I have fond memories of.

My first trip to Paris was with the school. At the age of fifteen a coach full of my friends and I, accompanied by our teachers, made the trip across the channel and spent a few days in the city visiting some well known sights such as Notre Dame, The Centre Pompidou and The Eiffel Tower.

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View from the Eiffel Tower on our school visit
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Notre Dame Cathedral on our school visit
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Gargoyles on Notre Dame Cathedral on our school visit

It was my first trip abroad and it was exciting to be away from home with my friends. Paris was an interesting place, we got to see some amazing things and try out our French language skills in preparation for our GCSE exams. We scaled the heights of the Eiffel Tower, to take in the views, before walking back down (not for the faint hearted especially if you don’t like heights!). We explored Parisian cafés and shops, and visited The Louvre to view the famous Mona Lisa. The most interesting part of the trip however, was getting stuck in a lift, and being rescued by firefighters. It wasn’t something I enjoyed that much and I’ve been petrified of lifts and getting stuck in them ever since!

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The Seine

My next visit to Paris were day trips for various events, and I never got to see much of the city but still enjoyed being there, it’s a relaxing place to visit and work. It wasn’t until December 1999 when I returned again, this time for a longer stay that included Christmas and New Year. My home for the next three weeks was in the area of Pigalle, just round the corner from the Moulin Rouge and I grew to absolutely love this part of Paris.

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The Moulin Rouge at night

I would pop out in the mornings to buy bread, croissants and other supplies. I explored the streets that wound up to the Sacre Ceour and the artists quarter, and discovered some lovely shops and cafés. Jumping on the metro I went further afield to Lafayette and other neighbouring stores to see the beautiful Christmas window displays, marvelling at the huge tree in Galeries Lafayette, before going up to the roof to view the expansive skyline of Paris; a view I highly recommend.

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View across Paris towards the Eiffel tower
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Galeries Lafayette at Christmas
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View across Paris to Notre Dame Cathedral

Christmas Day was celebrated by eating ham, egg and chips in a local Parisian café, and New Year’s Eve was celebrated on the steps of the Sacre Ceour, looking down upon the lights of the city, as the millennium arrived in a flurry of amazing fireworks.

Other trips during my stay were to the Champs Elyse, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. My favourite trip out was on New Year’s day, catching the metro to Trocadero and walking over the River Seine towards the Eiffel Tower taking in the New Year date 2000, before walking along the river towards Notre Dame. It’s a lovely walk and you get to see so much of the city from the bank of the river.

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The Eiffel Tower, 01 January 2000
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The Sacre Ceour

I love Paris, there’s so much to see and experience, and I discovered that one of the best things you can do in the city is just to walk the streets, enjoy your surroundings and take everything in. There is always something interesting to see, or new to discover. Sadly I haven’t been for a while, but I do hope that I’ll get the chance to go back again very soon, it’s a city that still has so much to offer, even if you have been there many times before.

  • Have you been to Paris? If so which was your favourite part?

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Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com