Waltham Abbey is a small market town lying on a gravel terrace between the River Lea and the rising ground of Epping Forest. The Domesday Book (1086) shows the growth of a substantial community at Waltham, dependent no doubt on the college and the shrine of the Holy Cross. It was a market town from early in its history - the right to hold a market having been confirmed by Richard I in 1189. Waltham Abbey was the last monastic house to be dissolved by Henry VIII.
The ancient Abbey Church forms the major focal point of the town - its tower is a prominent landmark from much of the surrounding countryside. The setting of the Abbey Church is enhanced by the character and variety of the open spaces around it; from the tranquil, tree-lined Abbey Gardens to the north and east, to the bustle of the churchyard and parking area to the south and west. The Abbey Gardens represent an extremely significant part of the Conservation Area in terms of their archaeological interest.
The Market Square still forms the principal public space in the town and is enclosed by an attractive group of listed, 16th century timber-framed buildings including: The Welsh Harp; Nos.20 and 25 Market Square; The Green Dragon; and No.1 Sun Street (Grade II* restored 1992). The outline of the 13th century "Moot Hall" (demolished c.1675), which stood in the centre of the Square prior to the erection of the Market House (demolished in 1852), is traced in the blockwork paving.
Sun Street forms the tightly enclosed, commercial core of the town and includes a number of prominent listed buildings including: Nos.1, 3, 3A, 3B and 5; No.19; No.21 (The Sun Inn); No.33; No.39; and No.41 (the Epping Forest District Museum).