Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Waltham Abbey (Waltham Abbey)

The Abbey at Waltham Abbey in Essex, although only a fragment of what it once was, is nevertheless a most impressive church.

In the 11th century, a cross believed to have miraculous properties was discovered at Montacute in Somerset. The landowner, Tovi, who had been Cnut's standard bearer, built a church to house it, and the church and subsequently the town were given the name Waltham Holy Cross, which is still the proper name of the town we usually know as Waltham Abbey.

When Tovi died, Edward the Confessor gave the church to Harold Godwinson, who greatly enlarged it, and it was rededicated by the Archbishop of York in 1060.

After Harold's death at the Battle of Hastings, his body was buried here, although in Chester the story is told that he survived the battle and lived there for years as a hermit.

The Abbey was greatly enlarged by Henry II as part of his penance for the outrageous murder of Thomas a Becket in his cathedral at Canterbury.

In 1540, Waltham Abbey, by this time the richest foundation in Essex, was the last of the religious houses to surrender to Henry VIII at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was one of the churches on Henry's short list for upgrading to cathedrals.

Today, there is a Norman nave, a good deal from the 14th century, and a 16th century tower. In the 19th century much restoration work was carried out by the outstanding architect William Burges, and there is a window by Edward Burne-Jones.

The view into the Abbey from the West Door is very impresive indeed.

The Elizabethan composer Thomas Tallis was organist here.

It was the bells of Waltham Abbey, heard on Christmas Day, that inspired Tennyson to compose the lines beginning "Ring out, wild bells".

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