What does Merton priory mean to us in the 21st century? The name may conjure up different thoughts to different people.
- To the legal historian it must be the important council of 1236, the forerunner of our parliamentary legal system providing the first entry in the Statute Book.
- To an architect it would be the creation and size of the buildings covering 60 acres and the styles of every period.
- To the water engineer, how the river was channelled to drive mills, to make fish ponds, to flush toilets and to control flooding.
- To the hotel manager, how the traveller enjoyed the hospitality of the monastery. From the humble pilgrim to the proud baron and his entourage. Think of the guest house – what an entrance it had!
- To the academic it might be the founding of the collegiate system at Oxford and Cambridge.
- It could be the many youths who completed their schooling here and went on to flourish in other fields. Not forgetting a few who became saints.
- Some may consider the effect of Merton’s daughter houses founded by canons from here. Cirencester became the richest Augustinian house in the land. Holyrood influenced relations between Scotland and England.
- To musicians it might be the development of church music and singing.
- It could be the close connection of each reigning sovereign with Merton and its effect on the community.
- To the economist it might be the intricate workings of the priory. Looking at the duties of just one officer, the granger; it was required of him to ensure corn supplies, their milling and the issue of flour to the kitchen and bakehouse.
- To the farmer and countryman who knows about forward planning – wool sold before the lambs were born, trees planted for generations unborn, huge barns built to garner the grain not yet sown.
- To the medics, the well being of all members of the community through adequate fresh water and drainage.
- To the topographer it could be the varied land holdings in many counties. The regular repair of roads and building bridges.
Katie Hawks’ fascinating talk on ‘Merton’s Literary Canons – the place and use of books at Merton Priory’ is now available on Surrey Archaeological Society’s YouTube channel: Merton’s Literary Canons
Merton Priory Trust has also produced a number of short videos, including ‘Thomas Becket and Merton Priory’. Watch them at https://www.mertonpriory.org/media/