The Cistercian abbey at Robertsbridge was founded in
1176 by Robert de St. Martin or by his near kinsman Alvred de St.
Martin, Sheriff of Hastings and ‘dapifer’ (Steward to the Royal
household) to King Richard I. The abbey, the only Cistercian abbey
It was probably only a small chapel but the abbey
received many gifts and endowments from benefactors, in particular
the Bodiam and Etchingham families and perhaps as a consequence of
their increased wealth, the monks built a new abbey about 1 mile
east of the original site starting about 1210 AD. That an earlier
building existed is shown by a charter of 1314 which refers to
‘the chapel on the spot where the abbey was originally founded’.
In the early years of its existence, the abbey played
some considerable part in the history of
However, most abbeys had usually only local fame and by
the 1400s Robertsbridge seems to have faded, for in the Bodleian
library there is a manuscript inscribed “This book belongs to St.
Mary of Robertsbridge and whoever shall steal it or sell it, or in
any way alienate it from this house or mutilate it let him be
anathema maranatha”. Beneath this is another note saying “ I,
John Bishop of
The abbey records are incomplete but it
appears to have had a good reputation and was frequently selected by
monks who wanted to leave the Benedictine for the stricter
The abbey escaped the first suppression of the Monasteries and survived until 16 April 1538 when the abbot and eight monks surrendered it. After the Dissolution, the abbey was acquired by Sir William Sidney, of Penshurst, and it stayed in the family until 1720. Considerable remains of the buildings survived until after 1783 when they were drawn by S.H. Grimm for Sir William Burrell but after that considerable destruction occurred.
More information can be found at the Victoria County History web site
little of the records of the abbey were known about until the chance
discovery of a large number, albeit incomplete, at
Click to hear a sample of this music played by Robertsbridge resident, Helen Ridout.
The remains are private property and rarely open to the
public but some photographs of the site can be seen at the link
In February 2008, Vince Butler and Damian Alger, working with metal detectors on a site near Wendling Abbey in Norfolk discovered a bronze seal matrix which they thought may have come from Robertsbridge Abbey. Vince Butler got in touch with me asking for more information about the abbey and has very kindly given me permission to show photographs of the object. These are shown below.
Also shown is a copy of the Robertsbridge Abbey Counter seal and the wording on this ends '...PONTE ROBT' - from the impression made with the seal from Norfolk, this appeared to be the same wording.
Another interesting coincidence is that Wendling Abbey was a Premonstratensian abbey as was our near neighbour Bayham.
put Vince in touch with Sussex Archaeological Society and he
received the following reply from Christopher Whittick, Senior
Archivist at East Sussex Record Office:
is a matrix for what is called a counter-seal, which is the image
that is sometimes placed on the back of the piece of wax which
carries on its face the corporate seal of the institution concerned.
This is not quite the same as the great seal of a monarch or
religious house, which has full-size images on both sides.
Counter-seals are usually smaller than the one on the other face.
have looked at the Victoria County History of
first, round one has two equal sides, and the second, pointed oval
one has a counter-seal.
important news is that it is not your counter-seal, which is new!
inscription on yours reads: +
CONTRAS' ABATI DE PONTE ROB'I
which can be expanded as: +CONTRASIGILLUM
ABBATIS DE PONTE ROBERTI
COUNTER SEAL OF THE ABBOT OF ROBERTSBRIDGE”
October 2008 - The Robertsbridge & District Archaeological Society, the Parish Council and some private benefactors pledged money to Sussex Past to enable them to try to buy this Seal and bring it into the museum at Lewes. Unfortunately, their bid was unsuccessful and it was bought by Norwich Castle Museum and will go on public display there at some time in the future.
In Search of an Abbey This is an article probably dating from the 1960s and perhaps from Sussex Life click here to view in .pdf format.