The Environs of London: Volume 1, County of Surrey. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1792.
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The name of this place, which has been written Meretone and Meretune, must be derived from Mere, which signifies either a lake or a boundary. There is some marshy ground near the river Wandle, which was formerly perhaps more extensive.
The village is about nine miles from London, upon the Epsom road. The parish is bounded by Mitcham on the east; Mordon on the south; Kingston on the west; and Wimbledon on the north. The soil in the eastern part of the parish is light and sandy, towards the west a stiff clay. The land is mostly arable. The parish is assessed the sum of 288l. 15s. 6d. to the land-tax, which is at the rate of 2s. 5d. in the pound.
Two early historical facts have been appropriated to this place, viz. The murder of Kenulph, king of the West Saxons, which happened A.D. 784; and a battle between the Danes and the Saxons A.D. 871; but Lambarde (fn. 1) doubts whether either of these events took place at Merton in Surrey. Upon looking into the old Chronicles, I find nothing to fix them to this place. In the war between the Danes and Saxons in 871, a battle is said to have happened at Merton, in which the latter were discomsited (fn. 2). The last battle had been at Basing in Hampshire. The ancient historians all agree that Kenulph was murdered at Merton, but none of them mention the county. That monarch was interred at Winchester; Kineard the murderer, who was slain soon afterwards, was buried at Axminster (fn. 3).
The manor of Merton, before the Conquest, was the property of Earl Harold, and was afterwards held by the king in demesne. It contained 21 ploughlands, and was valued in the Confessor's time at 25l.; afterwards at 15l.; and at the time of the Conquest, at 35l.
Henry I. gave it to Gilbert Norman, sheriff of Surrey, who in the year 1115 built a convent of wood at this place. Having so done, he requested and obtained the king's patronage for accomplishing the work. He then applied to the prior of some regular canons, who had long flourished in St. Mary's church at Huntingdon, and promising to become a benefactor to that fraternity, besought his assistance, and desired that he would suffer Robert Bayle his sub-prior to superintend the new establishment. This request being granted, he conducted Bayle to Merton, and delivered up to him the newly-erected convent, of which he was constituted prior, giving him at the same time two ploughlands, a mill of 60 shillings rent, and some villeins; promising, if he could obtain the king's licence, to settle the whole of the manor upon the convent. It was not long before persons from various parts of England, not only bestowed their goods upon the new monastery, but also took upon them the religious habit there. The founder brought the prelates and nobles of the land to see the place, and recommended the institution to their patronage. Among others, Queen Matilda came to see the convent, and was pleased to express a great interest in its welfare. The prior after having resided there near two years, began to be dissatisfied with the situation (fn. 4), thinking the present site of the monastery better adapted for religious retirement; but he had some scruples about making his opinion known, as the founder had already been at so great an expence. The sheriff, however, soon heard of the prior's inclinations, which he immediately resolved to gratisy; and began to remove the convent with all possible expedition. A wooden chapel was soon built, and consecrated by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, who was entertained with great cost at the founder's house. Some of the cells and a part of the cloister were at the same time removed. The prior, who had now resided at Merton two years and five months, went in procession with fifteen brethren to the new convent, singing "Salve dies," the founder himself being present at the solemnity, accompanied with an immense crowd. Gilbert, as before, brought the nobles of the land to see the new building, and presents soon flowed in apace. Some brought clothes, others wheat, cheese, wine, &c. Queen Matilda came again to visit the prior in his new habitation, and brought with her the prince her son, that she might interest him for the welfare of the monastery if he should ever become king. The death of Matilda, which happened the same year, and the unfortunate catastrophe of Prince William which followed soon after, acted as a severe blow to the convent, and threatened effectually to impede its rising glory, especially as the king, who was averse to the settlement of lands upon religious houses, refused to consent to the founder's giving them the manor. About this time an expedition to the Holy Land was in agitation, and a meeting of the nobles and prelates was to be held at Winchester. It was the founder's proposal therefore, that a sum of money should be raised by the convent amounting to 100 pounds of silver and six marks of gold, and presented to the king at this seasonable juncture, with a view of procuring his consent. The greater part of this sum the founder contributed himself, and accompanied the prior to Winchester; their journey was successful, and they returned with the king's charter of confirmation (fn. 5). This was in the year 1121. On their return, the founder assembled all the men of the village into the convent, and surrendered the ma nor, with all the villeins thereunto belonging, to the prior and convent, which then consisted of 23 brethren. In the year 1130 Merton Abbey was first built with stone, the founder himself laid the first stone, with great solemnity. The prior laid down the second, and the brethren, 36 in number, each one. The founder died the same year on the calends of August, and was buried within the walls of the convent, where there was a monument to his memory. The MS. (fn. 6) from which the foregoing account is taken, informs us, that he was born in Normandy, and bred a soldier. The splendor and magnificence in which he lived is highly spoken of; and his hospitality is said to have been so great, that his doors were constantly kept open, that every one who wished might find ready access, and be entertained according to his rank.
