Bermondsey Abbey

Bermondsey Abbey

Bermondsey Abbey was an English Benedictine monastery. Most widely known as an 11th century foundation, it had a precursor mentioned in the early 8th century, and was centred on what is now "Bermondsey Square", the site of Bermondsey Market, Bermondsey in the London Borough of Southwark.


A monastery is known to have existed at Bermondsey before 715 AD, when it was a Surrey colony of the important Mercian monastery of Medeshamstede, later known as Peterborough. Though surviving only in a copy written at Peterborough in the 12th century, a letter of Pope Constantine (708-715) grants privileges to a monastery at "Vermundesei". [The letter is held to be an authentic copy. The identification with Bermondsey is both strong and undisputed. See e.g. Stenton, F.M., 'Medeshamstede and its Colonies', in Stenton, D.M. (ed.), "Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England Being the Collected Papers of Frank Merry Stenton", Oxford University Press, 1970, and Blair, J., 'Frithuwold's kingdom and the origins of Surrey', in Bassett, S. (ed.), "The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms", Leicester University Press, 1989.] It is likely that this monastery continued, probably as a secular minster, at least until the 9th century Viking invasions. [ For the nature of an Anglo-Saxon 'secular minster', see Blair, J. & Sharpe, R. (eds.), "Pastoral Care Before the Parish", Leicester Univ., 1992, e.g. p. 140.]

Nothing more is heard of any church at Bermondsey until 1082, when, according to the "Annales Monasterii de Bermundeseia", a monastery was founded there by one "Alwinus Child", with royal licence. [This and most subsequent detail is from "Annales Monastici", Luard, H.R. (ed., 5 vols., Rolls Series), 3, 1866. "Alwinus" is a Latinisation of presumably either "Ælfwine", meaning "elf friend", or "Æthelwine", meaning "noble friend": both are common Old English personal names. "Child" was a common Old English epithet, and would signify "the Young".] It is highly likely, given the general continuity of sacred sites, that this church was founded on the site of the earlier monastery. It is also possible that this foundation was a direct successor to the church last mentioned in the early 8th century. [While not inherently unlikely, despite more than three centuries of silence, two details in particular are suggestive of this: the fact that the estate was held directly by the king in 1066 ('Earl Harold', i.e. King Harold) and 1086; and the reported delay of seven years between the 'foundation' in 1082 and the arrival of Cluniac monks in 1089.]

"Alwinus Child"'s new monastery, dedicated to St. Saviour, is presumably identical with the 'new and handsome church' which appears in the Domesday Book record for Bermondsey, in 1086. In effect, Domesday Book clarifies the "Annales"' mention of royal licence, since it records that the estate of Bermondsey was then held by King William the Conqueror, a small part being also in the hands of Robert, Count of Mortain, the king's half brother, and younger brother of Odo of Bayeux, then earl of Kent. Royal support for the new foundation continued with King William Rufus' gift of the royal estate at Bermondsey, in either 1089 or 1090, and through further grants made, for example, by King Henry I in the 1120s and 1130s. [For William Rufus, see also Barlow, F., "William Rufus", Methuen, 1983, p. 96.] It may be that the counts of Mortain also maintained an interest in the new monastery, since Count William of Mortain became a monk there in 1140. "Alwinus Child"'s only recorded gift to the new monastery was 'various rents in the city of London', and these may be represented in Domesday Book by mention of 13 burgesses there paying 44d (£0.18) annually to the estate at Bermondsey.

The new monastery was established as an alien, Cluniac priory through the arrival in 1089 of four monks from St. Mary's of La Charité-sur-Loire, apparently at the invitation of Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury. [ "A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2", Malden, H.E. (ed.), 1967.] British History Online. Retrieved on May 14 2008.] These were Peter, Richard, Osbert and Umbald, Peter becoming the first prior. The church remained a Cluniac priory until the late 14th century. In 1380 Richard Dunton, the first English prior, paid a fine of 200 marks (£133.33) to have Bermondsey's establishment naturalised: this protected it from actions taken against alien properties in time of war, but it also set the priory on the path to independent status as an abbey, divorced from both La Charité and Cluny, which it achieved in 1390.

Royal Connections

Both Catherine of Valois, wife of Henry V, and Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, spent time at the Abbey following the deaths of their husbands. Catherine, also mother of Henry VI, was banished to the Abbey following her marriage to Owen Tudor in 1436; and, sometime around 12th February 1487, Elizabeth was forcibly registered as a boarder, receiving free hospitality as the widow of a descendant of the institution's founder.Fact|date=May 2008 She died there on 8th June 1492, having seen her two sons Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, 4th Duke of York, disappear in the Tower of London around 1483, and her daughter Elizabeth of York marry Henry VII, a Tudor, three years later.

Land and estates

Bermondsey rapidly acquired a valuable estate, both temporal and spiritual. In 1291, temporalities (e.g. landed estates) were valued at almost £229, and spiritualities (e.g. advowsons) were valued at just over £50. The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 put the abbey's clear annual value at a little over £474.

The estate ranged widely, including properties in Surrey, Leicestershire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Kent. The manor of Charlton, then in Kent, was given by Bishop Robert Bloet of Lincoln in 1093. In 1268, Bermondsey was granted a Monday market at Charlton, as well as an annual fair of three days, centred on Trinity Sunday, the eighth Sunday after Easter. Land in Dulwich and elsewhere was given by Henry I in 1127.


The site at Bermondsey Square is currently being redeveloped with the construction of buildings. This has give [ PCA] an opportunity to undertake a number of excavations on the site along Abbey Street, most recently in early 2006. Another part of the site will be excavated soon along Tower Bridge Road.


The report for the current dig is not online as of March 2006 but should be published [ here] .

* [ TQ 3370 7936] Bermondsey Square, SE1; (David Divers & Kevin Wooldridge); evaluation; Sep-Nov 1998; London Borough of Southwark; BYQ98

* [ TQ 3330 7936] Bermondsey Square, SE1; (Chris Mayo); evaluation; 15 July -16 August 2002; BYQ98



External links

* [ About Bermondsey Abbey, by London online]
* [ "Annales Monasterii de Bermundeseia" online] . Gallica. Retrieved on May 26 2008. Click link "Recherche", enter "N050242" in box marked "Recherche libre", click button "Rechercher", click book title.
* [ Bermondsey Abbey in the "Victoria County History" series.]
* [ Discussion about excavations]
* [ Notes on the Abbey]

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