The Chapter House is a museum located Merton Abbey Mills, and can be found inside what used to be part of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary. The priory was founded in 1114 by Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey. It was very popular with the monarchy and held Royal Patronage by Henry III, who liked the place so much that he even had his own quarters there. Not only that, but Merton Priory was also the coronation grounds of Queen Eleanor in 1236, and Henry VI two centuries later in 1437. Sadly, only a hundred years later, Henry VIII had the priory destroyed in 1538 and took away most of the stonework to build his own palace at Nonsuch.
The Chapter House Museum is only open on sporadic occasions throughout the year, so I was lucky to find out that it had an open day over the Easter weekend. When I went inside, I was greeted by a volunteer dressed in Medieval garb, who was demonstrating how clothing used to be made by spinning yarn.
Taking centre stage in the Chapter House are the old priory's foundations, where you can see the ruins of what King Henry VIII left behind. My rather unrefined sense of humour made me smile when I saw a sign saying 'please don't stand on the walls'. Pfft, you call these walls? Hadrian would laugh. Yeah, I'm sure they were impressive once, but I just can't get excited about a heap of rubble.
I was, however, more interested to see some of the stone coffins and slabs on display (I'm morbid, I know). Between 1976-1989, over seven hundred burials were excavated, including shrouds, stone cists, and coffins made of wood, stone, and lead (hey they were already dead, a bit more poison wasn't going to do any harm).
Anyone keen on archeology will love to visit Merton Priory on one of its open days; as well as remains of the walls, windows, and doors, there are also unearthed ironworks, broken pottery, and photographs of excavations from the 1920s. There is also a miniature sand pit for the kids to do their own archeological dig.
What grasped my attention, however, was the exhibition about William Morris. William Morris was a 19th century textile designer who set up a calico printing factory at Merton Abbey Mills. Morris's textile mill took on many mediums from bloc printing, carpet weaving, tapestries, tiles, and stained glass. Much of his work was on display at the priory, but what I was most fascinated in was the recreation of his study. His desk was littered with papers such as sheet music, newspaper advertisements, a book, and what looked like the equivalent of a 19th century comic.
The final display was an exquisite wooden carving made from a hollow trunk that once towered over Merton Cricket Green. The carving depicts three scenes - the Merton Watermill, Phipps Bridge Road, and the River Wandle.