The canons entered the new convent in 1136, being indućted by the Bishops of St. Asaph and Rochester, who were deputed for that purpose by Archbishop Corboyle (fn. 7).
The benefaćtions to Merton Abbey were numerous and ample. A register of their grants and leases is to be found in the British Museum; a chronicle of the Abbey is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. In the former is a succession of the priors from the foundation to the year 1306. In the latter they are continued to the year 1439. The list may be completed from the Winchester registers. Most of them are printed in Willis's History of Mitred Abbies (fn. 8). Michael Kympton, who was elećted in 1402, appears to have been professor of divinity in Oxford, to which professorship he was appointed in 1397 (fn. 9). At the time of the valor in 1534 John Ramsay was the prior (fn. 10); but in Willis, John Bowle is mentioned as the last prior, who at the dissolution of the monastery had a pension of 1331. 6s. 8d. per annum, and was afterwards made Canon of Windsor (fn. 11). He surrendered up the monastery, with 14 monks, April 16, 1538. The revenues were then valued at 957l. 19s. 4½d. per annum (fn. 12). The Prior of Merton had a seat in parliament as a mitred abbot.
In the Aspilogia of John Anstis, Esq. Garter King at Arms, a
MS. in the library of Thomas Astle, Esq. is a drawing of the
seal of Merton Priory. On the obverse is a representation of the
Virgin Mary with the insant Jesus on the left knee; she is crowned
as the Regina Cœli. The seal has two legends—"Sigillum ecclesiæ
Sancćtæ Mariæ de Meritonâ," and
"Augustine pater quos instruis in Meritonâ,
"His Christi Mater tutrix est atque patrona."
On the reverse of the seal is the figure of St. Augustine: his right hand is in the attitude of benedićtion, and in his left he holds a pastoral staff, on which is inscribed the following legend: "Mundi lucerna, nos, Augustine guberna." A seal of Merton Abbey is engraved in Madox's Ancient Charters.
In the Chronicles of this Abbey at the Bodleian Library, are the ordinations of William of Wickham, Bishop of Winchester, for the government of the convent. By one of the statutes the monks are prohibited from hunting, or keeping dogs for that purpose within the walls of the Abbey, under the penalty of being obliged to live upon bread and ale for six holidays. Most of the punishments affećt the diet of the offenders. The most severe is, that of being doomed to live upon bread and water; the slightest, being consined to bread, ale, and pulse. In a visitation of Merton Abbey, by Henry Woodlock Bishop of Winchester (fn. 13), the canons are reprehended for not attending mass, and for going about with bows and arrows; and they are threatened to be punished, by abridging their allowance. References to several records relating to Merton Abbey will be found in the notes (fn. 14).
