Merton has been important since at least the Roman era. The Saxon estate was in the hands of leading magnates, including Earl Harold, who lost the throne to William the Conqueror.
Merton Priory was founded by Gilbert, Sheriff of Surrey, around 1114, and moved to a site by the Wandle in 1117. For the next four centuries it left its mark on Merton and on its surrounding area. The site of both royal and ecclesiastical councils, the Priory also played a major role in national and international affairs, before its dissolution and demolition under Henry VIII.
The former Priory site became known as Merton Abbey, and developed as a world famous textile-printing centre, with proprietors such as Arthur Lasenby Liberty and William Morris.
Just outside the precinct walls lay the properties bought in 1801 and 1802 by Admiral Lord Nelson for his Merton Place estate. Several other influential people were residents of Merton.
The 20th century saw the foundation of the John Innes Horticultural Institution on land near the ancient parish church, and the famous Carters Tested Seeds on the fields formerly part of the Priory's West Barnes estate. The film industry also had strong links with Merton.
In 1965 the newly formed London Borough took the name of Merton.