Name: WARDEN Location: nr Bedford
County: Bedfordshire Foundation: 1136 Mother house: Rievaulx Relocation: None Founder: Walter Espec Dissolution: 1537 Prominent members: Waltheof of Kirkham Access: No remains to be seen
Warden Abbey, one of the earliest Cistercian
settlements in England, was founded in 1136 by Walter
1154). Four years earlier Walter had founded the abbey of Rievaulx,
one of the most famous houses of the Cistercian Order, and now
invited the monks to settle a daughter-house on
his lands at Old Warden in Bedfordshire. By 1536 fifteen monks
and the abbot, Waltheof (d.
1160), had arrived at the site. Waltheof was the stepson of King
David of Scotland and had been prior of the Augustinian monastery
of Kirkham before joining the ranks of the Cistercian monks at
He began his new life at Warden but soon returned to the mother-house.
When the See of York fell vacant in 1140 Waltheof (Waldef) was
among the candidates, but he was vetoed by King Stephen because
relations with the King of Scotland. He remained at Rievaulx until
he returned to Scotland as abbot of Melrose.
Warden was able to establish three daughter-houses
of its own: Sawtry (1147), Sibton (1150)
and Tilty (1153); it
had also created twelve granges by 1190. It is thought that
in the early thirteenth century there may have been over fifty
approximately thirty monks were imprisoned in Bedford Castle after
Falkes de Breaute led an attack on the abbey. In the early fourteenth
century Warden Abbey succumbed to the popular desire for mosaic
pavements and had a very expensive and elaborate one constructed
in the monastery. At the time of the Dissolution Warden Abbey was
still a relatively wealthy house, having a net annual income of
£389. In 1536 there were fifteen monks besides the abbot,
who wrote claiming that they opposed
which finally took place in 1537.
After the Dissolution the site
was acquired by Robert Gostwick who added some brick extensions
to the monastic buildings. Today these are the only identifiable
remains, although several important artefacts have been found
the site, including fragments of carved and painted stonework
and stained glass, decorated tiles, and three small copper gilt
enamel roundels bearing the arms of the abbey.