The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 12. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1801.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
THE VILLE OR PRECINCT OF ST. GREGORY
IS situated in the above suburb, on the east side of the high road leading to the island of Thanet.
It has been a matter much controverted between the city and this priory, whether the precinct of it is within the liberties of the city or not; the following is an account of what has passed in former times, to investigate this matter and clear up the truth of it. In the year 1269, anno 53 Henry III. the prior of St. Gregories, by the same writ with the prior of Christchurch, the abbot of St. Augustine, and others, after a legal discussion of the case, by the enquiry and verdict of select men of the city and vicinage, was acquitted of tallage, i. e. of being within the compass of tallage with the city. And in the argument drawn up by the abbot of St. Augustine, in desence of himself and his abbey against the city's challenging the abbey, and some of its neighbouring domains, to be, of and within the liberty of the city, in king Henry VI.'s time; among other heads of it (that it might not seem strange, that the abbey being in the suburbs, and so near the city wall, should nevertheless be exempt from the franchise of the same) by shewing how the matter stood, in the same state with other like places about the city, this priory was pleaded to be without the walls, so without the liberties also of the city, in these words—and also there are some places as near the walls of the said city, as those places are, which are contained in the aforesaid articles of the bailiffs aforesaid, which always were without the said city, the precinct, liberty or suburbs of the same, namely the street of Westgate, the street of St. Martin, the priory of St. Gregory, the hospital of St. John, Northgate, &c.
In king Henry VIII.'s time, certain articles were concluded between the prior of St. Gregory's and the convent of the same, on the one part, and the mayor and commonalty of the city, on the other part, for the composing of this difference about the temporal jurisdiction of the place; when it was agreed and allowed by the mediators, that this priory, as it was then inclosed, with the new houses built, as well on, and by the south part of their church gate, as by the north part of the court gate of the said church, should be fully and entirely within the liberties and franchises of the city of Canterbury—and yet, notwithstanding this award, this priory and its precincts have been for a long time past acknowledged to be within the jurisdiction of the justices of the county of Kent at large, who sometime since created it a ville, and now exercise every jurisdiction over it, the same as in the other parts of the hundred of Westgate, which are exempt from the liberties of the city, (fn. 1) of which hundred it is now esteemed an extraparochial district.
Eadmer gives us an account of the foundation of this priory, by archbishop Lanfrance, without the Northgate of this city. He says, on the opposite side of the way, (that is, to St. John's hospital) archbishop Lanfranc built a church, in honour of St. Gregory, in which he appointed canons; who should be bound to order the course of their lives, according to certain constitutions and canons, and who should administer to the infirm people of the above mentioned hospital, whatever was necessary, for the good of their soul, and take care likewise of their burial; and that for these, he provided so much lands, tithes and rents, as seemed sufficient for their maintenance. (fn. 2)
Thus archbishop Lanfranc, in 1084, established this priory, as a house of secular canons, which archbishop William Corboil, in king Henry I.'s reign, changed to regular canons, (fn. 3) otherwise called black canons, from the habit which they wore, (fn. 4) of the order of St. Augustine, as appears by the catalogue of monasteries of that order, among which it is reckoned one. (fn. 5) Contrary to this Mr. Somner says, that Lanfranc founded this priory, at first for regular canons, being the first house of this kind in the whole kingdom. If that is true, it certainly was erected long before the priory of the same order at Nosthill, in Yorkshire; which Rayner says, was the first in the kingdom, being built by Adelwold or Ethelwolph, king Henry I.'s Confessor, who, he continues, first brought the order into the land; but in this he seems, by the opinion of most, to be mistaken. What number of canons were required here by the foundation, does not appear; but by an entry of a visitation of the priory by cardinal archbishop Bourchier, only five canons gave in their names with the prior, who, indeed, then complained of the paucity of his canons, which, as he said, was occasioned by the diminution of their revenues, or, as he termed it, of their lands, revenues and rents.
