A walk into the past, around the precinct of Eynsham Abbey. It was created in 2002 to mark the bounds of the former precinct, with carved stone from the abbey built into the engraved 'stations'.
“By following the trail along the footpaths around the boundary of the Abbey precinct, you will retrace the steps of the mediaeval monks. Cairns and further information boards on the way will tell some of the story of the Abbey, the monks' lives and the influence of the Abbey on Eynsham. Each of the cairns is built with stones from the Abbey buildings. The trail will take you past the farm, the fishponds, the gardens and the pastures which surrounded the central core of the Abbey.
“Some of our knowledge of the Abbey and what was here before comes from surviving documents and some from recent archaeological excavations in the churchyard. These excavations, in the yard of St Peter's Roman Catholic church, revealed part of the cloister, the kitchens and other domestic buildings of the Abbey.
“A huge quantity of finds were recovered, including pottery, roof and floor tiles, and bones from cattle, sheep and pigs. Remains of more than 30 different buildings were traced, the earliest dating from the Bronze age ...”
UPDATE 2011: A NEW ARCHAEOLOGICAL TRAIL
St Peter's Church has commissioned a new Archaeological Trail to help us visualise the scale and complexity of the Abbey buildings, which once covered most of the current graveyards of St Peter and St Leonard.
Official launch of the nine plaques and accompanying leaflet on 30 March was performed by Alan Hardy, who supervised the excavations in 1989-92, with the help of children from Eynsham Community Primary School. This Slideshow has been expanded to cover the installation - click on the link above.
|01/01/2002 Eynsham Abbey Heritage Trail|
As this preview indicates, the tour begins in the car park of St Peter's Church, in front of the main display, Station 1.
The tour begins in the car park of St Peter's Church, in front of Station 1.
You will find it on the northern wall, overlooking St Leonard's Church
As you see, this panel will reward a closer study. First section reads:
BEFORE THE ABBEY ...
The importance of this site in Eynsham goes back much further than the Abbey itself. The nearby fording point of the river Thames (now marked by the toll bridge at Swinford) has meant that this area has always been important. Traces have been found at this spot of a huge late neolithic enclosure over 3000 years old, surrounded by a ditch and a bank, which may have had a ritual purpose.
Some sort of Roman settlement existed here, and there was probably a villa somewhere in the region of the present village centre.
After the Roman period, Saxons settled in the area, and Eynsham became the centre of a royal estate. Because of Eynsham's importance, this site was chosen for a minster church (a ruling church of the region) sometime in the eighth century.
THE FIRST ABBEY
The Abbey was founded in 1005 and its first abbot was Aelfric, one of the greatest of all Saxon writers and thinkers. He died in 1016 and was buried in the Abbey church.
After the Norman conquest in 1066, the original Abbey church and buildings were demolished and a new Abbey constructed in the early 12th century. The Abbey flourished for over 500 years and was the second richest religious house in the country. Finally, in 1539 the Dissolution meant that Eynsham Abbey – along with all the other abbeys in the country – was surrendered to King Henry VIII.
Over the next century, the church and all the Abbey buildings were demolished, so that by the 19th century nothing remained standing.
The Abbey stood where now stands the graveyard of the parish church of St Leonard's, beyond the wall in front of you. It was at least twice as large as the present parish church.
On your right, and attached to the church, would be the complex of buildings which were the monks' world, including:
the cloister – an enclosed courtyard where they wrote and walked
the chapter house – where the senior monks would meet to regulate the Abbey's business
the dormitory – where they slept
the refectory – where they ate
the kitchen – where their meals were cooked
the infirmary – where they were nursed when they were sick.
Other buildings included the abbot's own lodgings, guest-houses, gardens, workshops, stores, bake-houses and the monks' own cemetery.
All of these buildings lay within the precinct – the grounds of the Abbey. The boundary of the precinct survives almost unchanged to this day and the Heritage Trail follows this boundary ...
