A medieval gatehouse at Battle Abbey is the only place that offers panoramic views of the landscape where the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. And 950 years on from the clash that ended the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history, it's being opened for the first time.

To mark the anniversary, members of the public will be able to walk up the 66 steps to the top of the abbey to take in the scene where William the Conqueror marked his victory over the English.

Visitors to the site in Battle, East Sussex, will also see the new location of the memorial stone that marks the place where England's King Harold is said to have died.

And for the first time they can access, through the original 13th-century doorway, the large dormitory where the medieval Benedictine monks slept, until England's monasteries were destroyed under Henry VIII in the 16th century.


From the top of the gatehouse, people will have a 360-degree view of the Sussex countryside, including the hills where the two sides made their stands before battle, William of Normandy on Telham Hill and Harold and his army on Caldbec Hill.

Visitors can look down over the remains of the ruined abbey and remaining buildings that mark the area where England's last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold, tried and failed to hold the line against the invading Normans.

There is dispute over the manner in which Harold died, whether, as all schoolchildren learn, he got an arrow in the eye, or as some historical sources say, he was hacked to death - or both.

But a new assessment has at least revealed where in the ruined church, which is said by 12th-century sources to be built on the site where Harold's body was found among a pile of corpses, the altar that marked the exact spot of his death was put.

As a result, the memorial stone has been moved a short distance to the east.

Battle Abbey is hosting a temporary exhibition in the gatehouse to bring the day-long fight and its preparations to life, while carved oak figures of archers, warriors and Norman cavalry are dotted around the grounds where battle raged 950 years ago.

Roy Porter, senior properties curator for English Heritage, said the charity had reinterpreted Battle Abbey as part of the 950th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Hastings.

"We want people to come here to enjoy the remains of the medieval monastery but also to come away with a much better understanding of what actually happened here on October 14th, 1066.

"So we're allowing people access for the very first time to the roof of the gatehouse, so they can look out across the landscape of the battlefield and see how it sits within the wider landscape of this part of Sussex."

English Heritage's commemorations have also including creating and tweeting from Twitter accounts for the major players of the fight for the English throne and an arrow hunt for 1066 arrows across its properties, with prizes for the finders.

- PA