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This area was, and is, a crossroads, connecting various parts of the cathedral. For example, the large doorway leading outside opens to the cloister of the medieval priory, built at the same time as the Norman cathedral, and where the monks lived.
The steps leading downwards, by the opposite wall, are the entrance to the crypt. Above them, the odd-looking wooden screened-off area is a vestry constructed in the 1200s as a space where priests could change into the special robes they wear for conducting services.
If you look over to the right of the vestry, on the other side of the steps you can see the Kent Bell. So called because it is the ships bell used on two main cruisers, both named HMS Kent. It is rung every Saturday morning as the page is turned in the Book of Remembrance of the Royal Marines.