Waverley Abbey near Farnham,  Surrey
13th century

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Click on photos to enlarge.
Notes in italics from Surrey by Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner, Revised by Bridget Cherry (1971),
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

The first Cistercian monastery in England, founded in 1128 by the Bishop of Winchester with monks from Aumne in Normandy. The first church was complete by c.1160 and rebuilt in C13.

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The picture on the left is a view from the north, i.e. right hand in the diagram (an English Heritage plan on the site).

The only things now that are more than heaps of masonry are part of one transept
(in left of picture) and most of the cellarium (in right of picture, beyond fragment of nave wall) and one end of the monks' dorter (in middle of picture) ... as ruins they are charming masonry fragments beside the Wey ... Most of the walling is dark Bargate stone, with clunch or firestone dressings, making quite a subtle polychrome.

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In more detail: Near the E end of the site is one end of the mid-C13 MONKS' DORTER, consisting of an end wall to the full height of the gable, containing three lancets in very severe style - only splays inside, and only minimum hood-moulds outside. Part of the side walls remains, but all the stone dressings have gone. W of this is the C13 CELLARIUM, 

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of which four bays remain,, simple, elegant quadripartite vaults with a row of very slender circular piers, simple circular capitals, nicely profiled ribs, and simple two-light windows. Parts of the upper floor also remain, and the whole of the W wall, forming a typically severe composition, with central buttress (gone), a roundel above it, a two-light window on either side on the lower floor, and what looks like two big blocked lancets on the upper floor. Fragments of tracery remain in one of these, which (to judge from Buck's early C18 view) was part of an inserted Perp window. This upper floor belonged to the lay brethren's quarters.

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N of the dormitory substantial remains of the SOUTH TRANSEPT of the church.  The W wall stands high up with gaping window openings.

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 S of the transept the site of the CHAPTER HOUSE is obvious ...  

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Ironically, next door to the site is a tangle of concrete blocks, a relic of the desperate invasion defence lines of 1940.  More about the Dragon's Teeth (external site). Second picture is an old yew tree growing on the south-east corner of the church. Third picture is Waverley Abbey House overlooking the abbey site. Mid-18th century with later additions and renewal.

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The evocative name Waverley

Everywhere else in the world, the name Waverley suggests something quite different from a village or monastery ruins in Surrey. In 1814, Sir Walter Scott published anonymously his first novel Waverley. It was to be followed by  a string of historical novels also published anonymously 'by the Author of Waverley', and hence to become known as the Waverley Novels.

The notice in the picture above at the entrance to the site says "Inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley". This is quite misleading. The novel has nothing to do with the site, or medieval monasteries, or ruins. He simply chose to adopt the name for his fictional hero Edward Waverley, the heir to an estate in southern England who travels north and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. In his introductory chapter to the novel, Scott wrote that he deliberately chose a name which would evoke nothing to the reader. This was to become a habit with titles of his later novels, although most of them dealt with major historical events. Whilst publishers liked to promote their books by means of resonant titles, Scott was wary of the readers' high expectations then being disappointed. He would rather they were pleasantly surprised by a book with a non-descript title. Here are Scott's word at the beginning of Waverley:

"The title of this work has not been chosen without the grave and solid deliberation, which matters of importance demand from the prudent. Even its first, or general denomination, was the result of no common research or selection, although, according to the example of my predecessors, I had only to seize upon the most sounding and euphonic surname that English history or topography affords, and elect it at once as the title of my work, and the name of my hero. But, alas! what could my readers have expected from the chivalrous epithets of Howard, Mordaunt, Mortimer, or Stanley, or from the softer and more sentimental sounds of Belmour, Belville, Belfield, and Belgrave, but pages of inanity, similar to those which have been so christened for half a century past? I must modestly admit I am too diffident of my own merit to place it in unnecessary opposition to preconceived associations; I have, therefore, like a maiden knight with his white shield, assumed for my hero, WAVERLEY, an uncontaminated name, bearing with its sound little of good or evil, excepting what the reader shall hereafter be pleased to affix to it."

The LoveToKnow website, based on the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, has this quote:  "The Annales Waverlienses, published by Gale in Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores and afterwards in the Record series of Chronicles, are believed to have suggested to Sir Walter Scott the name of his first novel."  (This is on the website's page on Farnham).  The authority for this statement would be interesting to know - i.e. letters, memoirs, etc. 

It is also quite possible, however, that Scott was in or near Waverley on one of his many trips south. He was always interested in historical sites, and he also wrote a life of Swift who who spent time at Moor Park close to the abbey (see last link below).

Final Note: Waverley Station is about 500 miles from the village. It is the main station in Edinburgh, named in honour of Scott.


Location and access - web page by English Heritage who manage the site.

History of the abbey

More about the village of Waverley, including its connection with Jonathan Swift 

Home Architecture Index Email:  Maps Link  (U.K.)

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