St.Mary the Virgin, Lewisham Lewisham High Street  SE13 6LE

St.Mary the Virgin Lewisham

346 Lewisham High Street

SE13 6LE   020 8690 2682


Registered Charity

Number 1182343

St.Peter’s Chapel

Lewisham, owes its name to the fact that in early times it was a homestead or village surrounded by meadows and pasture land. The first part of the name is from the Anglo-Saxon word, laes (laeswe), signifying pasture, meadow-land, common; while the termination is the very common Anglo-Saxon ham, signifying a town or village.

The recorded history of Lewisham begins in the early part of the tenth century. By a charter, dated 6th September, 918, Elthruda (or Elstrudis, or Aelfthryth, as her name is variously written), youngest daughter of Alfred the Great, and wife of Baldwin, Count of Flanders, bestowed upon the Abbey of Gand, or Ghent, her lands called Lewisham, Greenwich, and Woolwich. On the land which thus came into their possession the Abbot and Convent of Ghent built a mansion called the Priory of Lewisham, and installed in it a colony of Benedictine monks under the charge of a Prior. The Priory stood near where is now the junction of Brownhill-road, and Rushey Green; and round it centres the history of Lewisham for the six centuries following Elthruda's donation.

In 956 Count Arnulf, Elthruda's son, seized the Abbey's possessions in Flanders and divided them among his nobles. One result of the apparent confusion which ensued was that the Abbey's lands in Lewisham came into the possession of Edwy, King of England. The Abbey did not, however, long continue deprived of these possessions, for Edwy's successor, Edgar, re-granted them. In a piously worded charter he notifies his gift to the Abbey of

"a certain piece of land in a place, which the rustics, from ancient custom, have denominated Lewisham, with all its appurtenances, Greenwich, Woolwich, Mottingham, and Coomb, with all their utensils and appendages, and all things which the God of Heaven hath created in the productions of the earth, as well in known as unknown causes, in great and Small, and all their customs and privileges."

In spite of these detailed provisions, however, Edgar does not seem quite satisfied that his wishes will always be respected, for, later on, he solemnly calls upon anyone who "shall consent fraudulently to violate this our gift, to consider that at the last Day of Judgment he must render up an account before God, and that he, with the reprobate of whom it is said, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, will suffer dreadful punishment, unless he shall beforehand make atonement by lamentation and worthy repentance."

Domesday Book shows the manor of Lewisham as in the possession of the Abbey of Ghent, and it so remained until the beginning of the fifteenth century. But the Abbey did not uninterruptedly enjoy the revenue of the manor during this period. In common with other alien priories which conveyed the whole, or a great part of their revenues to their foreign houses, it was seized during the wars between England and France lest its revenues should be used to provide the sinews of war for the enemy. At these times the custody of the Priory was committed to some person appointed for the purpose, whose duty it was to answer to the Exchequer for its revenue.

When peace was restored this custodian's responsibilities ceased, and the monks again enjoyed the profits of their property. The following inventory which was taken, in connection with a service of this kind, during the reign of Richard II., of the possessions, goods, chattels, etc., of the Priory of Lewisham is of interest. The manor accounted for 67 marcs a year, and all the goods taken into the King's hands amounted to £27 12s. 6d.

In Lewisham there were:

4 horses, worth 40 shillings.

8 oxen, £4. 20

cows, I0 marcs.

I bull, 8 shillings.  

I boar, 2 shillings.  

6 pigs, I0 shillings.

I broken-down wagon with iron-bound wheels and harness for 4 wagon-horses, I marc.

5 qrs, of wheat in Sheaf, 25 shillings.

2 qrs, rye in sheaf, 5 shillings. 4 pence.

25 qrs, barley in sheaf, £4.7s.6d.

9 qrs, oats in sheaf, I5 shillings.

7 qrs, beans and peas, mixed in sheaf, I4 shillings.

5 qrs.,peas in sheaf, I0 shillings.

hay, ½ marc.

In I4I4, a statute was passed suppressing alien priories, on the ground that the money they remitted to their head houses abroad tended to the impoverishment of the country. Under this statute the Lewisham possessions of the Abbey of Ghent were vested in the King, who, in the same year, founded the Carthusian Priory of Shene (Sheen), and endowed it with, the Manor of Lewisham.

The Priory of Sheen retained the possession of the manor until 1531, in which year Henry VIII. obtained it from the Priory by exchange. Subsequently it was granted to various persons, and in 1673, came into the possession of George Legge, who was afterwards created Baron Dartmouth, in the possession of whose descendants the manor still remains.

Of the use to which the Priory was put after it ceased to be used for ecclesiastical purposes there appears to be no record. In the nineteenth century a farmhouse, known as the Priory Farm, stood on the site which it had occupied. This farmhouse was built partly of the old material of the Priory, and was surrounded by the ancient moat, which was used for watering the farm cattle. The farmhouse was pulled down about 30 years ago and the moat filled in.

G. L. GOMME, Clerk of the Council. County Hall, Spring Gardens, S.W - 28th july, 1905.

The following is an account of the early history of Lewisham written by the clerk of the London County Council in 1905 on the occasion of the opening of Mountsfield Park.

The Chapel at the east end of the church is dedicated to St. Peter.  The Benedictine monks of the Abbey of St Peter’s, Ghent in Flanders were given Lewisham and Greenwich by Elstrudis, daughter of King Alfred and wife of Baldwin, Count of Flanders in the early 10th century. Today, we maintain a firm connection with the people of St. Peter’s Church in Ghent.