History of Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey © Copyright The Francis Frith Collection 2005. http://www.frithphotos.com
Highbridge Street, Waltham Abbey, 1921
Reproduced courtesy of The Francis Frith Collection.

History of Waltham Abbey >> White's Directory 1848

White's Directory of Essex 1848

WALTHAM-ABBEY, or WALTHAM HOLY CROSS, is a small ancient market town, on the east side of the river Lea, about a mile East of Waltham Cross Station on the North-Eastern Railway, in Hertfordshire, on the opposite side of the vale; and 12 miles North by East of London.

It is lighted with gas from the works at the above named station, and is in a low situation near the river Lea, which receives near it the Cobbin Brook, and forms several small islands, bordered by fruitful meadows, and said to have been caused by King Alfred, when he altered the course of the river, for the purpose of stranding the Danish fleet.

These little islands are partly occupied by the Royal Gunpowder and Magazines, which extend in detached branches, a distance of four miles towards Epping. Some of the corning mills were blown up in 1801 and 1843, and on the latter occasion seven men were killed.

The town is irregularly built, and consists chiefly of one main street. It has a small market on Tuesday, and fairs on May 14th and Sept. 25th and 26th.

Its extensive Parish is in Edmonton Union, and comprises 11,474 acres of land, and 4177 inhabitants; and is divided into four wards, viz.,

Waltham Abbey, which comprises the town and suburbs, and has 2041 inhabitants.

Holyfield hamlet, which extends three miles northward, between the river Lea and Cobbin Brook, and includes Galley and Mangham Hills part of the Gunpowder Mills, and 382 inhabitants.

Sewardstone hamlet, which extends from 1 to 3 miles South West, and includes a large part of Epping Forest, High Beech, (where there is a new district church,) Leopard's Hill, Sewardstone Green, many scattered houses, and 901 inhabitants.

Upshire hamlet, which extends 2 miles eastwards from the town to the forest, and along the south side of Cobbin Brook, and includes Warley Park, Sergeant's Green, many scattered houses, and 853 inhabitants.

In Sewardstone is a large private Lunatic Asylum, in three separate houses, beautifully situated on the borders of the forest, viz., Fairmead House, Leopard's Hill Lodge, and Springfield House, where patients are classified according to their respective states of mind. About 70 acres of land are attached to this well-conducted asylum, and a large portion of it is laid out in gardens and promenade grounds, for the use of the patients.

The late Dr. Allen founded this retreat for those afflicted with the worst of the human maladies, insanity, and it is now under the management of Mrs. Allen and Dr. Forrest, the latter of whom is the resident physician.

Waltham Abbey has a Literary and Scientific Institution, established in 1844; and a 'Working Man's Mental and Moral Improvement Society.' Here is a Pin Manufactory, several Corn Mills, and two Breweries.

Petty Sessions are held here every Tuesday, at the Police Station; and Mr J. Jessopp is clerk to the magistrates. The assessments to the property tax of the four wards, in 1843, were as follows:- Waltham Abbey, £8111; Sewardstone, £5992; Upshire £6594; and Holyfield, £5152.

ruins - exterior
Ruins of the Abbey Gateway, Waltham Abbey.
© Copyright Marathon contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Abbey,- Waltham derived its early importance from its extensive and richly endowed Abbey, of which there are now few remains. The first mention of Waltham occurs in the time of Canute, in whose reign the then lord of the manor, Tovy, or Tovius, standard bearer to that monarch, attracted by the great quantities of game in the forest, founded here a village and church, placing 66 dwellers in the former, and two priests in the latter. After his death, his son and heir, Athelstan, squandered his inheritance; and Waltham, reverting to the Crown, was given by Edward the Confessor to Earl Harold, on condition that he should build a monastery in the place where there was a small convent founded by Tovy. Harold enlarged this small convent, and refounded and endowed it as a collage, for a dean and 7 secular canons of the Augustine order.

A distinct manor was allotted for the maintenance of each canon, and six for the support of the dean. The church was at the same time enriched with a vast number of relics, one of which was a miraculous cross, with a figure of Our Saviour upon it, and said to have been found at Montacute. Henry II., about 1177, changed the old foundation of seculars into an abbey of regular canons of the same order, augmenting the number to 24, and proportionably increasing their revenues, by a grant of the rich lands of Sewardstone and Epping.

Great additions were made to the church and monastic buildings, and the whole was re-dedicated to the aforesaid Holy Cross and St. Lawrence. The first abbot was Walter de Gaunt, who was indulged by the Pope, in 1191, with the use of the pontificals, and exempted from episcopal jurisdiction. Richard I. granted to the abbey his whole manor of Waltham, with the great wood or park called Harold's Park, 460A. of essart lands, and other estates and privileges. He afterwards gave the mansion and estate of Copped Hall, to be held in fee of the abbey, by Robert Fitz Aucher.

