On a recent visit to Ramsey Abbey in Cambridgeshire I was struck by the sheer history that these often overlooked buildings contain.
The Gatehouse & Lady Chapel are all that is now left of the original Benedictine Abbey but it dates back to Cromwell’s time in the 15th century!
My interest was piqued and I decided to delve into history.
Gatehouses date back to the time of ‘Castles’ - so early antiquity, and were built to protect the castle or town. Often strongly fortified, gatehouses would often include a drawbridge plus portculllis (heavy vertically closing gate), machicolation (nasty trap door through which boiling water or stones could be dropped on intruders!) and arrow hoops. Sometimes, they took on the role of a Keep - the last line of defence!
Gatehouses were also commonly used to fortify a town, there are lots of examples still in existence today, such as the Monnow Bridge in Monmouth and the four that surround York (also famous for its Viking ancestry), in particular Micklegate Bar - later known as the ‘Micklegate Run’ because of its reputation for bars and clubs in the area!
By the Middle Ages Gatehouses had stopped being used as a line of defence for battles and were put to more domestic use, as grand entrances to manor houses or estates, such as the beautiful Gatehouse Tower at Knole which is currently being restored and 11th century Durham Castle which is now used as University accommodation!!
If you feel like travelling, there are numerous surviving Gatehouses throughout Europe, particularly in France and Germany, some even now act as small boutique hotels for those of you who like to get ‘up close and personal’ with history!