As to any remarkable matters or occurrences relating to this priory, I have read of very few. But there happened a great dispute, about the year 1085, between the convent of St. Augustine and this priory, concerning the relics of St. Mildred; each affirming that they had been removed to their monastery, the former claiming them from king Canute, the latter from archbishop Lanfranc; who, as they affirmed, at the founding of their priory, bestowed upon it, among other things of great price, the translated relics of St. Mildred and St. Edburga. On July 2, 1145, the church of this priory was burnt down. (fn. 6)
Besides these I find mention, that John Knyvet, the king's chancellor, having attended king Edward III. on his embarking at Sandwich for foreign parts, in his 46th year, returned to Canterbury, and lodged in this priory on the 1st September, where he executed his office, by sealing several writs. (fn. 7)
In the 3d year of king Edward III. queen Isabella being then at Canterbury, and taking up her abode at Christ church, master Henry de Cliff, with the lord William de Herlaston, lodged at the priory of St. Gregory, when the former, appointed by the king, then abroad, keeper of the great seal, exercised his office on May 31, that year, anno 1329, by the sealing of certain writs; and he afterwards resigned up the seal in the presence of the king and many of the nobility, in the hall of the chancellor, in this priory, where he took up his abode, to the bishop of Lincoln, the king's chancellor, who after dinner caused several writs to be sealed there, after which the king staid at Canterbury till the 23d of June. (fn. 8)
By a record among the archives of Christ church, it appears, that the archbishop was patron, and in the vacancy of the see, the prior and chapter of Christchurch were patrons of this priory, who upon every vacancy nominated and promoted the succeeding prior, and presented to such ecclesiastical benesices as were in the patronage of it.
As to the revenues and possessions belonging to it, mention is made in the survey of Domesday, in the description of the archbishop's manor of Stursete, or Westgate, as it is now called; of such of them as lay within this city, as follows:
Et inibi sunt iterum xxx & ii mansuræ £ unum Molendinum quæ tenet clerici Sancti Gregorii ad eorum Ecclesiam. Ibiq; manent xii Burgenses qui reddunt eis xxxvs. & Molendinum reddit vs.
Which is: And therein are further xxxii dwellings and one mill, which the clerks of St. Gregory's hold as belonging to their church. And there remain xii burgesses, who pay them xxxv. shillings, and the rent of the mill is v shillings.
In another place in the same record, under the title of the city, the same is mentioned, with some little variation, thus:
Archiepiscopus babet infra Civitatem Cant. xii Burgenses £ xxx mansuras quas tenent Clerici de Villa in gildam suam £ reddunt xxxvs. £ unum Molendinum reddit vs.
Which is: The archbishop has within the city of Canterbury xii burgesses and xxx mansions, which the clerks hold of the ville towards the maintenance of their guild, and they pay xxxvsh. and the rent of one mill is vsh.
This priory had endowment as well in tithes as temporalities, in different parishes in this county. As for their temporalities, in the year 1292, they were valued at 25l. 15s. and their titheries and parsonages at 108l. 11s. The sum total being 133l. 15s. (fn. 9)
In a custumal of the manor of Northfleet, it is recorded, that the canons of St. Gregory's were to have four acres of the best wheat, and four acres of the best barley which grew yearly upon the lands of the lord of that manor. (fn. 10)
Archbishop Hubert, in the time of king John, having dissolved the nunnery of Remsted, in Suffex, upon account of the ill lives of the nuns, annexed their estate to this priory of St. Gregory; but the prior and convent afterwards regranted the whole of it again to archbishop Edmund, who re-established that nunnery again (fn. 11)
At the time of the dissolution, there were thirteen religious in this priory, the yearly revenues of which were, according to Dugdale, 121l. 15s. 1d. According to Speed, 1661. 4s. 5 1/2d. the latter being the gross, the former the clear annual value. (fn. 12)
The coat of arms belonging to this priory was, Per chevron, sable and argent; in chief, two mullets, pierced of the second; in base a ducal coronet, composed of leaves and crosses patee, or.
There was a cloyster belonging to this priory, as appears by the will of Thomas Sydrake, chaplain of Canterbury, who in 1516 gave 6s. 8d. to the reparation of it. As to the church itself of this priory, it is so entirely demolished, that the place where it stood is unknown.
