To carry on with our visit in 2016 to Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum, we come to a building that I found absolutely fascinating, the Abbey. A building where it’s true nature had remained hidden for centuries, in the guise of an old farmhouse. Its a story of how a building survived since the 12th century, through to the late 1960’s.
Travelling back in time….. as with other Fenland monasteries, Denny was originally an island in a low-lying marsh. The area was used as a farm as early as the Roman period, and there is evidence of a raised causeway built by the Romans. It is thought that the Romans farmed the site between the 2nd and 4th centuries.
Below is what could be Roman causeway and which was used as a busy byway in Medieval times and formed the main entrance to the Abbey.
A brief history……Having been occupied at various times by three different monastic orders. Founded in 1159 as a Benedictine monastery, in 1170 it was taken over by the Knights Templars and used as a home for aged and infirm members of the order. After the Templars’ suppression for alleged heresy in 1308, it became a convent of Franciscan nuns known as the Poor Clares. Following the dissolution of the nunnery in 1539 by Henry VIII, and was later transformed into a farmhouse.
We have the Countess of Pembroke to thank for what we are about to see, she was given Denny by King Edward III. The Countess brought the Poor Clares, Franciscan nuns, here around 1339. She made the original church into her own apartment, adding a floor, and then built a new church, a refectory (visited in a previous post) in 1330, a dormitory for 40 nuns, cloisters, and other buildings. The Countess died in 1377 and was buried in the Abbey. Life continued at the Abbey until the Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539 and two years later Denny Abbey closed.
Edward Elrington, an Essex property speculator, was given the Abbey by Henry and he dismantled parts of the buildings and then sold the stone. But as the Abbey was able to be converted into a farmhouse, due to the Countess conversions in the 1300’s, it was saved, unlike other Abbeys that were reduced to ruins. The farmhouse was lived in by many tenants over the years. Tudor chimneys and fireplaces were later additions, and, still later, plumbing was added. The farm was lived in up until the late 1960’s.
Before we step inside, lets have a look at the exterior changes that turned a 12th century Abbey into a working Farmhouse,
The below photo shows the Farmhouse in the 1920’s and in Victorian times the front was surrounded by a porch. The next photo was taken in 1948 and in both photos, the true identity of the building seems to have vanished.
The two following photos, bring this side of the Abbey up to date, in 2016.
The below photo was taken in 1960 of the rear of the building and above the verandah there are traces of the hidden Abbey. The next photo is the rear of the Abbey taken in 2016.
Denny is a fascinating site, and features from each period remain to give us tantalising glimpses into the past, which we will look at in the next post.