A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
3. THE PRIORY OF HURLEY
Towards the end of the Conqueror's reign, Geoffrey de Mandeville, ancestor of the Mandevilles, earls of Essex, bestowed the church of St. Mary, Hurley, and certain lands to form a cell of Benedictine monks, subject to the abbey of Westminster.
The exceptionally interesting foundation charter (fn. 1) states that Geoffrey grants to God and to St. Peter the church of Westminster, as also to the church of St. Mary of Hurley— for the salvation of his own soul and that of his wife Leceline ('at whose counsel by the providence of divine grace I began this work'), and for the soul of Athalais his first wife and mother of his children, and for the souls of his heirs and successors—the church and town and surrounding wood of Hurley with all rights pertaining, the church of Waltham with a hide and a half of land belonging to it, and the soke of the chapel of Remenham. He also gave to the church of Hurley, on the day that he caused it to be dedicated by Osmund, bishop of Sarum, in the presence of many of great authority, the land of Edward of Watcombe (in Fawley parish). He further states that on the day of dedication the bishop confirmed all the grants made to that holy place, to wit, in all the manors then in his demesne, the third part of the tithe of corn, two-thirds of the tithe of all stock, the whole tithe of pannages both in hogs and payments, and the whole tithe of cheese, fowls, horses, calves, orchards, and vineyards. Moreover he granted in every manor of his demesne one churl who shall hold eight acres free of all custom, and in his park one hog-run with land for the swineherd. To these he added a fishery in the isle of Ely that supplied 1,500 dried eels and 40 fat eels; and from the hamlet of Mose (Essex) a supply of 3,000 dried herrings.
At the same time, and named in the same charter, Thorald, Geoffrey's steward, with his right hand on the altar, granted two-thirds of the tithe of all his corn in Ockendon (Essex), and the whole tithe of all his stock, and the whole tithe of both corn and stock in Bordesden (Essex). Also Ædric, his bailiff, gave the whole tithe of his corn and stock.
To this charter there were many witnesses; the first were Osmund the bishop, and Gilbert, abbot of Westminster, and the last, it is interesting to note, was Ælfric, the builder of the new church of St. Mary, Hurley, and of the conventual buildings.
On a comparatively modern metal plate, fastened to the outer wall of the still standing refectory of Hurley monastery, to the north of the church is inscribed:—
Osmund the Good, Count of Seez in Normandy, afterwards earl of Dorset, and Lord High Chancellor of England, and at last Bishop of Sarum, consecrated this church of Hurley, A.D. 1086, and died December 4th, 1099, in the reign of William Rufus.
It has lately been stated with some confidence that 1086 cannot have been the exact year, because neither church nor monastery is entered in Domesday Survey; (fn. 2) but such an omission, as all Domesday students know, proves nothing. The date is at all events prior to the death of the Conqueror, on 9 September, 1087; whilst Gilbert, one of the witnesses, only became abbot of Westminster towards the end of 1085. The statement on the metal inscription, repeated in another place on stone, as to the year 1086, must therefore be approximately correct.
Soon after the foundation, Geoffrey issued a mandate to his bailiff Ædric, and to all his men of Waltham, forbidding them to intermeddle with the water of the priory at Hurley, or to take anything from their wood. (fn. 3)
William Constable of Chester, c. 1140, gave lands at Pyrton and Clare to the priory. Geoffrey de Mandeville and Roesia his wife made a small increase to its endowments about the same time. (fn. 4) This Geoffrey was grandson of the founder and the first earl of Essex; he specially confirmed his grandfather's Essex gifts. There were also early bequests of land at Kingham, Oxford. (fn. 5)
Laurence, abbot of Westminster 1159-75, granted to the priory the church of Easthampstead. (fn. 6) William de Mandeville, third earl of Essex, brother of Geoffrey, the second earl, made various bequests and confirmations to Hurley, the more important being the whole of the woods on the manors of Hurley and Little Waltham. (fn. 7)
Ralph de Arundel, prior of Hurley, granted a pension of 4s. out of the church of Easthampstead for providing wax tapers at the mass of Our Lady. (fn. 8) The only one of the priors of this house to attain to the dignity of abbot of Westminster was this Ralph de Arundel, sometimes called Ralph Papillon. Ralph was a Westminster monk and for some time almoner of the abbey. He is said to have been a studious and a good preacher. He was a great favourite with Abbot Laurence, who appointed him prior of Hurley circa 1170. Ralph was elected abbot of Westminster on 20 November, 1200. (fn. 9)
Herbert, bishop of Salisbury 1194-1214, granted to the priory all tithes of corn at Waltham and the oblations on St. Laurence's Day, to be applied to the office of the sacrist. The residue of the income of Waltham church, both small tithes and other offerings, was to go to the support of the perpetual vicar presented by the priory. (fn. 10)
Nicholas, bishop of Tusculum, papal legate, issued a general exhortation to the faithful, dated at St. Albans, 17 December, c. 1220, to assist William Prior of Hurley and his monks in the work they had begun about their church, granting a ten days' indulgence to contributors. (fn. 11) William, abbot of Westminster 1220-2, granted about the same time an indulgence to all contributors to new works at the abbey, and also participation in the spiritual benefits exercised by the abbey in their own church, and in the church (inter alia) of Hurley. (fn. 12)