Henry the Third augmented the privileges of the abbey, and bestowed upon it many rich gifts, so that it now became one of the most opulent monasteries in the kingdom. The latter monarch frequently made the Abbey his place of residence, to avoid the expenses of a court; and for the purpose of supplying the increased consumption which his presence and retinue occasioned, he granted the town the privilege of a weekly market, and a seven days' annual fair.

In his reign, great disputes took place between the monks and townspeople, respecting the right of the former to pasture their cattle on the adjoining grounds; and these were no sooner ended, than a dispute arose between the abbot and the lord of the manor of Cheshunt, respecting some land held by the former, and claimed by the latter as parcel of his manor. During these altercations, the monks were charged by their enemies with much affectionate consolation from the holy sisters in the nunnery at Cheshunt.

After being enlarged, repaired, and beautified, the Abbey was again solemnly dedicated in 1242. The last event of importance, which occurred in it, prior to the dissolution, was the accidental meeting between Thomas Cranmer and prelates Fox and Gardiner, which ended so remarkably in the advancement of the former to the see of Canterbury, and drew with it a train of consequences highly interesting to that age, as well to succeeding times.

The Abbey was suppressed in 1539, when its annual revenues were valued at £900.4s.11d. according to Dugdale, or at £1079.12s.1d. as recorded by Speed. The last abbot, Robert Fuller, may be reckoned among the literati of the monastery, of which he wrote a history in 460 folio pages; the substance of which is given by his namesake Fuller, at the end of his "Church History".

The site of the Abbey with the manor, etc., was granted for 32 years to Sir Anthony Denny, who dying about the second of Edward VI., his widow bought the reversion in fee, for about £3000. Sir Edward Denny, grandson of Sir Anthony, was created Earl of Norwich, by Charles I., and from him the manor of Waltham Holy Cross passed by the marriage of his daughter to the celebrated earl of Carlisle. It afterwards passed to the Wakes, and is now held by Sir Charles Wake, Bart., of Courteen, Northamptonshire. R.B. Andrews, Esq., is the manor steward, and holds the manor court yearly on Whit-Monday.

In 1636, the Earl of Norwich charged the Claverhambury estate (about 700A.,) with the yearly payment of £100 for the officiating minister of Waltham Abbey, but his grandson sold the whole, except the manorial rights and Claverhambury farm; the latter of which is now subject to the rent charge of £100; but should it cease to be of that value, the other farms are liable to make up the deficiency, viz., Eames Green, Riddens, Braches, and Bowtells, now respectively the property of Mr. George Palmer, Mr. R. Dyson, Major Bury, W. Banbury, Esq., and Mrs. E. Cade.

There are many other proprietors in the parish, and some of them have neat mansions, with tasteful pleasure grounds. The Abbey House was a large building, which was new fronted by Charles Wake Jones, Esq.; but the whole of it was pulled down in 1770. The gateway into the Abbey-yard, a bridge that leads to it, some ruinous walls, an arched vault, and the parish church, are the only vestiges of the ancient magnificence of Waltham Abbey.

Adjoining the gateway is the Porters Lodge, and a piece ground now called Bramblings but formerly Romeland, on account of its rents being formerly appropriated to the see of Rome. On this spot, Henry VIII. is said to have had a small pleasure house, which he frequently occupied on his visit to Waltham. In the convent garden, occupied by a market gardener, is an ancient tulip tree, said to be the largest in England; and near the bridge is the abbey-mill.

church - exterior
Church of Holy Cross and St. Lawrence, Waltham Abbey.
© Copyright Richard Croft contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Church, - The Abbey Church was an extensive and elegant cruciform structure, with a massive tower, and five large bells, afterwards purchased by the parish of the Kings Commissioners. The intersection of the transept is yet visible, though the site of Harold's tomb, which stood in the chancel, is about 40 yards from the termination of the present building.

Part of the tower fell down a few years after the surrender of the Abbey, and the rest was taken down in 1556, together with the remains of the choir, transept, etc., leaving only the west end of the building, which constitutes the present parish church. This venerable relic, though much disfigured and mutilated, contains several interesting and curious specimens of the ornamented columns, semicircular arches, and other characteristics of the Norman style of architecture. Its length, from the western entrance to the altar, is about ninety feet; and its breadth, including the side aisles, forty-eight. The body is divided from the latter by six arches on each side, supported by pillars: five of them are semicircular, and are decorated with rude zigzag ornaments; the sixth, or western arch; is pointed, and apparently of a later construction.

The pillars are extremely massive; and two on each side, which correspond, have wavy and spiral indentations, similar to those of the nave and choir in Durham Cathedral. Above this lower range of arches rise two tier of smaller ones, formed and ornamented in the same manner. The upper row of these enlighten the roof; and at the bottom of the lower tier is the narrow passage usual in cathedral and conventual churches, called triforia.

