Tuesday, 26 April 2016



Constructed in 1178 by Richard de Luci, Chief Justiciar of England, supposedly as a penance for his part in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket 8 years earlier. The Abbey was always struggling financially with the burden of keeping the river defences in order against a sinking land and rising sea levels. Eventually, after a checkered past, which also included a substantial part in the Peasants Revolt in 1381 when one of it's leaders Abel Ker, led a mob from Erith to the Abbey and made the Abbott swear an oath to support them, the Abbey was dissolved in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey under a special licence to suppress monasteries of under 7 inmates.

View of Lesnes Abbey from the land rising in the East of the site.

The Mulberry tree in the grounds of Lesnes Abbey.
Mulberry trees were planted all over the country in the early 17th century on the orders of King James I. He wanted to create a British silk industry and had just discovered that Silk Worms ate Mulberry leaves. Unfortunately, they only eat the leaves of White Mulberries and not the Black Mulberries he ordered planted. This particular tree owes it's shape to the fact that it was planted against the wall of the farmhouse, now demolished, and grew towards the light. During very dry weather, you can still see the outline on the house from scorch marks in the grass.

The Conduit Pond.
This small dam, situated up the hill to the South of the Lesnes Abbey site, (sometimes called the Cundite Pond), was the principal water supply for the Abbey. It ran through a series of lead pipes down the hill to a smaller pond at the bottom and then into a well.

A stroll along the Leather Bottle Path towards the Abbey.

One of a series of mysterious pits. I have heard all manner of explanations for these holes in the ground but my own theory is that they are probably charcoal burning pits. They are surrounded by large numbers of coppiced Hornbeam trees which was the favoured wood for making charcoal.

Coppiced Hornbeam
This would have been harvested every few years, originally for making charcoal and later, for making anything needing a very hard wood (it's other name is Ironwood) such as tool handles, chopping boards and cart wheels.

Why the fences?
I keep coming across these rather ugly looking fences that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. I wonder why they are there.

The Chalk Pit.
I was really sad to see this. Some years ago, I was working with a conservation group who were clearing this pit of years of accumulated rubbish dumped there by the council who used it as a general tip. After many hours of hard labour over several weekends, we were finally able to provide public access. Sadly, it has been closed off again and seems to have reverted to it's original use if the piles of discarded rubbish are anything to go by.

Some of the wood sculptures dotted around the woods, constructed by Tom Harvey.

Hippo sculpture in the restored fossil pit.

Outdoor classroom on top of the heath. 

The fossil pit in Lesnes Abbey Woods
Back in the Eocene Epoch, about 54.5 million years ago, Southern England was in the Southern Hemisphere and just crossing the Equator. At that time, the land hereabouts was formed of a large river estuary where the remains of dead fish and other animals would settle out of the slowing water. It used to be closed off to the public but is now fully accessible. The best time to visit is just after it has been raining when fossils will have washed out of the sand. Children seem to be best at finding them, I think because they have sharper eyesight and of course, they are closer to the ground. There are rules when visiting though so don't spoil the site for everyone else. You can find out what they are here.

Lesnes Abbey Woods Wild Flowers.
At this time of year, the wild flower beds are probably at their best, especially if you like Bluebells. Once upon a time, these flowers would have been a valuable crop. The stems contain a sticky sap which was used by fletchers for sticking the feathers to arrow shafts. Later, in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period, a starch produced from the plant rhizomes would be extracted and used to stiffen all those impressive ruffs you saw people wearing at the time. Right now, they are sharing the space with large drifts of Wood Anenomes.

Wood Anemone

Greater Stitchwort

Some of the footpaths in Lesnes Abbey Woods.

Chestnut Coppice.
When the Romans arrived in Britain, they brought Chestnut trees with them, intending to use them as a food source for their soldiers. Unfortunately, although the trees grow perfectly well, the shorter summers in the more Northern lattitudes meant that the fruit didn't ripen very well. Anyone who goes Chestnut harvesting in the woods during Autumn will probably be disappointed with what they gather as they are likely to be very small and wormy. The trees do coppice well however and most of Lesnes Woods were made of coppiced Chestnut mixed with a few standard oaks. The practice had more or less died out by the 1920's and the trees were left to grow. Coppicing is very good for the local wildlife as it provides a number of different habitats. There have been suggestions at various times about reintroducing the practice as is already the case in other managed woodlands. Nothing has come of it though. You can see below an example of a Chestnut coppice stool that has been left to itself. The rootstock may well be several hundred years old.

Some coppiced Chestnuts that didn't survive the 1987 storm. You can see that the roots are still living and producing shoots.

Various wildlife

Peacock Butterfly

 I don't know what make of butterfly this is. (Sorry)

 This hastily shot snapshot shows a Squirrel with what it must have thought it was a great prize. I have no idea what it though it was going to do with it. 

The Heathland.
When you reach the top of the hill, you find a very different type of environment. This is an increasingly rare patch of dry lowland heath. The soil up here is very acidic and only a few species can thrive on it. 

Flowering Gorse.

The Tumulus. Children used to call this the Penny Bun, it looked like a Hot Cross Bun caused by it having been dug through at some time in the past. Clearing Bracken and other vegetation off it was the first project carried out by the conservation group back in the 1980s.

Weird Trees.
The highly acidic soil makes these trees grow in strange and bizarre shapes. They also grow very slowly. They are at least as old as the large trees further down the hill but are much smaller.

 The Heather growing on this sort of lowland heath needs a lot of management as it can easily become overgrown with bracken and shrubs. Lots of hard work for the conservation group.

The Dryad Tree.
The picture on the left was taken in the 1980s, the one on the right is how the tree looks now. That's what happens when you grow old, I'm afraid.

I hope you found this interesting. If you would like to help with conservation work in Lesnes Abbey Woods, you can find more information on their website here.

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