Sitting not far from central London can be found the ruins of a large Abbey, which if it were almost anywhere else would be a major tourist attraction.

But the large ruins of Lesnes Abbey are in Abbey Wood, Southeast London, which has almost nothing else to offer, nor really all that much around it either, so unless you are minded to make a special pilgrimage, this site of religious history goes unvisited. It should get a lot more attention, as it’s less than 25 minutes from London Bridge station, and when the Elizabeth line opens it’ll be just 12 minutes from Canary Wharf.

The site is largely managed parkland which has been recently cleaned up, with the ruins and a few small display boards around the area.

A few children were ignoring the signs not to climb on the walls, which is forbidden mostly to stop heads splitting open when they fall off than for any historic preservation reasons.

Founded in 1178 by Richard de Luci, possibly in penance for his involvement in the death of Thomas Becket. The abbey managed via the Diocese of Rochester, was large, but never financially successful.

As Abbeys across the country grew in power and wealth, Lesnes Abbey was stuck with the costs of draining the local marshes and maintaining the river embankments. Unable to support many Monks, it was one of the victims of Cardinal Wolsey’s decision to close any Abbeys with fewer than 7 inmates in 1525. In 1534 most of the buildings were pulled down during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Monasteries and the land was sold for farming.

In fact, it was still farmland until fairly recently, and only excavated in 1910, and late restored to its current state and opened to the public as part of the local park and woodlands.

More recently, a small visitor centre opened, with a “hatch in the wall” coffee shop and schoolroom to rent. A refurbished “monks garden” sits on the site of the former farm.

Today it’s a surprisingly quiet site. It really needs more display signs to show what is where and add more context to the history, as that alone might make it more likely to be recommended for a visit.

At the moment, it is a bit of a “lots of stone walls and umm, that’s it”, which is a pity as a ruined Abbey this large should be better known, and more often visited. Even if you are only casually curious, the size of the ruins is worth a visit in their own right.

The site is also home to a striking mulberry tree reputed to have been commissioned to be planted by King James I who wanted to set up his own English silk industry. However, silk moth caterpillars feed on the white mulberry whilst the King was sold black mulberry trees – so no silks for him.

The Abbey grounds are open all the time, while the cafe is open daily 10am-4pm/5pm depending on the time of year. The site is about 5 minutes walk from Abbey Wood station.

Spring is a particularly good time to visit, for the woods are filled with bluebells.

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  1. Malcolm Corbett says:

    Lesnes Abbey is very close to where we live at the Royal Arsenal, but I have never visited. I will jump on my bike tomorrow and pedal over there – thanks for the suggestion. Btw, Royal Arsenal is worth a blog post if you haven’t already done it. Our flat is in a building built just before the Peninsular War and which used to be the stores. Can just imagine Congreve gun carriages or Brown Bess muskets lined up against the wall of my office

  2. Ian Long says:

    I live very close to the Abbey and recommend the many woodland walks in the adjacent woods . Also,a wonderful display of daffodils precedes the bluebells in early Spring .

  3. Judith Barrett says:

    It looks fab. I too live not far away and will go. Thanks for the info!

  4. Renata says:

    I’m not one who lives close to the ruins and in fact I had never even heard of them until last night when I read this blog post. I decided to go there today and so my children and I took the train from Richmond to Abbey Wood. The ruins are a great sight and I was really pleased that we went!! Even my children (7 and 6 years old) were interested in its history and not only in running around. Walking in the woods afterwards was also great and we even took a bus to Elith nearby to admire the Thames, which at this point is very different (and larger) than what we’re used to see in Richmond or even central London. Thank you for this post and the many others that help me to shape my family days out and I totally recommend visiting the ruins, I honestly never thought I’d see something like that within the Oyster boundaries!

  5. Nicky says:

    There is also a fossil pit which children can dig and if they’re lucky find a fossilised sharks tooth! The woods are also home to bats if you are about in the evening near the ponds and there are the occasional bat walks. Worth looking at the Lesnes Abbey Faceboook page to see if there’s anything going on.

  6. Carole TyrrcaroleellCarole says:

    It does look fabulous at bluebell time! Haven’t been for a few years but will make an effort in 2018!

  7. Dawn bushnell says:

    I grew up the other side of the woods, it is a beautiful quiet and interesting place to visit and is lovely that it is not commercialised. The woods are amazing all year round and I still have boxes of sharks teeth that are millions of years old dug up in the woods

  8. Annie says:

    They have got yoga, Tai chi and various other activities at the centre! Its becoming quite the tourist attraction which is lovely for the area

  9. CF says:

    There’s an app giving the history which is pretty good

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