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The guesthouse for distinguished visitors

The term ‘guesthouse’ is rather misleading for, as excavation of the site has shown, this was essentially a complex comprising halls, chambers, a kitchen, bakery and toilet blocks. It was effectively self-contained but dependent on the abbey’s water supply and drainage system. The guesthouse underwent alterations during the three hundred years of its occupation and may have been leased out or run as a going concern, in the sixteenth century, for whilst the rest of the abbey was at this time let to run down, the guest complex was, conversely, renovated.(2) At the time of the Dissolution the guesthouse ceased to function and the site was looted for building materials.(3)

(a) The main hall and chamber-block
The hall was the first part of the complex to be built and dates from the early thirteenth century. It was a single storey building with aisles and had five bays, the southernmost of which was screened off and used as ‘services’- where food and drink were prepared for those dining in the hall. The hall was heated by a large hearth in the centre of the room; smoke escaped through an opening in the roof. In the fifteenth century the hearth was used, temporarily, as a bell-pit to cast new bells for the abbey church. Once these had been cast the hearth and floor were replaced, underlining the versatility of these buildings.(4) A two-storey chamber-block was built to the north of the hall, which was heated by a fire in the north wall. The lower floor of the chamber-block was accessed from the north end of the hall, the upper level contained private apartments.(5) A yard with ancillary buildings including kitchens, a bakery and a scullery, stood apart from the hall, to the south; this would have reduced the chances of fire spreading from the kitchen to the hall and chamber-block.

(b) The west hall complex
Later in the thirteenth century a second aisled hall, inferior to the first, was built. This was probably intended to accommodate the servants of those staying in the main hall complex. It had six bays and a central hearth; the bakery and kitchen served both halls. In the fifteenth century the west hall was converted to a smithy and stables; the services area in the chamber-block was at this time converted to residential use and was presumably intended to accommodate the servants who had hitherto stayed in the west hall.(6)

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