A History of the County of Derby: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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8. THE ABBEY OF DALE
The abbey of Dale, or as it was often termed Stanley Park (De Parco Stanley), was a religious establishment founded in a dale of South Derbyshire of much quiet beauty, and possessing an early history as picturesque as its surroundings.
There is a fine register or chartulary of this abbey at the British Museum, consisting of 196 small quarto vellum leaves in the handwritings of the reigns of Edward I and II. (fn. 1) At the end of this chartulary is the old chronicle of the founding of Dale Abbey, written in the middle of the thirteenth century by Thomas de Musca, a canon of the house; it is one of the most vividly written and realistic accounts of the gradual rise of a religious community anywhere extant. This chronicle is now fairly well known and has been several times printed. (fn. 2)
The initial letters of the different sections of the story make up the name of the chronicler— T. H. O. M. A. S. D. E. M. V. S. C. A. He is doubtless the same person whose name occurs in the chartulary as Thomas de Muskham, canon in the days of Abbot John Grauncourt (1233-53). The family of Muskham resided near the abbey, and were in good circumstances, holding lands at Stanton and Kirk Hallam, &c., and they were considerable benefactors of the abbey. (fn. 3) The chronicler was evidently a man of superior education, with a knowledge of the old classics, an exceedingly rare acquirement for a religious of those days. He recounts in his opening paragraphs that he was given by his father, in the midst of the flower of his boyhood and youth, to serve God and his Virgin Mother by taking the habit of a White Canon from the abbot, John Grauncourt, 'a venerable father deserving of love from God and man.' He proceeds to praise the goodness and mutual charity of his brethren there devoutly serving the Lord Jesus Christ, specially naming Brother Geoffrey de Grevell and Roger de Derby, adding that 'in the magnitude of their virtues, if I had the fluent loquacity of Homer or Maro, it would I think fail to be expressed.'
Four years and more had I been among them in their veteran congregation when a noble matron, the lady Matilda de Salicosa Mara, the foundress of our church, whose memory is in our benediction, came to us from the district of Lindsey, old and full of days, because knowing the time of her vocation from this world to be rather quickly approaching she had disposed herself to commend her end to God by the prayers of such holy men. And the holy convent having been summoned before her on a certain day for the sake of discoursing, and mention having been made of the first inhabitants of this place, she began the following narrative before them all:—
'There was a certain baker in Derby in the street which is called St. Mary's. Moreover at that time the church of St. Mary at Derby had a large parish, and the church of Heanor was subject to it and a chapel. And the said baker, being in a measure another Cornelius, was a man religious and fearing God, so intent upon his good works, that whatever food and clothing beside his own and his children's and the needful things of the house he could procure during the week, on every Saturday he would bring to the church of St. Mary and bestow on the poor for the love of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. And when with such pious exercises he had passed his life for many years and had been dear and acceptable to God, it pleased God to prove him more perfectly, and having proved him to crown him more gloriously. Also it happened that on a certain day in autumn when he had given himself up to repose at noon, there appeared to him in his dreams the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying, "Thy alms are acceptable before my Son and me. But now if you wish to be perfect, leave all that thou hast and go to Depedale and there thou shalt serve my Son and me in solitude: and when thou shalt have happily finished thy course, thou shalt have the kingdom of brightness, mirth and eternal happiness, which God has prepared for those who love Him." The man awaking and perceiving the Divine goodness which had been towards him, giving thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin his comforter, spoke nothing to any man but having left all that he possessed straightway withdrew "knowingly ignorant" as it is read of the blessed Benedict; knowingly, because he had learnt the name of the place; ignorant, because he was entirely without knowledge where the place was. Therefore turning his course towards the east, whilst he was passing through the midst of the village of Stanley, he heard a woman saying to a certain girl, "Take our calves with thee and drive them as far as Depedale and return hastily." Having heard that, the man admiring the favour of God, and believing this voice to have been made as if on his own account, was astonished, and approaching near said: "Tell me, good woman, where is Depedale?" who replied: "Go with the girl, and she, if you wish, will shew you the way." Whither when he had arrived he found that the place was a marsh, exceedingly dreadful, and far distant from every habitation of man. And turning himself to the southeast of the place, under the side of the mountain, he cut out for himself in the rock a very small dwelling and an altar turned to the south, which had been preserved to this day, and there, by day and night, he served God in hunger and thirst and cold and nakedness.'
