April 7 – Waltham Abbey

A day out with Rachael and a look around the Lee Valley White Water Centre

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Today we arranged to meet Rachael from the tube station nearby and take her to Waltham Abbey. Michael and I have been there before, over two years ago but Rachael has not been there. So we decided we had to take her to see where King Harold was buried after the Battle of Hastings. Unfortunately, the central line was not working on a Sunday due to servicing so Rachael had to come by overland train to Turkey St which was where we picked her up. It took her much longer to travel in both directions than it should have taken.

There has been a church at Waltham Abbey since the 7th century but the present building dates mainly from the early 12th-century with abbots dating from 1177 to 1540. King Harold is reputed to be buried behind the church under the altar in the part of the church which was pulled down during the Reformation. The place was marked by a stone and a plaque. However, the area has been checked by the application of Ground Penetrating Radar and many locals believe that Harold’s grave is much closer to the church wall. There are many theories about where Harold II might be buried, Bosham church, Waltham Abbey, Bishop Stortford, the seacoast of Sussex or even living out his life after the Battle of Hastings as a hermit in Chester. After visiting all of these places we personally believe that Waltham Abbey is the most likely burial place of King Harold.

The church was wonderful particularly the painted zodiac ceiling and the fantastic elaborately carved illuminated three-dimensional reredos depicting the ‘Birth of Christ’ by Thomas Nicholls and installed by William Burges during his 1859-1860 restoration of the church.

We loved the ‘Tree of Jesse’ window which incorporates patriarchs and prophets in the left and right lights. The ‘Creation’ window with seven petals in a rose shape has the figure of Jesus in the centre surrounded by the seven days of creation. Both of these windows were by Edward Burnes-Jones but the creation window was actually made by Powell of Whitefriars.

The Lady Chapel which was the oldest part of the church had a 15th-century doom painting on the wall behind the altar. It was discovered behind a ceiling in 1905. The nave had matching sets of columns, one set plain, another set had a chevron pattern and another set had a circular pattern. To the right of the altar was the Denny monument which depicts Sir Edward Denny who died in 1600, his wife, seven sons and three daughters. There is an alabaster effigy of Lady Elizabeth Greville, daughter of Sir John Gray, son of the Marquess of Dorset and uncle of Lady Jane Gray, who was Queen of England for nine days in July 1553.

‘The Smith Tomb’ was the tomb of Robert Smith who died in 1697. He was a sea captain. It was made from black and white marble and alabaster. The centre panel depicts a ship avoiding ‘The Rock Of Indolence’. The inscription reads: By industry small means increase, large ones by indolence decrease

There was a Charles II Royal Coat of Arms dated 1662 and also much more unusually an Elizabeth I Royal Coat of Arms above the West doorway. The arms of France and England quartered within the garter and crowned and supported on the dexter side by a lion guardant, crowned and on the sinister by a dragon.

The geocache for the abbey is not a church micro but we were determined to find the cache anyway. This was made difficult by an old fellow waiting for his ride watching us intently but Rachael found it when we could still not see it. She was very pleased with herself but I cannot remember her geocaching name so that we can log her finds.

One of the other reasons we wanted to visit Waltham Abbey with Rachael to find out about the legend of the Holy Cross which Michael and Rachael included in the extra panels of the Battle of Fulford and Stamford Bridge for the Medieval Mosaic.

This legend states that in about 1016 a blacksmith in Montacute, Gloucestershire found a large black flint (or marble) crucifix buried at the top of the hill. He loaded it onto an oxcart but the oxen would only go in one direction, to Waltham, a journey of 150 miles. The Holy Rood was installed at Waltham Abbey and became the subject of pilgrimage. King Edward the Confessor gave the land and abbey to Harold Godwinson and another legend says Harold had been miraculously cured of paralysis by the Holy Cross as a child. After the Battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harold came to Waltham Abbey to pray for success in the coming battle against Duke William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings. It is said that the stone statue of Jesus on the Cross bowed his head to Harold and cried tears of blood.

We walked through the gardens seeing the walled garden and a moated orchard. The Augustinian Abbey was a popular place for kings to stay during hunting trips in nearby Waltham Forest. Henry VIII was a regular visitor and on several occasions was accompanied by Anne Boleyn.

Nearby there was a geocache on the Greenwich Meridian Line, but why are the co-ordinates W000.00.088? We have several Meridian caches now so why not this one? We found the cache easily with Rachael, then walked about 100 metres further on to find the true Meridian. A settlement about the Prime Meridian was reached only after there was an International Meridian Conference held in 1884, in which Greenwich was recognized as the 0° location. The adoption of World Geodetic System 84″ (WGS84) as the positioning system has moved the geodetic prime meridian 102.478 metres east of its last astronomic position, measured at Greenwich.

We went directly north to the pedestrian precinct on Sun Street where the line is illuminated in 15 foot long mosaic on the path. The mosaic depicts a map of the world, the Abbey, King Henry VIII and a pair of Chinese dragons to signify as east meets west. The mosaic was designed by the Paul Siggins in 2017.

I wanted to visit the Lee river and canal but we were having trouble finding anywhere to park until we turned into the Lee River White water rafting complex. There was free parking here and we were free to walk around the complex which was built for the 2012 London Olympic Games and opened by Anne, Princess Royal. It was so interesting to watch people kayaking in short kayaks on rapids. There was another wider area of rapids for nine-man white water rafts. They are able to change the water levels and the bollards at the sides to match other Olympic and Commonwealth Games courses for when British and some overseas teams came here for training. They usually keep the water rapids at grades 3 or 4.

The River Lee Navigation is a canalised river incorporating the River Lee. The river runs from Hertford Castle Weir to Bow Creek/Limehouse Basin, where it meets the River Thames. Historically the river was used to transport goods from Hertfordshire to London, particularly grain. The river is extremely popular with walkers, cyclists and fishermen The pathways offer a great opportunity to see an abundance of wildlife and some of the rather beautiful and quirky barges moored at different points along the river. In the park, we discovered the ‘Viking Ship’ by Sebastian Wolfram-Wheeler. the sculpture depicts the burnt-out hull of a Viking Longship after a Viking raiding party was stranded when Alfred the Great diverted the River Lee.

We went to the Waltham Town Lock to look for the geocache. Mike recognised it first, then me then Rachael. The cache was a pine cone hanging in a non-pine tree which was much easier to find at this time of the year as there are still no leaves on the tree. I guess it would be harder to find in summer.

After a lovely day together we returned Rachael to the train station and went home to spend the evening with Suki.