A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.
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HOUSES OF AUSTIN CANONS
6. THE PRIORY OF FELLEY
Ralph Britto of Annesley founded the priory of Felley in the year 1156, giving to Austin Canons the church and hermitage of Felley. Reginald de Annesley, son of Ralph, confirmed his father's gifts, and that of the church of Annesley, and rents to sustain a lamp burning at all service hours in that church. But in 1151, according to a Worksop register, Ralph and Reginald had granted the church of Felley to the priory church of Worksop. Hence the older priory claimed the subjection of Prior Walter and the canons of Felley; Pope Alexander III by bull of 1161 confirmed Felley to Worksop Priory. Consequently it remained subject to Worksop until the year 1260. (fn. 1)
A chartulary of this priory, written early in the 16th century, came into the possession of the British Museum in 1903. (fn. 2) It consists of 141 vellum folios of 4 to shape, carefully written with rubricated initials. In the centre of the first folio the title is given as 'The Booke of Felley Called the Domesday.'
The foundation charter of Ralph Britto of Annesley (fol. 24b) was mutilated at an early date; only the opening clause remains, stating that by this charter he confirms to God, the Blessed Mary, and St. Helen, and to Brother Robert the hermit and his successors, his place of Felley with its appurtenances in pure and perpetual alms.
A bull of confirmation issued by Pope Celestine III (1191-8) gives various particulars as to the early benefactions to the Austin Canons of St. Mary of Felley, including the church of Annesley by Ralph de Annesley; Bradley with the site of the mill; lands in Nottinghamshire, by Serlo de Plesley; an acre of land and 15d. in rents at Chesterfield, by William Britton; and a variety of parcels of lands at Newark, Colwick, Southwell, and other places in the county. This bull gave the priory the right to say mass in a low voice during a general interdict, but with doors shut and without sound of a bell; and also permission to bury those who might devoutly desire sepulture there, unless they were excommunicate. (fn. 3)
This is followed in the chartulary by a bull of Gregory IX (1227-41) making like confirmations, and by other letters of the same pope in the 6th, 7th, and 10th years of his pontificate. (fn. 4)
The chartulary contains a transcript of a highly interesting and exceptional document, which makes mentions of a variety of the early grants to the house. On 6 May 1311 the prior and canons of Felley appeared in the collegiate church of Southwell before the official of the Archdeacon of Nottingham, requesting that their ancient evidences might be publicly recorded whilst they were yet perfect. Thereupon the official cited them to appear in the church of St. Mary's, Nottingham, on the day after Ascension Day, when there was produced a writing with a seal of very old white wax dependent, the impression of a woman holding her right hand on her right side, and carrying a bird on her outstretched left hand, with the marginal legend Siggillum Leonie de Raines. The tenor of the writing was to the effect that Leonia de Raines, and Henry de Stutivill her son and heir, gave the church of Annesley to God and the Blessed Mary of Felley, and the canons there serving God, for the health of King Henry and Robert de Stutivill, and her and their ancestors; for which they were to find a canon to celebrate daily. A second writing produced had a seal of white wax, the impression being a lion passant, and the legend Sigillum Reynaldi de Annesley; this was the grant made by the latter, at the request of his father Ralph, of all right of patronage in the church of Annesley to the house of Felley. A third writing had the seal in old green wax of a bishop in his pontificals with pastoral staff in left hand, and right hand raised in benediction, with the legend Sigillum Gaufridi Dei gracia Ebor. Archiepi.; the tenor of this was that Archbishop Geoffrey seeing the controversy between Leonia de Raines, Reginald de Annesley, and Hugh, rector of Kirkby in Ashfield, concerning the church of Annesley, it was appeased in his presence by all of them giving up their respective rights to the canons of Felley, and he hereby confirmed it to them for their own proper uses. The letters apostolical of Celestine III were also produced with the leaden bull attached by a silken string. (fn. 5)
Possibly other sealed charters and grants were at the same time produced, but these are the only ones solemnly recorded, with the nature of their seals fully described; the reason being that they all four related to possible disputes that might arise with regard to the church of Annesley. It was this fear that brought about the display of the ancient writings before the diocesan official, as is clear from the fact that Sir John de Annesley, Lord of Annesley, Thomas, rector of Kirkby in Ashfield, and William de Manthorp, a priest of Lincoln diocese, were summoned to St. Mary's, Nottingham, as those 'whom the matter chiefly concerned,' to show cause, if they had any, of canonical impediment; but none of them appeared.
