Barking Abbey Model

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Barking Abbey (St Mary’s) – Scheduled Ancient Monument, Grade II listed Information

Abbey Green was once the site of one of the most significant religious houses in the country. Barking Abbey was founded in AD666 by East Saxon Bishop, St Erkenwald, for his sister St Ethelburga, who was the first Abbess. The abbey church was dedicated to St Mary and the abbey followed Benedictine rules. It was Britain’s first convent, and initially a double community where monks and nuns both lived, separately, in their devotion to God.

The buildings were destroyed by the Danes in AD 870 but the abbey was rebuilt about a century later and re-founded by St Dunstan, as a nunnery only. William the Conqueror stayed at Barking Abbey after his victory in 1066, whilst his new Tower of London was being built, further along the Thames.

Many of the country’s most revered medieval women, usually of royal blood, served as Abbess in Barking. Some became saints, others made significant contributions to literature and religious liturgy. From 1436 to 1440, Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII, was kept at the abbey with his brother Jasper, under the supervision of abbess, Catherine de la Pole.

The last Abbess was Dorothy Barley, who held the post until Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey between 1539-41. Most of the building's materials were removed to restore royal palaces at Dartford and Greenwich. Meanwhile the manor of Barking was kept by the Crown until 1628 when It was sold to Sir Thomas Fanshawe. The ruins were excavated in 1911 and the Abbey’s footings recovered and demarcated. The churchyard walls, also protected, are mainly built of medieval stone, perhaps also excavated from the Abbey.

The Bronze model of the Abbey, in front of the Curfew Tower in Barking, represents how it is believed to have looked before it was demolished. The model was created and installed by Se Works, in 2021 as part of a National Lottery Heritage Fund project in Barking. The design was based on research conducted by Valence House Museum and maps were used to predict the accurate dimensions of each of the Abbey buildings including the Church of St Mary & St Ethelburga.


The Curfew Tower is the only remaining part of Barking Abbey!

The Curfew Tower, as it is known today, is the only remaining gateway to Barking’s Saxon Abbey. The tower is Grade II* listed – as, The Fire Bell Gate. The original medieval belfry was built in 1370, and the current tower dates from around 1460. The upper storey was largely rebuilt in the late nineteenth century. The names Curfew Tower and Fire Bell Gate probably arose from the tolling of the tower bell, before the nightly curfew, which rang until the end of the Victorian period.

'The Abbey Gate', as it was also known, was the central of three gateways to Barking Abbey, and continues to stand proudly as the gateway to the Grade I listed, St Margaret’s Parish Church and graveyard, as well as the Barking Abbey ruins.

Barking’s, twelfth century, Holy Rood, is a rare stone representation of the crucifixion, which resides in the Curfew Tower. This holy relic, once visited by many paying pilgrims, was moved into the Curfew Tower around 1400, when the original roof-loft chapel was licensed for services and known as the ‘Chapel of the Holy Rood’. Unfortunately, the rood is quite damaged now, it was probably defaced during the dissolution and destruction of Barking Abbey…

This distinctive tower was used as the motif of Barking’s Urban District Council from 1895 and more recently to promote the NLHF Abbey and Barking Town Heritage Project.

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Barking Abbey (St Mary’s) – Scheduled Ancient Monument, Grade II listed Information

Abbey Green was once the site of one of the most significant religious houses in the country. Barking Abbey was founded in AD666 by East Saxon Bishop, St Erkenwald, for his sister St Ethelburga, who was the first Abbess. The abbey church was dedicated to St Mary and the abbey followed Benedictine rules. It was Britain’s first convent, and initially a double community where monks and nuns both lived, separately, in their devotion to God.

The buildings were destroyed by the Danes in AD 870 but the abbey was rebuilt about a century later and re-founded by St Dunstan, as a nunnery only. William the Conqueror stayed at Barking Abbey after his victory in 1066, whilst his new Tower of London was being built, further along the Thames.

Many of the country’s most revered medieval women, usually of royal blood, served as Abbess in Barking. Some became saints, others made significant contributions to literature and religious liturgy. From 1436 to 1440, Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII, was kept at the abbey with his brother Jasper, under the supervision of abbess, Catherine de la Pole.

The last Abbess was Dorothy Barley, who held the post until Henry VIII dissolved the Abbey between 1539-41. Most of the building's materials were removed to restore royal palaces at Dartford and Greenwich. Meanwhile the manor of Barking was kept by the Crown until 1628 when It was sold to Sir Thomas Fanshawe. The ruins were excavated in 1911 and the Abbey’s footings recovered and demarcated. The churchyard walls, also protected, are mainly built of medieval stone, perhaps also excavated from the Abbey.

The Bronze model of the Abbey, in front of the Curfew Tower in Barking, represents how it is believed to have looked before it was demolished. The model was created and installed by Se Works, in 2021 as part of a National Lottery Heritage Fund project in Barking. The design was based on research conducted by Valence House Museum and maps were used to predict the accurate dimensions of each of the Abbey buildings including the Church of St Mary & St Ethelburga.


The Curfew Tower is the only remaining part of Barking Abbey!

The Curfew Tower, as it is known today, is the only remaining gateway to Barking’s Saxon Abbey. The tower is Grade II* listed – as, The Fire Bell Gate. The original medieval belfry was built in 1370, and the current tower dates from around 1460. The upper storey was largely rebuilt in the late nineteenth century. The names Curfew Tower and Fire Bell Gate probably arose from the tolling of the tower bell, before the nightly curfew, which rang until the end of the Victorian period.

'The Abbey Gate', as it was also known, was the central of three gateways to Barking Abbey, and continues to stand proudly as the gateway to the Grade I listed, St Margaret’s Parish Church and graveyard, as well as the Barking Abbey ruins.

Barking’s, twelfth century, Holy Rood, is a rare stone representation of the crucifixion, which resides in the Curfew Tower. This holy relic, once visited by many paying pilgrims, was moved into the Curfew Tower around 1400, when the original roof-loft chapel was licensed for services and known as the ‘Chapel of the Holy Rood’. Unfortunately, the rood is quite damaged now, it was probably defaced during the dissolution and destruction of Barking Abbey…

This distinctive tower was used as the motif of Barking’s Urban District Council from 1895 and more recently to promote the NLHF Abbey and Barking Town Heritage Project.

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Page last updated: 17 May 2021, 09:59