The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 12 Historical Gardens

Westminster Abbey Monastery Gardens

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In monastic times there were many gardens within the precincts of the Abbey, besides the infirmary garden; but it is difficult to locate all of them with certainty, although the sites of some are known. The abbot's garden lay in the north-west angle of the wall, and must have covered part of the present Broad Sanctuary, including the spot where the Crimean monument now stands. Beyond the abbot's house, just west of the cloister, was the abbot's little garden. The northern part of Dean's Yard was from very early times known as "The Elms," from the grove of fine trees, some of which remain. It is said that when Elizabeth ascended the throne and summoned Abbot Feckenham, who had been reinstated by Mary, he was planting some, perhaps these identical, elm trees. Among them formerly stood a huge oak, which was blown down in 1791. The horse pool was on the west of the Elms, and beyond both to the south lay the numerous adjuncts of the monastery, the brewhouse, bakehouse, and granaries. Skirting this enclosure was the "Long Ditch," which flowed by the line of the present Delahay Street and Prince's Streets, and passed along outside of the wall of the Infirmary Garden, in what is now Great College Street, and fell into the Thames. This stream turned the mill from which "Millbank" took its name. In it, to the south of the granary, was a small island osier bed. The sale of the osiers on it used to bring in 10s. annually in the fourteenth century. Beyond the stream were more gardens. The "Hostry Garden" was a large one on the site of the church of St. John, and next to it the "Bowling Alley," where Bowling Street ran in later times, and to the west of that was a kitchen-garden. Somewhere also on the west of the "Long Ditch," before it turned towards the Thames near the osier island, must have been the "Precentor's Mede," or, as it was sometimes called, the "Chaunter's hull," and also the "Almoner's Mede" or "Almery Garden." On the other side of the "Hostry Garden," southwards on the site of "Vine Street" and "Market Street," was situated the vineyard, without which no thirteenth-century monastery was complete, and "Market Mede." Even this does not exhaust the list of separate gardens, but the others probably lay further away. The cellarer had charge of a large garden, which may have been the "Convent Garden," which is so familiar as "Covent Garden" that the connection between the site of the market and the Abbey has been lost sight of. One of the large gardens which was generally let was "Maudit's Garden." In the records it is spoken of as "Maudit's" or "Caleys." The name Maudit was given to it because Thomas Maudit, Earl of Warwick, in the thirteenth century effected an exchange of lands with the Abbey, of which the garden formed a part. The other name, "Caleys," was "Calais," named from the wool staplers who came from that town and resided near there, just as "Petty France" (where Milton lived) was called so from the French merchants. An Act of interchange of land between Henry VIII. and the Abbey, in the twenty-third year of his reign, mentions "a certain great messuage or tenement commonly called Pety Caleys, and all messuages, houses, barns, stables, dove-houses, orchards, gardens, pools, fisheries, waters, ditches, lands, meadows, and pastures." Part of this was "Maudit's" garden, which was sometimes in the hands of the convent, but more frequently let out. Among the muniments in 1350, "a toft called Maudit's garden, and a croft called Maudit's croft," are referred to. There seems to have been an enclosure within this "toft" which was let out separately, and in the twentieth year of Edward IV., Matilda, the widow of Richard Willy, who had held it, gave up this enclosure or "conyn garth." This was probably a "coney garth" or rabbit enclosure, like the one at Lincoln's Inn, which was kept up for a long time. Such rabbit gardens were by no means uncommon. All gardening operations must at times have been rendered difficult by reason of the wet soil and frequent flooding of the river, but with the patient persistence characteristic of gardeners in those days, the gardens in monastic times were probably well kept, and yielded profitable crops. It is delightful to know that, in spite of all the changes, one portion of the old gardens actually remains to this day.