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Although Burgess Court is little more than an open field today it must have been a busy place in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries - even when not fulfilling its defensive role. This activity would not have been confined to the duties of the priory garrison, nor to threatening times.

Priory mills and farms

The farm which worked the priory land south of King's River was probably situated close to the priory and its mill
(7). The mill itself has gone but for its north wall (with two openings, at least the eastern one original) and traces of its east and west walls where they once projected across the millstream from the Precinct (Figure 8). The mill was the only stone structure in Burgess Court so whatever farm buildings there were must have been of timber. Both mill and farm would have remained outside the priory walls until enclosed within Burgess Court, sometime after 1450.
Farm buildings in the Court after that date might have included barns and granaries, stables (two in 1540),1 a bull-pen and various store-sheds. There would have been carts and wagons. These are divided between two timber-fenced yards in
Figure 4, one beside West Tower and the other, including the mill, alongside the millstream. A large cattle pen is fenced off in the southwest corner. So, Burgess Court would have been the work-place of farm labourers and managers, stable-hands, grooms and perhaps a smith, and the miller and his assistants. Those without houses in the town might also have dwelt on the farm in Burgess Court.
The priory lands in Killinny and Kellsgrange, on the opposite bank of King's River, would have been worked from at least one, and probably two, outlying farms or granges - as indicated by the townland name. Both were also associated with priory mills
(Figure 1B).

The priory as guesthouse

In addition Burgess Court would have seen the daily coming and going of guests lodging in the priory. Like most medieval monasteries, Kells Priory will have served as overnight guesthouse for all manner of travellers. On average guests made up one sixth of a monastery's population.
Important visitors are likely to have preferred the privacy of the priory guesthouse to the bustle and noise of a hostelry in the town, particularly if travelling with their families. Accompanied by personal servants, a secretary and grooms for their horses, they might have formed quite sizeable parties. They would have paid for their accommodation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, poor travellers arriving in Kells at nightfall without money to pay for a room in the town would have taken advantage of the priory's charity for a meal and a bed.

Alarm - smoke on the horizon!

Burgess Court would have been busiest when fulfilling the role for which it was built. At the first threat of serious trouble - perhaps the smoke of burning dwellings in the middle distance - all the cattle in the district would have been brought into the safety of the Court. If the threat was serious enough, the burgesses of Kells and their outlying neighbours would also have left their homes and sought sanctuary there. With them, they would take what they could carry: craftsmen and farmers, their tools; merchants, their more valuable wares and their money; women, irreplaceable domestic items perhaps. The small garrison would have been mobilised and sent to defend the walls and to close and bar the gates. They would have been supported by a militia formed by the local men. Such a scene is illustrated in
Figure 4, though with far fewer people and much less activity probably than were there in reality.

Kells Gate

At the northeast corner of West Tower are the traces of a second gate into Burgess Court (Figures
3,8). Springers (the outermost stones of an arch) for the south side of an arched gate passage are preserved in the north wall of the tower. One side of the outer gate-arch is also preserved, with a thin relatively modern wall built against it. A hanging eye remains at head height on the tower wall and the foundation of the other side of the gate passage is preserved, together with the lower pivot holes for both gates, at the foot of the modern wall. Kells Gate solves the enigma of a priory serving and being served by Kells but having its main entrance away from the town! A single entrance is far more likely to have faced west.

A medieval road

Instead of today's diversion around the priory, the first Anglo-Norman road to Stonyford almost certainly followed the course of the millstream (Figures
1A,1B). The principal entrance into the Precinct would have been near the present Inner Gatehouse. Augustinians were noted for the good relationships they maintained with their neighbours and it is unthinkable that the priory would have objected to a road across their land. The canons were also Kells' parish priests. The later priors were all local men who finally took on the protective mantle of their absentee lords in building Burgess Court.
Provision had to be made for the Stonyford Road when the priory was extended into Burgess Court. Though one option might have been a diversion of the road similar to the present one, gates at both ends of Burgess Court suggest otherwise. The Outer Gatehouse became not only an entry into the priory but also the main gate into the town of Kells from the east
(Figure 1A). Thus Burgess Court saw not only those staying in the priory but also every traveller using the road between Kells and Stonyford. In peaceful times the priory gates would have remained open during daylight hours and would have been closed overnight with the cattle of the district safely inside.
The proposed medieval road follows a nearly straight path from Kells town square to Kells Gate
(Figure 1A). Aerial photographs show the roadway as a shallow depression protected to the south by first a bank and then a ditch. Beyond the Outer Gatehouse at the opposite end of Burgess Court its path bends to left and right through a coppice of trees, passing close to the top of a low rock-face to the north. Finally it heads off across a field to join the riverside continuation of the today's road to Stonyford (Figures 1A,1B). The stony path east of Burgess Court is probably little different from the road used by medieval travellers to and from Kells.

Privatisation and a new road

Upon dissolution the priory site and buildings passed into private hands as a secular farm. The new owner's almost certainly had a different attitude to public access, and a short new road accordingly now skirts the priory. The new road begins at the junction above Burgess Court and rejoins the medieval, riverside path of the Stonyford road east of the priory
(Figure 1A). It is unlikely to date back further than 1540 and is as much a reminder of the English Reformation as is the ruined state of the priory.

(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler