The local tradition of the splendour of the Monastery is no doubt handed down to us by Thomas Habington, the antiquary, who visited the town in 1640. “There was not to be found,” he writes, with pardonable exaggeration, “out of Oxford or Cambridge, so great an assemblage of religious buildings in the kingdom”!
THE PARISH CHURCHES
The two parish churches, placed together in one yard, make with the bell tower an unusually striking group. What then would be the feelings aroused in the spectator were the great church, a cathedral in magnitude and splendour, still visible, rising majestically above roofs and spires. To us the Abbey which is gone can do no more than add solemnity to the scene which once it graced. It matters little by which entrance we approach the churchyard, for from every side the buildings group harmoniously; each of the steeples acting as it were as a foil to the other: and both the spires unite in adding dignity to the bell tower. The churchyard in Norman times would seem to have been part of the Abbey precincts, as it is enclosed within Abbot Reginald’s wall already described, and a second wall, part of which is still standing, divided it from the Monastery and the monastic grounds.
The Church of All Saints seems to have served, from very early times, as the parish church. As we examine it we read, as in an ancient and partly illegible manuscript, its long story. The restorer, more ruthless than Age or Time, has, with the best intentions, laid his heavy hand upon it, and obliterated much of its character and history; but enough remains to interest us, though pleasure is now mingled with much vain regret. In the simple Norman arch through which we pass as we enter the nave, and perhaps the western wall with the small round-headed windows, we find the earliest records. The slight tower with its sharply-pointed windows and delicate spire was added, probably supplanting an earlier and simple porch, in the time of the Edwards. The arches and northern clerestory of the nave belong to a rather later period when the church was found too narrow for the increasing population; while the arches on the southern side with no clerestory above, are probably later still. The choir and north wall of the nave are the work of the restorer, and tell us nothing but a tale of culpable neglect and mistaken zeal! The head of the north door of the chancel is, however, a relic of the original building, and this should be carefully examined. It is beautifully cut with double rows of cusps, and is of fourteenth century workmanship. The latest Gothic additions are the work of Clement Lichfield. To this Abbot we owe the outer porch so deeply panelled, with its two entrance doorways, its pierced battlements, and finely carved timber roof; to him also do we breathe our thanks as we stand looking up at the lovely vaulting of the Lichfield Chapel built by him in his younger