A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.
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SITES AND REMAINS OF RELIGOUS HOUSES
ST. JOHN'S ABBEY. (fn. 1)
The buildings of the abbey were laid out in 1095, and the first of them were completed in 1115. The cloister and domestic buildings lay north of the church, as a small hill occupied the land to the south. The abbey was burnt down in 1133. The church was rebuilt on a cruciform plan, with a massive central tower and an elaborate west front flanked by south-west and north-west towers, possibly round. Late 12th-century capitals, perhaps from the internal jambs of a window or from blind arcading, found near the abbey site, may have been from its church or chapter house. (fn. 2) Building was still in progress in 1235 when Henry III gave the abbey 15 oaks; the work may have included the transepts and chancel of the church, which appear to have had lancet windows. The chancel may have been further modified in the early 14th century, for the presbytery was apparently new when the body of Eudes the sewer was moved there in 1320. The domestic buildings were later said to have been moved from the north to the south side of the church in the rebuilding after 1133, but the cloister and some buildings, including the chapter house, seem to have remained on the north, as Eudes's body allegedly lay undisturbed in the chapter house from 1120 to 1320. Moreover, a 15th-century drawing of the church shows on the south side of the nave a 14th- or 15th-century chapel which could not have been built had the cloister, which from the evidence of a surviving fragment appears to have been of the earlier 13th century, been on that side. (fn. 3) The buildings needed repair in 1363. In the 14th or 15th century chapels were built on the south of both nave and chancel and a lantern and spire were added to the central tower. St. Mary's altar was recorded in the mid 13th century, and a chantry was founded in St. Mary's chapel in 1364. The lady chapel, perhaps the south chancel chapel, where abbots and local gentry were buried, was recorded again in 1489 and 1521. (fn. 4) The church seems to have stood in the north-east quarter of the abbey site, east of the surviving gateway; a number of skeletons and an east-west wall have been found in that area. (fn. 5)
In the late 14th century and the early 15th, perhaps as a result of the revolt of 1381, the abbey strengthened its defences, repairing the precinct wall and adding at least two towers on the north side, facing the town. The surviving two-storeyed gatehouse was built shortly afterwards. In 1453 the abbey's precinct for purposes of sanctuary, which included the whole of St. John's green, outside the precinct wall, also seems to have been defended, if only by a palisade. (fn. 6)
The abbey was dissolved in 1538. Its site was leased to Roger Williams in 1544, and on his surrender in 1545 to Sir Thomas Darcy. (fn. 7) In 1547 it was granted to John Dudley, earl of Warwick, later duke of Northumberland, who sold it to Francis Jobson in 1547. (fn. 8) Jobson sold St. John's in 1548 to John Lucas, who had already acquired Sir Thomas Darcy's lease and with it possession of the site. (fn. 9) Lucas died in 1556 and was succeeded by his son and grandson, both called Thomas Lucas. The younger Thomas (d. 1625) was succeeded by his son John (d. 1671), created Baron Lucas of Shenfield in 1645. (fn. 10) The site was confiscated during the Civil War, and in 1643 was among the lands used to secure the payment of £5,000 a year from parliament to Robert Devereux, earl of Essex. (fn. 11) In the 1660s St. John's was said to belong to John Cockshott, (fn. 12) but he may have been Lord Lucas's tenant. The site was apparently sold soon after 1671 to John Walkesdon, a Jacobite who fled to France with James II in 1688. It then passed through a number of hands until it was bought in 1720 by Edward Arrowsmith who, by will proved in 1760, devised it to his daughter Sarah and her husband Philip Roberts. (fn. 13) Sarah Roberts held the site in 1783, and probably in 1797. In 1834 it was occupied by Mr. Austen, presumably the nurseryman Edward Austen. It was bought by the War Office in 1860 from Thomas and Frederick Baring. (fn. 14)
John Dudley owed c. £658 for the lead from the church and other abbey buildings, which had presumably been unroofed, in 1552, (fn. 15) but part of the church seems to have survived in 1621. On the south the Lucas family converted part of the abbey, perhaps the abbot's lodging, into their house. (fn. 16) It was presumably there that John Lucas (d. 1556) provided for his widow to have three chambers and the use of various offices, a mill, and the granary. (fn. 17) In 1640 there were a great gate and three other gates, presumably in the precinct wall; one of them may have been the plain round-headed gateway flanked by round towers which apparently survived on the south of the site in 1648. Much of the house was destroyed in the siege that year, when it was used as a royalist outpost, and the remaining buildings were damaged by Dutch prisoners housed there in the 1660s. (fn. 18) All trace of the Lucases' house seems to have disappeared by 1748; the mansion house let with the site and some of the former abbey demesne in 1744 and 1783 was presumably outside the precinct wall. (fn. 19)
The surviving rectangular gatehouse is on the north side of the abbey precinct, facing the town, and was presumably the main entrance to the abbey. It is built of flint with flushwork decoration, of two storeys with corner turrets. The main gateway has a four-centred arch with niches above and on both sides. The upper storey, including the battlements, the window tracery and the details of the niche above the door, was blown up when the gatehouse was stormed by parliamentary troops in 1648, and was almost entirely rebuilt, probably in the 1840s. It appears to be a faithful copy of the 15th-century work. To the east of the gatehouse are the north and east walls of a 15th-century porter's lodge. (fn. 20)
ST. BOTOLPH'S PRIORY.