In the year 1236, a parliament was held in Merton Abbey (fn. 15), wherein were enaćted the statutes which take their name from that place. In this house also was concluded the peace between Henry III. and the Dauphin of France, through the mediation of Gualo the Pope's Legate (fn. 16). Here Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justice of England, sled for sanćtuary when first apprised of the king's displeasure. The King hearing where he was, ordered him to come before the court, and abide the issue of the law; but he refused to quit his asylum. The King being much incensed at his disobedience, sent to the Lord Mayor of London, and ordered him to summon all the citizens that could bear arms, and proceed to Merton to take Burgh dead or alive. The citizens, with whom he was very unpopular, hastened towards Merton, in number about 20,000, and the Chief Justice, flying to the high altar, waited the event. In the mean time the King, through the intercessions of the Earl of Chester and the Bishop of Chichester, was induced to alter his purpose, and the citizens were recalled by royal mandate, before they could accomplish their revenge (fn. 17).
John de Sandal, Bishop of Winchester, held an ordination in Merton Abbey, anno 1316. In a grant of certain privileges to John Haunsard and his wife Gundred, in the register of Merton Abbey (fn. 18), it appears that they were to be buried there. James de Lacy, by his will, dated 1387, direćted his body to be buried in Merton Abbey (fn. 19).
The site of the abbey was granted by Queen Mary to the priory at Shene (fn. 20). After the dissolution of that monastery, it was kept for some time in the hands of the crown, and was leased by Queen Elizabeth to Gregory Lovel (fn. 21). It was afterwards granted to Nicholas Zouch, and appears to have passed through the hands of various persons (fn. 22) before the middle of the last century, at which time it was the property of Rowland Wilson.
During the civil wars, it appears to have been used as a garrison. In July 1648, the Derby-house committee were ordered by the Parliament to make Farnham Castle indesensible, and to secure Merton Abbey, and other places of strength, in the same county (fn. 23).
In the year 1680 Merton Abbey was advertised to be let, and was described as containing several large rooms, and a very fine chapel (fn. 24). Vertue, who visited this place about sixty years ago, mentions the chapel as being then entire, and says, that it resembled the Saxon buildings (fn. 25). At present there is no other vestige of the abbey than the east window of a chapel, of crumbling stone, which seems, from the style of its architećture, to have been built in the fifteenth century. The walls which surround the premises, including a space of about sixty acres, are nearly entire, being built of flints. The site of the abbey, after passing through various hands, became the property of Sir William Phippard, Knt. in 1711. It is now divided into severalties, two-thirds of which belong to Richard Fezard Manssield, Esq. who married one of Sir William's grand-daughters.
In the year 1724, a manufaćtory for printing calicoes was established upon the site of Merton Abbey, which still exists upon the same spot, being at present in the occupation of Messrs. Newton, Hodgson, and Leach, who carry on a very extensive trade, and have brought the art to a great degree of perfećtion. Another manufaćtory of the same nature was established within the walls of the abbey in the year 1752, which is now carried on by Mr. Halfside, and at the north-east corner of the premises is a copper-mill, in the occupation of Mr. Thoytts, which has been long established there. Upon a moderate computation, there are a thousand persons now employed within the walls in the different manufaćtories; a pleasing collećtion at Strawberry Hill. contrast to the monastic indolence which reigned there in former times.
The manor of Merton, after the suppression of the abbey, was reserved some time in the hands of the crown; and was granted by Queen Elizabeth to Zouch and Ware (fn. 26). It appears by some means to have twice reverted to the crown; having been granted, 7 Jac. to Richard Bancrost and others (fn. 27), and 14 Jac. to Thomas Ford and others (fn. 28). It has belonged to the Darell family for some generations, and is now the property of John Chambers Darell, a minor. In 1291 it was valued at 12l. 6s. 6d. per annum.