The Lady Matilda then proceeded to narrate how one Ralph Fitz Geremund, a man of great power and lord of the moiety of Ockbrook and of Alvaston cum saka, when hunting in his woods of Ockbrook, saw smoke issuing from the hermit's cell, and was wroth at the intrusion; but seeing the great poverty of the man of God he relented, gave him the place, and also the tithe of his mill at Borrowash for his support. The next section tells how the hermit, attacked by the enemy of souls, moved from his rocky cell, and eventually moved a little to the west where he built for himself a cottage and an oratory adjoining dedicated to God and the Blessed Virgin. On this follows the recital of a vision that appeared to one Uthlagus, when sleeping on the hill of 'Lyndrik, which is the hill beyond the gate of our monastery towards the west.' He saw in the vision a golden cross standing where the monastic church was afterwards erected, and multitudes adoring it. When he awoke he told his companions and prophesied of the flowers of virtue that would hereafter bloom in that dale and draw many 'to adore the Lord and to serve him until the end of time itself for a succession of ages.'
The seventh chapter tells of the assignment by Serlo de Grendon, lord of Bradley (who had married Margery daughter of Ralph Fitz Geremund, the benefactor of the hermit), of the place called Deepdale to his spiritual friend and godmother, known as 'the Gomme (godmother) of the Dale.' This pious lady had a son Richard, who became a priest and served his mother's chapel in Deepdale. The next chapter records how Serlo de Grendon, at the intercession of the Gomme of the Dale, invited some of the Austin canons of Calke (c. 1160) to establish themselves here. Richard, her son, took their black habit, and the canons ere long built themselves a church and offices. Humphrey was the name of their prior, and there were four other canons in addition to Richard. Humphrey visited Rome and obtained for them confirmation of the place, right of celebration even when the land was under an interdict, and many other liberties that they afterwards retained. After a time, however, these canons became lazy, and turned 'more to hunting than to prayer and meditation; and since the whole land was forest, the king, hearing of their unwonted conduct, on account of the game caused them to withdraw from the place.' But God having rooted out the sycamores, desired to put cedars in their place; accordingly William de Grendon, a priest, son of Serlo and lord of Dale invited White Canons to take the place of the departed Black Canons.
Six canons from the abbey of Tupholme, Lincolnshire, were invited to settle at Dale, and the place was thus brought under the control of the Premonstratensian Order. At this time Stanley Park was bestowed on the canons, but their poverty was great, and the lord of Ockbrook only allowed them the small plot of tilled land that had belonged to the Gomme of the Dale. After sojourning there seven years in many straits, they at last sold the tops of the oaks in Stanley Park, cutting them off at the middle, and having received the money were recalled by their abbot to Tupholme. Henry their prior, who was guilty of coining false money, refused to return, but was brought by force back to the abbey, where he put an end to his life by letting blood from both arms when in a hot bath.
The next step taken by William de Grendon was to fetch five White Canons from Welbeck in Nottinghamshire, under William Bensyt as their prior. They too were sorely tried by poverty and lost heart. The climax came when the cord snapped as one of them was drawing up the lamps before the altar, and all of them fell to the ground and were broken. It seemed to them that everything was going wrong, and when their abbot shortly afterwards visited them from Welbeck and found but little in the granary, and still less in bakehouse and brewhouse, he consented to their return.