The church, a house of secular canons in the late 11th century, was refounded c. 1100 as a house of Augustinian canons. The church was rebuilt in the 12th century and was dedicated in 1177. (fn. 21) It was both parochial and conventual throughout the Middle Ages, the canons presumably occupying the chancel and transepts, the parishioners the nave. (fn. 22) St. Thomas's altar was recorded in 1281 and St. Catherine's chapel in the priory church in 1406. St. Mary's chapel next to the choir, recorded in 1435, was repaired or remodelled in 1488, and there was a Trinity chapel in 1503. (fn. 23) In 1512 there was a west porch, perhaps over the 'pardon door' recorded in 1514. (fn. 24) The dormitory was being rebuilt in 1383. (fn. 25) In 1421 an indulgence was granted to those who helped with the repair of the buildings. (fn. 26) There is little evidence for the plan of the monastery, but part of the northern range of the cloister has been excavated on the south side of the nave. (fn. 27) A courtyard west of the church was entered by a gateway which survived on St. Botolph's Street until the siege of 1648. A dovecot was recorded in 1536, and the great barn, south of the church and cloister, had been converted into houses by 1542. (fn. 28) Part of the monastic buildings or outbuildings apparently survived in 1621 south-east of the church; it was probably destroyed in 1648. (fn. 29) Two foundations with adjacent floors, which may have been from such a south-eastern building, were excavated in 1987. (fn. 30) Short lengths of three parallel walls, possibly of outbuildings, were recorded in the south-west corner of the site in 1944, and part of the precinct wall survived in the back walls of houses in St. Botolph's Street into the 20th century. (fn. 31)
The priory was dissolved in 1536 and granted to Sir Thomas Audley, (fn. 32) but the nave and aisles of the church remained in use as a parish church until they were badly damaged in the siege of 1648. (fn. 33) Audley held the priory site until 1540 when he granted it to John and Anastasia Golder who sold part, including the great barn. Anastasia granted the remainder of the site to Arthur Clark in 1548. (fn. 34) Clark died in 1553 and was succeeded by his son Alban who sold the priory site in 1589-90 to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, created earl of Dorset in 1604. (fn. 35) Thomas's son Richard, earl of Dorset, sold it to Edward Legg in 1615. (fn. 36) In 1637 Legg sold the site to William Mott and others, who conveyed it in 1639 to John Brettle and others. The others released their interest in the site to John Brettle in 1642; Brettle by will dated 1649 devised it to his sisters Anne wife of Thomas Penneth, Margaret, and Mary. The sisters conveyed it in 1651 to Jacob, Peter, Elizabeth, Mary, Ann, Judith, Sarah, and Jane Hendrick, children of the alien Oliver Hendrick. Hendrick, by will dated 1683, devised the site to his surviving children Jacob Hendrick and Elizabeth Burkin. In 1720 Elizabeth Burkin and John Hendrick, presumably Jacob's son, conveyed their respective moieties of the estate to Matthew Martin. Martin divided the estate, conveying the southern half to his son-in-law John Price in 1733. Price, by will dated 1743, devised it to his wife for life with remainder to his son Martin and daughter Mary. (fn. 37) They seem to have sold it to Elizabeth Selly, who was occupying the site in 1745. She devised it to her son-in-law John Halls, owner of the Greyfriars site. Halls, by will proved in 1795, devised it to his nephew James Halls who held until 1797 or later. The land immediately south of the ruined church, a brewery occupied by Joseph Shepherd from c. 1802, was sold to St. Botolph's parish for a new church by T. Mayhew in 1835. (fn. 38)
The northern part of the estate passed, with Matthew Martin's other Colchester lands, to his son Thomas who devised it in 1772 to his wife Dorothy for life with reversion to his nephew and son-in-law Isaac Martin Rebow, later Isaac Martin Rebow Martin, husband of his daughter Mary. In 1786, after Isaac Martin's death without issue, Thomas Martin's widow Dorothy and her husband John Adams, with Mary's consent, conveyed the reversion of the estate to Thomas Martin's other daughter Sarah (d. 1807) and her husband William Fraser (d. 1813). (fn. 39) In 1813 Fraser's daughter and heir Elizabeth conveyed the ruins of the priory church to the parish. The site was placed in the care of the Board of Works in 1912. (fn. 40)
