Chertsey Abbey: a Benedictine monastery on the banks of Abbey River


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Chertsey Abbey: a Benedictine monastery on the banks of Abbey River
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Runnymede (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 04231 67253, TQ 04505 67254, TQ 04532 67035

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Benedictine monasticism had its roots in the rule written about AD 530 by St Benedict of Nursia for his own abbey at Monte Cassino. Benedict had not intended to establish an order of monasteries and wider adoption of his rule came only gradually. The first real attempt to form a Benedictine order came only in 1216. The Benedictine monks, who wore dark robes, came to be known as `black monks'. These dark robes distinguished them from Cistercian monks who became known as `white monks' on account of their light coloured robes. Over 150 Benedictine monasteries were founded in England. As members of a highly successful order many Benedictine houses became extremely wealthy and influential. Their wealth can frequently be seen in the scale and flamboyance of their buildings. Benedictine monasteries made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Despite the post-Dissolution demolition of upstanding remains and disturbance by more recent building construction, Chertsey Abbey survives comparatively well as a rare example of an early monastic foundation. The full extent of the precincts and their boundaries, as well as the remains of associated agricultural and water management systems, survive largely undisturbed. Partial excavation has demonstrated that the site contains archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the construction and structural development of the abbey as well as the way of life and economy peculiar to a Benedictine monastery.


The monument, which is divided into three areas, includes the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter, situated on the banks of Abbey River in the flood plain of the River Thames. The abbey is contained by a series of moats or ditches which define the inner and outer precincts and an area to the north of Abbey River which contains an extension to the abbey's cemetery. The inner precinct contains the remains of the church and main claustral complex while the moated areas to the east and west contain the upstanding earthworks and buried remains of fishponds and water management systems, agricultural and associated monastic industry as well as fragments of upstanding monastic walls. The inner precinct is rectangular and measures 245m north-south by 290m east- west. Of the church, cloisters and ranges only the floor and walls of the Lady Chapel are visible where they were left exposed after excavation in the 19th century. The foundations of the rest of the church and claustral complex to its north as well as the cemetery to the south and east survive as buried features. The west and south walls of Abbey Farm Barn, situated in the north west of the inner precinct, are medieval, constructed using conglomerate and sarsen blocks to form a chequer-board effect. To the north east and south the inner precinct is bounded by a seasonally waterfilled moat which has become partially infilled and survives up to 5m wide and 1.5m deep. To the west, east and south west this has been completely infilled but survives as a buried feature. To the west of the inner precinct is an outer precinct area which measures 247m north to south by 230m east to west. This is bounded to the south and west by a moat and to the north by the river. Situated towards the north of this area is a rectangular moated island, 135m north west/south east by c.90m, aligned roughly parallel to the river. It contains six fishponds, three of which survive as visible earthwork features between 53m and 63m long by 5m to 10m wide and 1m deep. The other three have become infilled over the years and now survive as buried features. The surrounding moat, which has become partially infilled, survives up to 5m wide and 1.3m deep. The western outer precinct area also includes the outer court where buildings such as the malt- house and bakehouse were situated. Upstanding sections of the precinct wall, which divided the inner precinct from the outer court, survive up to 2.3m high and 1m wide with a gateway in the northern section. This wall was also constructed with the stones forming a chequer-board effect. To the east of the inner precinct is a second outer precinct 210m east to west by 300m north to south. This is bordered to the south and east by a moat up to 10m wide and 1.6m deep. To the north is Abbey River and on the west is the moat surrounding the inner precinct. This eastern moated area includes a series of silted fishponds and other earthwork remains situated along the western edge. The ponds survive as rectangular earthworks c.8m to 10m wide and up to 100m long and between 0.3m and 0.6m deep. A U-shaped fishpond, 50m north west/south east by 25m wide and 1m deep, lies in the south western corner of the area. Running parallel with the river in the northern part of the enclosed area is a series of ridge and furrow remains c.10m wide and 0.3m from crest to trough. These represent the earthwork remains of medieval cultivation. To the north of Abbey River is a rectangular area defined by a slight earthwork ditch, 4m wide and 0.3m deep, with an internal bank 4m wide and 0.2m high. An internal division is also visible as a bank and ditch. Known as "Whiting's Plot or Burial Ground" it is believed to be an additional cemetery area, brought into use after the main cemetery became full. Historical documentation exists for the early history of the pre-Conquest monastery, founded by Erkenwald in AD 666, although no archaeological traces have so far been found. In 871 the abbey was sacked by Vikings, the inhabitants killed and the buildings and lands laid waste; in the early tenth century it was attacked by Danes. Later in the tenth century the abbey was recolonised, probably from Abingdon, and a new church built. In 1110, and following damage which occurred soon after the Conquest, a major rebuilding programme was begun under Abbot Hugh to construct the post-Conquest abbey, the remains of which survive today. This work was still in progress in 1176. In 1235 fire damaged the monastic buildings and this probably marks the date of the major remodelling of the abbey church. In 1471 Henry VI was buried at Chertsey and the abbey became an object of pilgrimage until his body was transferred to Windsor. The abbey was dissolved in 1537 and the church was demolished soon after. Excavations were undertaken within the central area of the inner precinct during the second half of the 19th century. In 1855 considerable lengths of walling and a number of stone coffins were discovered which, along with subsequent work, helped to trace the layout of the church and claustral buildings. Further excavations in the 1920s and 1930s explored areas around the cloisters and discovered kilns used to fire decorated encaustic tiles. The most extensive excavations were carried out in 1954. These made new discoveries in addition to confirming the results of 19th century work. The combined results of early excavations suggest that little of the pre-Conquest buildings appear to have survived and that the earliest monastic remains date to the rebuilding of the abbey in 1110. During the 12th and 13th centuries activities normally associated with the outer court of a monastery appear to have taken place within the inner precinct to the south of the church. During the 13th and 14th centuries considerable reorganisation and rebuilding took place. In 1984 an area of the outer court was excavated including a length of precinct wall which was found to date from the 14th century although there was evidence of previous activity in the area. Abbey Farm Barn and the abbey are Listed Grade II. Excluded from the scheduling are all houses, garages, conservatories, garden sheds, swimming pools, greenhouses, tarmac road surfaces, gravel path surfaces, concrete paths, paving, park seats, street lamps, bridges, the playground, the pavilion and all other post-Dissolution buildings, but all medieval masonry, even if incorporated into later buildings, and the ground beneath all these features, is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Angell, S, The Excavations Upon the Site of Chertsey Abbey, 1861, (1862)
Malden, H E, The Victoria History of the County of Surrey: Volume II, (1905), 55-64
Pocock, W W, Chertsey Abbey: Excavated Encaustic Tiles And Stone Coffins, (1858), 97-121
Poulton, R, Archaeological investigations on the site of Chertsey Abbey, (1988)
Poulton, R, Archaeological investigations on the site of Chertsey Abbey, (1988), 81&73-7
Poulton, R, Archaeological investigations on the site of Chertsey Abbey, (1988), 79-80
Gardner, J S, Eames, E S, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in A Tile Kiln at Chertsey Abbey, , Vol. 17, (1954), 24-42
Nevill, H, 'Surrey Archaeological Collections' in Excavations in the grounds of Abbey House, Chertsey, , Vol. 43, (1935), 49-52


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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