“The stranger who knows nothing of its story would surely smile if he were told that beneath the grass and daisies round him were hidden the vast foundation storeys of one of the mightiest of our proud mediaeval abbeys; that on the spot where he was standing were once grouped a forest of tall columns bearing up lofty fretted roofs; that all around once were altars all agleam with colour and with gold; that besides the many altars were once grouped in that sacred spot chauntries and tombs, many of them marvels of grace and beauty, placed there in the memory of men great in the service of Church and State—of men whose names were household words in the England of our fathers; that close to him were once stately cloisters, great monastic buildings, including refectories, dormitories, chapter-house, chapels, infirmary, granaries, kitchens—all the varied piles of buildings which used to make up the hive of a great monastery.”
It was commenced by Bishop Egwin, of Worcester, in 702 A.D., but the era of its great prosperity set in after the battle of Evesham when Simon de Montford was slain, and his body buried in the monastic church. There was his shrine to which was great pilgrimage, crowds flocking to lay their offerings there; and riches poured into the treasury of the monks, who made great additions to their house, and reared noble buildings. Little is left of its former grandeur. You can discover part of the piers of the great central tower, the cloister arch of Decorated work of great beauty erected in 1317, and the abbey fishponds. The bell tower is one of the glories of Evesham. It was built by the last abbot, Abbot Lichfield, and was not quite completed before the destruction of the great abbey church adjacent to it. It is a grand specimen of Perpendicular architecture.
[Illustration: Fifteenth-century House, Market Place, Evesham]
At the corner of the Market Place there is a picturesque old house with gable and carved barge-boards and timber-framed arch, and we see the old Norman gateway named Abbot Reginald’s Gateway, after the name of its builder, who also erected part of the wall enclosing the monastic buildings. A timber-framed structure now stretches across the arcade, but a recent restoration has exposed the Norman columns which support the arch. The Church House, always an interesting building in old towns and villages, wherein church ales and semi-ecclesiastical functions took place, has been restored. Passing under the arch we see the two churches in one churchyard—All Saints and St. Laurence. The former has some Norman work at the inner door of the porch, but its main construction is Decorated and Perpendicular. Its most interesting feature is the Lichfield Chapel, erected by the last abbot, whose initials and the arms of the abbey appear on escutcheons on the roof. The fan-tracery roof is especially noticeable, and the good modern glass. The church of St. Laurence is entirely Perpendicular, and the chantry of Abbot Lichneld, with its fan-tracery vaulting, is a gem of English architecture.