The Abbot’s Kitchen in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey is the focus of a major conservation project and exhibition this summer.
As one of only a handful of medieval kitchens surviving in the world, it is being stabilised and protected for future generations to enjoy.
The iconic building is being analysed and conserved as part of a major conservation project supported by Viridor Credits Environmental Company and Glastonbury Abbey’s Appeal ‘Rescue Our Ruins’.
It is shortly to be shrouded in scaffolding so that the painstaking conservation work by a team of experts can begin.
The conservation work follows a digital survey of the Abbot’s Kitchen earlier this year by Downland Partnership. This was the first detailed survey of the building since that of Augustus Pugin, co-designer of the Houses of Parliament, in the 1830s.
Pugin’s drawings, contained in his book ‘Examples of Gothic Architecture’, have been loaned to the Abbey by Somerset Heritage & Library Service for the exhibition.
A short film about the conservation project has been commissioned from the Bridgwater based company, Somerset Film. The film contains fascinating insights into how and why the Abbot’s Kitchen is so important to conserve and includes interviews with the specialists involved.
Peter Brears, an expert on traditional English cookery, has produced a reconstruction of how the interior of the kitchen may have looked.
Janet Bell, the Abbey’s Director, said: “Peter believes the remains of two stone piers in the north and south walls suggest there may have been an arcaded gallery, from which the head cook could supervise the kitchen staff.”
Mary Gryspeerdt, Assistant Curator, said: “The Abbot’s Kitchen is evidence of the wealth and influence of Glastonbury Abbey. As head of the richest monastery in England after Westminster, the abbot lived and entertained in considerable splendour.
“The kitchen was built at some time between 1320 and 1370 forming part of a lavish suite of rooms for the abbot and his guests. Receiving guests, whether poor pilgrims or rich visitors, was an incredibly important part of Benedictine life.”
The Abbot’s Kitchen demonstrates the wealth of the Abbey in medieval times. When Edward III and Queen Philippa visited in 1331, £800 – about £350,000 today – was spent on food, accommodation and splendid ceremonies.
Its eight-sided interior, boasts four huge corner fireplaces, each with a different function: roasting, boiling, baking and washing up.
Grand medieval kitchens were often built entirely in stone to protect them from fire. An old Glastonbury folktale tells that the Abbot’s Kitchen was built in stone after a quarrel between the abbot and the king, who threatened to burn it down!
The current conservation of the Abbot’s Kitchen is part of a wider programme at the Abbey, which will include the Lady Chapel, Crypt, Galilee (western porch to the Abbey Church) and the north wall of the precinct.
The conservation work will involve the removal of damaging materials used in earlier repairs and the stabilisation of vulnerable stonework.
Visitors will be able see the conservation work in action and there will be special guided conservation tours.
The exhibition and film will open to the public on 12th July and will be on show until 26th January 2014.