In 2011 a new line was added to the DLR railway network. It runs north from Canning Town DLR Station, via Stratford (which now has two separate DLR stations) and the line ends at Stratford International DLR Station (which is beside Stratford International Station, on the High Speed line out of London from St Pancras International).
One of the stations on the new DLR line is called Abbey Road. Of course, to anyone who knows anything about the Beetles and their famous records, there was that cover of the ‘Fab Four’ walking across a Zebra Crossing. That crossing was also on an ‘Abbey Road’ which was situated near St John’s Wood, in NW London.
The DLR station is in East London, beside Abbey Road, near Stratford in the London Borough of Newham. Abbey Road and Abbey Mills (the Victorian sewage pumping station) both stand on land that was once owned by a very large abbey. It is usually referred to as the ‘Abbey of St Mary Stratford Langthorne’ in the history books. The locals also know it as ’St Mary Abbey, Stratford’ or ‘West Ham Abbey’. It should not be confused with Barking Abbey, which, of course, is at Barking.
Above: The old abbey plan superimposed onto a modern street map.
Above: The present-day Google map of the same area.
The abbey was founded in Stratford in 1135. At the time, Stratford was part of Essex. This Cistercian monastery was also often called West Ham Abbey after the parish in which it was located. The abbey site and its name ‘Lanthorne’ is explained in the Victoria County History for Essex:
‘About half a mile north and west of West Ham village was Stratford, often called Stratford Langthorne. The ‘long thorn’ or ‘tall thorn’ existed as a physical feature in AD 958, while Stratford, where the Roman road from London to Colchester crossed the river Lea, was first recorded as a place-name between 1066 and 1087. The name ‘Stratford’ means ‘a ford on a street’, in this case the Roman road.
‘The Roman crossing was probably at Old Ford, at Bethnal Green, and that route remained in use until early in the 12th century, when Maud (d 1118), Queen of Henry I, built Bow and Channelsea Bridges, linked by a causeway, to carry the main road over the Lea and the Channelsea, about a mile south-east of Old Ford.
‘Bow Bridge was the lowest bridge over the Lea, and remained so until the 19th century. Along the road, on each side of the bridge, the villages of Stratford Bow and Stratford Langthorne developed.
‘In 1135 William de Montfitchet, successor to Robert Gernon, founded the Cistercian abbey of Stratford Langthorne about half a mile south of that road.’
By the middle of the 13th century, the Abbey was also popular with England’s royals. In 1267, for example, Henry III set up his court there during a visit by papal representatives from Rome. During the Barons’ War in the 1260s, Henry III used the Abbey as a base for his peace talks with his barons. Its quiet location, close to but not too near London, also made this a popular retreat for the nobility. After a visit in 1467, Edward IV donated two casks of wine a year to have masses said on his behalf.
In the 1380s the Abbey was ransacked during the Peasants’ Revolt and, in the late 14th century, it was so badly flooded that it had to be restored on the orders of Richard II. By the time of Henry VIII, St Mary Stratford Langthorne was reputed to be the fifth largest abbey in the entire country, making it a prime target for closure during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Above: Artists impression of the old gate-house to the abbey.
Above: Remains in the little park beside Abbey Road DLR Station.
Only a small fraction of the original walls remain today. There are some remains of the 12th century Abbey gatehouse in West Ham at Abbey Gardens. The ruins were discovered a few years ago during an archaeological dig.
The site of the Abbey is, in effect, marked with a cross formed by Abbey Road (running almost E-W) crossing the railway lines (running almost N-S) used by London Underground and the DLR. It was this fact that caused the DLR station on that exact spot to be called ‘Abbey Road’.
Getting back to the DLR station, it has caused great confusion for those who are Beetles fans, in search of the famous Abbey Road Zebra Crossing. Because many people end up at the wrong Abbey Road (near Stratford), TFL decided to place a large panel on the station to explain that it has no connection with the Beetles and their record cover.
Above: The southern end of one of the platforms with the brick-built pier supporting Abbey Road Bridge.
Above: Detailed view from the previous picture, showing the stone plaque.
What is sad is that there is no large panel explaining how historic the site of the DLR station is – as related to the Abbey of St Mary Stratford Langthorne. However, at one end of the platforms is an old brick-built bridge, carrying Abbey Road over the railway tracks of the Jubilee underground line and the DLR line. If you stand on one of the DLR platforms, you can see an old stone plaque, on the site of the road bridge, recording the fact that the original abbey stood nearby.