By the wills in the prerogative office, Canterbury, it appears, that the following persons were buried in this church and the cemetery of it, and were benefactors to it, viz. Ceffry Holman, of Northgate parish, in 1478, was buried in the church of St. Gregory of canons regular, before the window of St. Martin, on the north side of the church.—John Garwynton, of St. Andrew's, in this church, besides Emmot his wife there, in 1464, and gave five marcs towards the building of the bell tower here; Robert Smyth tarrying within the hospital of St. John, Northgate, in 1476, in the cemetery of it; Henry Trewonwall, registrar of the consistory of Canterbury, in the nave of the church, before the high cross, in 1483; Henry Lovericke, gent. of St. Dunstan's, who in 1487 gave 10l. to the making the new steeple here; John Coke, of the parish of St. John without Northgate, in 1515, was buried in this church-yard; Elizabeth Snowden in 1533; Margaret Fryer, of St. John Baptist's parish, in Canterbury, was buried in this church-yard in 1522; Alyce Confaunt, widow of Thomas Confaunt the elder, of the hospital of St. John, by her will anno 1495, ordered to be buried in the belfry of St. Gregory's, beside the sepulture of her late husband; Henry Cooper, B. L. in 1500, was buried in the chapel of the blessed Virgin Mary, within the church of this priory.
The following is a catalogue of some of the priors of this house.
Priors of St. Gregory's.
RICHARD was prior about 1183, and resigned in 1187. (fn. 13)
DUNSTAN, who is mentioned by Gervas, was prior anno 1187. (fn. 14)
THOMAS in 1227. (fn. 15)
NICHOLAS in 1244. (fn. 16)
HUGH in 1263. (fn. 17)
WILLIAM in 1271. (fn. 18)
HENRY in 1275 and 1278. (fn. 19)
GUIDO in 1293. (fn. 20)
ELIAS DE SANDWICH was made prior in 1294. (fn. 21)
ROBERT DE WINCHEAP died in 1349.
WILLIAM ATTE THORNE, canon of this house, was made prior in 1349, and was confirmed 4 id. June, and installed the 10th of the same month.
THOMAS in 1403. (fn. 22)
WILLIAM DE CANTERBURY in 1413. (fn. 23)
THOMAS in 1426 and 1443. (fn. 24)
EDWARD GYLDFORD in 1498. (fn. 25)
CLEMENT HARDING in 150.7 (fn. 26)
THOMAS WELLYS, S. T. P. bishop of Sidon, succeeded him; he is stiled doctor, and was rector of Woodchurch, and vicar of Westgate, in Canterbury, in 1523. He died in September, 1526, and was buried in the church of this priory, next his predecessor Gyldford. (fn. 27)
WILLIAM BRABORNE, cl. in 1528. (fn. 28)
JOHN SYMKINS was the laft prior of this house at the dissolution of it, which happened in the 27th year of king Henry VIII.'s reign, this being one of those houses which were suppressed by the act passed that year, as not having revenues of the clear amount of 200l. per annum, and for giving them to the king. (fn. 29)
Upon the suppression of this priory it came, with all its possessions, which for the most part consisted of parsonages appropriate and portions of tithes in different parishes, into the king's hands, where it remained but a small time; for that same year the king was enabled by an act then passed, (fn. 30) to exchange the scite of the late dissolved priory of St. Gregory, and the possessions belonging to it (excepting the manor of Houghfield, and some small parcels of land therein mentioned) with the archbishop of Canterbury, for the scite of the late dissolved abbey of St. Radigund, near Dover, with all its possessions.
This estate becoming thus part of the revenues of the see of Canterbury, was the whole of it demised by the archbishop, in one grand lease, in which all advowsons and nomination of churches and chapels were excepted, for the term of twenty one years, under which same kind of demise it continued till very lately, when the freehold of it was sold by the archbishop to the late G, Gipps, esq. the lessee of it, as will be further noticed. (fn. 31)
In king Edward VI.'s reign, the lessee of this estate was Richard Neville, esq. of Canterbury, who died in the 5th year of that reign, and by his will gave the lease of it to Alexander Neville, esq. his son.
