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Christmas Lunch at Waverley Abbey House

December 5th 2016

Fifty nine members attended a Christmas lunch at Waverley Abbey House, which is situated between Elstead and Farnham.  We met in their lounge area for mulled wine before going upstairs for a short talk about the history of the house, which was presented by a member of their staff.  It was a sunny, winter’s day and the views from all the windows were stunning, creating an appropriate back drop to our talk.

The whole site is a conservation area.  Early records show that the now ruined Cistercian Abbey on the banks of the river Wey was built under the auspices of the Bishop of Winchester, around 1128.  The spot chosen is typical of Norman monasteries, by a slow flowing river providing ready water and fish.  The site was much larger than the ruins now suggest and the current Waverley Abbey House was built centuries later in the grounds of the northernmost part of the Abbey, in 1723.

Under Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries, the site was gifted to a friend of the king, in 1536.  The first Waverley Abbey House was very likely partly erected from Abbey stones.  Apparently some stone was also taken to help build another local, country house, Loseley Park.  This is where the present Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Michael More-Molyneux resides.

The current House is Georgian and Grade 2 listed.  Since the 18th C the building has changed ownership several times and notable people, such as Florence Nightingale, who was related to one of the owners, visited frequently.  During the Second World War it was used as a military hospital and the women of the family nursed injured military personnel.  In fact they never lost a patient and were presented with appropriate awards, medals and citations, as a result.  After the war the house fell into disrepair until the Baptist Missionary, Selwyn Hughes, developed it into what we see today via his Christian Charity CWR, which studies Christianity in the current world.  Hughes died in 2006 and people still recall his influential talks and refer to his writing.

The ruins of the original Abbey still stand and are sometimes used in films; for example, Tom Cruise arrived by helicopter recently to shoot one of his latest films.  The old Abbey is now owned by English Heritage and the whole environment is quite breathtaking.

After our talk on the origins of the House we had Christmas lunch and then coffee later in the lounge.  Members relaxed and completed this year’s quiz on Surrey and Cranleigh, which was designed by John Wright, who was also our official photographer.  Staff who work in the house are all helpful and from them we caught the peaceful, calming atmosphere.  Perhaps a return could be in the offing?

Liz Trickett and Gwen Wright

Members welcomed with mulled wine  ....

....  then after enjoying a festive lunch