Eventually Geoffrey de Salicosa Mara and his wife Matilda came to the assistance of their relative, William de Grendon, told him of their intention of bestowing the town of Stanley on the Premonstratensian Order, and agreed to unite it with Dale to secure a better endowment. Nine canons of Newhouse, in the county of Lincoln, were invited to colonize at Dale. They came about the year 1195, and an independent abbey, with Newhouse as the mother abbey, was established in 1204. Walter de Senteney was their first abbot, and from this date Dale increased in possessions and influence under eighteen successive superiors until its enforced dissolution in the sixteenth century. These canons proved to be the 'cedars' of the chronicler. With Abbot Walter came John de Byford, Hugh de Grimsby, Roger de Alesby, and William le Sores, 'men of virtuous life and great piety, together with other men of God.' 'These, O Dale,' concludes Thomas de Musca, 'are thy living stones—thy chosen stones—the stones precious in the foundation of thy Church.'
On the death of the first abbot, Walter de Senteney, in 1231, the appointment fell to William, a canon of the house. William, the second abbot, only ruled for two and a half years, for in October, 1233, he was elected father abbot of Prémontré, when he distinguished himself by insisting that the fratres conversi or lay-brethren throughout the order should wear grey instead of white copes.
In 1283 there was a considerable affray between the abbot of Dale and the master of the hospital of Burton Lazars, Leicester; the latter appears to have asserted a claim to one of the mills at Borrowash, near Spondon, and to have occupied it in force. Whereupon the abbot made a great levy of his tenants and forcibly ejected the men of the hospital. On the complaint of the master of the hospital the crown issued a commission to Nicholas de Stapleton and William de Meynill to adjudicate, the jury to be drawn from men of the three counties of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. In the commission upwards of ninety of the Dale forces are mentioned by name, in addition to a multitude of other armed men; they were chiefly drawn from the Derbyshire estates at Dale, Stanley, Spondon, Ockbrook, and Sandiacre, &c., but some were from Stapleford in Nottinghamshire, and others from Donington, in Leicestershire. (fn. 4)
Lawrence, the sixth abbot, ruled from June, 1273, to September, 1289, when he resigned. Soon after his resignation he received a letter of entreaty from Brother Robert de Derby as to the reconciliation of Edmund, apostate, from which the following is an extract:—
Reverend Father, in the Book of the Sacred Scriptures it is noted and set down that judgement will be the most severe on those who judge, and especially on those who desire more to judge than to be kind. And, on the contrary, it is written that those who judge righteously are worthy of double honour.
Moreover, if at the suggestion of your conscience, you have acceptably brought about your own resignation, and have put off from your shoulders the staff of a pastor, and the sceptre of an overseer of secular life, I rejoice in your joy, but I will also rejoice in the Lord, because this was not your own doing but that of the Holy Spirit. For Martha was praised by Christ for her solicitude, yet the better part was chosen by Mary.
But because I now know truly how powerful you can be, especially in those matters which concern the restoration of the lapsed of our religion, I fall at the knees of your paternity on behalf of your fugitive servant and lay brother, Brother Edmund Zouch (whom I found wandering far from God in the region of dissimulation, having but little regard for his own or others' salvation, and whom God brought back to the knowledge of Himself through me, so as to know the way of Salvation), and I have esteemed your deepest charity worthy the more devotedly to be supplicated, so that you moved by pity may bring forth for him the royal robe, as did the father for the prodigal son and free him from his schismatical condition, and that you may the more earnestly interpose, if it please you, your influence on his behalf insomuch as you are aware that he apostatised from you at the time of your rule; so that if there has been in you (which God forbid) a superabundance of rigorous discipline, that your kindliness may abound. For he will be judged without mercy who acts not mercifully.
And if the abbot and convent should not decree to restore him to his former state, with penance, according to the exigency of his offences, this at least I ask of your abundance (which according to all rights you cannot deny him), that you would procure for him letters dimissory for his transference, either to some other house of your profession, or for the production of a stricter life, for the salvation of himself and of all of you. (fn. 5)
William Horsley, the twelfth abbot, who ruled for over 21 years, was appointed on 10 August, 1332. The full account of his election, 'by way of compromise,' was fortunately placed on record by the deputies of the abbot of Newhouse.
