The reconversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity by missionaries from Rome in the 7th century soon led to the founding in 666 AD of Chertsey Abbey by Eorcenwald who became its first abbot.
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Chertsey Abbey in the 14th Century
Drawing (based on an illustration in the Chertsey Cartulary): David Stokes
Some half dozen years later, upon his conversion to Christianity, the north-west corner of Surrey was granted to Chertsey Abbey by Frithuwold (King Wulfehere of Mercia’s ruler of Surrey). This arrangement persisted for some 900 years until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1537. See ‘Charters’ in the left navigation bar for details of the grants of manors to Chertsey Abbey.
Chertsey Abbey was raided and sacked by the Vikings during the 9th Century, the Abbot Beocca and about 90 of the priests being killed in the various raids. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle fills in the next two centuries for us:
A.D. 964.The King tires of the priests, throws them out and the Abbey is given over to nice quiet Benedictine monks. “This year drove King Edgar the priests of Winchester out of the old minster, and also out of the new minster; and from Chertsey; and from Milton; and replaced them with monks. And he appointed Ethelgar abbot to the new minster, and Ordbert to Chertsey, and Cyneward to Milton.” The Thames side property would have suited the Benedictines who preferred good quality low-lying arable land; unlike the Cisterians who preferred wild moors. Research has shown that the monks lived quite well. It has been estimated that Benedictine monks of medieval London for instance ate 3 lb of meat each for lunch every day. Each monks total daily intake would have been 7,500 calories (two and a half times the present-day figure for an average person). The liquid contribution was a gallon of weak ale daily.1 Not surprisingly, excavated skeletons of the most senior members tend to exhibit a particular form of spinal fusion associated with obesity.
A.D. 1084. Despite the Norman conquest, a Saxon is still in charge: “In this year died Wulfwold, Abbot of Chertsey, on the thirteenth day before the calends of May”.
A.D. 1110. The Abbey and Monastery were rebuilt by Hugh, Abbot of Winchester. “In this year held the King Henry his court at Christmas in Westminster, …. This year men began first to work at the new minster at Chertsey”.
The Abbot’s Seal; is this how the Abbey appeared after one of its many rebuildings?
The Abbey continued until it reached its prime under the benevolent care of John de Rutherwyk, “a venerable Abbot, who might be termed the convent’s second founder, the restorer of all really good works, and the substantial improver of the manors belonging to the monastery”.
However, the Abbey suffered its final demise during the reign of Henry VIII, when on 6th July 1537 it was surrendered as part of the dissolution. The Abbot, John Corderoy and fourteen monks temporarily moved to Bisham Priory in Berkshire The Abbot and the monks were promised the income from their former rectories but apparently never received this since months later they were described as being impoverished in their new home. Bisham Priory was in turn dissolved a year later and the Abbot and the monks pensioned off.
Over the next few years, the Abbey and its orchards were demolished and stripped by the King to construct Oatlands Palace near Weybridge. Any remaining stone was taken to raise the streets of Chertsey and other local villages. By 1673 only the outer walls remained and by 1752 they had almost vanished. The only evidence now remaining is some stonework and paving which can be seen in Abbey Gardens, reached by way of Church Walk at the east end of the church and of course the fishponds (which still fill with water after heavy rain).
The grounds were sold and built upon, and a visitor, Dr. Stukeley in 1752 reported his dismay at the total ruination of the Abbey and the discovery of human bones (from the graveyard), pieces of masonry, effigies, crosses and marble all over the garden of the house.
Chertsey Abbey Floor Tiles
Many were found in during the archaeological investigations in 1852.
In 1996 a builder working near the site of the Abbey discovered several floor tiles. One depicting an astrological sign is shown here; with a sketch of how the set might have looked.
Rents and Services to the Abbot
In 1198 the tythe of Chobham was confirmed to the Abbot. Abbot Rutherwyck, 1307-46, was the greatest of Chertsey’s Abbots. He was an extremely astute businessman and kept a tight rein on his tenants as the following extract from the Cartulary (diary) illustrates.
