Vic Keegan’s Lost London 15: the bar at Bermondsey Abbey

by Victor Keegan

There is nothing particularly unusual about Lokma, a Turkish grill on the edge of Bermondsey Square except that it is built over the remains of Bermondsey Abbey, once a formidable institution that was home to two English queens. What most customers don’t realise is that what’s left of it can be seen under the glass floor of the cocktail bar. It is not obvious, as there is no light and many of the glass floor panels are opaque. But look closely you can see the excavated remains of the south-western tower of the abbey’s church.

That is all that is visible from the extensive archaeological excavations which took place a few years ago, although two or three remnants of the monastery can still be seen in the walls of neighbouring streets such as Grange Walk (look at numbers 5, 6 and 7) and in the adjacent church of Saint Mary Magdalene. The abbey was built on the site of an earlier late Saxon building. The Domesday book records that a Norman church was built there later.

In the 12th century, a monastery was established run by monks from Cluny in France. Later, Catherine Valois lived there after the death of her husband Henry V and Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, died there in 1492, having experienced the trauma of her two sons (the famous Princes in the tower) being whisked off to the Tower of London by Richard III and to die there in very mysterious circumstances.

Previous fragments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be examined here.

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