The parish church, which is dedicated to St. Mary, is built of slints, and consists of a nave and chancel. The breadth is very disproportionate to the length. In the chancel walls are large pointed arches, in the centre of which are narrow windows with sharp points. On the north side is a door with a semicircular arch, round which are zig-zag mouldings; at the west end is a low spire. Merton church was built early in the twelfth century by Gilbert Norman, the founder of the abbey, as appears by the MS. in the Herald's College above quoted; where it is said, that after the king granted him the manor, he built a church there, at his own expence, and adorned it with pićtures and images (fn. 29), before which time the inhabitants were obliged to carry their dead to the adjacent villages. From the style of architećture of the present church, there is little doubt of its being the original structure, and that it has undergone little alteration.
In the chancel window are some remains of painted glass, amongst which are to be seen the arms of England, and those of the priory of Merton (fn. 30).
Against the north wall of the church hangs a large pićture of Christ bearing the cross; it is much damaged, but appears to have been a good painting, and was either the work of Luca Jordano, or a copy from him. It is not known when or by whom it was given to the church.
Against the south wall of the chancel is a monument, to the memory of Gregory Lovell, Esq. of Merton Abbey, cofferer of the household to Queen Elizabeth (fn. 31), who died in 1597. He married Dorothy, daughter of Michael Green, yeoman of the stirrup. On the north wall is the monument of Henry Meriton, Esq. gentleman of the privy chamber to George II. who died in 1757. Within the rails of the communion table are the tombs of Sir Henry Stapylton, Knt. and Bart. who died in 1679, and Grace, wife of Thomas Robinson of Rokesby, and daughter of Sir Henry Stapylton, who died in 1676. In the south-east corner of the chancel is the monument of Sir Thomas Robinson, Knt. and Bart. F. R. S. who died in 1777. He was buried at Merton, where many of his ancestors had been interred, pursuant to the direćtions of his will. In the chancel is also the tomb of Elizabeth, wife of John Garth, Esq. who died in 1640.
Against the north wall of the nave are the monuments of Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Robinson, Esq. who died in 1738; William Baynes, land surveyor of the customs, who died in 1717; Walter Baynes, who died in 1727, and others of that family; and Judith, relićt of Edward Wilson, Esq. who died in 1745. In the nave are also the tombs of Dame Anne, relićt of Sir Thomas Noel, Bart. and daughter of Sir William Witlock, who died in 1737; and Christopher, son of Sir Henry Stapylton, who died in 1743.
In the church-yard are the tombs of Mr. William Rutlish, embroiderer to Charles II. who died in 1687; John Payne, Esq. who died in 17–8; John Tyton, Esq. who died in 1790; and Mr. Francis Nixon, of Merton Abbey, who died in 1768. He is said, in his epitaph, to have been the first who perfećted copperplate calico-printing. The expression, however, appears to be too strong, as many improvements in that art have been made since his death.
The rećtory of Merton belonged to the abbey. In 1291 it was taxed at 10 marks (fn. 32). Edward VI. granted it to Thomas Lock and his heirs (fn. 33). In 1658 it was presented to the commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of ecclesiastical benefices, that the rećtory of Merton, worth about 50 l. per annum, was impropriated to Mr. Robert Wilson, who had placed Mr. Edward Raynsford there as curate, allowing him 20 l. per annum, and his diet (fn. 34). Henry Meriton, Esq. who died in 1757, was possessed of the rećtory, which afterwards came, by purchase, to Sir Thomas Chitty, alderman of London, and is now the property of his daughter Eleanor, widow of Charles Bond, Esq. (fn. 35) The impropriator allows the curate 14 l. per annum. The present curate is the Reverend Charles Frederick Bond.
Mr. William Rutlish left 400 l. to this parish to put out poor children apprentices. An acre of land was bequeathed by an unknown benefaćtor. Rowland Wilson, Esq. of Merton Abbey, in the year 1656, founded an alms-house for six poor women, and endowed it with lands. The alms-house remains by the side of the road to Kingston, with Mr. Wilson's arms over the door; but the endowment has been lost some years, and the parish have in vain endeavoured to recover it. The same Rowland Wilson left some money to be distributed in bread.