A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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10. THE ABBEY OF LILLESHALL
The first stages of the foundation of a house of Arrouaisian canons at Lilleshall can be pieced together only approximately from the early charters. Undoubtedly the initiative came from the brothers Philip and Richard of Belmeis, both nephews of Richard of Belmeis (I), and a colony of canons, brought from the newly refounded abbey of Dorchester (Oxon.), was finally established at Lilleshall between 1145 and 1148. Because of the political instability of the country and the fact that much of the original endowment came from the former prebendal church of Shrewsbury St. Alkmund, approval was sought from the highest ecclesiastical and secular authorities. The whole process was slow but it does not follow that the new foundation was actively opposed. (fn. 1)
The earliest charter, that of Philip of Belmeis, (fn. 2) is addressed to Roger, Bishop of Chester, and the whole church, and records Philip's grant to the canons of the order of Arrouaise, coming from St. Peter's Dorchester, of his land between Watling Street and 'Merdiche' to found a church. This land later became Lizard Grange. The gift included wood for building and for fuel; also the churches of Ashby De La Zouch and Blackfordby (Leics.), with some land and tithes in both vills. The wording suggests that the canons were actually at the time at Lizard and that Philip intended to found a monastery there. If so, he failed to convince either the mother house or the bishop of the suitability of the site; indeed the soil was poor and the revenue from Lizard Grange always remained low. The first canons at Dorchester had come from the abbey of St. Nicholas, Arrouaise, an Augustinian house that had adopted a strict discipline of Cistercian type and, under its great abbot Gervase (1121–47), was becoming the head of an expanding order. (fn. 3) Canons were brought to Dorchester by Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, to replace a community of seculars about 1140. The bishop of Lincoln was drawn into negotiations about the founding of a new house in Shropshire because of his connexion with Dorchester and because the two Leicestershire churches offered by Philip of Belmeis were in his diocese. Alexander may, as Eyton conjectured, have secured the approval of Pope Eugenius III to the gift that Richard of Belmeis made shortly afterwards to the new Shropshire colony. (fn. 4) It should, however, be noted that in 1145 Eugenius III confirmed the statutes of the Arrouaisian order (fn. 5) and a few bulls of more local interest may have been procured through members of the order at the same time. Papal privileges and respect for diocesan authority are found together throughout the early history of the order, and papal approval was particularly desirable since Richard of Belmeis's grant involved the suppression of the secular canons serving Shrewsbury St. Alkmund, of which he was dean, and the transfer of their property to the new abbey.
St. Alkmund's was a royal foundation. The tradition preserved by the canons and written down in the early years of Henry II attributed its foundation to 'Ethelfleda queen of Mercia'. (fn. 6) who is possibly to be identified with Alfred's daughter Ethelfleda, 'lady of the Mercians'. (fn. 7) Before the Conquest the church held 21 burgesses and 12 canons' houses in Shrewsbury and the manors of Albrightlee, Atcham, 'Caurtune', Charlton, Dinthill, Hencott, Lilleshall, Longdon upon Tern, Preston Gubbals, Preston Montford, Uckington, and Wistanstow. The patronage had belonged to the Crown, for Wistanstow, given to Godric Wiffesune by King Edward, was later given to Niel, the Conqueror's physician. (fn. 8) With other royal rights in the county the patronage passed to Earl Roger; he gave many of St. Alkmund's estates to his clerk Godebold whose son Robert afterwards held them. (fn. 9) Later Richard of Belmeis held the lion's share of the prebends by grant of Henry I (fn. 10) and in 1128, after Richard's death, the king conferred them on his nephew, the younger Richard of Belmeis, who enjoyed the title of dean of St. Alkmund's. When, or shortly after, Philip made his gift, Richard transferred whatever right he had in his prebends of Lilleshall and Atcham, and the reversion of the remaining prebends when they fell vacant, to the Arrouaisian canons from Dorchester. Royal approval was necessary, and this came first early in 1145 from King Stephen. (fn. 11) At this time the canons were apparently living in Donnington Wood: when the Empress Maud gave her approval three years later they had finally settled on the site at Lilleshall where they were to remain. (fn. 12) Henry, her son, added his consent as Duke of Normandy, and again when he became king. (fn. 13) Since the gift involved the suppression of a church of secular canons and the order of Arrouaise was too closely in touch with papal reform and canon law not to seek ecclesiastical approval for such a change, the consent of both Pope Eugenius III and Archbishop Theobald was obtained. (fn. 14) Their confirmations specifically refer to the gift of Richard of Belmeis and not to the whole endowment of the abbey; it is likely that their approval was sought to safeguard canon law rather than to overcome any imagined opposition of Bishop Roger Clinton. The process of foundation lasted altogether three or four years and the community made its permanent home at Lilleshall, probably under its first abbot William, by 1148. (fn. 15) There is no hint in the charters that settlement in Shrewsbury, at St. Alkmund's itself, was ever contemplated. Lilleshall offered the advantages of a secluded site, with ample woods and ten hides of arable land that had been under cultivation since before the Conquest.
