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Essex Field Club
Essex Field Club
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Geology Site Account

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St. Osyth Priory Gatehouse, ST. OSYTH, Tendring District, TM12111563, General geological site

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St. Osyth Priory Gatehouse

Building of interest for the stonework. One of the finest examples in Britain of the use of flint ‘flushwork’.


Site description

Erected in 1481, the battlemented gatehouse of St. Osyth Priory is one of the finest examples in Britain of the use of flint ‘flushwork’. Flushwork is the name given to the technique of setting ‘knapped’ flints (flints skilfully worked to produce a flat face) into a wall, often in intricate patterns alongside another stone such as limestone. The architectural historian Alec Clifton-Taylor, when describing St. Osyth Priory gatehouse, said that “the sight of those split flints, flickering and sparkling in the sunlight, is a delight in so rich a setting, above all when the sun suddenly catches them after a shower of rain”. The fact that the flint is still in pristine condition, after over 500 years of weathering, shows how hard and durable this rock is.

The majority of flint buildings are found where chalk occurs at the surface and local flint is readily available. Elsewhere, such as in the Tendring district, flint was usually only used for the most important buildings such as churches and abbeys. The fine quality flint needed for workmanship such as this, however, probably did not come from Essex, but from Brandon in Suffolk, an area where a thick layer of excellent quality black flint has been mined since the Stone Age.

St. Osyth’s Priory is privately owned and no longer open to the public but the gatehouse can be viewed from the green open space between the gatehouse and the road where there is also car parking. Other natural stones can also be seen, particularly in the boundary wall of the priory which is constructed of local septarian nodules, or ‘septaria’, from the London Clay. From here a glimpse is possible of the lofty tower at the priory which is perhaps the most striking example of the use of septaria. It was built in 1853 after the priory became a private residence and is entirely faced with a chequer board pattern of imported limestone and septaria, the stone most probably obtained from the demolition of monastic buildings. A chequerboard pattern of septaria and flint can be seen at St.Osyth Church, opposite.

St. Osyth Priory Gatehouse. Photo © G. Lucy


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Reference: Clifton-Taylor 1987, Scarfe 1968 (p.155), Hart 2000.

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