The surviving ruins of the priory church, of flint rubble with dressings of Roman brick and some Barnack and limestone, date mainly from the early to mid 12th century, and seem to be of the church consecrated in 1177. They comprise the remains of seven bays of the aisled nave, and of the elaborate west front flanked by north-west and south-west towers. Excavation has revealed a small north transept, a south transept with a crypt or undercroft beneath it, and a short, square-ended, chancel. The crypt extended under the crossing, and presumably also under at least part of the chancel. (fn. 41) The nave had a high triforium above the squat, circular piers of its arcade. The central west doorway with a round arch of five orders, four of them with chevron ornament, survives, as do two side doorways, probably of four orders, into the aisles. Above them were two tiers of intersecting wall arcade, and above that a rose window flanked by two round-headed windows. Above them was a string course terminating in two pinnacles; above that again was another intersecting wall arcade, and above that were three round-headed windows, and at the apex of the gable a small round recess. In the 14th century new windows were inserted into all but the easternmost bay of the north aisle. (fn. 42) The ruins were damaged in the earthquake of 1884 and were extensively repaired in 1887-8; further work was undertaken by the Board of Works after 1912. (fn. 43) In 1990 and 1991 the west front was cleaned and repaired, and in 1992 the position of the transepts and chancel was marked out on land recently acquired and landscaped by the borough. (fn. 44)
The Friars Minor or Greyfriars had established a house in Colchester by 1237 when Henry III granted them a plot of land to enlarge their site which lay on the north side of High Street between the castle and East gate. (fn. 45) In 1247 he gave them 10 marks from the forest eyre, perhaps to finance building work, and in 1269 he gave 7 oaks to build their church. (fn. 46) The priory buildings were presumably nearly complete by 1279 when the friars acquired permission to bring water by an underground conduit across the king's demesne land and under the town wall to their house, although Edward I gave 6 oaks, presumably for further building, in 1306. (fn. 47) The friars received several further grants of land in the course of the late 13th century and the 14th, including 4½ a. north of their site from Edward II, so that by the Dissolution they owned a block of land between High Street, the town wall, and the castle bailey. (fn. 48) The house and gardens were bounded by a precinct wall on the south and west and by the town wall on the north and east. (fn. 49)
The friary was surrendered in 1538, most of its valuables, including the lead from roofs and water pipes, being sold, stolen, or pledged before the king's agent arrived. (fn. 50) The site, with the hall called the old hall, the infirmary house, the chambers called Sir Thomas Tyrell's lodging, the kitchen, bakery, and brewery, two small gardens and 4 a. of land within the precinct wall, was leased to Francis Jobson in 1539 and granted to him in 1544. The king reserved the right to have buildings taken down and removed, but in the event 'superfluous' buildings were sold to Jobson; the lead was melted down for the king's use. (fn. 51) Jobson conveyed the Greyfriars to William Watson in 1565. (fn. 52) Watson bequeathed the site to his nephew Brian Watson, but one third passed to his son and heir John. (fn. 53) Brian in 1586 and John's heir William Watson in 1596 conveyed their shares to Martin Basil from whom the site passed to his son and grandson, both called Martin Basil. The youngest Martin conveyed it in 1636 to Henry Leming and his son Henry who sold it in 1654 to William Peeke. Peeke's daughter Mary married Thomas Turgis who conveyed the site in 1700 to Thomas Carpenter, who settled it, after his and his wife's death, on his grandson Thomas Bayes. Bayes sold it in 1740 to Robert Potter (d. 1752). Potter or his trustees sold it to the Revd. John Halls (d. 1795), who built a new house on the street frontage and laid out a garden behind it. Halls devised Greyfriars to his nephew James Halls, from whom it passed c. 1814 to Thomas Baskerfield. Baskerfield, by will proved in 1817, left Greyfriars to his wife Sophia, apparently with reversion to his executor Horatio Cock and his heirs. Priory field, behind the house and its garden, was leased to the trustees of the botanic gardens from 1824. The whole estate was offered for sale in three lots in 1847, presumably on Sophia Baskerfield's death. (fn. 54) Two new streets of houses were laid out on the site of the botanic gardens, (fn. 55) but Halls's house and its southern neighbour, with their gardens, survived in 1990.