‘Rent is 12d. All holding the tenement ought every year to carry the dung of the aforesaid Abbot in the Manor of Chabenham for three days until noon with one cart and to scatter 1/2 an acre of dung, also to plough 1/2 an acre of Rye and 1/2 an acre of oats, carry corns while they have to be carried. Also 1/4 of one wether and 1/2 hen and five eggs, 4 bushels of oats and pannage according as they have pigs, to wit for a pig over a year Id. and for a pig for 1/2 year 1/2d. Also to lift hay for 1 day, also to carry hay from Hameney to Certesey. Also they ought to enclose every year 5 1/2 perches, wash and shear sheep. Also to reap at the first boonday with one man without food, at the other boonday with one may at the Lord’s food. Make one hurdle (clayman) for the fold of the Abbot.’ One wonders when they found time to run their own farm!
This form was drawn up, during the thirty second year of the reign of King Edward Ill, in the manner of a chirograph made between the Lord Bartholomew on the one part and Avia of Chabenham and Agnes her daughter on the other, concerning a certain tenement which William Hoppegame and Agnes his wife held of the Abbot aid which tenement was committed to Avia and Agnes and their heirs for ever.
Chertsey Abbey as drawn by a monk in the 15th C for the Cartulary. It shows that the abbey was at the centre of the local community and possessed its own barns, mills, fish ponds and field systems. The village of Laleham beside the Thames is shown at top, a leat taken from the Thames to drive the mills at Oxlake, Chertsey Bridge is shown on far right.
PRO E 164/25 f. 222 (date: c.1432 )
The Chertsey Cartulary, from which the previous extract is taken, is a most useful series of documents since it covers all aspects of the day-to-day running of the Abbey and its lands. The original documents, written in Latin, are in the British Library, while translations by the Surrey Record Society are in many other libraries.
The Cartulary tells us that in his first year as Abbot, 1307, John Rutherwyck was busy in Chobham:
purchased Suthermore [Sowmoor] from William Faledle,
made running water to run round the Manor of Chobham (1307)
planted a grove and enclosed Suthergrove and raised a turf house there (1307)
constructed a turf house on the heath (1307)
constructed a new mill called Hurst Mill (1308)
stopped up and caused to be made a certain pond called Crachattespond [Gracious Pond](1308)
a new sheepfold (1310)
Quite a busy year. The dates in brackets are those given in the Lansdown version of the Cartulary.
It goes on to say that there took place in:
1312 enclosed a pasture called Langeshote
1317 repairs to the chapel at Chabeham.
1329 the construction of an earthen wall about the Manor (house) of Chabeham.
1335 the building of a rabbit house at La Ruden [Chobham Place?]. (The rabbit is not an indigenous species, but was brought to Britain by the Normans and kept domestically).
1336 the construction of a chamber, a chapel and a kitchen at Chabeham. (This was probably at the Manor House).
1339 the erection of a new mill at Hurst.
1344 the purchase of a cottage held by Maud Makeles, situated next to the cemetery on the South part.
Until the dissolution there cannot have been much change in the lives of villagers. They were largely self-sufficient, each family growing enough corn for their flour. This they had to take to the Abbot’s mill to be ground, paying to him his dues. People came from long distances to the mill and this has led to the large number of paths, tracks and roads converging on it or its former site. The study of the pattern of footpaths in a specific area can be very rewarding.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the Abbey and its influence on our area then click on the subjects in the top left margin.
1 Living and Dying in England 1100-1540: The Monastic Experience. Barbara Harvey. 1994
Much of the detail of Chertsey Abbey’s history is quoted from Lucy Wheeler’s “Chertsey Abbey”, published in 1905.
There is an excellent web site giving the history of Chertsey Abbey at http://www.whisker.f2s.com/StPeters/history/abbey_index.htm