Caen stone identified at Crowhurst Manor confirms Norman construction on site of abbey foundations

The stone for the building at the manor house site in Crowhurst has been identified by the author Alan Gillet in his 1989 book Battle and Robertsbridge Old Photos.

A copy of the reference relevant page was kindly sent to me by Cordelia Silver. Cordelia says “Caen stone is a limestone, harder than our local sandstone, yet carveable. Battle Abbey has some Caen stone in the building, but according to British History on-line, most of the stone was quarried locally.”

Alan Gillet book Battle and Robertsbridge Old Photos

The significance is that Caen stone was usually used in great buildings built by the Normans, usually upon the instructions of the King, at the time of the Conquest. The primary use was Canterbury Cathedral, Norwich Cathedral and the Tower of London and a relatively small amount at Battle Abbey. The confirmation of Caen stone on this site in Crowhurst is good solid evidence of Norman involvement in the construction.

I am in the process of getting confirmation from a stonemason source and am waiting to hear from Canterbury Cathedral where they have a team working on Caen Stone. Hopefully they will be able to assist. Clearly this reference is not to what is below ground and relates to those stones that were probably robbed out at the time of the building of the current ruin (estimated to be 1220AD).

I am sending this evidence to English Heritage who must take this into account when they review the battlefield application. The presence of Caen stone indicates Norman construction or re-use of Norman stonework re-used in the Manor House construction and would confirm why the Norman arches are present in the wall previously misidentified as 13th century by W.S.Walford in 1884 and appears to confirm Norman construction, as only the Normans had access to this building material in this early period of History. It is possibly significant that the other site in the area which has Norman Caen stone elements is the Church in the Wood Hollington – the nearest church to the Manor House and Wilting Manor where the Normans landed.

Categories: Announcements, caen stone | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Caen stone identified at Crowhurst Manor confirms Norman construction on site of abbey foundations

  1. William Rex

    Sorry, Caen stone was commonly used for dressed stone on high status buildings – such as manor houses – in the 13th century. There’s certainly no evidence of 11th-century work in the standing fabric here.

  2. Are you an expert on this issue William as there is some interesting stone that needs to be evaluated by a stonemason or someone who is familiar with these matters.

    • This building is far too big to be a manor house. We are extending the survey to determine exactly the extent of the foundations. The data is also being reprocessed to determine where to dig. It currently occupies a size five times larger than Walford incorrectly estimated the wooden hall mid 1800’s and it is stone construction not wood with butresses indicating foundations for two stories at least. The cream Caen stone is facing stone and only on the inside of the building but needs evaluation by a stonemason in order to be sure. It may have been robbed from the original building, either way its presence is important.

  3. me again

    I’ve visited the “manor” at crowhurst a few times as well as the ones at Barnhorne and Hooe (which was part of the Godwin estate), the ruins at crowhurst is no way a manor as its far too large and obviously a religious building.

    • William Rex

      I’d love this to be true but nothing above ground appears especially ecclesiastical. The architectural forms are standard for the 13th century and fit into a secular context very well. The geophysics shows lots of features which may be related to medieval archaeology but nothing resembling the plan of a monastery. So why is it ‘obviously a religious building’? Given that you now think that the geophysics points to the original Battle Abbey, why does the surviving building have to be religious at all? I’m not trying to be awkward, just not persuaded (yet) by your evidence.

      • Because the Chronicle of Battle Abbey tells us its there and other elements of the Chronicle are also correct. To deny the Chronicle is to fail to understand the context of that document which was written by the monks at Battle to support their case against the Revenue. It would have been mad to lie to the king and punishable by death. The name Herste is a simple transcription error of the name for Crowhurst that existed till at least 1922. Its on the site where the church was built in 1320 AD and its not the manor house, because that came much later and the record shows no stone being used in the Court Rolls confirming the building’s presence prior to that being built. The east west orientation also supports the case. If the foundations were not where the Chronicle identifies them then maybe the thesis would slip but it is pretty conclusive as it stands as there is no alternative supposition that stands scrutiny. If you want to believe otherwise in the absence of foundations anywhere else I am surprised. Failing to support the Chronicle simply doesn’t make sense, because it was the foundation document of the Abbey and it has never been claimed the Battlefield was where the abbey was later built. It has always been claimed to be a tradition and a false one at that. The “tradition” clauses inserted by the master craftsman who forged the copy for the King upon the instructions of the Abbot are easily identifiable (including the one about moving the abbey back to where it was started) and Eleanor Searle who studied the document in depth makes it quite clear that the tradition was probably false. She did not know what we know now in relation to other elements of the story which includes the landing site – that will also be tested soon and I expect the boat timbers to be found and dated (we will be raising funds to do this next month). At that point the discussion will move in a different direction I am sure as we will move away from theory based upon interpretation of documents to issues based on fact supported by archaeology. Proving the site in Crowhurst is the abbey is also confirmed by the battlefield detritus which is there and needs evaluation – I have seen this and so have a lot of other people but proving it will take some more time but it becomes a compelling argument. Those who refuse to look like Marc Morris are not helping the case for Battle Abbey by looking the other way and trying to shoot the messenger. The evidence will not go away and there are now a lot of people supporting the search so we will find what is needed and it may well be a sword with a name on it and he certainly came across as a cocky bugger on the radio. We shall see who is right in the end of course. Ultimately I do accept that more work is required at the manor house and this will start soon. However it is very unlikely to be anything other than what the Chronicle tells us it was and that’s why I believe it is ecclesiastical purely because of that and the size. Far too big to be anything else as the record shows us what it was and historians seek documents that prove a case not thesis with no supporting documents.

  4. One further question do you deny the arches in the bottom of the so called 13th century wall are Norman? The construction is consistent with other Norman work and by 13c was far more sophisticated?

  5. And another issue is the alignment of the walls of the ruin are not in align with one and other east west/north south – meaning they were not all built at the same time – something Walford should have noticed – but no-one has paid any attention to this ruin before. The adaptions need analysis by an expert I agree with that but none have been down to look yet. The misalignment of the main walls means this could not have been one manor house construction and the buttresses support confirmation of a two story building of immense size by the standards of pre 13c Sussex. A building of this size had to be in the written record and to claim it was built in the 13c doesn’t stack up as that section is only on the west quarter of the site. The mound over the remains suggests it was hidden from view for a reason. We will extend the survey later this year and it might be double the existing survey size because we didn’t do enough as we didn’t know it was there. Come down and have a look with me if you are interested and we can discuss.

    • William Rex

      Ok, look forward to seeing the extended geophysics when you get it done – good luck. I don’t agree that the arches are Norman, nothing like Romanesque. The building shows affinities with Battle Abbey’s 13th century masonry. The buttresses are exactly what I’d expect to see in a two storey secular context. With my buildings archaeology hat on I can honestly see nothing of the 11th century in the remains still standing. But let’s not argue any further! Too far fir me to join you but thanks fir the offer. Good luck with the further investigations – even if we agree to disagree about the manor site at the moment your work will tell us something about its history. Cheers.

  6. Julian Humphrys

    I think William Rex has it dead right in the above comments and am also looking forward to seeing an assessment of the geophysics. But do crack on with the investigation of the building – as I have said elsewhere you could well qualify for a lottery grant for a community archaeology project to investigate Crowhurst Manor. Whatever that uncovers will add to our understanding of the site.

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