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The late Duke of York was the last tenant under the Crown ; the manor, after the death of His Royal Highness, being disposed of with other lands of the Crown.
The Abbey of Chertsey is supposed to have been founded at a very remote period; shortly after the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity. In the latter part of the ninth century, the kingdom being repeatedly invaded and devastated by the Danes, the convents in generalwere plundered and destroyed, and the abbey of Chertsey suffered in the common ruin. The abbot, a priest, and all the monks, ninety in number, were slaughtered; the church and conventual buildings were burnt, and the surrounding territory laid waste. In the reign of Edgar the monastery was again restored, and continued to increase in wealth and importance until the dissolution.
The superior of the monastery was one of the mitred abbots, and was also a temporal baron; from the nature of the tenure of his lands, the abbot was required to provide the services of three military knights; in the reign of Edward the Second, the abbot of Chertsey, with other abbots, priors, and bishops, was summoned to attend the king at Berwick-upon-Tweed, by his military tenants and retainers, with horses and arms, in order to an expedition against the Scots.
The abbot enjoyed the right of free warren, and exclusive jurisdiction throughout the hundred, in civil matters; he exercised the powers of sheriff within the hundred, making returns to all writs: there was also a coroner for the hundred, with exclusive jurisdiction.
Here, during the abbacy of John May, in 1471, the body of the unfortunate King Henry the Sixth
Poor key-cold figure of a holy king,
was brought for interment; having been removed from Tower the morning after his death, and carried through the streets of the city to Blackfriars. There the body, according to Stow, barefaced and without a coffin, was put on board a boat, and rowed up the river to Chertsey Abbey, and there consigned to mother earth ; not as Grafton says, “without priest or clerk, torch or taper, singing or saying,” since an ancient record, or Issue Roll, of the eleventh year of Edward the Fourth, mentions sundry items of expenditure at the funeral of Henry, among which appear twenty shillings each, disbursed to the Carmelite Brethren, the Augustine Friars, the Friars Minors, and the Friars Preachers, for obsequies and masses on the day of the burial of the king. In the second year of his reign, the body was disinterred, and removed to Windsor, by Richard the Third, in the second year of his reign.
The destruction of the material remains of this princely monastery seems to have been completed soon after its suppression. Aubrey says, nearly two centuries ago:—“Of this great abbey, scarce anything of the old building remains, except the out-walls above it; out of the ruins is built a fair house which is now in the possession of Sir Nicholas Carew, Master of the Buckhounds. The town is very low, and the streets are all raised by the ruins of the Abbey."
Dr. Stukely describes, with the enthusiastic regret of an antiquary, the condition of the Abbey, nearly eighty years later, when the work of devastation was complete :
“I went with eager steps to view the Abbey, or rather the site of the Abbey, for so complete a devastation I never saw; so inveterate a rage against even the least appearance of it, as if they meant to defeat even the inherent sanctity of the ground. Of that noble and splendid pile, which took up four acres of ground, and looked like a tower, nothing remains; scarcely a tittle of the outward wall of the precincture.
“The gardener carried me through a court on the right-hand side of the house, where, at the entrance of the kitchen-garden, stood the church of the Abbey, I doubt not splendid enough. The west front and steeple was by the door and outward wall, looking towards the town and entrance of the Abbey. The east end reached up to an artificial mound along the gardenwall. The mount and all the terraces of the pleasure-garden on the back front of the house are entirely made up of the sacred rudera and rubbish of continual devastations.
“Human bones of the abbots, monks, and great personages, who were buried in great numbers in the church and cloisters, which lay on the south side of the church, was spread thick all over the garden, which takes up the whole church and cloisters; so that one may pick up handfuls of bits of bones at a time everywhere among the garden-stuff. Foundations of the religious buildings have been dug up, carved stones, slender pillars of Sussex marble, monumental stones, effigies, crosses, inscriptions, everywhere ; even beyond the terraces of the pleasure-garden.
“The domains of the Abbey extend all along upon the side of the river for a long way, being a very fine meadow. They made a cut at the upper end of it; which, taking in the water of the river, when it approaches the Abbey, gains a fall sufficient for a water-mill, for the use of the Abbey and of the town.
“Here is a very large orchard ; many and long canals, or fish-ponds; which, together with the great moat around the Abbey, and deriving its waters from the river, were well stocked with fish.
