Tarrant Crawford is the most southerly of the Tarrant villages, near to its confluence with the River Stour. Now only a house, farm and a small church it was once one of the richest nunneries in England.
Originally established around 1100 by Lord of the Manor, Ralph de Kahaines as a nunnery. Tarrant Abbey was further endowed by his son William who gave it the tithes of all the bread baked in his house, all the pork salted, and all the cattle killed. Despite these endowments the nunnery fell by the way-side.
In 1230 the Abbey was re-founded by Bishop Richard Poore. He had been born in the village of Tarrant Crawford and was successively the Bishop of Chichester, Salisbury and Durham. After re-founding and endowing it, he presented it to Joan, wife of King Alexander II of Scotland and eldest daughter of King John. Bishop Poore was buried in the church of the Abbey in 1237, and just a year later was follwed by Queen Joan.
One of the first books in the English Language was written in Tarrant Abbey. It is known as the 'Ancren Riwle' and lists a set of rules for women who wished to become nuns. Thought to have been written by Bishop Poore it has been described as one of the most perfect models of simple, eloquent prose in the English Language.
Following the death of his favourite sister King Henry III took a personal interest in Tarrant Abbey and it was now that the nunnery at Tarrant became well-known and prospered. He richly endowed the Abbey after her burial there and continued his interest in it until his own death in 1272. Just three years before his death Henry III granted half of the manor of Bere Regis to the Abbey
The Abbey thrived until the time of King Henry VIII when it was dissolved in the 1540s. Most of the buildings were destroyed soon after.
The small parish church of St Mary has a Norman chancel and a 12th century nave plus a tower which was added in about 1504, all of which would have existed at the time of the Abbey. As the church has no windows along its south wall it has been suggested that it may have been the public half of a double church, literally two separate churches with a common wall between them that was only open at the altar end, a feature of many monasteries. One half-church was for the nuns while the other half-church was the only part of the abbey to which members of the public were admitted.
About 100 yards past the church is the long barn, probably the only Abbey building still in its original state and which has stood almost since the abbey's foundation. Today it is used as a cowshed, but it hides a magificent hammer beam roof whose condition is virtually perfect.
The prominent brick wing of Abbey House was built in the 18th century but the stone parts of the house may be a remainder of the original Abbey.