The Abbey Fields are an extensive public open space which forms the green heart of Kenilworth.
It is used by both residents and visitors for recreation from kite flying to playing tennis. The 68 acres of the Abbey Fields includes a swimming pool (both indoors and outdoors), a lake, children’s play area and heritage trails.
As well as being an amazing space, The Abbey Fields are also rich in history with the remains of an historic Abbey.
Close to the Parish Church of St Nicholas lie the ruins of the Abbey of St Mary the Virgin. It was first founded by Geoffrey de Clinton in 1119 as an Augustine priory. In 1447, the Priory had the unusual distinction of being raised to Abbey status by Henry VI.
At its height the Abbey had the second highest income in the County. However, all that remains now are small parts of the Nave and Chapter House, the ruined gatehouse and another building of unknown origin known today as the ‘Barn’.
A path leads from the swimming baths via the children’s playground to the 14th century sandstone Barn, now used by the Kenilworth History and Archaeology Society as a local history museum. It is open on Sundays and Bank Holidays in summer, with opening times posted on the door. Downstairs it also houses the Abbey Interpretation Project. Its walls are peppered with shot marks, perhaps from skirmishes in the Civil War in 1642. The path leads on, via part of the south wall of the Abbey Chapter House, to the Tantara Archway (1361-75) of the Abbey Gatehouse. There used to be a ‘Clapper Gate’ or ‘Tumbledown Stile’ in its small archway. It now resides in the Barn.
Under Henry VIII, the Monasteries Dissolution Bill was passed in 1538, and it was the beginning of the end for the Abbey. Within a few years the Abbey was dismantled, and it later passed into the hands of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Elizabeth I’s favourite), who removed much of the stone for repairs and extensions to Kenilworth Castle.
The magnificently decorated Norman Porch at the western entrance of St Nicholas’ Church was also erected from material removed from the Abbey in the 16th century as part of the repairs to the Church