Lesnes Abbey
Lesnes Abbey
Lesnes was an abbey founded because of a guilty conscience. The ruins of this 12th-century Augustinian monastery stand beside the River Thames, near a popular nature reserve.
Lesnes Abbey was founded by Richard de Luci in 1178. De Luci was chief Justiciar of England under Henry II, and he may have founded the abbey in repentance for his role in the murder of Thomas a Becket. The new monastery followed the Augustinian rule, and the first canons came from Holy Trinity, Aldgate, in London. De Luci resigned from office just a year after he founded the abbey, and retired to Lesnes where he died just a few months later. He was buried in the abbey's chapter house.

The founder's great-granddaughter, Roesia, was raised at Lesnes, and though she moved away to marry, she requested that her heart be buried at the abbey after her death.

In 1381, during the turmoil of the Peasant's Revolt, a mob broke into the abbey and forced the abbot to swear an oath that he supported their cause. After he gave in to their demands they marched off to join the main 'army' marching on London.

The abbot of Lesnes was one of the largest landowners in the area, so he took a major role in draining the nearby marshes. He was also responsible for keeping the riverside embankments in good repair, and the combined cost helped keep the abbey in serious financial trouble for long periods.

The abbey never grew to any great size and became one of the first monastic houses suppressed by Henry VIII in 1525. At that time the abbey sustained just 5 canons under an Abbot. The monastic buildings were destroyed except for the Abbot's own lodging, which served as a mansion for the manor of Lesnes. The rest of the site was robbed for building materials and the abbot's house was incorporated into a farmhouse.

Only the foundations remain today, but they give an idea of what this small abbey on the banks of the Thames must have been like. One odd feature is that the abbey church stood on the south side of the cloisters rather than the usual north. This may be because of the sloping site, with marshy ground near the river.

Abbey Woods
Lesnes Abbey Wood is a former monastic park on the banks of the Thames. There are bluebell woods, ornamental gardens, formal terraces, and self-guided nature trails through a network of paths across the site.