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Waltham Abbey or Holy Cross

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"WALTHAM-ABBEY, or HOLY-CROSS, a parish in the hundred of WALTHAM, county of ESSEX, comprising the market-town of Waltham-Abbey, and the hamlets of Holyfield, Sewardstone, and Upshire, and containing 3982 inhabitants, of which number, 2097 are in the town of Waltham-Abbey, 23½ miles (W. by S.) from Chelmsford, and 12½ (N. by E.) from London. The name of this place is compounded of the Saxon words Weald and Ham, signifying a residence in, or near, a wood; the adjunct is a term of distinction derived from an ancient abbey which was founded here. The town derived its origin, so long since as the time of Canute the Great, from the facility and inducement for hunting afforded by the neighbourhood, which led Ralph de Toni, standard-bearer to that monarch, to build a few houses. A church was soon afterwards erected, principally for the preservation of the holy cross, to which many legends of miraculous efficacy were attached; and, upon a lapse of the property to the crown, Harold, to whom it had been given by Edward the Confessor, founded, in 1062, a monastery for Secular canons; for which, in 1177, Henry II. substituted monks of the order of St. Augustine, and dedicated it to the Holy Cross. At the dissolution, the revenue was valued at £1079. 12. 1.: within the choir, or eastern chapel, the body of Harold, who was slain in the battle of Hastings, with those of his brothers, Gurth and Leofwin, was entombed. . . The town, which is spacious and irregularly built, consisting chiefly of one long street is situated on the banks of the river Lea, which here divides into many streams, and separates the two counties of Essex and Herts about half a mile to the west, and also the parishes of Cheshunt and Waltham-Abbey: the inhabitants are well supplied with water. The gunpowder mills belonging to government are situated here, and at present afford employment to nearly two hundred persons, but in time of war from four to five hundred were engaged. About one hundred persons are occupied in printing silk handkerchiefs, and some business is done in the manufacture of pins, though it is by no means so extensive as formerly: here are also a brewery, flour-mill, and two malt-kilns. In the hamlet of Sewardstone is an extensive factory for throwing and spinning silk, in which between two and three hundred persons are employed; at the west end of the town is the new cut from the river Lea. The market is on Tuesday: fairs are held May 14th and September 25th, for horses and cattle; and on the 26th is a statute fair for hiring servants. Courts leet and baron are held on Whit-Monday. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the jurisdiction of the Commissary of London, concurrently with the Consistorial Court of the Bishop of London, and in the patronage of certain Trustees. The church, which is dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Lawrence, and comprises only the nave of the old abbey church, is a spacious structure in the Norman style of architecture, with a tower of later date; on the south side is the Lady chapel, now used as a vestry and school room. . . There are places of worship for Baptists and Wesleyan Methodists. . ." [From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) - copyright Mel Lockie 2016]

"HOLYFIELD, a hamlet in the parish of WALTHAM ABBEY, or HOLY-CROSS, hundred of WALTHAM, county of ESSEX, 2½ miles (N. by E.) from Waltham-Abbey, containing 293 inhabitants." [From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) - copyright Mel Lockie 2016]

"SEWARDSTONE, a hamlet in the parish of WALTHAM-ABBEY, or HOLY-CROSS, hundred of WALTHAM, county of ESSEX, 1½ mile (S.) from Waltham-Abbey, containing 808 inhabitants. There is a heap of rubbish in the vicinity, called "the ruins of the old church." The Wesleyan Methodists have a place of worship here." [From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of England (1831) - copyright Mel Lockie 2016]

Upshire - a place within this parish



  • Census returns are available from the usual sources for 1841-1911, which includes most copies held at the ERO, Wharf Rd, Chelmsford. More information on other ways to view these census returns on the Essex

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Historical Geography

  • Waltham Abbey was a member of the Waltham Hundred

You can see the administrative areas in which Waltham Abbey or Holy Cross has been placed at times in the past. Select one to see a link to a map of that particular area.