Abingdon Abbey Buildings

Long Gallery Timber Dating

We are very grateful to David Clark, local buildings historian, for providing this article.

Sampling of the timbers was carried out in February 2013 by Drs Dan Miles and Martin Bridge, and was successful in pointing to a year during which the Long Gallery was constructed. One group of samples allowed a precise date of 1454 to be obtained for the felling of the timbers. Another sample could not have been felled any earlier than October/November 1454 and could have been felled as late as February or March 1455. Although a further group of samples produced broader age ranges, these all span the same date of 1454/5. The practice at that time was for the carpenter to select his own trees in the light of the sizes and shapes needed, and have them felled in winter when the leaves were off, so they could more easily be taken from the woodland. The initial framing was done somewhere nearby, the timbers marked with numbers, dismantled, and brought to site, all this taking a few the weeks, allowing erection on site in the spring or early summer while the weather was better. So construction probably started in April/May 1455 and probably took most of the summer to complete.

The date shows that the Long Gallery was built during the abbacy of William Ashendon, who was notable in bringing the abbey’s finances into some sort of order, but sadly the obedientiars’ accounts for 1455 are missing, and we therefore cannot say specifically what the building was for. It is, however, very similar to other lodging ranges at abbeys and great houses, such as at Dorchester Abbey and Tretower Court, and may have replaced the ‘monks’ guesthouse’ that was repaired in 1376, and so by 1455 may have reached the end of its useful life.

Who built it? One candidate as carpenter might be John Braunch, an Abingdon man who worked during this time at All Souls’ College, Oxford. As there are some archaic features in the carpentry at Abingdon, one might guess that the designer was getting on in years. There is an important family of Braunches in Abingdon, one of whom became its MP, and further research on them may be useful. As for the stonework of the south wall, we may be on firmer ground in suggesting the builder was John Abbot (alias Hikkes) a mason who was certainly working at the Abbey in 1454.

As ever, new findings raise new questions, but now there is a firm date, we can return to the documents a bit clearer as to what we are looking for.