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

A Scheduled Monument in Chertsey St Ann's, Surrey

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Latitude: 51.3935 / 51°23'36"N

Longitude: -0.5002 / 0°30'0"W

OS Eastings: 504447.104498

OS Northings: 167113.055968

OS Grid: TQ044671

Mapcode National: GBR 0L.YCG

Mapcode Global: VHFTX.87YM

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

Scheduled Date: 23 January 1954

Last Amended: 2 February 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008524

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23002

County: Surrey

Electoral Ward/Division: Chertsey St Ann's

Built-Up Area: Chertsey

Traditional County: Surrey

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Surrey

Church of England Parish: Chertsey

Church of England Diocese: Guildford


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
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.

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

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

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.

Source: Historic England


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

Source: Historic England

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