A religious community established itself on the site in the latter part of the 11 th century, very soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066. By the early part of the following century the FitzAlan Family had become the principal patrons of the community, and in the 1130's William FitzAlan founded an Augustinian priory there.
A powerful Norman family, the FitzAlan's had been staunch supporters of King Stephen throughout his troubled reign, but more especially of Matilda, mother of the future King Henry II. Henry came to the English throne in 1154 and although Haughmond had established itself as one of the more influential priories, it was raised to ‘abbey' status in 1155. Blessed with royal patronage, the abbey is believed to have provided residence for some 24 canons by the end of the 12 th century. The wealth of richly decorated architecture that remains to us, albeit in a ruinous state, provides enough evidence to suggest that the abbey in the period between the 12 th and 14 th centuries had become a wealthy and influential institution.
The largest remnant of Haughmond Abbey remaining to us today is the Abbot's lodging house, which still stands to a good height and incorporates much lavish decorative stonework. This fine craftsmanship is typical throughout the abbey ruins and indicative of the Order's prosperity and of the abbot's grand style of living. The walls of the lodging are still reasonably intact and incorporate Early English windows. One of its most striking features is the large ornate bay window at the end of the abbot's private chambers, a late medieval addition. As on other monastic sites, the Abbot's house has survived major dereliction principally because it remained a place of residence long after the abbey church was dissolved in 1539. In fact, the house was utilised as a country mansion with the cloister employed as a sheltered garden. It remained occupied until the Civil War, 1642-9, when it suffered severe fire damage; refurbished, the building had a later lease of life as a farmhouse.
The only other sizeable ruin on site is the Chapter House, still in surprisingly good condition. Its magnificent entrance comprises three large, richly decorated arches at the front, dating from the late 12 th century. Each arch incorporates triple shafts enhanced with carved statues of saints set beneath canopies - these latter are mid 14 th century additions. Inside, there is a Tudor beamed ceiling and a bay window, which were added when the Chapter House was rebuilt on a slightly smaller scale.
Elsewhere, little has survived the Dissolution to any great degree. The great abbey church was demolished and is now only visible as an outline on the ground. A few sparse remains of walls are scattered about, some rather attractive Romanesque arches and shafts survive as well as a number of decorated capitals and foliage carvings. An example of some fine foliage decoration may be seen on a single Norman arched doorway, originally used to enter the cloister from the church; beneath the decoration are sculptured figures of St Peter and St Paul, one either side.
Though the lack of its major building has left a huge gap at the centre of the site, the ruined complex, taken as a whole, has preserved two of its finest buildings as if to compensate. Haughmond Abbey, because of its wealth of decorative architecture, is perhaps the most enjoyable to explore of Shropshire 's many small abbey ruins. As with most of these monastic sites, the rural setting complements the spirit of peaceful tranquillity that pervades the broken stones.