Richard, abbot of Westminster 1222-36, granted Prior Richard and the monks of Hurley all the manor of Easthampstead on payment of 100s. a year. (fn. 13)
Prior Richard le Gras resigned in 1236, on being appointed abbot of Evesham. (fn. 14) In the same year the priory obtained a confirmation charter from Henry III; it already possessed like charters from Henry I and Henry II. (fn. 15)
A surrender was executed about the close of Henry III's reign, by William Marescall and Juliana his wife, of all their lands at Kingham, Oxfordshire, in return for a life grant daily from the prior, Theobald, and the convent of Hurley, of a loaf of first quality, two loaves of second quality, a gallon of convent beer, another gallon of second quality, and a dish of meat with pottage from the kitchen; also 5s. a year, two cartloads of wood, and suitable accommodation. (fn. 16)
A corrody was granted by Richard de Coleworth, prior, to Geoffrey de Hurle and Isabel his wife and Amice their daughter in 1320, much resembling that granted to William and Juliana Marescall about fifty years earlier; only in this case there seems to have been no residence in the priory. (fn. 17) Other corrodies of white convent loaves weighing 2½ lb., and of black loaves called 'bastard loaf,' and of beer, were granted by this prior in 1336. (fn. 18)
In 1307 a daily grant was made by Prior Gyppewych, at the instance of Henry earl of Derby (afterwards Henry IV), to Peter Peterwych, his servant, of a white conventual loaf, a gallon of conventual beer, and a dish from the kitchen, such as is the portion of a monk in the refectory, together with a chamber in the priory whenever he wished to lodge there. (fn. 19)
A late thirteenth-century grant by William Seger, prior, to Randulph the marshal, of half a virgate of land and a meadow in Hurley, covenants that Randulph, in addition to an annual rent of 3d., is to serve as marshal in the prior's court, carrying his wand, to shoe the horses and oxen when necessary, and to keep clean the hall and grange, strewing straw and fresh rushes at the proper seasons, and having the old straw, &c., for his own use. (fn. 20)
The Taxation Roll of 1291 enters the churches of Streatley and Hurley, of the respective annual value of £10 13s. 4d. and £10, as appropriated to the priory, as well as a pension of £1 10s. from the church of East Garston. Outside the county the priory drew annually from the churches of High Easter £5, of Sawbridgeworth £3 6s. 8d., from Chippenham £5, and from Northall 6s. 8d. Their temporalities in Hurley parish were declared of the annual value of £22 10s., and in other parishes they reached a total of £4 14s. 8d.
Edward prince of Wales wrote to the prior of Hurley, from Windsor, on 9 September, 1302, reminding him that he previously asked him to present his
beloved clerk John de Bohun to the vacant benefice of Warfield, and had received the reply that his house was charged with a pension of £10 for a clerk whom he was bound to present to this vacancy. But the Prince was now informed that the Bishop of Salisbury refused institution as that clerk was not sufficient.
Therefore the prince again begged it for John de Bohun, and wished for a reply by his messenger, 'that we may know how you value us and our fathers.' (fn. 21)
An ordinance of Prior Henry and the convent of Hurley, in 1313, decided that the custom observed at Westminster Abbey, of continuing to a defunct brother for a year after his death the daily corrody in the refectory and his clothing allowance as though still alive, to provide for a year's masses for his soul being said by a secular priest, should henceforth be maintained at Hurley. (fn. 22)
Roger, vicar of Bray, and rural dean of Reading, pronounced, on 4 January, 1333, absolution of the prior and convent of Hurley from excommunication incurred by non-payment of procurations due to the papal nuncio in England; Yeherius de Concoreto, canon of Sarum, the said nuncio, had delegated his powers in this instance to Roger. (fn. 23)
A mandate was addressed by Edward III, in 1347, to the wardens of the sea-coast in Hants, and to the arrayers and sheriff of Berks, to refrain from demanding a man at arms for service on the coast from the prior of Hurley, who had departed across the seas on the king's business. (fn. 24)
Confirmation was made by Pope Boniface, in 1397, to William de Gyppewych, prior, and the convent of Hurley, of the appropriation of the church of Warfield, Berks., granted by the bishop of Salisbury in 1397, which by reason of the omission of certain legal formalities was said not to hold good. It was stated that Richard II, by word of mouth, prayed the bishop to appropriate the church to Hurley, with the condition of their celebrating his yearly obit, and also that of Anne his late queen, and that the crown licence was entered on the Patent Rolls under date of 29 March, 1397, wherein provision was made for a yearly distribution to the poor. The appropriation was to take effect on the resignation or death of Nicholas Brixton, the then rector. Yearly pensions were reserved to the bishop, the chapter, and the archdeacon of Berks. The priory was also bound to distribute at Warfield, every year at Easter, from the fruits of the church, 5s. to the poor, by view of the vicar and six of the parishioners. (fn. 25)
In June 1392 a petition to the king from the prior and convent of Hurley to approve of the appropriation to them of the church of Warfield brought out—in addition to the plea of poverty through Thames floods and modest endowments— the interesting fact that they claimed royal assistance 'out of reverence due to Lady Edith, sister of the holy king Edward, the Confessor, there (at Hurley) buried.'
