Waltham Abbey, Essex

Historical Description

Waltham Abbey or Waltham Holy Cross, a small ancient market-town, a township, and a parish, in Essex. The town stands on the river Lea, 1 mile E of Waltham Cross station on the G.E.R., and 12 miles N by E of London. It was founded by Earl Tovi, the standard-bearer of Canute; took its name of Waltham from a house built by Tovi in what was then the weald or great wood of Essex; got the suffix names of Abbey and Holy Cross from a famous abbey, which originated in a church founded by Tovi for receiving and preserving a miraculous crucifix discovered on his estate at Montacute in Somerset; became the scene of royal visits and some important events in connection with its abbey; passed to the Crown soon after the death of Tovi; was given by Edward the Confessor to Harold, Earl Godwin's son, who eventually ascended the throne, and received Harold's body for sepulture after the battle of Hastings. After this event it went in divided portions to followers of the Conqueror, but was recovered by Henry I., Stephen, and Henry II. and vested in the abbey. It acquired from Henry III. the rights of a market and fairs, and was the scene of a meeting of Henry VIII. with Cranmer, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, which originated one of the main movements toward the Reformation. At the dissolution of monasteries it passed to Sir A. Denny, one of the executors of the will of Henry VIII. Henry III. was a frequent visitor of the abbey; Richard, king of the Romans, was here in 1248; Richard II. was in the grounds at Romeland when he received tidings of Wat Tyler's insurrection. The body of Queen Eleanor rested here on its way to Westminster in 1290, and a memorial cross was afterwards erected at the place where the funeral procession diverged from the High Road. This memorial has given the name of Waltham Cross to the adjoining parish in which it is situated. The body of Edward I. lay here in state for fifteen weeks in 1307. The only remains of the abbey domestic buildings are a low bridge of three arches over the Lea, a fine pointed gateway by the Lea pierced with two arches, and some under ground passages. The abbey mills still exist, and grind corn. Roger of Waltham, a monk and a writer of the time of Henry III., was a native, and among its residents were Hall, Bishop of Norwich, and Fuller, author of the "Worthies." The town now consists chiefly of one main street and several smaller streets branching from it. It is in the metropolitan police district, and has a post, money order, and telegraph office (S.O.), a police station, and it is a seat of petty sessions, and the head of a county court district. A weekly market is held on Tuesdays for cattle, sheep, and pigs, and fairs are held on 14 May and 26 September. The industries include brewing, flour milling, and the manufacture of percussion caps. The Government Gunpowder Mills are built on a branch of the Lea, and extend towards Nazing. The works occupy extensive grounds, employ a large number of men, and manufacture an immense quantity of explosives. In the neighbourhood there are large market, gardens, and watercresses are grown for the London market. Willows are also grown to furnish charcoal for the manufacture of gunpowder. The church, founded by Tovi, was reconstructed and made collegiate in 1060 by Harold; Henry II. made it a priory church in 1177, and raised it to the dignity of an abbey church in 1188. The abbey, which was extended and enriched at successive periods, had a splendid cruciform church, with lofty central tower. The present parish church consists of the nave only of this building, comprising seven bays with triforium and clerestory, aisles, a Lady chapel to the S aisle, and a western tower with a low pyramidal roof. It has been carefully restored, and it contains some ancient brasses and monuments. The living is a donative vicarage in the diocese of St Albans; gross value, £200 with residence. There are one Wesleyan and four Baptist chapels. There are almshouses for eight poor widows and some small charities. The manor of Waltham Holy-cross belongs to the Wake family, and that of Sewardstone to the Sothebys. There are several good residences in the parish. The parish is a large one, including the hamlets of Holyfield, 1 mile N, and Upshire, 2 miles E, and the hamlets of High Beech and Sewardstone, the two latter of which are noticed separately. Acreage of the parish, 10,914 of land and 103 of water; population, 6066; of the ecclesiastical parish of Waltham Holy Cross and St Lawrence, 5518; of the ecclesiastical parish of Holy Innocents, High Beech, 548.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient County Essex
Ecclesiastical parish Waltham-Abbey Holy Cross and St. Lawrence
Hundred Waltham
Poor Law union Edmonton

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

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Newspapers and Periodicals

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