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Cistercian Abbeys: ROBERTSBRIDGE

Name: ROBERTSBRIDGE Location: nr Robertsbridge County: East Sussex
Foundation: 1176 Mother house: Boxley
Relocation: c. 1250 Founder: Alured de St. Martin
Dissolution: April 1538 Prominent members:
Access: Private property – not accessible

The abbey of Robertsbridge, dedicated to St. Mary, was founded in 1176 by Alured de St. Martin, sheriff of the rape of Hastings and dapifer (steward) to Richard I.(1) The original location of the abbey was in the parish of Salehurst, but whilst the community was able to increase its land-holdings, destruction caused by periodic flooding meant that the site eventually proved unviable. Some time during the thirteenth century, possibly c. 1250, the abbey moved to its present site on the south side of the River Rother.(2) Alured’s wife, Countess Alice (widow of John Count of Eu), associated herself with her husband in this foundation and her son, Henry, also took a keen interest. It seems that the relationship between the community at Robertsbridge and Alured’s family was a cordial one. Indeed, some time after the foundation, the abbots of Citeaux and Clairvaux acted upon the advice of Abbot Denis of Robertsbridge, and conferred the benefits of the Order upon the souls of Henry and his mother.(3) In its early days, the abbey played a significant part in the political history of England. In 1192, the abbot of Robertsbridge, along with the abbot of Boxley, was sent to search for King Richard, whom they found in Bavaria. In 1212, 1222, and 1225 the abbot was dispatched abroad to act as the king's messenger. In 1264, Henry III stayed at Robertsbridge on his way to the battle of Lewes and Edward II also visited the abbey in 1394.(4)

The abbey was well regarded and had a reputation for a high standard of internal discipline and order. However, the house seems to have dwindled from fame towards the end of the fourteenth century. At the time of the Dissolution the net annual income of the house was valued at £248 and there were twelve monks in the community.(5) The abbey also had a dependent hospital dedicated to St. James at Seaford, although this may not have been active after about 1523. The abbey escaped the first act of dissolution and was suppressed with the larger monasteries in April 1538. Following the Dissolution, the site was acquired by Sir William Sidney of Penhurst, who established a forge which was worked until the end of the eighteenth century.(6) Nothing survives of the abbey church, although substantial parts of the monastic buildings are now incorporated into the private house which occupies the site. The house, which takes its name from the abbey, is not accessible to the public.