The roof itself is of timber, modern, and but little ornamented; the side aisles are surmounted by galleries which, with the pews in the nave, have been erected for the accommodation of the parishioners. At the west end is a heavy square tower, having the date 1558. It was repaired about 50 years ago; and a new window was then introduced. It is built with stone, is embattled, and rises to the height of eighty-six feet.

The original charge of the building, in 1558, independent of materials, was 33s. 4d. per foot, for the first fifty-three feet, and 40s per foot, for the remainder. This expense was defrayed out of the stock in the church box, which had been acquired partly by the sale of stone, lead, and timber, from the monastic buildings, but chiefly by the sale of the goods of the 'brotherhood' belonging to the church, which consisted of three choristers and two sextons, and was not dissolved till the reign of Edward VI. The sum of £67.14s.9d. was raised by the sale of 271 ounces of plate belonging to this fraternity. Though the five old bells are said to have been sold to raise money for the completion of the present steeple, it has now a peal of eight.

From the south side of the church projects a chapel, formerly Our Lady's but now a school room, under which is a beautiful arched charnel house, or crypt. Here was also St. George's Chapel, and a third little chapel, or outbuildings, at the north east end of the church, is now a repository for rubbish. Towards the east end is a handsome screen of wood, and near it there was formerly a painting in glass of Harold, the founder, which was destroyed by the puritans, in the reign of Charles I.

The unfortunate Harold offered up his prayers for victory in this church, previous to his engagement with the Norman invaders. His body, with those of his two brothers, slain at the same time, was brought here for interment, attended by a small dejected remainder of the English nobility. His tomb was of plain grey marble, and the epitaph is said to have been only these two expressive words, Harold infelix; though Weever gives it in a dozen lines of barbarious Latin, from an ancient manuscript once belonging to the Abbey.

In the reign of Elizabeth a gardener found a large stone coffin, supposed to contain the royal corpse, but the remains, on being touched, mouldered into dust. About 1800,a second coffin was found near the same place, containing an entire skeleton enclosed in lead, which conjecture identified as one of the royal brothers.

The benefice is a donative curacy, which was valued in 1831 at £237, and was endowed in 1636, by the Earl of Norwich, with £100 per annum, out of the Claverhambury estate. The Earl, at the same time, vested the patronage in Trustees, and the living is now held by the Rev. James Francis, M.A. The Church Estate comprises two houses in Sewardstone Street, and 23A.1R.7P. of land in Upshire hamlet, vested in trust, for the service of the Church, and now let for £91.14s. per annum. Here are two Baptist Chapels, one belonging to a congregation formed in 1729; and at the top of Quaker lane is a Wesleyan Chapel.

High Beech, a beautiful and romantic part of the parish of Waltham Abbey, occupies an elevated part of Epping Forest, about 3½ miles South East of town, and has many handsome houses commanding extensive prospects. Here the argillaceous formation, called the "London clay" reaches its highest elevation, 759 feet above the level of the sea. Captain Sotheby, R.N., is lord of the manor of Sewardstone, and resides at the Manor House.

Sewardstone hamlet is said to have been anciently a parish, and some remains of an old building have been spoken of as the ruins of its church. The Ecclesiastical District of High Beech, lately formed out of the hamlets of Sewardstone and Upshire, is in extent about three miles by two, and has about 500 inhabitants.

Its Church, dedicated to St. Paul, was built by subscription in 1836, at the cost of about £900. It is a small mean structure, and annexed to it is a National School. The benefice is a perpetual curacy, of small and uncertain amount, in the patronage of the Bishop of Rochester, and incumbency of the Rev. S. P. Field, M.A. Beech House, is a handsome building, now in course of erection by Richard Arabin, Esq. Another handsome mansion is the seat of the Right Hon. Admiral Sir Geo .Cockburn, G.C.B. and Bart.

It is said that Henry VIII came to High Beech before the execution of his unfortunate Queen, Anne Boleyn, in order that he might be at a distance, and still have the savage satisfaction of hearing the tower guns fired, as a signal that the bloody tragedy was ended.

Warley Park (250A) in Upshire hamlet, about 2 miles East by North of Waltham Abbey, is the elegant seat of William Banbury, Esq., and was formerly held by the Morgan family. The house has a cemented front, and a handsome portico, of the Ionic order. Mangham's Hall, in Holyfield hamlet, about 1½ mile North of the town, is the seat of B.B. Colvin, Esq., high sheriff of Essex, in 1848.