Lilleshall in its early years retained some ties with the order of Arrouaise. As a result of disturbances in the abbey Archbishop Theobald wrote to Abbot Fulbert and the chapter of Arrouaise complaining of jealousy and strife almost to the point of open war among the brethren and blaming Abbot William for the troubles. (fn. 16) His letter was written between 1151 and 1161; whether or not it produced any effect William remained abbot until his death. (fn. 17) Abbots of Lilleshall probably attended some early chapters of the order: a papal bull of 1186, addressed to the abbot of Arrouaise and other abbots of his order concerning discipline, was preserved among the muniments of Lilleshall to be copied into the general register of the abbey in the 13th century. (fn. 18) The register itself may have been put together in obedience to the statutes of the general chapter of 1233, which ordered that all goods and revenues were to be registered, (fn. 19) and the earliest entries in the Lilleshall volume, written not long after this date, include a rental of the regular annual revenues due to the abbey as well as the usual title-deeds to the property. Though there is no proof that Lilleshall recognized the jurisdiction of the mother-abbey after the end of the 12th century, (fn. 20) in some characteristics, notably the economic self-sufficiency of the community, it retained the stamp of its Arrouaisian origins.
The abbey appears to have ranked from the beginning as a royal foundation. Archbishop Theobald intervened in an early dispute at Henry II's instigation and referred to it as 'the king's church'. (fn. 21) No doubt this was justified by the fact that the pre bends of St. Alkmund's, itself a royal foundation, formed the principal part of the endowment of Lilleshall. Philip of Belmeis was at times called fundator in the records of the house (fn. 22) and, after his interest has passed through his daughter to the family of la Zouche, (fn. 23) an occasional inquest might state that their heirs held the advowson of the abbey; (fn. 24) but abbots-elect were always presented to the king for his approval and his enjoyment of the rights of patron in the house was never questioned. The king's interest helped to offset, partially at least, the whittling away of the former prebends of St. Alkmund's during the eighty and more years when they had been treated very much as secular property. During a protracted series of lawsuits the abbots established almost all their claims to lordship and in some cases recovered direct enjoyment of the estates. About 1177 the tenant of Charlton, near Shawbury, acknowledged that he had held it by favour of Abbot William for that abbot's life only; in return Abbot Walter leased three of the virgates to him for life at a nominal rent, retaining the fourth virgate in demesne. (fn. 25) The abbey later had a grange there. (fn. 26) The manor of Albrightlee was rescued at greater expense. When Thomas Burnell, who held it of the abbot, was on the point of death in 1195 the abbot agreed to lease the manor to Thomas's brother William for life only. But William's son, also named William, seized the abbey on his father's death and was ejected forthwith by Abbot Alan of Lilleshall. Two further lawsuits were necessary to silence the Burnell claims before the abbot bought the family out with ten marks in 1273. (fn. 27) Towards the end of the 12th century Robert de Boullers, lord of Montgomery, quitclaimed to the abbey the vill of Preston Montford, acknowledging it as the fee of St. Alkmund and confessing that he and his ancestors had unjustly held it. (fn. 28) A series of final concords in the Lilleshall register records the surrender to Lilleshall and St. Alkmund's of various messuages and tenements in Shrewsbury, Atcham, Donnington, and Muxton, most of which were regranted as life-tenures. (fn. 