Maldon Archive
Keeping the Past Alive

Beeleigh, Beeleigh Abbey & Beeleigh Weir  

Beeleigh Abbey was originally a daughter of Newham Abbey in Lincolnshire, established at the instigation of Robert Mantell, lord of the manor of Little Maldon. The abbey obtained a royal charter from Richard I in 1189.The heart of Saint Roger Niger of Beeleigh (a thirteenth century Bishop of London) was buried at Beeleigh and the abbey became a pilgrimage site. In 1289, pilgrims included King Edward I and Queen Eleanor. After the dissolution of the monasteries, many of the abbey buildings were pulled down. In 1540, Henry VIII granted the abbey and lands to Sir John Gate, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Thirty years after the land was given away there was an extension added to the abbey of a farmhouse. During the 18th century, the building was used as a public house. By the late 19th century, the buildings were in a ruinous condition, but in 1912, restoration was begun by Captain F. W. Grantham. In 1943, the Abbey was purchased by William Foyle, owner of Foyle’s bookshop. The abbey is now a private residence and is not generally open to the public, but small private groups can be shown around it by prior arrangement on specific dates, through "Invitation to View".   

Continued below 

The roofs of the resilient mediaeval buildings can be seen from a footpath that runs down market hill and ends following the River Chelmer. The Abbey gardens, are now also open to the public, on specific days during the summer months.When the Premonstratensians returned to Essex in 2008, establishing a house at St. Philip's Priory in Chelmsford, some 8 miles from Beeleigh.  In 2010 the Prior of St Philips Priory and three of the canons, were welcomed to Beeleigh Abbey, the first such visit by White Canons since the visit in 1955 by Father Norbert Backmund of Windberg Abbey in Bavaria. He was the first White Canon to have visited Beeleigh since the monastic dissolution in 1536. In April 2011, the Abbot General, worldwide head of the Premonstratensian Order (White Canons)in Rome, Father Thomas Handgraetinger, was welomed at Beeleigh, together with the Prior of Chelmsford, Father Hugh Allan, and three canons.  According to local myths the abbey is connected by an underground tunnel to All Saints Church in Maldon, the reason for its construction supposedly being that during the dissolution of the monasteries the monks needed to be able to retreat to the church if the abbey was razed. One story relates that this tunnel apparently still existed some years ago and that its entrance was found by archaeologists. 

Finding it too full of debris to explore it themselves a dog was sent in, and some time later was heard barking in the depths of the abbey, and was found in its cellar. In August 2000, following the death in 1999 of the previous incumbent, William Foyle's daughter Christina Foyle, Christopher Foyle, chairman of Foyles Bookshops, and from 1978 until 2006, chairman of the Air Foyle Group, his cargo and passenger airline corporation, and his wife Catherine, purchased Beeleigh Abbey and its 400-acre estate beside the river Chelmer from Christina Foyle's executors. 

They then set about a four year restoration of the Abbey and its gardens, which had deteriorated somewhat during the previous 30 years. Beeleigh is also known for its falls, locks   and weir on the River Chelmer and the River Blackwater Navigation Canal. There was a water mill on the original course of the Chelmer. This mill operated until 1875, when it was destroyed by fire. The mill had two bays inside, where lighters were loaded with flour to be taken to the port at Maldon, about a mile downstream.