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.
Murder of Kenulph, king of the West Saxons, and battle between the Saxons and the Danes.
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.
Foundation of Merton Abbey.
Removal of the convent.
Merton Abbey first built with stone.
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
Seal of Merton Abbey.
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.
Statutes of the convent.
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) .
Parliament at Merton.
Peace between Henry III. and the Dauphin.
Hubert de Burgh.
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) .
Site of the priory.
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.
Merton Abbey used as a garrison.
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
Manufaćtories on the site of Merton Abbey.
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
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
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.
Sir Thomas Robinson.
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.
The parish register commences in the year 1559; during the last
century it was not kept with sufficient accuracy to form a satisfaćtory average of births and burials.
Comparative state of population.
||Average of Baptisms.
||Average of Burials.
The present number of houses is 116.
In 1603 there are entries of only four burials.
"Lady Mary Villars, daughter of the Right Hon. the Earl of
Buckingham and Lord Viscount Purbeck, of this parish, buried
May 18th, 1703."
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.