29) The 400 marks paid in 1282 to Thomas of Withington, husband of Isabel Burnell, for a quitclaim of the manor of Longdon upon Tern may have been necessary to extinguish some ancient claim. (fn. 30) Wistanstow, though acknowledged to be an ancient possession of St. Alkmund's, had been too long in lay hands for effective recovery. After a suit against the lord of Clun and his vassal Philip of Stapleton nominal lordship was restored to the abbey in 1188, with a pension of 40s. from the church. (fn. 31) The Stapleton family later held the manor of 'Armegrove' in Wistanstow of the abbey for a rent of 10s. but they held by knight service land that had originally been a prebendal estate of St. Alkmund's. (fn. 32)
The period of expansion and consolidation of the abbey's property lasted rather more than a century. New acquisitions seem to have been haphazard gifts from a large number of donors of middling rank; often they came from lay people who wished to be buried in the abbey, or at least to obtain the benefit of its prayers. Robert de Boullers, who had restored Preston Montford and given the advowson of Poulton (Wilts.), was buried there; his widow, Hilary Trusbut, who was a considerable heiress in her own right, gave five carucates in Arkendale (Yorks.) and her share of Braunston (Northants.). (fn. 33) This last gift was to support a canon to sing mass daily for her soul and the souls of her husband and other kindred, and in another remarkable charter she expressed her wish to be buried at Lilleshall with her husband wherever she might die. (fn. 34) John Lestrange, who gave the churches of Holme (Norf.) and Shangton (Leics.), (fn. 35) desired that his wife Amice should be buried at Lilleshall. (fn. 36) Gifts of land in Freasley (Warws.) by Robert de Kayly (fn. 37) and in Grindlow (Derb.) by Matthew of Stoke (fn. 38) were also connected with family burials, and so too were more modest gifts: the mill of Bletchley in Moreton Say from Nicholas of Bletchley, (fn. 39) and property in Bridgnorth from Sybil of Linley. (fn. 40) Both Robert de Wodecote, who gave land in Shackerley in Donington, (fn. 41) and his widow Millicent, who gave a virgate in Orslow (Staffs.) (fn. 42) were buried in the abbey. Some properties were bought (fn. 43) and others may have been given when a son became a canon, though in only one charter, where Hugh Malvoisin gave demesne tithes in Berwick, (fn. 44) is this expressly stated. The purpose of other gifts or purchases can only be conjectured. At an early date the abbey acquired 30 acres of demesne land in Wroxeter from William FitzAlan, (fn. 45) salt-pans in Nantwich from Robert Bardolf, six bovates in Crabwall (Ches.) from Roger de Meingaryn, (fn. 46) and the whole vill of Burlington in Sheriffhales from Helewise, daughter of Reyner of Burlington; (fn. 47) a little later came William Wishart's grant of Cold Hatton, (fn. 48) and in 1272-7 Hugh of Boningale's grant of the whole of Boningale in exchange for the fraternity of the house, a life-lease of Longdon upon Tern and the right to a room and maintenance in the abbey, with his family, in time of war. (fn. 49) The canons also received scattered gifts of small properties in Tern in Atcham, Loppington, Eaton Constantine, Tibberton, Howle in Chetwynd, and Tong. (fn. 50) Their town property in Shrewsbury grew round the nucleus of St. Alkmund's lands by gift and sale from the burgesses and they steadily accumulated messuages in Bridgnorth, Newport, Welshpool, (fn. 51) and Stafford. (fn. 52) The last significant acquisition outside the county in the 13th century was a house near the Tower of London of the gift of Geoffrey of Shangton, rector of Badminton (Glos.). (fn. 53) This was a scattered estate, made up of many fragments, and it is small wonder that the lists in confirmations of kings and popes never exactly tally.