You should now go through the car park to the entrance to Abbey Farm, which stands near where the main gatehouse of the Abbey once stood.
From there Station 2 is 50 metres away, just outside the car park entrance in Abbey Street, beside the entrance to Abbey Farm.
To follow the perimeter of the precinct, walk up Abbey Street to the corner of Acre End Street (by The Jolly Sportsman).
Turn left, and continue until you come to Station Road on your left, by The Swan Inn. Walk down Station Road for about 300m until you see a small car park on your left, where you will find Station 3.
A short cut can be taken by using Swan Street instead of Acre End Street.
Station 3, showing one of the Fishponds interpretation panels on the other side of the car park.
From Station 3, follow the footpath through the abbey's fishponds area for about 250 metres, until you come out into the playing fields.
Keep on for another 100m to find Station 4 on your right.
This cairn (station 4) is at the farthest corner of the playing field. You could miss it out, but why cut corners?
Station 5, showing the Sports Pavilion in the distance.
From Station 5 continue to the entrance to the playing field on Oxford Road. Turn left and walk back into the village, about 400m, until you see the market place on your left.
There you will find Station 6.
Station 6 in the Market Square, beside St Leonard's Church.
1005: Aelfric's new abbey sits within a large precinct, close by the cross roads, where a market place is taking shape. Nearly all the woodland close by has now been cleared to make way for fields.
The minster church at Eynsham was founded in the 7th or 8th century and refounded in 1005 as a Benedictine abbey. The excavations carried out by Oxford Archaeology 1989-92 revealed substantial remains of the abbey, tracing its history from its foundation until the Dissolution in 1538-9.
The Norman Abbey was founded in 1109. This reconstruction by Oxford Archaeology shows it in the 13th century, dominating the village, which is spreading out from the market place.
Abbey Street is closed off and development of Newlands has begun at the north end of the village.
The footprint of the Norman Abbey, founded in 1109, overlaid on the Anglo-Saxon Abbey, founded in 1005.
The 9 plaques were commissioned in 2011 to help us visualise the size and complexity of the buildings.
This visualisation of the Norman Abbey in its heyday around 1216 comes from an interpretation panel at the Abbey Fishponds, commissioned by Eynsham Parish Council.
The image also appears on the cover of the new archaeological trail leaflet, to maintain continuity.
"The ruins of the Abbey Church of Einsham 1657. Taken from the S.E. These two Towers were at the W. end of the Church."
Drawn by Anthony Wood.
Romanticised copy of Wood's drawing, engraved by S & N Buck in 1729.
Heading: The East view of the inside of Eynsham Abby, near Oxford.
Text reads: "This Abbey is situate near the River Thame, dedicated to the honour of St Mary; was founded by Ćthelmare E. of Devonshire, a Man of great esteem under King Etheldred; Anno 1005. He granted divers lands and priviliges to this House. King Henry I repaired this Monastery being very much decay'd, and enlarged its endowments; unto which was built as a Cell the Monastery at Stow near Lincoln, Anno 1109. The present possessor is her grace the Duchess Dowager of Marlborough."
The excavations by Oxford Archaeology 1989-92 were superintended by Alan Hardy, who will also attend the official opening of the new Trail on 30 March 2011.
His colleague Graham Keevill kindly supplied an initial report on the dig in the Eynsham Record 10, 1993 pages 5-17.
Most of the bodies found in the dig can be dated from before the 16th century and so must have been monks. The remains are currently in the Museum Store, where biological anthropologist Dr Simon Underwood is examining them, but will soon be returned for burial on the site.
Dave Hook father and son had perfect weather to secure the new plaques. This one, on the wall now separating St Peter's and St Leonard's churchyards, marks the western side of the Norman Abbey cloister.
Checking levels for a plaque at the south-west corner of the refectory of the Norman Abbey, where now stands the first section of St Peter's Church (built in the 1940s).
This marks the centre point of the nave of the Norman Abbey and lies on what is now the main path through St Leonard's churchyard.