Religious houses: Introduction

Pages 54-55

A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1967.

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In the following pages a brief account is given of each of the suppressed religious houses of the county. Considering its area, the number of these establishments was unusually small, but several of them were of considerable importance. The Premonstratensian or White Canons had no house in the county, nor was there a single convent of nuns of any order. The reference given by Tanner to Black nuns at Horsley and to White nuns at Oxenford (under Waverley) are not supported by any further evidence; if they ever existed, their life was of brief duration. The meanly conceived attempt of Edward II. to substitute Dominican sisters for Dominican friars at Guildford, though strongly urged, was a failure.

The Benedictines held the mitred abbey of Chertsey of old foundation. The oldest but by no means the wealthiest of the English Cistercian abbeys was at Waverley.

At Bermondsey was one of the most noteworthy houses of the Cluniac order which became an abbey towards the close of its life. The story of its administration, rendered so difficult through the long wars with France, is as disastrous as was usually the case with the Cluniac houses in England. It was saved from destruction at the beginning of the fifteenth century by obtaining a charter of denization. In addition to Bermondsey there was but one other alien priory in the county, namely the small one at Tooting dependent upon the great Norman abbey of Bec.

The Austin canons had one of their most wealthy establishments at Merton; and there was another of much celebrity at Southwark. They had also smaller houses at Reigate, Tandridge, and Newark near Guildford.

The little welcome extended to the friars in Surrey is somewhat remarkable; it is especially strange that there was not a single house of any one of the mendicant orders in connection with the considerable population of Southwark. The Dominicans had a large house at Guildford under special royal patronage. The story of the treatment by Henry VIII. of the Observant friars of Richmond founded by Henry VII. is one of peculiar sadness. Tanner's statements as to Carmelites at Sheen and Crouched friars at Guildford are not correct.

As to hospitals, which occasionally, like the hospital of Sandon united to St. Thomas' Southwark, are difficult to distinguish from small priories of Austin canons, the Surrey examples are varied and fairly numerous. The most important, with a chequered history, is that of St. Thomas the Martyr, Southwark; there was also at Southwark a hospital for lepers of early foundation. There was a medical hospital at Newington of which but little can be learnt.

The county affords four instances of foundations of the collegiate type. The one at Lambeth, sought to be founded in the twelfth century by Archbishop Baldwin, and subsequently by his successor, Archbishop Hubert Walter, can scarcely be said to have been established, for it was almost immediately extinguished by the jealousy of the Canterbury monks. The twelfth century foundation at Maldon, by Walter de Merton, was speedily transferred to Merton College, Oxford. The instance at Kingston was more of the nature of a small collegiate chapel associated with a hospital. Lingfield, however, is an instance of a genuine collegiate establishment, which, like others throughout England, was not only intended to supply worship of special dignity and to serve as a chantry on a large scale, but also included an eleemosynary foundation, supporting thirteen poor men who resided in the college with the chaplains and clerks.

The accounts of the remains of these religious houses are reserved for the topographical portion of the history; where they will be described under their respective parishes.