A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.
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4. THE PRIORY OF HINCHINBROOK
The little priory of Hinchinbrook, or, as it was more commonly called, the priory of St. James without Huntingdon, is said to have been founded by William the Conqueror. This tradition was preserved in the priory itself at the time of its dissolution, when alms were still distributed yearly at the gate of the almonry for the soul of the founder. (fn. 1) Leland adds that the nunnery had been originally built at Eltisley in Cambridgeshire, eight miles away from Hinchinbrook. But there is at present no earlier evidence of this transfer. (fn. 2)
The nunnery was at all times small and poor, and therefore its history is not easy to trace. Two grants were made by Henry III of oak trees from the forest of Sapley 'to the poor nuns of St. Michael near Huntingdon,' which probably refer to this house. (fn. 3) In the 13th century the prioress was taking in paying guests as a means of augmenting the income of the house. Amabilia de Alnestowe, one of her boarders, had a chamber in the court of the priory and claimed a corrody for life. Owing to differences with the prioress about 1261, she was ejected from her chamber; by an action at the assizes, however, she recovered possession of her chamber, but failed to maintain her claim to a corrody. (fn. 4) The advowson of this priory was in the hands of Devorguilla de Balliol in the 13th century. (fn. 5) An indulgence was granted to those contributing to the repair of the fabric of the church in 1307. (fn. 6) In 1359 Bishop Gynwell assigned a suitable penance to an apostate nun of this monastery. (fn. 7) In 1425 we read of a complaint made by the prioress, that a number of malefactors had broken her closes, stolen her cattle, and ill-treated her servants. (fn. 8)
Such are the few scattered facts that can be gathered concerning the history of a house afterwards famous as the birthplace of Oliver Cromwell. There are no records of visitations of Hinchinbrook in the Episcopal Registers. In 1536, at the Dissolution, there were three nuns here besides the prioress. (fn. 9) The site was granted to Richard Cromwell.
The priory had apparently only a small endowment besides the demesne land. It is not mentioned in the Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV, and in the valuation of 1534 the prioress was said to have a few houses and rents in Cambridgeshire, Rutland, Northamptonshire, and tithes from the parishes of St. John, St. Peter and St. Michael. (fn. 10) The church of St. Peter, while it stood, was appropriated to the priory, as well as the chapel of St. Michael; (fn. 11) but they were both in ruins by 1534. The clear revenue was only £17 1s. 4d.
Prioresses of Hinchinbrook
Ernma, (fn. 12) died 1275.
Helen Waleys, (fn. 13) elected 1275, died 1293.
Alice de Berewyk, (fn. 14) elected 1293, died 1315.
Joan de Raundes, (fn. 15) elected 1315.
Amice de Ardern, (fn. 16) elected 1334.
Isabel de Ulleswit, (fn. 17) elected 1336.
Isabel de Blythe, (fn. 18) elected 1349.
Joan Tichmersh, (fn. 19) died 1392.
Catharine Multon, (fn. 20) elected 1392.
Anne Chesterford, died 1449.
Joan Porter, (fn. 21) elected 1449.
Alice Wilton, (fn. 22) last prioress, occurs 1534.
A pointed oval seal, (fn. 23) showing a figure, probably that of St. James, with a pilgrim's staff.