Waltham Abbey History

The long and interesting history. Traces of prehistoric and Roman settlement have been identified in the area and a local legend claims that Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans ended in the neighbourhood, when she poisoned herself with hemlock gathered on the banks of Cobbins Brook.

In this aerial shot of part of the town centre, many items of the town’s history can be spotted. (Photo by Maggie Radcliffe)

The early recorded history of the town centres around the Abbey church. It began during the reign of Cnut in the early 11th century when his standard-bearer Tovi the Proud, founded a Church here to house the miraculous cross discovered at Montacute in Somerset. After Tovi’s death around 1045, Waltham reverted to the King Edward the Confessor, who gave it to the Earl Harold Godwinson, later Harold ll. He 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. It is believed that, after his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, his body was brought to Waltham for burial near to the High Altar.

In 1177, Henry II re-founded Harold’s church and, in 1184, this was altered and Waltham grew to be the richest monastery in Essex. The Abbey, known to be King Henry VIII’s favourite place for resting and finding peace, was dissolved in 1540, and torn down, leaving just the nave of the church that, now, forms the present Abbey Church. It was the last monastic house to be dissolved.

Many more, interesting accounts, of the town’s history can be found within our tourism Website