The following are among the more important of the early grants to this house which appear in the chartulary:—
Ivo de Heriz gave to William de Lovetot, Prior of Felley, and to his convent, 20 acres of land in Ogston and Brackenfield, co. Derby (temp. Henry II). (fn. 6) At a somewhat later date, John de Heriz, for the health of his soul and that of Sarah his wife, gave 18 bovates of land at Tibshelf, Derbyshire, to sustain two canons daily celebrating in the church of Felley for ever. (fn. 7)
Another early grant was that made by Serlo de Plesley, lord of Ashover, who died about 1203. Serlo confirmed to the canons of Felley 4 bovates of land at 'Ulneseys,' and also gave them 16 acres of the land of Geoffrey the Hunter, together with pasture for 100 sheep and for 10 cows and a bull. Serlo states that he had already been permitted to enter into fraternity with the canons, and desired to be buried with them. (fn. 8)
An important 13th-century Nottinghamshire grant to the priory is that by Geoffrey Barry of lands at Whiteborough, in Teversal parish, on behalf of himself, Alice his wife, and their ancestors and successors for daily mass at the altar of St. Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, within the priory church. (fn. 9) This undated charter could not have been earlier than 1248, the year of St. Edmund's canonization.
In the year 1260 the subjection of the priory of Felley to that of Worksop, which involved an annual tribute of 10s. to the older house, as well as a variety of technical submissions such as the consent of Worksop to the election of a prior by the canons of Felley, came to an end. John, the Prior of Worksop, in March of that year, with the assent and advice of Archbishop Geoffrey, sealed in the chapter-house of Worksop an agreement by which, on the part of his convent, he released to Prior Henry of Felley and his successors all claim to recognition and obedience of any kind, in consideration of Felley covenanting to pay to Worksop a yearly rental of 20s. There had been much litigation for some time past between the two houses, and this covenant of peace was evidently considered one of moment. The witnesses included the Archbishop of York, the Abbots of Rufford and Welbeck, the Priors of St. Oswald (i.e. Nostell), Thurgarton, Newstead, and Shelford, and Richard de Sutton, canon of Southwell. (fn. 10)
In 1268 Geoffrey de Langley, for the souls of himself and of his children, and of his two wives, Christina and Matilda, gave to God, St. Mary, and Sir Ralph, Prior of Felley, and the canons there, all that he had in Ashover (Derbyshire), namely 'Peynstonhurst' and 'Williamfeld,' on condition that his name and the names of his wives and ancestors and successors were daily recited in the mass for benefactors, also that his obit was to be kept like that of a prior, and that on that day thirteen poor people should be fed, each receiving a white loaf, a gallon of the better beer, and half a dish of meat. He also enjoined that another mass should be celebrated on the obit of his wife Matilda (which was kept on the day of the Translation of St. Benedict), and that on that day five poor people were to be fed after a like fashion. (fn. 11)
In 1279 Sir Geoffrey de Dethick assigned lands to Thomas, Prior of Felley, on condition of the priory maintaining a chaplain to celebrate daily in the chapel of Dethick, Derbyshire, for himself and all his ancestors and progenitors. (fn. 12) One of the witnesses to this charter was Simon, rector of Ashover. (fn. 13) By an undated letter of Archbishop Giffard to the Prior and Convent of Felley, apparently about 1266, instructions were given, couched in most devout scriptural phraseology, for the readmission of Robert Barry, an apostate brother. (fn. 14)
In 1276 the process of election of a Prior of Felley, after the deposition of Ralph de Pleasley, is set forth in Giffard's register at some length in a letter asking for his confirmation. Episcopal licence to elect was read in the chapter-house on 10 July. On the morrow, after solemn celebration of Lady Mass, the chapter-house was entered, and after singing the Veni Creator the method of election was discussed. At length the canons decided to proceed by way of scrutiny, when it was found that all had voted for Thomas de Wathenowe, one of the canons. On Thomas giving his assent, he was conducted before the high altar with chanting of the Te Deum and ringing of the bells. After prostrating himself in prayer, the prior-elect was then led to the altar itself, which he kissed. The archbishop's assent was humbly asked, and Giffard, who was then stopping at Southwell, made formal confirmation of the election on 13 July.
