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Bexley heritage: The Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr

PUBLISHED: 18:00 12 May 2014

Sir Basil Spence, architect of Coventry Cathedral, right, with actor Richard Burton, at Shepperton Studios on the set of the film 'Becket'. Burton plays Archbishop Thomas Becket in the film. Picture: PA.

Sir Basil Spence, architect of Coventry Cathedral, right, with actor Richard Burton, at Shepperton Studios on the set of the film 'Becket'. Burton plays Archbishop Thomas Becket in the film. Picture: PA.

PA Archive/Press Association Images

The story of Lesnes Abbey began in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 when four knights, encouraged by Henry II's angry words, murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket.

In 1173 the Pope made Becket a saint and the following year Henry was whipped by the monks of the Cathedral. Richard de Lucy, Henry’s Royal deputy, had supported the king in his quarrel and now shared his disgrace. As an act of penance, de Lucy chose to found an abbey within the boundaries of the Manor of Lesnes, of which he was Lord.

“The Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr” was founded in 1178 and built on a sloping site which lay between river marshes to the north and Westwood (now known as Abbey Wood) to the south.

It was conveniently situated close to the River Thames, making it possible to get supplies to the Abbey site by boat.

The first Abbot, William, was consecrated in 1179. In July of the same year de Lucy died and was buried in the Chapter House.

During the rule of the second Abbot, Fulc, Lesnes Abbey became affiliated to the Abbey of Arrouaise in Northern France.

The Abbey was continually bedevilled by financial difficulties, and despite the fact that only 12 monks were housed there, the Abbey was continually in debt. Disastrous flooding of the River Thames in 1230-40 necessitated the building of a new river wall which cost the Abbey over 3,000 marks and by 1460 the house was in debt to the tune of £199 3s 4d.

John of Hoddesdon, Abbot between 1327 and 1341, was forced to sell some of the Abbey’s lands to pay for repairs to the Church, further river defences and to pay off heavy debts. He was deposed in 1341.

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