All the canons unanimously gave to Walter de Tikhill, prior, to Thomas de Tikhill, sub-prior, to Robert de Barton, Simon de Bredon, and William de Horslaye, canons of the said church, full, general, and free power, and special mandate assigned to them for a certain time, to choose a new abbot and provide a new pastor for that church from amongst themselves or other brethren of that church, or from the bosom of any other church of our order, as should seem the more expedient for them and their church; so, nevertheless, that, after they should have agreed concerning the person to be chosen, one of their number, on the mandate of the rest, on his own and on their behalf and on behalf of the whole chapter, should choose that person in public and should bring him before the said church; and they all and singular promised, that they would receive him for their abbot and pastor, whom they (the delegates) should be led to choose. But the said delegates accepting the power conferred upon them, and departing according to custom to a place separate from the rest, after many discussions of a multiplicity of persons, at length brother William de Horslaye, one of the said delegates, being removed from their discussion, making diligent enquiry concerning his person, they finally, under the guidance of divine grace, accumulated their votes on the said brother William, both as a provident man, and as one most circumspect in things spiritual and temporal.
Whence, on the same day, before the expiration of the hour assigned to them, with the consent of all, Brother Thomas de Tikhill, one of the delegated body, at the mandate of the rest, acting for the whole convent of that church, in the presence of all in chapter who had a right to be there, chose and produced before them the said Brother William as Father and Pastor of the aforesaid church; us also (acting as vicegerent as mentioned before) he humbly begged, that we would deign, by the paternal authority in this respect committed to us, to ratify approve and confirm the said election thus rightly legitimately and canonically made and elected. But we, our consent to that election being sought and desired, diligently examining the said election and the elected person, and no fault being found in them, praised, approved, and confirmed, as was seemly, the said brother William de Horseley, to be Father and Pastor of the said church of Dale, as he had been rightly elected, and the election done after the canonical form, and this with the advice and assent of our venerable brother abbot; and all things being accomplished which pertained to the election and confirmation, the brethren of that church in celebration of the election and confirmation, by them gratefully received and accepted, solemnly chanted Te Deum Laudamus as they conducted the brother elect to the church. And when this was sung, we inducted the brother elect into the corporal possession of the government of the said church by delivering into his hands the ropes of the bells, installing him in the stall reserved for the abbot after the manner of our order. And this being all accomplished, and we and the brethren of the said church having again returned to the chapter-house, all and singular the professed of the said church stood up to the elected abbot thus by us confirmed (and the seal of the administration of his office being by us handed to him) made their manual obedience.
In the spring of 1344, the abbot of Prémontré deputed the abbot of Dale to make a visitation for him of the houses of the order within the realm of England: whereupon the latter applied to the king for sanction. Edward III gave the requisite permission and granted protection, whilst thus occupied, for himself, the men of his household, his horses and harness and all things belonging to him. The permit sanctioned the doing all things necessary for the visitation according to his superior's orders, such as the correcting and amending anything amiss, and the punishment and chastisement of delinquent canons and lay brothers, as well as the levying charges and expenses and other things of right due by reason of such visitation: but he was prohibited from sending under any colour, any cess or tribute to his superior or any others beyond the seas. (fn. 6)
A commission of oyer and terminer was appointed in November 1381, on complaint by William de Boney fourteenth abbot of Dale, that Thomas son of Godfrey Fuljambe, John Smyth of Stanley and others lay in wait to kill him at Derby, assaulted and by threats drove him thence, and assaulted his servants. (fn. 7)
William de Ketelly chaplain, and Ralph Palmer of Boney obtained a licence in October 1382 to alienate to the abbey a messuage and two bovates of land in Trowell, two bovates and two acres of meadow in Lambercote, and six acres of land in Ratcliffe to the value of four marks annually. (fn. 8) In July 1383 the abbey received a large grant of lands in Stanley, Kirk Hallam, Spondon, &c., of the annual value of £10 for Geoffrey de Chaddesdon rector of Long Whatton and John de Twiford, vicar of Spondon. (fn. 9)
Licence was granted in July 1385, to Hugh de Wyloghby, clerk, and others to alienate to the abbey the advowson and appropriation of the church of Ilkeston. (fn. 10) In September 1473 John, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, William Lord Hastings, Thomas Lord Stanley, William abbot of Rufford, and others obtained licence to alienate to the abbey of Dale the advowson and appropriation of the church of Heanor, provided that a perpetual vicarage be sufficiently endowed and a competent sum from the profits of the church be yearly distributed among the poor parishioners. (fn. 11)
From the year 1475 a good deal can be learnt of the condition of Dale from the register of the visitations of Richard Redman, abbot of Shap, and visitor-general of the order in England, Scotland, and Ireland for more than a quarter of a century. (fn. 12) Redman, who held the small northern abbey in commendam, was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph in 1471: he was translated to Exeter in 1495, and to Ely in 1501.