In queen Elizabeth's reign, the lease was in the possession of Sir John Boys, descended of those of Fredville, in Nonington. He resided in the house of the late priory, and was a person of great wisdom and sanctity of manners, and was the founder of Jesus, otherwise called Boys's hospital, still remaining in the suburbs of Northgate, near this priory. He died in 1612, and was buried in Canterbury cathedral, where his monument still remains, with his effigies at full length on it. (fn. 32) By his will he devised his interest in this lease to his widow, who resided here, and after her death to his nephew Thomas Boys, esq. who was afterwards of St. Gregory's, whence he removed to the precincts of Christ-church, (fn. 33) having alienated this lease to Sir Charles Hales, of Bekesborne, who in 1623 devised his interest in it to his son Thomas Hales, esq. from whom it passed into the name of Honywood, and in 1643 I find that Sir Robert Honywood, of Charing, was the lessee of it; sometime after which the interest of it appears to have been vested in the family of Wotton, of Boughton Malherb, from whom it descended, with much other inheritance in this county, to Philip Dormer Stanhope, earl of Chesterfield, who died possessed of the lease of it in 1773, without issue; after which it was sold, under a decree of the court of chancery, to G. Gipps, esq. of Canterbury, M P. for that city, who some small time before his death purchased of the archbishop, who was enabled to sell by virtue of the act for the redemption of the land tax, the see simple of this dissolved priory of St. Gregory, with the rest of the possessions belonging to it. Mr. Gipps died possessed of this estate in February, 1800, (fn. 34) since which it has become vested in the trust for the uses of his will.
The antient house of the priory seems after the dissolution to have been sitted up as a mansion of some consequence, most probably in queen Elizabeth's reign for the residence of Sir John Boys, and there are the remains of several noble and losty apartments in it; but the whole has been ruinated for a number of years past, and only the bare walls of them left, without a window frame or pane of glass to keep out the weather It is now made use of as a potter's workshop, and for store-rooms for his manufactory.
Adjoining the back part of the priory buildings, is a large garden ground, formerly the canons orchard or garden, in the midst of which was, within these few years, the ruin of an antient chapel, dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr, of Canterbury. (fn. 35)
Through this ground runs the common watercourse, formerly belonging to the prior and convent, but now to the dean and chapter of Christ-church, in Canterbury, concerning which, among the archives of that church, there is a memorandum of a charter made in 1227, by the prior and convent of St. Gregory, in which they agree to preserve, as far as they can, this water-course free from damage, and to grant free liberty of passage to and from it, through their court and gate, to the workmen of Christ-church, as often as it should be necessary for them to repair it. (fn. 36)
Belonging and adjoining to this priory, both before and after the dissolution of it, there was a cemetery or church-yard, not appropriated to the priory only for the burial of the domestics, but which was, whether of right or by courtesy only, I know not, common to others also with them, and those, not the hospitallers only, who were destitute of any church-yard within themselves till the beginning of the last century, but the parishioners of Northgate, their neighbours like wife; of which church this priory had the patronage; and these used constantly by their wills, to appoint their burials in this church-yard, and never mention any of their own; for it was with them the same, as with those other parish churches of this city, which belonging some to Christ-church, and some to St. Augustine's, and had their want of church-yards supplied by the cemeteries of those monasteries.
This cemetery or church yard at St. Gregory's continued to the use of the parish of Northgate, after the dissolution, until, as it is said, Sir John Boys, the lessee of the priory, obtained the appropriating and inclosing it, upon exchange of the modern churchyard ground for it, with the churchwardens of Northgate, for the time being. Till this time then it continued to that parish, as to the fact a burial place, but was not acknowledged theirs of right; for at a visitation holden in the year 1560, a presentment from the parish of Northgate was made by sworn men; that Mr. May, then it seems lessee of the priory, did withhold part of the church-yard, &c. upon which he, in defence of himself, being convened upon this presentment, produced the king's letters patent, as the act of court ran, by which it appeared, that the church-yard was the hereditary right of the archbishop of Canterbury and his successors. (fn. 37)