Henry IV, whose queen, Mary de Bohun, was descended from Geoffrey de Mandeville, the founder of Hurley, granted to the prior and convent of Hurley, in May 1401, licence to cut down and sell or receive for their own use wood suitable for timber and other wood, to the value of 100 marks, within the forest for the repair of their church, belfry, and houses, which are ruinous, saving vert for the king's deer there, by the supervision of the king's foresters and other officials. (fn. 26)
In 1411 Prior John Feryng and his convent covenanted to celebrate yearly the anniversary of William de Colchester, abbot of Westminster (he died in 1420), and also to celebrate for his parents, and for Thomas Merks, late bishop of Carlisle. (fn. 27)
Geoffrey Poole granted a lease to Prior Edward Downe and his convent, in 1461, of the water and fishing within the lordship of Medmenham, with all manner of fishing pertaining to the same; reserving, however, the right during the term of eighty years of fishing six times a year with a draught net, the priory at such times finding them fishing-nets, fishing-boats, and servants. (fn. 28)
In the time of Henry VII the priory had become much impoverished through manifold debts, floods of the Thames, and tenths granted to the king by convocation. One Richard Lessy came to their rescue, in the year 1489, with a gift of £60, in return for which Prior John Hilston and the monks undertook to always keep his anniversary during his life and after his death, and to observe the vigil of the anniversary of Agatha his wife, and of other relatives. (fn. 29)
The priory of Hurley was suppressed by Henry VIII, in 1536, amongst the religious houses under the value of £200 a year. Its clear annual value, according to the Valor, was £121 18s. 5d.
On 3 July, 1536, the king granted the site of the late priory, with all houses, closes, and gardens, the manors of Hurley, Easthampstead, the rectories of Hurley, Waltham, and Streatley, the advowson of the vicarages of Hurley and Waltham, a messuage in Kingham, Oxon, &c., to Westminster Abbey, to be held at a rent of £14, and granted in exchange for the abbey's manors of Neyte, Tottington, and other manors and benefices adjacent to Westminster and Chelsea. (fn. 30) But on 16 January, 1540, Westminster Abbey was itself surrendered to the king, and the site and property of the old priory of Hurley passed into lay hands.
Priors of Hurley
Æric, c. 1140 (fn. 31)
William, c. 1160 (fn. 32)
John de Roalla, c. 1169 (fn. 33)
Ralph de Arundel, c. 1175-1200 (fn. 34)
William, occurs c. 1220 (fn. 35)
Richard le Gras, occurs 1231-36 (fn. 36)
Samson de Eswelle, occurs 1236 (fn. 37)
William de Stanford, temp. Hen. III (fn. 38)
Theobald, c. 1250 (fn. 39)
Geoffrey, 1258 (fn. 40)
Theobald, occurs 1273 (fn. 39)
John de Lyra, c. 1274-9 (fn. 41)
Walter de London, 1279-c. 1284 (fn. 42)
Richard de Walden, 1285 (fn. 43)
Adam, 1285-95 (fn. 44)
Richard de Walden (reappointed) 1295 (fn. 45)
William Seger, occurs c. 1299 (fn. 46)
Richard de Walden, occurs 1304 (fn. 45)
Alexander de Newport, 1305-9 (fn. 47)
Henry, 1311-13 (fn. 48)
Richard de Coleworth, 1320-36 (fn. 49)
John Tuttehall, 1336-49 (fn. 50)
Thomas de Cumbrook, 1352-63 (fn. 51)
William Bromley, 1365-75 (fn. 52)
William Gyppewych, 1389-1400 (fn. 53)
John Feryng, 1411-15 (fn. 54)
William Pulburgh, 1416-17 (fn. 55)
John Saffrey, 1420-52 (fn. 56)
Edward Downe, 1461 (fn. 57)
Thomas Preston, 1468-86 (fn. 58)
John Hilston, 1487-97 (fn. 59)
John Hampton, temp. Hen. VII (fn. 60)
William Graunt, 1504-10 (fn. 61)
A full account, with four plates, is given by Mr. Wethered of the various seals pertaining to Hurley Priory among the store of deeds at Westminster Abbey. (fn. 62) In addition to the seals of certain priors, there are impressions extant of three distinct common seals of the priory, the subject of each being the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin.
The first of these occurs on several charters up to 1200, but there is not a good impression extant. The second occurs in the reigns of the first three Edwards; it is a handsome bold example of seal designing and engraving of the last quarter of the thirteenth century. The Blessed Virgin and the Archangel stand on each side of a conventional lily springing from a vase; below is the prior kneeling in profile holding his pastoral staff in both hands. Legend, in Lombardic capitals:—
+ SI COMMUNE CAPITULI PRIORAT' HURLEY.
The third common seal is evidently of fifteenthcentury date, but only one mutilated example is known.