The beautiful medieval buildings are more than 600 years old, set in their own private walled gardens situated by the Millstream in Thames Street.
The buildings have Scheduled Monument Status under the protection of English Heritage. They were once part of Abingdon’s famous Abbey – The Benedictine Abbey of St Mary at Abingdon.
At the time of its dissolution, the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary at Abingdon was the sixth wealthiest monastery in England. The Abbey was a vast complex of buildings, courtyards, gardens and orchards. The two groups of buildings which survive are only a small fragment of this once grand establishment. The Abbey Gateway faces the Market Place and is flanked by St Nicolas Church and the former St John’s Hospital. These are now part of the Guildhall under the care of Abingdon Town Council. The outline of the Abbey Church can be seen in the Abbey Gardens.
The second group of buildings is owned and cared for by the Friends of Abingdon, and enjoy charitable status. Situated by the millstream in Thames Street, it consists of the former bakehouse, the Checker Hall (now converted into the Unicorn Theatre), the Long Gallery, with the Lower Hall beneath, and various adjoining rooms. All monies made from rentals are used to look after and protect the fabric of the Buildings.
The Long Gallery was built, or possibly rebuilt, in the late 15th century as a series of rooms opening onto a long open passageway on the north side. It was most likely used as accommodation for guests or visiting clerks. After the dissolution of the monasteries, it appears to have been divided into living accommodation before becoming a Brewery in the late 16th century along with the Lower Hall and the adjoining Checker. Today the restored Long Gallery is available as a historic setting for many events during the summer months. The Long Gallery in particular makes an ideal venue for summer weddings, parties and other social events.
The building connecting the Long Gallery and the Unicorn Theatre is known as The Checker. It is a very imposing building with a fine tall chimney dating from the 13th century. The main hall of the building was at some time divided into two separate rooms, and the area is thought to have been the exchequer of the abbey where all the accounting was done – hence the imposing fireplace to provide warmth for the clerks. Beneath the hall is the Undercroft, at one time the abbey wine cellar, but which possibly had other uses at some stage as it also contains a fireplace.
The theatre is a small, steep, and atmospheric space with an Elizabethan style thrust stage, in what was then the Checker Hall (Abbey exchequer). It turned over to its current use in 1952, with Read more here.
The Abbey Buildings are open to the public from May 01 to September 30, between 2.00pm and 4.30pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. If you would like to visit at other times, please contact the Curator on 01235 525339, who will let you know if it is practicable. Special arrangements, including guided tours, are possible for group visits.
The Unicorn Theatre and other parts of the buildings are available for hire. The buildings are full of history and unique in character. They are rustic in style and partially open to the elements (the north side of the Long Gallery is not glazed). They offer an ideal location for a truly personalised wedding and reception between May and September, and ceremonies only at other times of the year.
There are public car parks within 5 minutes walk at Abbey Close, the Cattle Market and the Civic Car park; there is also a large car park at Waitrose supermarket. Those travelling from the South may prefer to park on the south side of the river and walk across – about 10-15 minutes walk.
If travelling by bus from the Oxford direction, get off either at the Vineyard and walk along Abbey Close or at the High Street then walk through the Market Place, under the archway, and into Abbey Close. From there, the turning into Checker Walk it is around 150 yards on the right. The Abbey Buildings are at the bottom of Checker Walk – a further 50 yards.
The Abbey Buildings are five minutes’ easy walk from the disembarkation point for Salter’s Steamers boat trips from Oxford’s Folly Bridge.