Lesnes Abbey is a quaint, unheralded and often ignored pocket of culture sitting on the edge of South-East London and fortunately for me, it’s right on my doorstep. Officially designated a ‘scheduled ancient monument’ by the government; meaning it has been provided protection as a historically significant landmark, this heritage site is a jewel to visitors and locals alike. Having been spoilt for as long as I can remember with the sight of the Abbey and the abundant beauty surrounding it, I’d like to describe why this area is so special and give you a brief tour around this peaceful patch of my hometown.
The Abbey, originally constructed in 1178 in reparation for the murder of the 12th century Archbishop Thomas Becket, is now just a ruin, but one that has fortunately been restored after being entrusted to the London Borough of Bexley, and its history preserved for the benefit of visitors. In addition, the area around the Abbey is also a notable archaeological site, having been excavated in 1909-10, with some of its finds even being placed in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. As you walk past the ruins, one of the few remaining memories of Medieval England, the surrounding woods provide a setting for the abbey, paired with rolling green hills that consolidate its picturesque image.
An unearthed jewel so far ignored by the majority of Londoners, the Abbey offers not only precious sights, but also a wealth of knowledge for those who seek it. As I take an afternoon walk up the carefully prepared spiralled pathway, I notice a variety of wildlife, from robins darting between trees and bushes to dogs enjoying a walk with their owners, all revelling in the velvety emerald grass.
Sitting atop a grassy hill, taking in the sights at Lesnes, I was able to see and admire the London skyline. Afterwards, I made my way down to the Abbey, noticing that the dense woods provide a natural and attractive backdrop to the ruins. On the way I exchanged polite nods and chitchat with friendly locals and visitors, taking care not to be set upon by a terrifying beast often spotted in the area!
Off she went to explore the woods under the watchful eye of her owner after a quick ruffle behind the ear. Just to make it totally clear, Lesnes Abbey with its open fields is a popular dog-walking spot for locals and visitors. The gardens also play host every year to the Abbey Acoustics musical celebration where visitors can listen to music or attend educational events in relaxed surroundings. All music lovers, or even those who wish to sit down on the heath and relax, should make this worthwhile visit. The celebration tends to be scheduled for mid-July, so be ready to get your groove on and keep an eye out for when tickets go on offer.
Moving away from the Abbey’s natural beauty, let’s switch gears and talk about another reason why you might like to visit – its rich history. The founding of Lesnes Abbey is tied to a pivotal moment in English history. It’s recognised as a penitent offering to the church in the wake of St. Thomas Becket’s murder, with the founder, Richard De Lucy, establishing the Abbey to atone for the part he played in this incident. I hope you’re ready for a history lesson, because it’s important to explain why both the Abbey and Richard De Lucy are so historically and culturally significant.
After acting on Henry II’s famous words, “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” De Lucy consequently regretted his involvement so much that he built the Abbey in memory of the Archbishop. Since then, it has been involved in quite a few (less significant) events. The Abbey remains an important memento of a period nearly a thousand years removed from our current day. It’s also thought to have been a stagepost for those making the pilgrimage from London to Canterbury Cathedral in honour of the same penitent walk made by King Henry II, although this is sometimes disputed by historians.
There are activities aplenty at Lesnes, all of which are kid-friendly; these range from digging for shark teeth, to educational activities, to annual events. Based on the success of last year’s re-enactment, Lesnes will be returning to its medieval roots this coming June. Be on the lookout for plenty of duelling, sports, arts and crafts and even the occasional bit of dancing… okay, a fair bit of dancing.
So, if you’re looking at brushing up on your English history and happen to be visiting Canterbury Cathedral, you may want to pop over to Lesnes and take a look around. Try to think of it as a little refresher course. Underneath the arches of the ruins’ ancient doorways, you can explore the remnants of one of London’s oldest landmarks, treading the same path as priests and pilgrims did all those centuries ago. Any history buff will be right at home perusing the grounds of Lesnes Abbey, immersing themselves in its rich history spanning the 12th-15th centuries.
Whatever your reason for visiting, Lesnes Abbey offers a relaxing, carefree retreat often unavailable in the busy, modern flurry that is an average London day. With its fascinating history, the beauty of the surrounding woods, the diversity of the wildlife or the fun events hosted, this wonderful Abbey offers something for everyone.
The Abbey is just a 10-minute walk away from Abbey Wood Rail Station, with local buses running regularly through the area at stops nearby. If you are travelling by car, it is situated off the B213, around eight miles from Junction 2 of the M25.
For more information on when to visit Lesnes Abbey, or the events they hold, see: visitlesnes.co.uk
Or follow them on Lesnes Abbey’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lesnesabbey/
Thanks for reading and hopefully I see a few of you there!