These confirmations were numerous and included grants of the privileges normal for Arrouaisians. Alexander III exempted from payment of tithe the novalia which the canons cultivated with their own hands or at their own expense, promising them freedom of election of their abbot according to their rule, (fn. 54) and Honorius III confirmed this. A bull of Innocent IV granted that in any of their churches where two or more canons were resident one of them might be presented to the diocesan to exercise the parochial cure; (fn. 55) a privilege in line with that enjoyed by St. Nicholas, Arrouaise. (fn. 56) Although they enjoyed no remarkable franchises, their exemptions from secular services and dues were comprehensive (fn. 57) and between 1241 and 1248 the abbot successfully defended the exemption of the dogs on his estates within the royal forest from expeditation because his lands had been royal demesne. (fn. 58) In 1269 he was granted a three-day fair in Atcham at the feast of St. Giles (1 Sept.), (fn. 59) and in 1276 a second three-day fair there on the feast of St. Augustine (26 May). (fn. 60) Atcham was an important crossing point on the River Severn: the abbot kept two ferry boats there until, between 1200 and 1222, he had a bridge constructed and charged toll on carts coming to and from Shrewsbury. (fn. 61) By the mid 13th century there was also a fulling mill at Atcham. (fn. 62)
On the Lilleshall estates, as elsewhere, many minor adjustments of boundaries and exchanges of lands and rights took place. These included an agreement with Buildwas Abbey whereby Lilleshall received two mills and various lands in Tern at perpetual fee-farm for six marks annually (fn. 63) and an agreement with the canons of Haughmond about the watercourse from their mill at Pimley. (fn. 64) Alan la Zouche exchanged four virgates of former villein land in Blackfordby for a piece of land called 'Swarteclyve', and two more virgates there for the mill that his grandmother Adelize had given the canons in Tong. (fn. 65) William Pantulf gave an acre of land on Watling Street to make a meadow for their grange at Burlington in return for the right to run a millleet through their lands. (fn. 66) Many agreements defined pasture rights, such as that by which Walter de Dunstanville allowed the abbot's men at Burlington pasture rights in Lizard Wood in return for similar rights in Lilleshall Wood. (fn. 67) Occasionally the canons abandoned altogether a small possession that was proving unprofitable: they sold for £10 a messuage and 13 acres in Hucklow near Grindlow (Derb.) because it was 'more burdensome than profitable'. (fn. 68) Royal grants no less than private charters show that they were active in expanding their cultivated lands by assarting, (fn. 69) but, apart from such minor reorganization, they retained their property much as it had come to them. It was an unwieldy estate and the expenses of administration may have been responsible for the chronic indebtedness of the house throughout the Middle Ages. Even when the granges were leased rent collection was a task for many bailiffs. The abbot wisely refused to accept responsibility for a poorly endowed priory when Fulk Fitz Warin offered his new foundation at Alberbury, c. 1226. (fn. 70)
Whatever the method of exploitation on the granges may have been, the word grange implies some form of direct demesne cultivation. The canons had distant granges at Grindlow and Blackfordby and a ring of granges nearer home at Albrightlee, Preston Gubbals, Charlton, Longdon upon Tern, Atcham, Uckington, Burlington, and Lizard. There were four granges within the territory of Lilleshall itself: Cheswell, Watling Street, Wealdmoor, and the home grange. Although in the 12th and 13th centuries many Arrouaisian houses accepted lay brothers and sometimes lay sisters too, (fn. 71) there is no direct reference to lay brothers in any charters or privileges granted to Lilleshall. Most of the land given to the canons was under cultivation when they received it: Lilleshall itself contained ten hides at the time of Domesday Book and, if these correspond to the ten carucates of the four granges in 1330, all four clearings must already have been under the plough at the time of the Conquest. (fn. 72) If there were lay brothers at Lilleshall they were most likely employed within the abbey precinct on tasks that were later given to indentured servants. (fn. 73) The scanty evidence suggests the exploitation of demesnes through reeves or bailiffs; the record of rents due to the abbey in the 13th century, copied in the register, notes that money due from the reeves of Lilleshall, Uckington, Albrightlee, and Preston Gubbals was not included. (fn. 74) Possibly individual canons at times supervised the cultivation of particular granges, especially where these were associated with a chapel. Certainly canons frequently resided at Blackfordby, which, with its mother church of Ashby De La Zouch, was part of the earliest endowment. The vicarage of Ashby was in their gift and one institution of a vicar by Bishop Hugh de Welles states as part of the provision made for him that he and his clerk were to eat at the canons' table. (fn. 75) There was a chapel at Blackfordby where mass was said three days a week; when the provision for the vicarage of Ashby was increased after an appeal to Canterbury about 1278 the archbishop's court advised that the canon at Blackfordby be recalled and a chaplain appointed and paid to perform the work. (fn. 