The site was entered through a gatehouse in Friar Street which survived in 1622. The conventual buildings were apparently set back from the street, the cloister and domestic buildings being on the north side of the church. In 1620 two parallel ranges of buildings apparently survived, but in 1718 only the walls, one containing 13th-century lancet windows, and the remains of the cloister walk remained. Fragments of wall remained in 1748, but were presumably destroyed by John Halls when he laid out his garden. (fn. 56) No trace of the medieval buildings remained in 1847, nor had any foundations been found in the course of digging in the botanic gardens, but skeletons had been found in the kitchen garden north-west of the 18th-century house. In 1794 there were two ponds at the north end of Priory field, near the town wall, presumably former fishponds; before 1847, probably in 1824 when the field was converted into botanic gardens, they were made into a single pond. (fn. 57)
The house, on the south side of Crouch Street just west of its junction with Maldon Road, originated in the 12th century or the early 13th as a hospital and chapel founded by the lords of Stanway in a detached part of that parish. It was first recorded in 1251, and Robert FitzWalter, lord of Lexden manor, quitclaimed the advowson to Thomas de Belhus of Stanway in 1285. (fn. 58) In 1383 John Stansted, a former chaplain, sold the advowson to two Colchester men who in turn conveyed it in 1392 to three leading burgesses. They conveyed it the same year to the bailiffs and commonalty for the repair of the town walls, (fn. 59) but the Crown presented in 1395, and in 1400 granted the advowson, which was said to have been forfeited to the king, to John Doreward, lord of Stanway manor. Nevertheless, in 1403 eight burgesses of Colchester were patrons. (fn. 60)
The hospital was endowed by an early master with at least 6 a. in the suburbs of Colchester, recovered by another master in 1285, but by 1401 it had fallen on hard times and the chapel, which then comprised nave, chancel, and belltower, and other buildings were in great need of repair. In 1403 the bishop of London, at the request of the patrons, and with the consent of John Doreward as patron of Stanway church, gave the master or warden of the hospital permission to conduct services for the inhabitants of the detached portion of Stanway parish in Crouch Street and Maldon Lane, and granted the chapel baptismal and burial rights. He endowed it with the great and small tithes and offerings of its area of the parish, but burdened the warden with an annual pension of 13s. 4d. to the rector of Stanway. The warden was responsible for the maintenance of the chapel and was to look after its goods, notably the relic of the holy cross. (fn. 61) In 1407 the guild of St. Helen, earlier associated with St. Helen's chapel, whose members included the leading burgesses and many of the neighbouring landowners, was refounded in St. Cross chapel, and undertook to support 5 chantry priests and 13 poor people in the hospital. (fn. 62) Nevertheless the old foundation survived; masters or wardens of St. Cross hospital being appointed in 1468 and 1485. (fn. 63) In the early 15th century Thomas Godstone, one of the patrons, built a chapel of St. Mary adjoining St. Cross chapel, and founded a chantry there. (fn. 64) Thus by the later 15th century there were two chapels and at least one hospital on the site.
