The battle of Hastings was fought around a high sandstone ridge about six miles from the coast. An abbey was established on the site soon afterward and the town of Battle developed at its gates. Imposing remains of the abbey buildings survive, terraced into the ridge. The abbot’s lodgings became a country house. The adjacent farmland landscape, with the abbot’s great park beyond, gradually changed to a gentleman’s park dotted with the remains of quarrying and management of the streams for mills.
acta and Archaeology South-East prepared a conservation management plan for the site. This teases out the relative significance of the many layers of history. It set priorities for management and interpretation at two levels: providing a framework of long-term policies; but also giving practical guidance in the short term for activities such as the development of new visitor facilities and improving circulation.
The issues tackled included:
- Reconciling the very popular re-enactments of the battle with conserving the battlefield site and managing the heavy clay soils.
- Ensuring that continued use of the former country house as a school does not conflict with the conservation of the buildings and access and interpretation for the public.
- Conserving the buildings in a style appropriate to their country house setting.
- Maintaining and enhancing the parkland setting which is still suffering from the impact of the 1987 storm and the difficulties of procuring reliable conservation grazing.
- The abbey and the battlefield have been subjects for artists, including JMW Turner for over 250 years. This 1783 watercolour by Hieronymus Grimm shows an old road past the abbey precinct that was converted to a terrace in the Victorian period
- The enactment of the battle attracts thousands of visitors, but the ground can take most of the year to recover
- The imposing gateway was substantially rebuilt in the fourteenth century. In an extension of the work on the conservation plan, Dr Michael Shapland identified a suite of Norman structures including guest accommodation and an upper-floor chapel. M Shapland, ‘The Origins and Symbolism of the Great Gatehouse at Battle Abbey’ Sussex Archaeological Collections 154 (2016), pp. 123-140
- The monastic buildings overlook the park and lie on the site of the fiercest fighting during the battle. The sub-surface archaeology presents several conservation issues