A sunny Christmas walk through Lesnes Abbey
There’s no better way to fill a sunny day in winter than with a walk in one of London’s best green spaces. This year, to continue the tradition after last year’s Boxing Day walk in Epping Forest, we took ourselves off for a walk in sunny Lesnes Abbey.
The Abbey was founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci, Henry II’s Chief Justiciar, supposedly in penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. De Luci retired (aged 90) and died here; he was buried in the Chapter House, to be joined later by the heart of his great granddaughter, which was also buried here to speed her passage through purgatory.
Since then, Lesnes played bit parts in English history. Edward I stayed here for three days in 1300 and in 1381 a mob linked to the Peasants Revolt burst into the Abbey and forced the abbot to swear an oath of support, before leaving to join Wat Tyler’s main band in London.
But, like many monasteries from the time, Lesnes Abbey was destined to be lost to Tudor dissolutions. It didn’t last as long as other London monastries such as Christchurch Greyfriars, though. Already in neglect due to financial difficulties, Lesnes was one of the first monasteries to be dissolved in Cardinal Wolsey’s suppression of those with fewer than seven inmates in 1525.
This suppression was undertaken to fund the new Cardinal’s College at Oxford and was one of the first jobs that Thomas Cromwell did in Wolsey’s service. Cromwell would go on to administrate the infamous dissolution of the monasteries in his service as Henry VIII’s right-hand man during the 1530s.
In 1534, Lesnes was granted to Sir William Brereton; all of the Abbey’s buildings, apart from the Abbot’s Lodgings, were destroyed during this time. After Brereton’s execution as part of Anne Boleyn’s downfall just two years later, the site was acquired by Henry Cooke, who converted the Abbot’s Lodging into a mansion.
From here, Lesnes passed to Sir John Hippersley who used some of the Abbey’s remains for building materials. The Abbot’s Lodgings lasted until 1845, when they too were destroyed.
Today, the ruins of Lesnes Abbey sit quietly on south-east London’s landscape. The plan of the original buildings is clearly visible and the signs dotted around important sections help you to picture the busy hub of life that it would have been in the 1100s.
There’s even a surviving serving hatch that passes from the kitchens to the refectory and the remains of the pulpit that would have been used to give sermons during meals. It’s these details that give Lesnes the edge over many green spaces in south-east London and, in my humble opinion, a place as one of the capital’s best heritage spots.
Nearest station: Abbey Wood
More information: Lesnes Abbey Woods website