In 1475, when John Stanley was abbot, Richard Draykott is entered as prior, Nicholas Grantham as sub-prior: the list numbered sixteen, and included the vicars of Ilkeston and Hallam, the chaplain of Stanton, and two novices.
The visitation of 23 May, 1478, discovered nothing worthy of blame, but good fame, charity, and peace in all. The visitor forbad certain devotions and prayers in quire, introduced contrary to the customs of the order; regulated certain feasts and functions, and the observance of certain ceremonies: and injoined on the abbot to provide suitable food and drink so as to avoid cause for grumbling. He also commented with approval on the new buildings lately begun. (fn. 13)
The abbey was visited by Redman on 18 July, 1482. One of the canons, John Yorke, had lately fled from the monastery, but by the laudable circumspection of the abbot had been induced to return and submit to penance; the visitor fully restored him to his previous position. He prohibited games of chance under pain of greater excommunication, and insisted more especially on clearness of utterance and absence of haste in singing the divine offices. (fn. 14) He congratulated the convent on having accomplished the building of the new cloister and its circuit of buildings; and on the considerable repairs that they had carried out elsewhere. In the list of the house no abbot is named, he was probably absent on some official duty for the order, but Richard Nottingham sub-prior comes first; the total number of inmates is fourteen and includes the vicars of Ilkeston and Hallam, and the presbiter de Stanton.
The list of May 1488, from the visitation, gives John Stanley, abbot, Thomas Stanley, prior, Robert Aston, sub-prior; ten priest canons including the vicars of Ilkeston, Hallam, and Heanor, and the presbiter of Stanton; and two novices. The abbey was then using ten measures (modios) of corn and two quarters of barley a week; and they were killing twenty bullocks, twenty pigs, and sixty sheep a year. At this visitation Canon Richard Blackwall was found guilty of rebellion and other excesses for which he was in no wise penitent; and the visitor sentenced him to forty days in pena gravioris culpae at the monastery of Alnwick, with ten years' detention at that house. Whereupon the offender broke down, expressed complete contrition and begged, supported by his brethren, for mercy; the visitor therefore deferred his sentence till the ensuing feast of St. John Baptist, when the abbot was to report as to his conduct; he was at once to be placed in prison by the abbot if he committed any fresh offence. The punishment gravioris culpae in the Premonstratensian order was a serious matter. The offender had to sit by himself in the fratry at a bare table where he was served with merely coarse bread and water; he had to lie prostrate at the gate of the quire at the ingress and egress of the canons; he was to be spoken to by no one, and he was not to communicate at mass nor receive the kiss of peace.
At the visitation of 22 August, 1491, Bishop Redman formally restored Richard Blackwall to his place in quire and chapter. The convent was ordered to remove immediately all kinds of dogs (Canes neque caniculos) out of the precincts ere the visitor left. They were warned never to play games of chance, and not to eat in secular houses within a mile of the house. The visitor records that he had ocular demonstration of laxity of observance of rules, owing to the imbecility and impotence of the abbot, John Stanley. The list of the house numbered seventeen and included a canon of West Durham, who had been sent there for discipline.