76) For any canon to live alone in a grange was irregular but, though the abbot and convent agreed to the arrangement, custom did not change; the bishop of Lichfield complained some fifty years later that canons were frequently alone at Blackfordby to the peril of their souls. (fn. 77) These canons, who presumably looked after the property, sometimes extended their supervision to the lands of their friends and patrons of the family of la Zouche. When Abbot Ralph of Shrewsbury gave evidence in a case of proof of age in 1288 he stated that he had known the heir when he himself was keeper of a grange of Roger la Zouche at Ashby a few years before. (fn. 78) If any canons of Lilleshall remained at Blackfordby after the bishop's visitation they have left no record of their presence, but a solitary canon with a shepherd was put in charge of the grange at Grindlow in 1358. (fn. 79) Occasionally a canon served one of the churches appropriated to the abbey; Roger Norreys, elected abbot in 1369, had at one time been vicar of North Molton (Devon). (fn. 80)
In common with many other abbeys Lilleshall experienced a financial crisis early in the 14th century. In a set of undated injunctions Bishop Roger Northburgh (1322-58) found that the abbey was heavily burdened with debt (fn. 81) and forbade the abbot to borrow at usury. He also complained that the abbot had sold too many corrodies and did not consult the convent sufficiently on the business of the house, frequently selling wood and manumitting serfs on his own authority. William de Ingwarby, the lay steward, was wasting the property of the house; the porter and conventual brewer were good for nothing and should be removed. Neither the abbot nor any of the obedientiaries rendered account. A later set of injunctions showed little improvement: (fn. 82) the house was still much in debt, the abbot had sold corrodies without consulting his brethren, and the woods were being wasted recklessly. The abbot was not to give away more than two oak trees a year as timber; in particular he was warned that he should not allow trees fit for timber to be burned for charcoal. It seems that the keepers of the woods were claiming the right to trees for the sake of the branches, although the timber could have been used to repair some of the dilapidated monastic buildings. A new brewer was just as incompetent as his predecessor and the hostillarius was neglecting the alms to the poor at the gate. The abbot himself was then too old and infirm to discharge his duties properly and was to do nothing without the assent of the prior, steward, treasurer, and cellarer. Since Abbot Henry of Stoke resigned in 1350 through age and infirmity (fn. 83) the injunctions can be dated before this. (fn. 84)
The causes for this prolonged financial embarassment lay partly in the haphazard temporal administration revealed by the injunctions. There was no central audit and no proper control of the various monastic officials. Corrodies were given and sold frequently: royal servants could not be refused (fn. 85) and, since the abbey was of royal foundation, maintenance had also to be found by each new abbot for a king's clerk until he could be beneficed. (fn. 86) Servants of the abbey sometimes received corrodies: in 1347, for example, Abbot Henry granted John of Garmston the office of thresher at the home grange or elsewhere in Shropshire, on this occasion with the consent of the chapter. In return for his work John was to have a chamber in the abbey precinct after the death of Thomas of Garmston, or other quarters built there at his own expense with daily food, ale, and such wages as other free bailiffs of the abbey received; he was to continue to reside and to receive the corrody when he became too old or infirm to discharge his duties, the wages alone being no longer paid. (fn. 87) A number of similar indentures suggest that the abbey accepted lifelong responsibility for its servants, who may perhaps have replaced former lay brethren; this humane custom was clearly at times a strain on its resources. The corrody provided for a retired abbot was much more burdensome. When John of Chetwynd resigned in 1330, the convent, out of consideration for his long service as abbot, granted him the following: the small hall where he was living with all its chambers and a chapel, fuel for heating, wax for six candles in the winter months, a corrody equivalent to that of two canons, a serving-man and two grooms with their maintenance, the services of a canon to recite the offices with him in his chapel, and a palfrey and baggage-horse with their fodder. In addition he was granted, for his clothing, the revenues of the manors of Blackfordby and Freasley and of two churches and was promised reasonable hospitality for his guests and kinsfolk. (fn. 88) This lavish provision was either too much for the convent or too little to satisfy a masterful abbot (fn. 89) for, in spite of its solemn confirmation a year later, (fn. 90) John of Chetwynd quarrelled with his successor, attacked the monastery by force, and carried off its goods. (fn. 91) The king had to intervene, placing keepers in the abbey to administer its goods and avert ruin. When Henry of Stoke was forced by age and illness to retire in 1350, the corrody provided for him was ample but less extravagant; (fn. 92) it made allowance for a smaller household and provided for clothing £5 in cash instead of manorial estates rated even in the Taxatio of 1291 at nearly £16.