“I left the ruins of this place, which had been consecrated to religion ever since the sixth century, with a sigh for the loss of so much national magnificence and national history. Dreadful was that storm which spared not, at least, the churches, libraries, painted glass, monuments, manuscripts; that spared not a little out of the abundant spoil, to support them for the public honour and emolument.”
Even the Abbey House, erected from the materials of the conventual buildings, has been levelled with the dust, and the sole remains of Chertsey Monastery are a rude Gothic doorway, with a portion of adjoining boundary wall, and the side walls of a large barn.
Chertsey Church is a spacious and regular structure, in the decorated style of pointed architecture, consisting of a chancel, nave, and side aisles, and a tower containing six bells, one of which is conjectured to have belonged to the Abbey. The interior contains monuments to the memories of members of the Mawley family; there is also a tablet of black marble to record the memory of Laurence Tonson, a distinguished scholar in the time of Queen Elizabeth, by whose secretary, Walsingham, he was much employed in political matters. Tonson was professor of Hebrew at Geneva, and one of the earliest translators of the New Testament into the English language.
A cenotaph—a small oval of statuary marble, within a black marble frame -bears the following inscription :
TO THE MEMORY OF THE BEST OF HUSBANDS AND THE MOST AMIABLE OF MEX,
CHARLES JAMES FOX,
WHO DIED SEPTEMBER 1874, 1806, AGED 57, AND IS BURIED IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY,
HIS AFFECTIONATE WIDOW PLACES THIS TABLET.
A patriot's even course he steer'd,
Midst faction's wildest storms unmoved ;
By all who knew his heart, beloved.
The grand attraction of Chertsey, however, to minds imbued with poetical associations, is the Porch House, or as it is now called, from respect to the memory of the poet, Cowley House, the seat of the Reverend John Crosby Clark, son of the late Richard Clark, sometime Lord Mayor of London, and many years Chamberlain of that city.
The Porch House, so called from a porch formerly projecting into the high road, together with the lease of a farm and lands producing about three
hundred pounds a year, came into the possession of Cowley through the interest of Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans, and the Duke of Buckingham. The house, from its construction and general appearance, would appear to have been erected in the time of James the First; but many alterations, both in house and grounds, have been made by subsequent possessors. The porch, from the inconvenience it occasioned to wayfarers, was removed, and with it a tablet, upon which was affixed the epitaph written for himself by the poet, while residing here, and which has been exquisitely paraphrased by the worthy hand of Addison.
ABRAHAM Cowley, born in 1618, was the posthumous son of a grocer, who resided in Chancery Lane, London. The infant was left to the care of a tender mother, who, struggling with difficulty to obtain for her son a literary education, had the happiness of living to see him, if not fortunate, at least eminent, and of receiving, in old age, his filial tenderness and duty, at once her happiness and reward.
Of his early flirtation with the Muses, and of the direction of his mind towards that“ idle trade,” which formed the business, pleasure, and pain of his future life, he gives an account in one of his prose essays.
“When I began to take pleasure in it (poetry), there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour, I know not by what accident (for she herself never in her life read any book but of devotion), but there was wont to lie Spenser's Works : this I happened to fall upon, and was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights, and giants, and monsters, which I found everywhere there (though my understanding had little to do with all this); and, by degrees, with the tinkling of the rhyme, and dance of the numbers; so that I think I had read him all over before I was twelve
old.” At Westminster School," he lisped in numbers for the numbers came," and, while a schoolboy, published a small volume of poems: at this time, too, he wrote a pastoral comedy, called “Love's Riddle,” which he afterwards published with a dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby, but without adding much to the reputation of the author. He also tried his hand at a comedy in Latin, entitled “Naufragium Joculare," with no remarkable success.
When the Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles the Second, passed through Cambridge to join the king at York, just before the commencement of the Civil War, he was entertained with a comedy called the “Guardian,” of which the author says that it was neither made nor acted, but rough-drawn only, and repeated; for the haste was so great, that it could neither be revised or perfected by the author, nor learned without book by the actors, nor set forth in any measure tolerably by the officers of the college.
Cowley early began to taste the bitterness of life; the days that he fondly hoped to have passed in academic retirement were soon numbered, and immediately on taking his degree of master of arts, he was excluded from the University by the Parliamentary Visitors; be then removed to Oxford, where he published a satire, intituled the “Puritan and the Papist,” which, having attracted the notice of the brave and accomplished Lord Falkland, would seem to have served as his letter of introduction to the court party.