Stanstead Abbotts Local History Society

    “Yes, theres one on Easneye Hill! may be the response of some people. However, I’m not thinking about the college on Easneye Hill, All Nations, which some people think is like a monastery! Having worked there for forty years, I can assure you that it is nothing like a monastery!!

No, I am talking about hundreds of years ago. What evidence is there, if any?

Well, it is claimed by the Red Lion pubs website that it was a monastery before it became an inn, and this is repeated in a number of other references to the village.

What can we find out about this to see if it has any basis in history? And if we find that it does not, how did such an idea develop?

Was there ever a monastery in the village?

    So, is there any evidence of a monastery in Stanstead Abbotts? The answer has to be a definite “NO! I have trawled through every available reference on the Web from the scholarly and authoritative English Monastic Life of Abbot Gasquet (Methuen & Co 1904, old but still unrivalled) to the more popular but far less reliable Wikipedia! The latter has a list of medieval monastic houses in Hertfordshire but often takes two references to the same place and makes two houses of them! Even Wikipedia, however, has no evidence of any monastic foundation in our village.

  There were a considerable number of such foundations within a radius of ten miles or so: Sawbridgeworth had a very old pre-Conquest monastery; Ware had an “alien cell” which meant a small monastery attached to a French abbey in Utica, Normandy; there

was also a Franciscan friary which still stands but is referred to nowadays as the Priory; Hertford had a small cell of Benedictine monks attached to St Albans Abbey, as did Redbourn; Puckeridge had a small Augustinian monastery; in Hoddesdon there was a hospital which looked after lepers and others (Spitalbrook was the stream flowing by the hoSPITAL); in Cheshunt was a Benedictine nunnery, which will crop up again later!

However, nothing in Stanstead Abbotts!

How did the idea arise?

    So how did the idea ever arise? I am inclined to agree with Ron Dales conjecture in his new history of the village, that Waltham Abbey, which had manorial rights over the village and a large area surrounding it for several centuries, possibly had a brewery or malt house on the site of what is now the Red Lion which made ale. Let us try to follow up this idea a little further.

Waltham Holy Cross Abbey

    Waltham Abbey has a very long history, going back before the Norman Conquest in AD 1066.

A village and church which existed there already were given by Edward the Confessor to his son Harold on condition that he build a monastery there. Harold did so and endowed it with lands to support the canons and also the gift of several relics including a very valuable cross. He visited it to rest his army and pray for divine help on his way south from defeating an invading army at Stamford Bridge to Hastings to meet Williams forces from Normandy. After the battle in which, as is well known, his army was defeated, he lost his life and his body was brought back to the abbey and buried there. William did not damage the abbey but did strip it of most of the lands which had previously been given to it.

    However, a century later, Henry II, the first of the Plantagenet kings, and who reigned from AD 1154 to 1189, increased the size of the abbey church and the number of canons and gave the rich estates of Sewardstone and Epping for their support. It was also during his reign that the manor of Stanstead was granted to the abbey. Later kings including Richard I and Henry III granted further valuable estates including the whole of the royal manor of Waltham. Henry III often used the abbey as his place of residence instead of Westminster. Very soon the Abbey was extremely rich and influential. After being enlarged, repaired, and beautified, the Abbey was again solemnly dedicated in 1242. Manors and other estates were added to the abbey in the following years. In 1266 they had property “lying in Waltham, Sewardstone, Nazing, Epping, Stansted, Netteswell, Passelow, Boreham, Stanway, London, Takeley, Stanford, Thorndon, Weald, Upminster, Loughton, Woodford and Wormley and the list was further added to in following decades!

A Monastery in Stanstead Abbotts?

Ron Davies