Lesnes Abbey (ruins) is a hidden treasure in the Borough of Bexley. In 1178 Lesnes Abbey was founded by Richard de Luci, one of Henry II’s officers, as a house for Austin Canons. Lesnes was never a large or important foundation, and suffered much financial difficulty due to the continual maintenance costs of the river walls. When Cardinal Wolsey suppressed several of the smaller religious houses in the early 16th century to endow his college at Oxford, Lesnes Abbey was one of the first abbeys to ‘come under the axe’ in 1525. The buildings had by then fallen into quite a state of disrepair and this resulted in further neglect. Eventually, the church and claustral buildings were demolished, and the stones were sold for building material. With such fragmentary remains, the site today has had some reconstruction of the foundation stones following two major excavations in the first half of the 20th century. Despite the lack of walls (with the exception of one wall of the dormitory which still stands to a good height) and detail, it is still possible to gain an idea of the original layout of the buildings.
One story that is told about Lesnes Abbey concerns the great, great, grand daughter of the founder. Roesia, as a young girl, was brought up in the abbey and, apparently, lived a very happy life there. In time, she married and moved away, but on her death her heart was returned to Lesnes Abbey to be buried in the place she held a great affection for.
Visitors to Lesnes Abbey today are treated not only to the fascinating ruins of a religious foundation, but also to some spectacular displays of wild flowers, birds and other wildlife to be found along the glorious woodland walks throughout the park. Lesnes Abbey Wood is approximately 217 acres (88 hectares). It is full of a diversity of wildlife habitats, plants and flowers. There are self-guided trails which take you through the woods, open heath and ornamental gardens. It is a local nature reserve and a site of special scientific interest as a source of fossils. A map of the trails can be found on the website link below along with general information about visiting both the woods and Abbey ruins: http://www.bexley.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3906
You can find out more about the abbey by visiting The Greenwich Heritage Centre, Artillery Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, SE18 4DX, where there are many interesting archaeological finds on display from the excavations. A number of tombs, other stonework and tiles are on display at St. John’s Church, Erith. The Victoria and Albert Museum contains the effigy of a member of the de Luci family found in the chapter house, along with the missal of Lesnes Abbey, a richly illuminated manuscript from the early thirteenth century.
Located: Abbey Road, Bexley
Closest rail: Abbey Wood