Felley had been personally visited by Giffard on 9 July. The visitation resulted in the deposition of Prior Ralph de Pleasley for various irregularities, in the confining of Ralph de Codnore to the cloister for incontinence, and in the infliction of a like punishment on Robert Barry and William de Dunham for theft and immorality. The charges against the prior were not quite so grave, but by his own confession and by the sworn testimony of others he was convicted of suffering the goods of the house to be wasted, and the house itself to become dilapidated; of laying violent hands on Alan, one of the canons; of breaking open a lock against the will of the convent; and of neglecting to correct in chapter. He was also found to be insufficient for the position on account of weakness and old age. (fn. 15)
The Taxation Roll of 1291 enters the appropriated church of Annesley as of the annual value of £5 6s. 8d. the temporalities in the archdeaconry of Nottinghamshire £4 15s., and temporalities at Pleasley, Derbyshire, 20s.; giving a total taxable income of £11 1s. 8d. (fn. 16)
The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 shows a considerable increase in the income of this small house. The gross annual value is declared at £61 4s. 8d., and the clear value at £40 19s. 1d. The spiritualities comprised the rectories of Annesley (£4 18s.) and Attenborough (£15 12s. 10d.), with a portion of 6s. from Cossall. The temporalities included rents, &c., from the Nottinghamshire parishes of Attenborough, Awsworth, Annesley, Bunny, Bramcote, Kirkby in Ashfield, Hucknall Torkard, Nottingham, Selston, Toton, Teversal, and Woodborough, and from the Derbyshire townships of Ashover, Houghton, and Tibshelf. The heaviest outgoings were £6 13s. 4d. out of the church of Attenborough as a pension to Lenton Priory, and £4 to a chantry priest in the church of Mansfield Woodhouse. (fn. 17)
Another curious testimony as to the value of seals occurred in 1290 with regard to this house. The seal of the letters patent of Henry II securing to the canons of Felley exemption from all toll and custom throughout England on their own goods which they sold or which they bought for their own use, and forbidding any person disturbing them on this account under pain of £10, had been broken. The opportunity was therefore taken on 17 October, when Edward I was at Clipston, of securing an inspeximus and exemplification of this grant. (fn. 18) In 1305 the latter king granted to the prior and canons all the tithes of assarts within the hays of Lindeby, Rumwood, and Willey, within the Forest of Sherwood, which had been assarted within the king's reign, as appropriated to their church. (fn. 19)
Licence was obtained from the Crown in 1323 to permit the Prior and Convent of Felley to acquire in mortmain lands and rents to the value of 100s. a year, for the maintenance of a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the church of their house for the souls of the faithful departed. (fn. 20) In 1339 licence was granted for the alienation in mortmain by Sir John de Grey of Codnor to this priory (in full satisfaction of the 100s. a year which they had the licence of Edward II to acquire) of the reversion of an acre of land in Toton, and the advowson of the church of Attenborough—now held for life by Thomas de Vaus—of the yearly value of 60s. 2d. (fn. 21)
In 1339 John, Prior of Felley, covenanted with Robert Stuffyne of Newark and Alice his wife to find 6 marks annually to maintain a chantry priest at the altar of the Blessed Virgin in the church or chapel of Mansfield Woodhouse. (fn. 22)
