Bayham Old Abbey
Bayham Old Abbey is an English Heritage property, situated 1¾ miles west of Lamberhurst, off the B2169. Founded by the Premonstratensian monasteries in the 13th century, Bayham remained an Abbey until dissolution in the 15th century.
The monastery was founded by Robert Thornham and was one of only two houses in England coming directly under the dependency of Premontre (the mother-house in France). It was built from the golden-coloured local sandstone. The Abbey is located within the valley of the River Teise. Premonstratensian monks favoured isolated areas for their monasteries, and Bayham was an ideal setting. The river provided a water supply, and also acted as a rapid flowing tributary downstream, providing drainage.
Situated right on the Kent/Sussex border, in order to provide admittance from both counties, there were originally two gatehouses at Bayham Abbey. The Sussex gatehouse has completely disappeared, but the façade of the early 14th century Kentish gatehouse was retained to present a 'romantic' element in the grounds of the later Old Abbey House. By the 15th century the initial design had been enlarged by new transepts, though the original transepts are still visible. During the 15th century the original nave was replaced, and a long, narrow nave was created by rebuilding the west end and north wall of the abbey church. Although the south wall was kept, lofty perpendicular windows were put in, supported by grand buttresses that straddled the cloister walk. Three of these stylish arches remain standing to their full height. Before the end of the century a new sacristy had been built, next to the south transept. There are few other remains which can be recognised, apart from sections of the vaulted chapter house, a wall of the undercroft under the monks’ dorter, and fragments of the living accommodation.
The abbey was among the first to be dissolved in 1538. Once Bayham was under the King’s control, it was leased to Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu, until Queen Elizabeth I sold the estate. After different changes of ownership, Bayham was finally sold to Sir John Pratt in 1714. It was his grandson who built the 'Gothic' villa, Dower House (otherwise known as Bayham Old Abbey House), in the 1750s, which was later enlarged and refaced. The monastic site was also landscaped by Humphry Repton to give the appearance of a 'romantic ruin', parts of the old foundation being deliberately buried to augment the garden aspect.
In 1872 the family moved to the other side of the Teise valley, into the newly built Bayham Abbey House. The abbey remains as a charming landscape feature, and has been used for family infant burials. The Abbey remained with that family until 1961, when it was donated to English Heritage.
The Abbey ruins principally consist of partial walls, though the room layouts can still be seen, and there remain many examples of ornate columns and other carved stonework, including stone frameworks from the three huge windows making up the nave. The quality of the work is typical of an abbey of this era. Other buildings, usually connected with abbeys, such as stables and barns, still have to be found.
The ruins are said to be haunted by a chanting white monk along with sounds of bells and the scent of incense.
Please check English Heritage for opening times and any entrance fees using the link on the right.
0870 333 1181
Clay Hill Road, Lamberhurst, Kent
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015