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IoE Number: 466440
Photographer: N/A
Date Photographed: N/A
Date listed: 07 August 1952
Date of last amendment: 30 October 1997
Grade I

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BURY ST EDMUNDS TL8564SE ABBEY PRECINCTS 639-1/8/3 Nos.1, 1A, 2 and 3 West Front and 07/08/52 Sampson's Tower (Formerly Listed as: ABBEY PRECINCTS Nos 1, 2 and 3 Churchyard and Abbot Samson's Tower) GV I Formerly known as: Nos 1, 2 & 3 Abbey Ruins and No.3b Abbey Ruins (Samson's Tower) ABBEY PRECINCTS. Remains of the West Front of the Abbey of St Edmund. Begun under Abbot Anselm (1120-1148); completed under Abbot Samson (1182-1211) and his Sacrist, Walter de Banham (c1200-1211). Coursed flint with traces of the original stone facing. EXTERIOR: 3 tall deeply recessed entrance arches in the centre of the front were originally surmounted by a high central tower and spire; remains of the arches are still visible, infilled with later walling. As completed by Abbot Samson, with an octagonal tower and spire at each end, the front was 246 feet across, the widest in Britain: the north end is now missing and the ground level has risen between 4 and 8 feet. Behind the 3 central arches was the west transept with apsidal chapels on 2 storeys to each side of it. 2- and 3-storey houses inserted into the ruinous remains of the arches and the west transept from the later C17, were altered in the C18 and altered again and extended during the C19. The West Front today shows evidence of all these changes. At the south end, Samson's Tower, used as a stable in the C17 and C18 and subsequently as a dye works, was converted into the town's Probate Registry in 1863 to designs by the architect William Rednall. At the same time the adjoining part on the north was made into the registrar's residence (No.3). Both office and house have details in a heavy Victorian Romanesque style. The octagonal tower has a conical tiled roof; tall round-headed windows to the high ground storey; roll-moulded arches and flanking shafts with cushion capitals to the surrounds; small-paned cast-iron windows. Circular windows to the 1st storey have radiating cast-iron glazing bars. Linked windows with a central shaft and paired outer shafts above the door. The former registrar's house (No.3) has 2 similar but smaller windows to each storey and a narrow window above the door. Both doorways are of similar design with rounded arches. The chimney-stack to No.3 has decorative arches on each face of the shaft. No.2 occupies both the former south and central arches of the Front, both of which are infilled with later walling in a mixture of flint and stone. 2-light windows in Victorian Romanesque style and a door in a plain wood surround were inserted into the south arch in the later C19. The upper windows are in 2 tiers, set into a rendered rectangular frame. The central arch is the only part of the Front which retains C18 features externally: two 12-pane sash windows in cased frames with shallow reveals to the ground and 1st storeys and a 2-light small-paned casement window to the 2nd storey. A 6-panel door with raised fielded panels has a rectangular fanlight and a moulded wood surround with a flat cornice hood on brackets. Between Nos 1 and 2 are the remains of the original north stair turret with 3 openings above: the stair gave access to the northern upper chapel and to the gallery above the west transept. No.1, which occupies the north arch of the Front, was refaced in the later C19. A large canted bay window rising through 2 storeys has heavy rendered surrounds, 3 square-headed lights on the ground storey and 5 round-headed lights above. Above it is a small early C19 sash window. Entrance door with a projecting round-headed canopy. No.1 has a complex series of C19 alterations and rear extensions in conjunction with the creation in the early-to-mid C19 of a further house, No.1A, at the north end with a wide entrance arch between them. No.1A has a front wall of monastic flint rubble and features in Victorian Gothic style: above the entrance arch are 2 small-paned sash windows within pointed arches formed by intersecting Y-tracery. A moulded timber surround to the door incorporates a single narrow shaft with bell capitals at either side and a quatrefoil with lozenge and flower motif in each spandrel. A large rectangular fanlight has 3 lights with pointed heads. INTERIORS: from south to north. Samson's Tower, divided into 2 rooms on the ground storey when it became the Probate Registry, has a single large octagonal upper room with deep splays to the circular windows. Winder stair with cast-iron balusters. The former registrar's house (No.3) is the most ruinous part of the group: none of the 1st-storey flooring survives. No.2 retains some C17 and C18 features but was considerably refurbished in the late C19. A small cellar below the central arch descends to the original ground level of the West Front. In the south wall of the south arch are the stone remains of the roll-moulding and abaci of the Norman arch which led to the ground storey chapel to the south of the west transept. One very fine 6-panel door on the ground storey. The ground storey sash windows have internal pull-up shutters. The gabled roof behind the central arch has side purlins and dates from the C17. No.1, set within the north arch, has features principally of the C19, but the cellar has one wall of C17 brick and the long rear roof-slope may be of the same date. 2 ceiling beams have chamfers and ogee stops. Between Nos 1 and 1A runs a length of C12 wall approximately 20 metres long containing 2 original arches: this wall marks the junction of the west transept with the apsidal chapel to the north of it and corresponds stylistically with the surviving arch in the south wall of No.2. Fragmentary remains of the groined chapel vaulting also survive. The Abbey remains are a Scheduled Ancient Monument. (BOE: Pevsner N: Radcliffe E: Suffolk: London: 1974-: 139; Official Guidebook: Whittingham AB: Bury St Edmunds Abbey: London, HMSO: 1971-: 19 & 20).

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