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Crowland Abbey

Well, what a wonderfully warm and sunny September day we had for our history group tour to Crowland or Croyland Abbey.
Fifteen of our members congregated outside this magnificent building before being greeted inside the Abbey with tea, coffee and biscuits. We were then introduced to our tour guide David, who gave us a potted history of the place before being divided into smaller groups for a more in-depth explanation of the history and mystery of this intriguing building and ruins.

 Crowland Abbey was a monastery of the Benedictine Order in Lincolnshire, sixteen miles from Stamford and thirteen from Peterborough. It was founded in memory of St. Guthlac early in the eighth century by Ethelbald, king of Mercia, but was entirely destroyed and the community slaughtered by the Danes in 866.
 Refounded in the reign of King Eldred, it was again destroyed by fire in 1091, but rebuilt about twenty years later by Abbot Joffrid. In 1170 the greater part of the abbey and church was once more burnt down and once more rebuilt, under Abbot Edward. From this time the history of Crowland was one of growing and almost unbroken prosperity down to the time of the Dissolution. Richly endowed by royal and noble visitors to the shrine of St. Guthlac, it became the most opulent of East Anglian abbey’s; and owing to its isolated position in the heart of the fen country, its security and peace were comparatively undisturbed during the great civil wars and other national troubles.

 The bells of Crowland Abbey were the first in England, and perhaps the world, to be rung as a tuned peal. They were rung in 1798 to celebrate Nelson’s victory at the battle of the Nile. At this time Nelson’s nephew was the Lord of the Manor in Crowland. The bell ringers were each paid five shillings, which would be over thirty pounds in today’s money. On the 1st. November 1929 the bells of Crowland were the first to be recorded by the BBC. In the past, they were used as a form of communication before the advent of electricity and telephones. They were used not just to call the people to church services, but to signal danger, death or curfews.

 It is said that Crowland Abbey has one of the largest collections of intact exterior medieval statues of any English parish church, and the architecture is comparable to Wells and Westminster Cathedral.

 The small picturesque market town of Crowland was a complete surprise, with its attractive houses, cottages, shops and restaurants. At one time there were 37 public houses, and apparently ‘The George and Angel’ is the only one in the UK bearing this name, and it dates back to 1714.
Trinity bridge which stands in the centre of the town at the junction of North, South, East and West Streets, is a curious and possibly unique structure built of Barnack rag stone. The present bridge was built between 1360 and 1390 in the late Decorated or early Transitional style. It probably replaced an earlier timber bridge built in a similar pattern. The charter given by King Ethelbald in 716 refers to the ‘Bridge of Crowland’ and King Eldred’s charter of 943 speaks of the ‘triangular bridge of Crowland’ as a marker to measure the boundaries of the land contained in a land grant he made to the Abbey.
Trinity bridge (certainly not a ruin as I first thought!) with its three arches, stands on dry land, once spanned by three artificial waterways. One of these was a canal that extended from the Welland River what is today West Street; another was a canal that extended from the Trinity Bridge back to the Welland down what is today North Street, and the other was a canal that extended down what is today South Street to a channel known as Cat’s Water, which flowed into the Nene River. These channels enabled barges loaded with stone from Barnack, near Stamford, to reach Crowland via the Welland. They also provided means of human transport and trade with the outside world. The bridge was located at the point at which these three channels came together. There was probably a canal dug from the bridge down what is today East Street to enable boats to draw closer to the monastery. These channel’s were such an important part of the town that they were likened to Venice. Over time as waterway traffic in the Fens declined these various channels fell into disuse and silted up, making the bridge redundant. The gentle slopes were replaced with steep steps that now give access to the top of the bridge. It was probably used as a pulpit or preaching station by the monks and as a place of devotions by pilgrims on their way to the abbey.

 After all the history overload, we made our way to the Copper Kettle tea room for some lunch and a rest which was well deserved, after which we even managed to fit in a bit of ‘retail therapy’! We all agreed that Crowland and its Abbey was definitely worth a return visit, and the Town Trail would certainly be of great interest.