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Crowland Abbey on the Hereward Trail


Ask the tour guides at Crowland Abbey about the Waltheof statue, the whereabouts of St Guthlac's Cross, or where lays Hereward's tomb...

On the Hereward Trail - Heritage Interpretation Board 

The WakeHereward Project in association with Crowland Abbey are currently in process of the design and manufacturing of a heritage interpretation board that will commemorate the folk hero of the Fens

and tell the story of 'Hereward and the Crowland legend'

that says he is buried at the abbey.

It will form an integral part of the Hereward Trail tourist travel & destination infornation points at key locations in the Hereward story which will show maps connecting the Hereward hotspots across the Fens and will link to further information on Hereward, the other sites and places on the Hereward Trail, and other relevant tourist information.

The Hereward Trail board has already been designated a slot at the front of Crowland Abbey, befitting the status of Hereward and the intention is that the board will be in place sometime this year.The Hereward Trail board at Crowland will be the first under the WakeHereward Project Hereward Country programme with others due to be announced in the near future.

Crowland Abbey offers a mystical experience,

tucked away in the Fens somewhat isolated,

often quiet, always compelling.

Founded by King Ethelbald of Mercia in honour of Saint Guthlac the hermit monk who prophesised the king's future fortunes, it was sacked and the community slaughtered by the Great Heathen Army in 866.

The last of the Anglo-Saxons earls, Earl Waltheof, is buried here. Waltheof is recognised as the only English noble to be executed under the authority of King William I. His wife Judith of Lens, William's niece, had testified against him, accusing him of being complicit in the 'Revolt of the Earls' in 1075. Waltheof was beheaded on St Giles Hill in Winchester on May 31st 1076, his body then brought to Crowland for burial by the monks.  In 1092 he was venerated a saint and pilgrims began visiting his tomb seeking miracles.

Hereward the Wake

One of the enduring mysteries about Crowland Abbey and one which attracts a plethora of visitors who have multiplied the footfall to the abbey in recent times comes with the question, where is the tomb of Hereward the Wake? Where was he buried? Many think it is an old legend with no foundation in fact. To the contrary, the 14th Century Croyland Chronicle, a history of Crowland Abbey up until that point, written by local monks, claims that Hereward was buried at the abbey.


After coming to terms with King William the chronicle suggests he lived a long peaceful life thereafter and died of natural causes some four years after his wife Torfrida

and was buried in the abbey alongside her.

Hereward King William HC Selous.jpg

According to the Crowland Chronicle, Hereward and King William came to terms and Hereward lived a long peaceful life before being buried at the abbey

Illustration (above) by Henry Courtney Selous (1870)

Hereward at Crowland D Aballay_edited.jpg

'And on by Porsad and by Asendyke,

By winding reaches on, and shining meres

Between gray reed-ronds and green alder-beds,

A dirge of monks and wail of women rose

In vain to Heaven for the last Englishman;

Then died far off within the boundless mist,

And left the Norman master of the land.'

The legend of Hereward looms large over Crowland,

but where is his tomb?  Image (above) by Diego Aballay.

Me Mia and BT at Crow Ab 2017.jpg

David Maile of the WakeHereward Project and Mia Hansson with her replica of the Bayeux Tapestry at Crowland Abbey's Hereward Evening in January 2017 arranged by the WakeHereward Project, which raised £150 towards the Hereward heritage interpretation board, earmarked to be in place by Easter.

Today nobody knows precisely or for sure where that burial spot may be, or if it ever really existed. But we do have a reported sighting. The 18th C. Antiquarian William Stukeley claimed that he had seen Hereward's tomb in a corner of the now demolished North Transept. Stukeley also referred to the site of a chapel just to the north of the abbey, purported to be built upon Saint Guthlac's hermitage and a recent archaeological survey has revealed potter and a bone comb from the period, as well as the walls of a medieval hall.

The legend lives long and we know in his lifetime that Hereward had close connections with the abbey. Domesday Book records that he rented land directly from the abbot, suggesting he was a man of some importance and of noble blood. Though in keeping with his popular image of a rebel it says that Hereward didn't keep to the agreement and that the abbot took the land back at some time before Hereward fled the country. So was that when he was exiled, before the Norman Conquest, or does it mean after his rebel forces were defeated at Ely and that he fled the country, perhaps going to Denmark or Constantinople and fighting in the Varangian Guard? 

Such are the questions raised around the name Hereward at Crowland, it has to be worth the visit just to hear the tour guides regale the tales and show you the sights, and there's much more..

The image to the right is the English translation of an entry in Domesday Book under the Lincolnshire Clamores, a section where disputes over land are recorded. It refers to Hereward (as Hereweard) and is universally accepted as being the same Hereward 'the Wake', not least of all because it refers to Hereward fleeing the country, which could match his reported exile in the Gesta Herwardi at the age of 18 OR it is informing us that he fled the country after his defeat at Ely, where he is reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1071 as having escaped with some of his followers 'he bravely led them out' (of the Isle as it was being surrounded by King William's troops).

But it tells us even more. One is that it mentions the land at Crowland now belonging to an Ogier, who also held the Manor at Bourne post-Conquest, according to Domesday and it is universally accepted this is the same man named as Oger the Breton in the Gesta Herwardi, who Hereward fights, and beats, in order for him to win his land back (which is not recognised in Domesday). The entry states, crucially, that the land gramted to Hereward at Rippingale, which the abbot then repossessed was a deal 'as might be agreed to them each year'. This statement, according to David Roffe in his work 'Hereward the Wake and the Barony of Bourne' suggests that Hereward was of noble status, perhaps a 'King's Thegn', the Anglo-Saxon equivalent to the knightly class, because if he was not a man of a lower status would not be in a position in society to make personal agreements with an abbot.

Situated in the centre of Crowland a couple of minutes walk from the abbey is the 14th Century Trinity Bridge. It is a three-way stone arch bridge that once spanned the confluence of the River Welland and a tribituary, though since the drainage of the Fens it now spans nothing and the river beds have become the roads that pass it by. Previous to this stone bridge there were wooden bridges which crossed the rivers that were once the demarcation lines between Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, with Crowland being the first passing point for ships coming into the Wash and heading into the rivers Welland and Nene. This detail of border and toll security may well have been the significance of Hereward's attachment to

Crowland Abbey.

In recent years archaeologists have been digging in Anchor Church Field just to the north of Crowland in the hope of finding evidence of the first settlement of Saint Guthlac. They have uncovered what they believe to be the foundations of a medieval hall and have also discovered a rich collection of finds from the Guthlac period, including pottery and an elaborate bone comb. While these objects cannot be definitively associated with the saint, they add further weight to the idea that Anchor Church field was indeed the location of Guthlac’s fenland retreat.

Crowland Abbey, 46 East St, Crowland, Linc's. PE6 0EN


Hereward Domesday entry for Crowland.jpg
Crowland Bridge.jpg
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