Merton (St. Mary)

MERTON (St. Mary), a parish, in the union of Croydon, W. division of the hundred of Brixton, E. division of Surrey, 9 miles (S. W. by S.) from London; containing 1914 inhabitants. The name in Domesday book is Mereton and Meretune, a Saxon compound of mere, a lake or marsh, and tun, a town or vill. According to some writers, the place was the scene of the murder of Cynewulf, King of Wessex, in 784, and also of a battle between the Danes and the Saxons, in 871; but doubt exists as to its identity with the Merton referred to by ancient historians. In 1115, a convent built of wood, for Canons regular of the order of St. Augustine, was founded here by Gilbert Norman, sheriff of Surrey; and Henry I., in 1121, granted to the community a charter of incorporation and the manor of Merton, towards the erection of a church in honour of the Virgin Mary: the priory was rebuilt of stone in 1130, and was liberally endowed by subsequent benefactions; at the Dissolution its revenue was valued at £1039. 5. 3. In the reign of Henry III., Walter de Merton, lord high chancellor of England, and afterwards Bishop of Rochester, founded here a seminary of learning, which he subsequently removed to Oxford, on the foundation of Merton College. A parliament was held at the priory in 1236, when statutes were enacted which take their name from the place: on that occasion the prelates attempted to introduce the imperial and canon law, but were met by the memorable reply of the barons, Nolumus leges Angliæ mutari. Here was concluded the peace between Henry III. and the Dauphin of France, through the mediation of Gaulo, the pope's legate; and here, also, Hubert de Bourg, chief justice of England, found a temporary asylum from the displeasure of the same monarch. During the civil war in the reign of Charles I., a considerable part of the conventual building was still standing; and it appears that a garrison was established here; for, in July, 1648, orders were issued by the government for putting the place in such condition that no further use might be made of it to endanger the peace of the kingdom. In 1680, Merton priory was advertised to be let, when it was described as containing several large rooms and a very fine chapel. The only vestiges are the outer walls, constructed of flint and rubble, which are nearly entire, and inclose a space of about sixty acres.

The village, which is situated on the small river Wandle, consists chiefly of one street; the houses are modern: the inhabitants are supplied with water from several springs, and from the river, over which a bridge was built in 1633, uniting this parish with Wimbledon and Mitcham. The printing of cotton, silk, and challis, is carried on to a considerable extent on the site of the priory; and at the north-east corner of the premises is a copper-mill. The London and South-Western railway passes between Merton and Wimbledon, at which latter place is a station. The living is a perpetual curacy, with a net income of £93; the patronage and impropriation belong to Mrs. Mary Bond. The church, a structure in the Norman style with later insertions, was erected by the founder of the abbey, in the twelfth century; the arms of England and those of the priory, painted on glass, decorate the chancel window. There is a place of worship for Independents. In 1687, William Rutlish bequeathed an estate now producing £96 a year, directing the income to be applied in apprenticing children; and Rear-Admiral Sir Isaac Smith, in 1831, left £700 three per cent. reduced annuities to the poor. Thomas à Becket was educated here under the first prior; and Walter de Merton, a native of the place, also received instruction in the priory. Church House was the residence of Garrick and of Sheridan, the latter of whom was frequently visited here by George IV., when Prince of Wales. Earl Nelson enjoys the inferior title of Viscount Merton.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.