The Parish of Waltham Abbey, or Holy Cross, has several Public Schools, and various Charities, for the poor parishioners generally, as well as some of those of the separate hamlets. Its four divisions are noticed on page one. The poor parishioners have the following yearly rent-charges, viz., 40s. from Rampton's Charity; 30s. out of Cock Inn, left by Robert Browne, in 1587; 20s. out of a house in High Bridge Street, left in 1597, by Robert Catrow; 40s. out of an estate at Yardley, in Hertfordshire, left in 1691, by George Weylett; 40s. left by Robert Grub, in 1708, out of land at Holyfield, belonging to N. Connop, Esq.; 10s. out of a house, left by Robert Dane; and 52s. out of Fisher's farm, at Holyfield, left by Henry Wollaston.

The Almshouses, in High Bridge Street, contains rooms for the residence of eight poor widows, and were built about 1815, on the site of four old tenements, left for the use of four poor widows by one Green, in 1626. For rebuilding the latter, Robert Mason, in 1808, left £800, to be paid after the decease of the survivor of two persons, which happened in 1816. Part of this legacy was lost in the costs of a suit in chancery, and the rest, with £200 advanced by the parish, was laid out in rebuilding the Almshouses for eight widows.

The four occupying the lower rooms have divided amongst them £20 per annum as rent of a barn, wharf, and orchard, left by Mr Green, the founder of the old almshouses. The four widows in the upper rooms have each 2s.2½d weekly from dividends of £1350 new 3½.per cent. reduced annuities, left by Mowbray Woollard in 1826, for that purpose, and also for providing 1s. each per week for five poor men and five poor women in the workhouse, to buy snuff or other comforts with. The almswomen have also small weekly stipens from the parish.

In 1756, Arabella James, left a yearly rent-charge of £5 for the education of five poor boys. This legacy was void under the statue of mortmain; but John Edmonson, in 1766, gave in lieu of it two cottages, let for £13.10s. per annum, and a garden let for £2. In 1814, John Halfhide left £210 new 3½.per cent. annuities, and directed the dividends to be applied, one half towards the Sunday school, and the other half to be divided among all the poor widows of the parish, by the minister and churchwardens. The rents of the above named cottages and garden, and half of the income of the latter charity, are applied in aid of the Parochial Day and Sunday Schools, which are supported on the national system, chiefly by voluntary subscription. Here is also a British School, supported by dissenters.

Leverton's School and Charities - In 1823, Thomas Leverton bequeathed, after the death of his wife (which happened in 1833) £6000 three per cent. Consols in trust to apply the yearly dividends as follows:- £80 in clothing 20 boys and 20 girls; £30 to a schoolmaster, and £20 to a mistress, for teaching the said forty children; £10 to provide them with school books and stationary; £10 for apprenticing two of the said children; £5 to be given to five of the children who behaved well in their first servitude; £12 to be given in clothing to six poor men and six poor women; £5 to be distributed in bread among the poor on Christmas day; £3 for keeping his monument in repair, and the remaining £5 to be reserved by the trustees for contingencies. The sum belonging to this charity was reduced by legal duty, etc., to £5378.17s.5d., standing in the names of the minister and other trustees.

The school-house occupied by the master and mistress was purchased in 1824, by the executors of George Fawbert, who also built the school-rooms out of the money left by Mr Fawbert to be appropriated at their discretion to some charitable use. The poor of Waltham Abbey division of the parish have the dividends of £389 old South Sea annuities, derived from the bequest of Jane Dobson, in 1817. They are distributed by the minister and churchwardens every two or three years. The hamlet of Sewardstone has two yearly rent-charges of 20s for the poor, and 20s for the repairs of the highways, left by Margaret Gidney, in 1587, out of a large estate there, belonging to the Bazett family.

Back to History of Waltham Abbey

my ancestors logo

My Ancestors.

Are your ancestors from Waltham Abbey? Why not tell us their story: My Ancestors.

Find your Ancestors in the Newspapers

Essex Standard Newspaper

Newspaper archives are now a very important source of information for researching your family tree.

Try our example search to help you discover if your ancestors are in the British Newspaper Archive.

Help me find my ancestors

Waltham Abbey - Cary's New and Correct English Atlas, 1798

Waltham Abbey - First Series Ordnance Survey Map 1805

This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth. Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-4.0

Looking for an unusual Christmas Present?

Why not buy a DNA kit for a family member?

Let them discover the story of their ancestors.

The kit is delivered to their door. Now discounted to £63 on Ancestry

Learn more at Ancestry DNA.

Looking for pictures to add to your family tree album?


Ebay is a good source of old images of Essex towns and villages. If you're looking for pictures to add to your family tree album, then try one of the auctions, or there are several 'Buy It Now' shops offering postcards which have been touched up and improved - so if you're unsure about bidding, try these. Link already formatted for Essex Postcards. Browse through or type the name of the location in the Ebay search box.