Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments

Plates XIII-XIV: Three views of the Gate of St. Bennet’s Abbey in Norfolk, in two plates


“The North West View of the ABBY GATEHOUSE of St. BENNETS in the Holme Norff.”
“Another View of the Gatehouse”
“The East side of the ABBEY GATE of St Bennets in Norfolk. Sumptibus Societatis Antiquariae”


The Monastic Gatehouse at St Benet’s Holme


Salhouse, Norwich, Norfolk

Plates xiii-xiv

Unlike most of the plates in Vetusta Monumenta, the plates of St Benet’s are neither signed nor dated. The Society Minutes for 11 December 1723 record that “Mr President [Peter Le Neve] brought a drawing of the West side of the Abby Gate of St Bennet’s Holme Norff. by Mr Prideaux. Likewise the NW view, & the East view of the same, which are the only remains there, which are now orderd to be Engraven”( SAL Minutes I.94). On 2 September 1724 “Mr Vertue brought proof prints of the Abby gatehouse of St Bennetts of the Holm, and Robert Collet’s [sic] monument” (SAL Minutes I.128). The original drawings from the North West view (now Norwich, Norfolk Record Office, MS Rye 17:6, p. 1) is signed by John Kirkpatrick, which provides authorship for the original drawing but not the engraving (Luxford 2014, pl. 5). Kirkpatrick’s drawing is not dated, but is likely to date to 1722 or 1723. It is possible that Kirkpatrick was hired to make the drawings in anticipation of the destruction of much of the gatehouse when a brick windmill tower was built on the site shortly thereafter. 

Commentary [MR]

The three views of the great monastic gatehouse of St Benet’s Holm provide important visual evidence of what was one of the most significant fourteenth-century gatehouses built in Britain. Although not securely dated, its construction is surely related to a license to crenellate granted by Edward III on 23 October 1327. It is one of a sequence of monumental Decorated gatehouses either added to or rebuilt for English monasteries during the early fourteenth century, such as Peterborough (1302-7); St Augustine’s, Canterbury (crenellated 1308); Kirkham Priory, Yorkshire (1300-15); the Ethelbert Gate at Norwich (1317-17); Butley Priory, Suffolk (c. 1320-30); and others. Like the gate at St Augustine’s, upon which the Holme gate is partially based, it was a rich, two-towered façade with octagonal towers and an embattled silhouette. Its central register comprises an elegant series of micro-architectural canopies, the center containing a two-light window and the lateral functioning as sculpture niches long lost by 1723. Based perhaps on the Ethelbert Gate in Norwich, the spandrels of Holme are decorated with relief carvings of hybrid creatures in combat, some of which is still visible in the Vetusta Monumenta engraving. At the same height of the sculptures are eight raised panels of flint attached to each turret. Although the period witnessed extensive use of flint flushwork in East Anglian Decorated architecture, these raised flint panels—which would originally have sparkled in the sunlight—are unique to the Holme gatehouse and may well have been intended to reference the hallowed description of the New Jerusalem (built of gold and precious stones) from Revelation 21: 11-22.  

The gatehouse is now ruinous. Roofless by 1594, the gatehouse was subject to the elements for well over a century before it was captured in these 1723 views. Shortly afterwards (c. 1730) a brick windmill tower was created within the gatehouse that demanded further dismantling it. The Vetusta Monumenta drawings are thus of exceptional valuable and have ultimately functioned in the manner that the Society intended them to, since they formed the basis of a recent restoration (Luxford 2014). Cumulatively, the three images provide something like a panoramic survey of the gatehouse as it stood in the early 1720s. Plate 1 employs a collage style with the north-west and west perspectives side-by-side, and joining them a groundplan fictively pinned on to the two images and sagging under the weight, creating a trompe l’oeil effect. The west perspective (at right) features an expanded gallery of the heraldic blazons that ran across a cornice above the door head. Although the north-west view follows closely from Kirkpatrick’s original view in its basic details, the engraving completely omits his texts and suggests a rather more ordered, rectilinear view of the gatehouse than was provided by the sketch. The engraver has also added more shade and contouring than can be found in the original drawing. Here, between model and copy, we glean something fundamental about the antiquarian aesthetics of Vetusta Monumenta in the 1720s: occasionally strict accuracy was sacrificed to “correctness” and to the desired atmospheric effects of antiquarian images. Yet, circling the gatehouse and providing full elevations of it provided sufficient evidence for recent scholars to offer a full reconstruction (published 2014). The panorama format was explored in other architectural/ topographical entries at this time, notably in the views of Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire published in Vetusta Monumenta the previous year (1722). 

Works Cited

Luxford, Julian. 2014. “Architecture and Environment: St Benet’s Holm and the Fashioning of the English Monastic Gatehouse.” Architectural History 57: 31-72.

Society of Antiquaries of London.  1718-.  Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.

This page has paths:

This page has tags:

This page references: