Last Photographed: Tuesday 11th July 2006
A religious community has existed at Haughmond since the late 11th Century. In 1135, it attracted the patronage of William Fitzalan, who founded an Augustinian priory at the site. By 1155, the community had been elevated to abbey status and was home to a thriving community of 24 canons.
For the remainder of the 12th Century and throughout the 13th Century, Haughmond continued to enjoy the protection of powerful local families, and it acquired extensive holdings across Shropshire, greatly enhancing its wealth. Much of the land granted to the abbey was untamed and relatively remote, so they would mortgage it to settlers who would bring it under the plough.
The community appears to have been well-established and thriving by the 14th Century. Much of Britain was struggling with the black death, famine and social unrest, and many monastic houses were hard pressed to find sufficient labour. Haughmond, on the other hand, seems to have flourished during this period.
Prior to the dissolution in the 16th Century, Haughmond had fallen victim to declining standards and licentious behaviour. Essential work on the fabric of the abbey was being neglected, and sexual misconduct was apparently commonplace. In 1522, abbot Christopher Hunt was charged with fornication and maladministration and shipped off to Lilleshall to be disciplined!
In 1539, Haughmond fell victim to Henry VIII's program of dissolution. The monks were pensioned off and the abbey sold to Sir Edward Littleton, who converted many of the buildings into a private house. A fire during the English civil war appears to have ended this brief renaissance, and in its latter days, Haughmond served simply as the outbuildings for a farm.
Today, Haughmond is an evocative and dignified ruin. The abbot's lodgings are particularly striking, with elaborate tracery ornamenting the late-medieval window bay. Indeed, it's this kind of detail that really stands out at this site. Other examples include a fireplace topped with carved foliage and a Norman door flanked with sculpted figures representing St Peter and St Paul.
The most notable sight at Haughmond is the entrance to the 12th Century chapter house. This magnificent frontage features three elaborately ornamented archways, with triple columns and recessed sculptures representing a variety of saints.
Haughmond has always appeared very quiet when I've visited, and I've found it a very peaceful and evocative site. Don't let its low profile deter you - Haughmond is a little gem, and there's a lot here to engage the eye and the imagination.