Wherwell Abbey

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Wherwell Abbey
Monastery information
Other names St. Cross, Wherwell
Established 986
Disestablished 1539
Founder(s) Ælfthryth, widow of King Edgar,
Location Wherwell, Hampshire, England
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Visible remains none

Wherwell Abbey was an abbey of Benedictine nuns in Wherwell, Hampshire, England.


The nunnery was founded about 986 by Ælfthryth, the widow of King Edgar. She retired there to live out her life and was buried there.[1][2] An unnamed granddaughter of Ælfthryth (and daughter of King Ethelred the Unready) was abbess in the eleventh century.[3]

Later history

During The Anarchy in 1141, the Empress Matilda's forces fortified the abbey, but they were defeated by King Stephen's troops. Matilda's men fled into the abbey, which was then fired by Stephen's troops. Traces of the earthworks built by the Empress Matilda's forces are visible today.[4] The original Saxon church was replaced after the conquest by a large Norman one, but in the mid 13th century Abbess Euphemia had the presbytery rebuilt because the foundations were unsound.[5] Great care was taken with the rebuilding with the foundations going down 12 feet.[5] At around the same time an area of boggy land to the south east of the priory was reclaimed.[5] Euphemia also oversaw a significant expansion in the size of the abbey with the number of nuns being housed reaching 80.[5] The Black Death later cut this number to single figures.[6]

The Abbey is said to have been the home of a cockatrice. It terrorised Wherwall until it was defeated by a man named Green, who caused it to fight its own reflection in a mirror.[7]


The abbey was surrendered on 21 November 1539. The abbess received the annual pension of £40, the prioress £6, and twenty-three nuns received pensions of from £5 to £2 13s. 4d.


It was originally intended that the site and estates be granted to John Kingsmill, brother of the abbess, but in fact they were granted to Thomas West, 9th Baron De La Warr, after he successfully petitioned Cromwell for it.[1] The manor house of Wherwell Priory was built on the site.

Present day

The abbey has disappeared, but in 1997 a geophysical survey by archaeologists from Southampton University located the foundations under the lawn of the eighteenth century Wherwell Priory.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Victoria County History, The Abbey of Wherwell, 1973
  2. Pauline Stafford, Ælfthryth, Oxford Online Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
  3. Frank Barlow, Edward the Confessor, Yale University Press, 1997, p. 28n
  4. h2g2, Hampshire Earthwork Castles
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Manning, Andrew; Rawlings, Mick (2003). "Archaeological investigations at Wherwell Priory 1996-1999". Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club & Archaeological Society. 58: 186–208.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Times Higher Education, 3 October 1997
  7. Rowles, Richard. "The Cockatrice". The Wherwall Village Website. Retrieved 4 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>