Waverley Abbey - History and Facts | History Hit

Waverley Abbey

Farnham, Surrey, England

Celeste Neill

19 May 2022
Image Credit: Mills77, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

About Waverley Abbey

Waverley Abbey is the first monastery founded in the British Isles, and dates back to the early 12th century. It is situated around 2 miles southeast of Farnham, Surrey, in a peaceful bend of the River Wey.

History of Waverley Abbey

Waverley Abbey was founded by Bishop William Giffard of Winchester in 1128 and became home to a select group of Cistercian monks who emigrated from France. It became the springboard for the reforming Cistercian religious order in southern England. By 1187 there were 70 monks and 120 lay brothers in residence. The monks and lay brothers were active in the Cistercian wool trade and provided shelter for travellers and created an infirmary for the sick.

It followed the traditional plan of a Cistercian abbey and featured a large church, a chapter house and the monks’ dormitory. The abbey suffered a series of floods in 1201, causing it to be substantially rebuilt on higher ground. King John visited Waverley in 1209, and Henry III in 1225, with the new church dedicated in 1231. Waverley Abbey produced the famous Annals of Waverley, an important written source for the period, and continued to grow in the 14th century.

Due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the site passed to Sir William Fitzherbert, treasurer of the king’s household. Much of the site was dismantled and some of the stones were then taken to build nearby houses, including Sir William More’s house at Loseley.

Waverley Abbey today

The impressive ruins remaining today include that of the lay brothers’ quarters, at the far end of the site. The long cellar has graceful columns supporting the vaulting above. Parts of the upper floor and the south wall remain standing and some remains of the chapter house are also still evident.

A stretch of wall to the east of the church is part of the abbey’s infirmary chapel, alongside earthwork remains of a water supply system and the fishponds which provided one of the staples of the monks’ diet.

Getting to Waverley Abbey

Waverley Abbey is situated 2 miles southeast of Farnham, off the B3001. There is a small car park at the abbey – the ruins are a 5-minute walk.

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