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Waltham_Abbey

Waltham Abbey, Essex

Waltham Abbey is a market town of about 20,400 people in the south west of the county of Essex, in the East of England region. It is about 24 km north of London on the Greenwich Meridian and lies between the River Lea in the west and Epping Forest in the east. It takes its name from Waltham Abbey, which was prominent in the early history of the town. The ancient parish covering Waltham Abbey was known as Waltham Holy Cross.

The nearest railway station is in the town of Waltham Cross, accessible from Liverpool Street Station in London. The nearest underground station is at Loughton on the Central Line, with which there are bus connections.

The town is in the District of Epping Forest and has its own town council and is twinned with the German town of Hörstel.

Physical geography

The River Lea, which forms the county boundary with Hertfordshire forms the town’s western boundary, and the eastern boundary runs through Epping Forest. The land rises gradually from the marshes and meadows by the river to the plateau of London clay in the east, 60-90 metres, above sea level, capped by sand and gravel of Epping Forest. In the south covering the former course of the River Lea is the King George V Reservoir, opened in 1913. Cobbins Brook a tributary of the River Lea, crosses the parish from east to west. In addition to the town the parish includes in its 41 km² the villages and hamlets of High Beach, Holyfield, Sewardstone and Upshire. The M25 motorway runs to the south of the town, to which it has access by means of Junction 26 on the A121.

Transport

Bus

Route Number Route Frequency
211 Waltham Cross to Roundhills via Waltham Abbey Mon-Sat every 2 hours
212 Waltham Cross to Breach Barns via Parklands Mon-Sat every 2 hours
213 Waltham Cross to Epping St Margarets Hospital via Upshire Mon-Sat every hour
240 Waltham Cross to Debden Broadway via Loughton Sunday every 2 hours
250 Waltham Cross to Debden Broadway via Loughton Mon-Sat every 30 mins, Sunday every 2 hours
251 Upshire to Hammond Street Smiths Lane via Waltham Cross Mon-Sat every 15 mins, Sunday every hour
505 Chingford to Harlow Mark Hall North via Waltham Abbey Mon-Sat every hour
523 Loughton Crown to North Weald Market via Epping Saturdays (Market days) 1 return journey
853 Waltham Abbey King Harold School to Chingford via Sewardstone Schooldays 1 return journey

Train

Waltham Abbey's nearest railway station is Waltham Cross which provides a frequent service to London Liverpool Street. Most bus services in Waltham Abbey serve the station.

Early history

The name Waltham derives from weald or wald "forest" and ham "homestead" or "enclosure". The name of the ancient parish as a whole is Waltham Holy Cross, but the use of the name Waltham Abbey for the town only seems to have originated in the 16th century, but there has often been inconsistency in the use of the two names. Indeed the former urban district was named Waltham Holy Cross, rather than Waltham Abbey. There are traces of prehistoric and Roman settlement in the town. Ermine Street lies only 5 km west and the causeway across the River Lea from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire may be a Roman construction. A local legend claims that Boudica's rebellion against the Romans ended in the neighbourhood, when she poisoned herself with hemlock gathered on the banks of Cobbins Brook. The recorded history of the town began during the reign of Canute in the early 11th century when his standard-bearer Tovi or Tofig the Proud, founded a church here to house the miraculous cross discovered at Montacute in Somerset. It is this cross that gave Waltham the earliest suffix to its name. After Tovi's death around 1045 Waltham reverted to the King (Edward the Confessor), who gave it to the Earl Harold Godwinson (later king). Harold rebuilt Tovi's church in stone around 1060, in gratitude it is said for his cure from a paralysis, through praying before the miraculous cross.

Legend has it that after his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, his body was brought to Waltham for burial near to the High Altar. Today the spot is marked by a stone slab in the churchyard. In 1177 as part of his penance for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry II refounded Harold's church as a priory of Augustinian Canons Regular of sixteen canons and a prior. In 1184, this was altered and Waltham became an abbey with an abbot and twenty-four canons, which grew to be the richest monastery in Essex. To the abbey's west and south the town grew up, with a single High street as late as 1848 (White's Directory of Essex) The town's dependence on the Abbey was signalled by its decline after he Abbey was dissolved in 1540, the last monastic house to be dissolved.

Later history

In the 17th century a gunpowder factory was opened in the town, no doubt due to the good river communications and the empty marshland by the River Lea. The factory was sold to the government in 1787 and was greatly expanded during the next century, becoming the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills. In the 19th century searches began for more powerful and reliant propellant explosives, and guncotton was developed here by Frederick Abel, starting in 1863. Cordite production began in 1891 and the site was enlarged several times. The site was an obvious target during World War II, and a German V-2 rocket landed near the factory in Highbridge Street on 7th March 1945, causing considerable damage to property and large loss of life. The factory eventually closed in 1943, and the site was developed into an explosives research establishment. There was also a fulling mill at Sewardstone around 1777 and a pin factory by 1805. Silk and calico printing were also important industries. The River Lea Navigation was also improved, a new canal cut across the marshes was opened in 1769 bringing more trade to the town. Outside the town the parish is largely rural and agriculture has been an important occupation, in the first half of the 20th century the area was extensively covered in glass-houses and market gardens. Gravel extraction has also long been a major industry in the Lea Valley, leaving a legacy of pits now used for recreation and an important wildlife habitat. In the early 1970s the population of the town increased by the development of housing estates and has developed into a dormitory town with pockets of light industry. The town now continues to grow due to its proximity to London and the high value of property in the area

Notable buildings

  • The Welsh Harp in the Market Square is a half-timbered inn ,mostly dating from the 15th century. The Lychgate passage beside the inn leads to the churchyard.
  • A former inn, at the corner of Sun Street and the Market Square, is now a shop. A carved wooden bracket in the form of a hermaphrodite holding a jug supports the projecting upper storey.
  • The Town Hall in Highbridge Street, dating from 1904, is a fine and rare example of an Art Nouveau public building.
  • Two notable 18th century buildings are Essex House in Sewardstone Street and St. Kilda’s in Highbridge Street.
  • At Upshire is a group of cottages known as the Blue Row. They are weatherboarded and with bark still visible on the roof.

Places of interest

A substantial part of Waltham Abbey survives from the Middle Ages, and it now used as the parish church. In addition there are a few other remains - the former Gatehouse, a vaulted passage and Harold’s Bridge all in the care of English Heritage.

Waltham Abbey is notable for the reputed grave of Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England. The Abbey also contains the Epping Forest District Museum, housed in a building dating back to 1520, which tells the story of the people who have lived and worked in this part of south Essex from the earliest inhabitants to the present.

On the site of the former gunpowder factory the museum illustrates the evolution of explosives and the development of the Royal Gunpowder Mills (an Anchor Point of ERIH, The European Route of Industrial Heritage) through interactive and traditional exhibitions and displays. the site hosts living history and battle re-enactment events most summer weekends and you can also take the self guided nature walk that shows visitors the ecology that has reclaimed much of the remaining 175 acres.

The former gravel pits in the Lea Valley and parts of the former Abbey Gardens is now in the care of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority for recreation use and nature conservation.

The Epping Forest Conservation Centre in High Beach provides information, maps, books, cards, displays and advice on the area.

External links

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