The South Aisle
Moving into the south aisle, if you look at the floor just in front of the shop counter, you’ll see what remains of the outside wall of the original aisle. The width was increased from 11 feet (3+m) to 28 feet (8.5m).
As part of the major building campaign of the late fourteenth century (when the new east tower was completed), the priory had built above the original south aisle. Although referred to as such in the inventory at the Dissolution, it is unlikely to have been a dormitory because there is no record of further accommodation being needed for an increased number of monks, and it was too far from the latrines in any case. It was probably a library and perhaps a scriptorium; the warmer and lighter south side was always the preferred location for these purposes.
The new south aisle was built between 1544 and 1560. Henry VIII had granted the parishioners the land on which to build it and any materials they wished to reuse from the Chapter House (remembering that he now owned all church property). Hence the windows in the Early English style, came from there; the brand new aisle had the oldest style of windows installed. Also, notice the difference of the roof when compared to the earlier nave and north aisle roofs. It is very plain by comparison and with an unselfconscious use of bits and pieces of building rubble both inside and out. When the monasteries were suppressed, the buildings weren’t simply destroyed, they were dismantled and reusable materials were sold and by now most of that had been done leaving only smaller, less valuable pieces.
The medieval stained glass fragments were found and installed in the church restoration of 1902-1905. Medieval stained glass and hen’s teeth have a lot in common – glass windows being an easy target for protests.
This is our third and final anomaly. The fragment of a grotesque sculpture is possibly from the pre-existing church, and recovered from demolition rubble of the Chapter House in the 1540s when the new aisle was being built.
It is unclear why the monks would have wanted anything from the older church when the Normans had considered the English church to be corrupt (a longish story relating to Archbishop Stigand and the Conquest), while also practising their religion differently from the more Roman-orientated version the Normans were more familiar with. But even more surprising is that the Protestants of Henry’s England would want anything to do with it. What did they think it was?