About 1496 the Crutched friars successfully claimed St. Cross chapel and hospital, which with their endowments were quitclaimed to them by the wardens of St. Helen's guild and Edward Knevett lord of the manor of Stanway. (fn. 65) The friars presumably enlarged the buildings, taking Godstone's chapel into their church as a lady chapel; by 1510 when the endowments of Godstone's chantry were granted to them the lands were said to be for the lady altar in the conventual church. (fn. 66) Another altar, of special indulgence, was recorded in 1516. (fn. 67) Burials discovered in the 19th century in the garden of no. 38 Crouch Street presumably mark the site of the friars' graveyard. (fn. 68) Foundations were found under a house and garden in the same area in the 1930s, with further skeletons between them and the road, and the foundations of a stone building with a slate roof, possibly St. Cross chapel, were excavated near the street frontage in 1989. (fn. 69)
In 1538 the prior and community granted the church, churchyard, and priory buildings including stables, barns, and dovecotes, with all their land in Colchester and its liberty and in Stanway and West Bergholt, to Thomas Audley, later Lord Audley. (fn. 70) Audley acquired a grant of the premises from the Crown in 1541, although John Barnaby, who had married Catherine widow of Edward Knevett of Stanway, appears to have made an unsuccessful claim to it. (fn. 71) The site passed from Lord Audley to his brother Thomas Audley of Berechurch and to Thomas's son Thomas who sold it in 1563 to William Watson (d. 1571). Watson devised the Crutched Friars to his sister Elizabeth Walleys for life with succesive reversions to his nephew William Watson and to William's two sisters, both called Joan, but one third of the estate passed to his son and heir John Watson. (fn. 72) In 1573 Elizabeth Walleys quitclaimed her life interest to John Watson, reserving to herself and her husband a house and garden at the west end of the precinct wall, against the Spital house, presumably in the north-west corner of the site. (fn. 73) Joan wife of Arthur Hall, presumably niece of the elder William Watson, conveyed her interest in the estate to John Watson in 1580, and in 1583 John granted the Crutched Friars to William and Robert Woodward, who sold it the following year to Edward Barker. Barker's son James held it in 1613 but later sold it to John Stephens (d. 1620) from whom it passed to his son John (d. 1625) and presumably to the younger John's eldest son James. (fn. 74) Part of the friary buildings, a north and a south range joined by a wall, may have survived during the Stephens' tenure of the site, but they were probably demolished when Sir Harbottle Grimston Bt. (d. 1648), who bought the Crutched Friars in 1637, built a house on the site for his son Sir Harbottle, M.P. and recorder of the town. The house was fired by the retreating royalists during the seige of Colchester in 1648, and was not occupied by the Grimstons thereafter. (fn. 75)
About 1700 the surviving building was converted into a town workhouse; it appeared then to be a recent building, apart from some windows in its east wall. (fn. 76) That workhouse had apparently closed by 1711, and the Crutched Friars, owned in 1748 by Jeremiah Daniell, was used for pauper housing. Daniell by will proved 1766 bequeathed it, then occupied as two dwellings, to his daughter Sarah Daniell. Sarah devised it to her brother Peter whose estates were sold on his bankruptcy in 1784. The Crutched Friars, otherwise called the Priory or the Old Workhouse, then comprised a tenement and 10 a. of land and garden ground. (fn. 77) It was acquired by James Blatch, who by will proved 1812 devised it to his wife Elizabeth for life with reversion to his son James. James was succeeded in 1837 by John Blatch, who owned the site in 1846. (fn. 78) In 1865 James Blatch Philip Hoblyn sold the land for development, laying out Blatch, later Wellesley, Street between Crouch Street and Maldon Road. (fn. 79)
The house on the north side of Crouch Street called Crouched Friars in 1989 derives from a copyhold of Lexden manor, called the Holy Cross by 1694, which had probably been held by the Crutched friars in the early 16th century. (fn. 80) There is no evidence that it formed part of the site of their house.
St. Mary Magdalen's hospital, founded by Eudes the sewer in the early 12th century, was apparently still functioning in 1557 when the master, Thomas Gale, made one of its brothers his executor and residuary legatee. (fn. 81) In 1565, however, the hospital's lands were sold, to pass within a few months to alderman Benjamin Clere whose son Benjamin was master from 1562 to c. 1580. The hospital had presumably ceased to house its five poor or infirm people by 1565, and by 1580 its buildings were falling down. (fn. 82) The lands were restored in 1582, but later 16th-century masters appear to have used their office mainly as a source of income. The hospital was refounded in 1610. (fn. 83)
St. Catherine's hospital, on the north side of Crouch Street, had been founded by 1352 for a master and infirm brethren, presumably by the lords of Lexden manor, to whom the site belonged. (fn. 84) In 1378 the proctor or master was accused of assaulting three inmates, two men and a woman. The hospital was recorded again in 1382, 1406, and 1510; part of it had become a house and garden by 1545, but in 1583 that was converted into a barn because it was so close to the hospital that no one could live in it. (fn. 85) The hospital survived as almshouses in 1622 and 1671. In 1748 the six brick houses, of two rooms each one upstairs and one downstairs, were used as the St. Mary's parish workhouse. (fn. 86) St. Anne's chapel and hospital is treated elsewhere. (fn. 87)
John Savey, by will proved 1451, bequeathed 7 houses under St. John's abbey wall to house 13 poor people who were to pray for him and his benefactors; there seems to have been no endowment, and the almshouses were not certainly recorded again although there was an almshouse in the same area in 1589 and 1627. (fn. 88)
Other almshouses, presumably also unendowed, were recorded in Magdalen Street in 1458 and 1559. (fn. 89) An almshouse in St. Martin's parish, recorded in 1607, was disused by 1748 although its site was still called Hospital yard. (fn. 90)