Waltham Abbey (abbey)

Waltham Abbey (abbey)

Waltham Abbey is an abbey church, first consecrated in 1060, in the town of Waltham Abbey, Essex, England


Waltham Abbey was founded in 1030 and a building was constructed on the site by Harold Godwinson (aka King Harold II). In 1177 the abbey was refounded as an Augustinian foundation. At this point extensive additional building works were carried out, although the nature and extent of these still await detailed research. The rebuilding, in the Early English style, made the abbey far more extensive than the original Norman establishment, as can be seen today from traces in the abbey grounds.

The Augustinian abbey was a popular place for overnight stays with kings and other notables who were hunting in Waltham Forest. It was the last abbey in England to be dissolved, in 1540. Thomas Tallis was the last organist at the Abbey prior to its dissolution. Henry VIII suggested Waltham as one of the new cathedrals for the Church of England, but the proposal was not implemented.


All of the eastern parts of the Abbey were demolished at the Dissolution, as was the original Norman crossing. The present-day church consists of the nave of the Norman abbey church, the 14th-century Lady Chapel and west wall, and a 16th century tower, added after the Dissolution. Markers on the remains of the walls in the grounds indicate the location, before demolition, of the high altar (beneath which some believe Harold Godwinson is buried) [Butler, Denis: "1066: The Story of a Year", 1966, p. 292] , and other parts.

The interior is notable for the massive Norman piers and also for the many carvings of human faces nestling in the stonework left by the original masons. Waltham Abbey is also renowned for its 15th-century Doom (painting).

Recent architectural history

In 1859, the architect William Burges was appointed to undertake a restoration of the site and a refurbishment of the interior. The restoration was extensive; the removal of pews and galleries from the South and West, the creation of a new ceiling (showing signs of the zodiac as at Peterborough Cathedral), significant re-building and the creation of a new chancel. The designs were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Work was complete by 1876.

The Abbey's stained glass is particularly noteworthy, including early work by Edward Burne-Jones in the rose window and lancets of the east wall, and A K Nicholson in the Lady Chapel. Much was destroyed during The Blitz.

In the view of Burges's biographer, J. Mordaunt Crook, "(Burges's interior) meets the Middle Ages as an equal." However the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner states that Burges's remodelling was carried out "with all the robust ugliness which that architect liked".

Links with Harold Godwinson

Harold's links with the area, (although only his connection with the original foundation can be proven) persist. The local secondary school, King Harold School, is named after the last Saxon King of England.

External links

* [http://www.walthamabbeychurch.co.uk/ Church site]
* [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/conProperty.49 English Heritage]
* [http://www.paradoxplace.com/Photo%20Pages/UK/Britain_South_and_West/Waltham/Waltham_Abbey.htm Adrian Fletcher's Paradoxplace – Waltham Abbey Page]
* [http://www.walthamabbeygenealogy.co.uk Waltham Abbey Genealogy site]
* [http://www.walthamabbeyhistoricalsociety.org.uk Waltham Abbey Historical Society]
* [http://www.walthamabbeyarchive.com Waltham Abbey Reflections Of the Past]
*oscoor gbx|TL381007. [http://www.kingharold.essex.sch.uk]



* J. Mordaunt Crook, "William Burges and the High Victorian Dream" (1981) John Murray
* Nikolaus Pevsner, "The Buildings of England: Essex" Penguin, 1965 ISBN 0140710116

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