Waltham Abbey Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Grave site of King Harold, Norman nave
Tofig's Holy Cross
In the early 11th century King Cnut gave Waltham to Tofig, one of his most powerful nobles. Tofig owned estates in Somerset as well as Essex, and on one of those southern estates he found a large stone crucifix, buried on the top of a hill. This cricifix was brought to Waltham. where it became a destination for pilgrims. The church became known as Holy Cross after the crucifix.
In the 1050s Waltham was granted by King Edward the Confessor to Harold Godwinson, son of the Earl of Essex, and the king's brother-in-law. Harold was said to have been healed of an affliction by praying before the holy cross, and as a resault he decided to rebuild the existing church, and made it clear that he wished to buried here. He also set up a college of 16 lay canons to administer his new church.
The new abbey needed a new church, and a range of monastic buildings. A grand new church was begun to the north of the present church, and was surrounded by cloister and domestic buildings. The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII, and Henry briefly considered making the monastic church into a new cathedral. He decided against it, and the church was completely destroyed, along with most of the monastic buildings.
The Children's Window
This small window in the south aisle was designed by Henry Holiday, a Pre-Raphaelite artist who worked with Edward Burne-Jones. In 1861 Holliday was commissioned by William Burges to create stained glass to fill an empty window space. Money for the window was donated by the children of the parish, so it is know as The Children's Window.
In the north chapel is a table tomb to Robert Smith, a sea captain who died in 1637. His tomb is decorated with intricate carvings of ships, cannon, and other maritime symbols. Nearby is an intriguing memorial in the form of a bust to William Wollaston, who died of smallpox in 1684, at the age of 16. But these tombs pale by contrast to a pair f memorials in the south east corner of the church, by the steps leading to the Lady Chapel.
Against one wall is a brightly painted memorial to Sir Edward Denny (d. 1599) and his wife. Denny fought against the Spanish Armada, sailed with Sir Humphrey Gilbert on the voyage to claim Newfoundland for Elizabeth I, and was castellan of Tralee Castle in Ireland. The Denny tomb is typical of the late Elizabethan period, showing the coule on their sides, heads supported on bent elbows, facing the viewer. The costumes are painted and gilded, and the base of the tomb depicts the couple's 10 children. Near the Denny memorial, against the east wall, is a worn late 16th century alabaster effigy to Lady Elizabeth Greville, the aunt of Lady Jane Grey (the Nine Days queen).
The west end of the nave was rebuilt in the 13th century, though it suffered a great deal of damage in the Reformation. At the east end of the south aisle is a Lady Chapel, built in the 14th century and featuring a late 15th century 'Doom', or wall painting of The Biblical Day of Judgement. The painting was covered by whitewash at the Reformation, and only uncovered during repair work in 1876.
There are several 18th century grave slabs in the chancel. Look for the slab to Thomas Holmes, whose date of death is shown as 1738/9. This recalls the British adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, when 11 days were skipped to bring the old system of calculating dates in line with Gregorian dates. For many years afterwards, dates were recorded in both new and old versions. The Holmes memorial must have been carved well after the death of Holmes, perhaps by his son or daughter.
The abbey church features glorious Norman architecture in the nave, and the ancient roots of the church and abbey are evident everywhere you look. Do take the time to explore the abbey grounds and restored garden nearby.
- Norman east wall
- 12th century abbey cloisters
- 14th century gatehouse and bridge
- Romanesque nave pillars and arcades
- 15th century Doom painting
- 1599 Denny Memorial
- King Harold's grave site?
About Waltham Abbey
Address: Highbridge Street, Waltham Abbey, Essex, England, EN9 1XQ
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: The best access is from the Abbey Gardens free parking area off the B194 at Crooked Mile Roundabout.
Website: Waltham Abbey
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Waltham Abbey Gatehouse and Bridge - 0.1 miles (Historic Building)
Royal Gunpowder Mills - 0.4 miles (Historic Building)
Capel Manor Gardens - 2.4 miles (Garden)
Myddelton House Gardens - 2.6 miles (Garden)
Forty Hall - 3.1 miles (Historic Building)
Copped Hall - 3.1 miles (Historic House)
Stanstead Abbotts, St James Church - 6.6 miles (Historic Church)
Hill Hall - 6.7 miles (Historic House)
Nearest Accommodation to Waltham Abbey: