||Burgess Court encloses a sub-rectangular area which narrows from 84m
in the west to only 47m in the east. Its length varies from 86m along the south wall to 97m alongside the monastic
enclosure, and it covers an area of just over 0.7 hectares (1.8 acres). The enclosing perimeter or curtain wall
has a length of 250m.
The curtain is reinforced by four towers and by a gatehouse mid-way along the east wall (Fig 8). Towers and
gates have all been given names for easier reference. Some are names applied in the past though usually with 'castle'
as a suffix rather than tower (e.g. Prior's Castle, Water Castle). The other names reflect the positions of the
towers around the priory complex.
The Outer Gatehouse (1)
Burgess Court is entered through a relatively simple Outer Gatehouse which projects slightly from the centre of
the east wall (Figure 8). A broad round-headed archway steps back into a 2m deep gate passage with
a segmentally arched vault (segmental arch: consisting of a segment only of a circle). Just inside the outer arch
are the original stone pivot holes by which the priory gates were hinged. Those at head height are called hanging
The gate passage vault forms the floor for a broad fighting platform at gatehouse roof-level. The centre of the
platform projects out to the east as a machicoulis over the gate-arch - a short length of parapet (protective wall)
carried out from the external face of the gatehouse on stone brackets or corbels. Defenders were able to drop missiles
through the spaces between the corbels onto assailants below without exposing themselves to arrow-shot.
The machicoulis is not crenellated (it has no battlements) but this may not have been its original form since the
upper metre or so is modern. On its three outer faces it has a continuous head-height parapet pierced by five arrow
slits (or arrow loops). These gave defending archers some flexibility of aim while protecting them from those outside
the walls. The southern parapet ends flush with the inside of the adjoining curtain wall to leave a narrow entrance.
The inner face of the gatehouse has a low parapet built onto the platform paving stones which project as a thin
course of flagstones from the face of the inside wall. A row of square holes above the flagstone course drains
the platform. The platform must have been reached either by a timber staircase (as in Figure 4) or by ladder.
Burgess Court walls
Burgess Court's curtain wall has a thickness which usually varies between 0.75m and 1m, and a height ranging from
4.5m to 6m (the thinner stretch north of West Tower is a more recent replacement). It is pierced at 5m to 8m intervals
by short arrow slits which open into splayed embrasures (recesses) on the inside. Land-slip on the hill above the
Court has brought the ground-surf ace up to or above the sills of the arrow slits in the south wall. Originally
they would have been about 1m up the wall like the others. A shallow buttress supports the inner face of the south
wall near Southeast Tower. The barest trace of a defensive ditch around Burgess Court can still be identified along
the outer side of the west curtain as a shallow depression.
The millstream along the northern edge of Burgess Court enters and exits through broad arches in the west and east
curtain walls respectively (Figure
8), the western arch now partially blocked.
During recent restoration, the top of the curtain wall was finished as an unbroken bevelled edge. (The top of the
ruined wall as it stood before the modern work is marked by a thin, irregular felt seam). Though the modern appearance
of the wall is shown in Figure 4, the curtain was probably originally crenellated like the wall west of the Inner
Gatehouse - if only as a deterrent to hostile eyes.
The arch for the millstream in the east wall is overlooked by a machicoulis (2) with a continuous head-height
parapet pierced by a single arrow slit in the south wall. The machicoulis is reached from inside the Precinct via
a short wall-walk (or alure) along the top of the wall, protected by a parapet. Today there are only a few short
lengths of wall-walk on the priory walls and in Burgess Court there is only this one.
Several architectural details suggest that there may never have been more. The short wall-walk in Burgess Court
is marked on the external face of the curtain by a thin course of flagstones reflecting the outer edge of the wall-walk
paving. This feature is not preserved anywhere else along the outer face of the curtain. It is also notable that
all the existing wall-walks are associated with openings in the walls, either gateways or millstream arches. These
were defensive weak-points which would have been the focus of any attack.
In addition, every length of curtain carrying a wall-walk has a greater than usual thickness, generally between
1.25m and 1.5m. This greater width provided a broad fighting platform for the defenders, whereas the normal walls
would have been narrow and restricted.
Overall the walls seem intended more as a deterrent against a raiding party anxious only for relatively easy plunder
than for defence against a sustained attack. Active defence of Burgess Court appears to have been concentrated
at specific points of weakness and if these were overrun, there would probably have been a general retreat to the
towers and the Precinct - quickly followed by negotiations!
(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler