Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Launde Abbey, Leicestershire

England is a small and tightly packed country, in which unexpected vistas open up and architectural surprises await one around corners, in valleys, and behind trees. One of these pleasant surprises was arranged for me by a friend the other day as he drove me through rural Leicestershire. As we rounded a bend and rattled over a cattle grid a vista opened up to reveal this.
Launde Abbey was originally an Augustinian priory founded in the 12th century. Beautifully sited in this dip, it must have looked inviting with its church and group of stone buildings. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s minister who organized the survey of England’s monasteries that eventually led to the dissolution, certainly thought so. When the religious houses closed in the 1530s, of all the monasteries in England, Cromwell bagged Launde for himself. ‘Myself for Launde,’ he wrote in his journal.

The Cromwell family built themselves a house at Launde, incorporating the priory’s church into the new fabric. The house has been altered quite a bit since, and it’s not known how much of the Cromwell house actually remains, although it shares the site and the inviting prospect afforded by the monastery. With its projecting side wings, steep gables, and big mullioned windows, the building has an air of the early-17th century, but the Cromwells sold up in around 1611 so it’s hard to know how much of what’s there was built by them. Generations of residents turned the landscape around the house into beautiful parkland and woodland, and some of the old monastic fishponds are still visible.

There’s a vestige of the priory in the house itself, too. The chancel of the old church still forms part of the structure and is used as a chapel. This is no doubt well used, since the house now belongs to the diocese of Leicester, who use it as a retreat and conference centre.

Thanks to Peter Ashley for pointing me in the direction of this wonderful place.


Thud said...

It looks a little forlorn...some tlc is in order I think.

Sarah said...

I once did a survey there. Great building, but rather full of people who assumed my colleague and I were one of couples there on the Christian retreat.
I wonder if they ever did the work...

Peter Ashley said...

I often wondered what one does on retreats. Do you wander about not talking to anyone, and if they do you run off and hide in one of the rooms?

Philip Wilkinson said...

It's just a quiet time for thought, getting back in touch with your spiritual side – and talking to the surveyor.