Over 35 years ago, I stood on the grounds of the London Temple – which is actually in Newchapel, Surrey, about an hour’s drive outside of London itself – and was in awe. I had seen pictures of Latter-day Saint temples in many books and magazines, but this was my first visit to one of these buildings. The members of our stake (Glasgow, in Scotland) had travelled overnight on a bus, spending the best part of 12 hours on the road to get to the temple for the Saturday morning sessions. The 32-acre parklands in which the temple stands, set in the middle of the English countryside, are peaceful and green, and walking round them would have occupied a good portion of the time for us youth. I don’t remember much about that first day there, but I probably went into the visitors’ centre, looked at the displays, picked up some pamphlets and watched a film such as Man’s Search for Happiness.
In amongst all those books, magazines and leaflets I read over the years, I kept coming across potted histories of the land on which the London Temple sits. One of the outstanding claims made was that the property had been mentioned in the Domesday Book. This is the mediaeval English land survey commissioned by the invading French king, William the Conqueror, and it was completed in 1086. It is the oldest existing English record in the National Archives in London. In it is listed every manor, farm and property holding in England, along with the names of those who owned land if it had been granted to them by the king. The survey’s purpose was to identify which landowners owed William taxes, as well as knights for military service. I suppose finding the temple lands listed in the Domesday Book would have been seen to lend historicity to the temple itself – as if it needed it!
Eventually it got to the point where I wanted to see the temple’s Domesday entry for myself, so I visited the main reference library in Glasgow (the Mitchell Library – I must plug it as it’s the most amazing place) to find a copy in modern English. This I did, but to my disappointment there was a large gap in the survey corresponding to the area where the temple now stands.
More recently I’ve convinced myself (or possibly allowed myself to be convinced by the oft-repeated claim) that I must have missed something, and with the advent of the internet I was able to check an electronic version of the Domesday Book. Still nothing. Frustrated, I tried to pin down the first place I’d seen it mentioned. The glossy booklet (undated) that must surely have been issued at the time of the temple’s dedication makes no mention whatsoever of Domesday. However, after further searches I discovered a pre-dedication article in the Church section of the Deseret News that makes the assertion.
An article in the Millennial Star from September 1958, the date of the temple’s dedication, quotes the former British Mission President (1952-1955), A. Hamer Reiser, sans Domesday Book:
Newchapel is rich in allusions of time. The brook running through it is called Eden; the Romans built the road which is now the A22 to the [English] Channel; on the north side of the property run another historic road, Pilgrims Way, made famous in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The area around Newchapel was occupied by the Celts, and after the Romans by Saxons and Danes.
So we are left to wonder from what source the author of that Deseret News article got the information that has been repeated through the decades, from the Ensign to a booklet issued for the 1992 rededication of the temple, which repeats President Reiser’s statement, but mixes in the bit about Domesday for good measure.
I was pretty well convinced that the idea of the temple grounds being recorded in ancient history was nothing more than wishful thinking, and revisited the above sources to double-check I hadn’t missed anything the first, or second, time round. Just as well I did, because with the availability of more and more resources online I discovered the crucial piece of information confirming that the property had once been included in the manor lands known alternately as Walcnested, Walkhamstead, Walkingstead or Godstone. Furthermore, this manor had indeed been listed in the Domesday survey in 1086.
All this left me still wondering who had originally found this out and committed it to LDS history. Had it been a titbit of information picked up by a member, back when the temple was being built? Was it an accepted piece of local lore? I may never find out, but at least I now know that the claim of the temple lands’ ancient past is factual and not merely an urban (or should that be rural?) legend.