The result of this visitation was to secure the resignation of the aged and infirm John Stanley, the seventeenth abbot, who had ruled the house for twenty-two years. His successor, Richard Nottingham, immediately after his election in 1491, made generous provision for his predecessor's needs so long as he should survive. He was allowed a pension of twenty marks; the chambers both upper and lower, with storehouse and woodhouse, which he had hitherto occupied, and which were known as Chaddesden chamber; a sufficiency of coal and faggots (with carriage of same) for his fire, and of candles for light; one of the canons, as chaplain, to say with him the daily offices; a sufficiency of loaves of best bread and dishes of meat, or fish from the kitchen according to the day, and eight flagons a week of the best beer; also board for two servants, a man and a boy; pasture and hay, and stabling for two horses; and the use of two silver salt-cellars, two mazers bound with silver-gilt, six silver spoons, and of all the furniture of his chambers, with beds for himself and his servants.
In 1494, when Richard Nottingham was abbot, the list of the house numbered sixteen, two of whom were deacons, and two novices. At this visitation Edward Hampton was found guilty of incontinence, and was adjudged forty days of heavy punishment, and five years' banishment to the monastery of Dureford. John Bebe also confessed to a like sin, and was condemned to forty days of heavy punishment, and seven years' banishment to Halesowen. Apart from these sad cases the visitor's report was favourable; all things within and without the monastery were stated to be most honourably preserved by the circumspection of the abbot, and the house was free from debt.
The last recorded visitation of Redman was on 15 May, 1500. John Bebe's penitence had secured a remission of his sentence, for he is entered as cantor of Dale, and must have been fully restored to quire and chapter at an earlier date than this. The visitor states that he did not leave any precepts, because of the fewness of the brethren, on account of the plague which the Lord had lately permitted amongst them, but he doubted not but that the said abbot would fill up the accustomed numbers as the means of the church permitted.
In 1536 Henry VIII's commissioners, Legh and Layton, were at Dale. They made charges of definite and grave immorality against the abbot and one of the canons. Had they been believed by Cromwell, these charges would assuredly have been made an excuse to withhold their pensions when suppression came; this was not done, but negotiations were almost immediately entered into with the very superior who was supposed to be living a peculiarly abandoned life. Under the head of Superstitio, the visitor recorded that the abbey possessed part of the girdle and milk of the Blessed Virgin, and the wheel of St. Catherine in silver.
The visitors returned the annual value of the house as £140. This corresponded in round numbers with the Valor Ecclesiasticus of the previous year, where the clear annual value was declared as £144 12s.
This sum brought the abbey well within the £200 limit of income for the suppression of the smaller houses, but in January, 1536-7, exception from suppression was formally granted by the crown to John Bebe, who had been appointed abbot of Dale in 1510 for his house; for this privilege the considerable sum of £166 13s. 4d. was paid to the king. (fn. 15) The receipt of the fine, however, made no difference, for in less than two years, namely on 30 October, 1538, the monastery and all its possessions in the counties of Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, and Northampton, were surrendered to Dr. Legh for the crown. The 'surrender' was signed by John Bebe, abbot, Richard Wheytteley, prior, and fifteen other canons. (fn. 16)
The abbot's complacency was rewarded by the considerable pension of £26 13s. 4d. The prior and five of the canons obtained pensions of £5 6s. 8d., the rest at lower rates. (fn. 17) Eleven of the canons were in receipt of their pensions in the days of Philip and Mary.
Abbots of Dale (fn. 18)
VI. Laurence, (fn. 19) 16¼ years, 1273-89
The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal (fn. 20) of this abbey presents a half-length of the Blessed Virgin and Holy Child under a pointed arch. Under a trefoiled arch in the base is a half-length of the abbot with pastoral staff. The legend is:—