There was an old dispute of long standing between Henry Lord Grey and the Prior and Convent of Lenton as to the advowson of a moiety of the church of Attenborough, which was settled by Archbishop Walter Gray in 1246, when it was arranged that the priory should have tithes to the value of 40s. yearly out of Bramcote chapelry in that parish, and that the other mediety should remain in the gift of Richard Lord Grey and his heirs. In 1340 John de Grey of Codnor granted the Grey moiety to the priory of Felley, and in 1343 this rectory was appropriated to the priory. The appropriation was confirmed in a long document by Archbishop William de la Zouch, with the consent of the Dean and Chapter of York, under date 11 March 1343, securing to himself and his successors a pension of 20s. 8d. and of 20s. to the Dean and Chapter. (fn. 23)
An indenture made in April 1504 between Laurence, Prior of Felley, with his convent, and John Vyncent of Braithwell, Yorkshire, is given in English in the chartulary. It recites that there had been 'diverse variaunces and contraversies' between the two parties with regard to certain lands and tithes of the said John in Braithwell, but that by the mediation of Robert, Prior of Worksop, and Robert Henryson, the said parties had come to an agreement. (fn. 26)
This small priory was visited in 1536 by the commissioners, Legh and Layton; but they merely reported that the annual income was £40 and that the debts amounted to a like sum.
Christopher Bolton, the last prior of this small house, was granted a pension of £6 a year on its dissolution. This pension was cancelled on 2 July 28 Hen. VIII, when Bolton was appointed to the rectory of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire. (fn. 27)
In 1536-7 the possessions of this priory, dissolved under the Act for the confiscation of the lesser houses, passed into various hands; Richard Samond obtained the lease from the Crown of the rectory of Annesley for twentyone years at 106s. 8d. annual rent, and grants were made of other parcels to different officials of the royal household. (fn. 28) In September 1538 William Bolles, a receiver of the Court of Augmentation, and Lucy his wife obtained a grant in fee simple of the house and site of the late priory, with the whole of its lands in Felley and Annesley, of the clear annual value of £13, (fn. 29) to be held in the same way as Christopher Bolton, the late prior, held them.
There is a cast of the 13th-century seal of this priory in the British Museum. (fn. 30) It is a pointed oval, displaying the Blessed Virgin crowned and seated on a throne, in the right hand a sceptre, fleur-de-lis, and having the Holy Child on the left knee. Remains of legend:—
SIGILLUM SAN . . . . . . IE . . . HA . . .
Priors of Felley (fn. 31)
Walter, probably first prior (fn. 32)
Adam de Nokton, temp. Henry II (fn. 33)
William de Lovetot, temp. Henry II (fn. 34)
Henry, temp. Henry III (fn. 35)
Thomas, temp. Henry III (fn. 36)
Walter, occurs c. 1240 (fn. 37)
Henry, occurs 1260 (fn. 38)
Ralph de Pleasley, occurs 1268, deposed 1276 (fn. 39)
Thomas de Wathenowe, 1276 (fn. 40)
Alan de Elksley, 1281 (fn. 41)
William de Toveton, resigned 1315 (fn. 42)
Elias de Lyndeby, 1315 (fn. 43)
John de Kirkeby, 1328 (fn. 44)
John de Holebroke, 1349 (fn. 45)
Richard de Shirebrook, 1349 (fn. 46)
Robert Eavys, died 1378 (fn. 47)
Thomas Elmeton, 1378 (fn. 48)
John de Mansfield, 1381 (fn. 49)
William Tuxford, died 1405 (fn. 50)
John Gaynesburgh, died 1442 (fn. 51)
Peter Methlay, 1442 (fn. 52)
John Throghcroft, died 1454 (fn. 53)
William Acworth, 1454 (fn. 54)
Richard Congreve, 1463 (fn. 55)
William Symondson alias Bolton, 1482 (fn. 56)
Laurence Ynggam, 1500 (fn. 57)
Thomas Gatesford, resigned 1519 (fn. 58)
Thomas Stokk, 1519 (fn. 59)
Christopher Bolton, last prior (fn. 60)