During the abbacies of John of Chetwynd and Henry of Stoke external pressures undoubtedly weighed heavily on an economy that was fundamentally unsound. If the surviving assessments for the taxation of 1291 (fn. 93) represent the actual assessment of the abbey for papal taxation it escaped lightly, for the great glebe lands of the huge Saxon parish of St. Alkmund and almost all the prebendal estates were not assessed as temporalities and do not seem to be adequately represented in the spiritualities. Secular taxes weighed more heavily and on at least one occasion, in 1330, the abbot had to appeal against an attempt to tax the lands of St. Alkmund in Shrewsbury borough as both spiritualities and temporalities. (fn. 94) Abbots of Lilleshall were repeatedly appointed collectors of papal taxes, an onerous and expensive office, (fn. 95) and, in addition to the public duties that fell on all substantial landowners, they were summoned to a number of parliaments between 1265 and 1333. (fn. 96) More fortuitous catastrophes played their part: the abbot and convent were hard hit by cattle disease, which had killed many of their plough-beasts and forced them to reduce the area of demesne under cultivation by 1336; (fn. 97) the first attack of the great pestilence in 1348 carried off workers on the demesne and rent-paying tenants alike. (fn. 98)
Henry of Stoke attempted in his early years as abbot to restore the finances of the house. He secured the assistance of William of Shareshull, then a young justice of the common pleas anxious to establish himself as a country gentleman in Staffordshire and Shropshire, already sufficiently powerful to be a valuable advocate in high places. (fn. 99) William first appears as a friend of the abbey in the proceedings leading to the appropriation of North Molton church, the advowson of which it had already obtained from Alan la Zouche. (fn. 100) Bishop Grandisson's letter of 1337, justifying the appropriation on the grounds of the abbey's burden of hospitality to travellers, (fn. 101) speaks of the potent pleading of Sir William Shareshull ex speciali ad idem monasterium devocione. Shareshull was also directly concerned in transferring Farnborough church (Warws.) to the convent in 1340; (fn. 102) if he was also connected with the appropriation of Badminton church in 1340 his hand does not appear so clearly. (fn. 103) The abbey rewarded his services by the lease of Boningale, (fn. 104) the last substantial property they had acquired in the 13th century, in which they subsequently retained only a nominal rent of a penny a year. In the long run this was a profitable rearrangement of property: Boningale had been assessed at £6 1s. 7d. in 1330, (fn. 105) whereas in 1535 the churches of North Molton and Farnborough showed a profit of nearly £23. (fn. 106) At the time, however, various interests had to be bought out; (fn. 107) the abbot's faculties began to fail and pestilence struck the house. In 1351 the king, being informed that the abbey 'is so burdened with debt by misrule that the goods thereof are not sufficient to pay its creditors', committed it to the custody of Shareshull and William Banaster of Yorton, who were charged to restore the house to solvency. (fn. 108) The continued interest of William de Shareshull, by then at the peak of his career, is noteworthy. Comparison of extents made by the king's officers on the Shropshire estates during the vacancies of 1330 and 1353 show indeed a spectacular fall in the values of lands. (fn. 109) Lilleshall with its four granges declined in value from £58 18s. 8d. to £34 18s. 10d.; the total drop from £107 2s. ½d. to £52 10s. 4d. for all the properties is, however, deceptive, because the later survey omitted Boningale and, inexplicably, Lizard Grange and Preston Montford.
The later 14th century may have been a time of increasing stability, reflected in the life and hospitality of the house. A few of the rare glimpses of the internal spiritual and intellectual life of the canons come from this period. A highly developed liturgy is to be expected in any house of Arrouaisian origins: (fn. 110) the prayer roll after the death of Abbot Roger Norreys (d. 1375) (fn. 111) suggests that the abbey had not fallen from the earlier high standards that must have attracted lay men and women to seek association in its prayers from the time of its foundation. Lay persons, including occasionally the highest in the land, continued to be admitted to the fraternity of the abbey. When John of Gaunt fell ill with fever after the Shrewsbury parliament in January 1398 he spent two days at Lilleshall Abbey cum familia copiosa nimis; before leaving, he and his wife Catherine were received into the fraternity of the house, as was his squire, William Chetwynd. The duke showed his appreciation with a gift of twenty pounds of gold. Others received into fraternity in the same year were the duke's squire Roger Massey, the king's squire Richard Chelmick, John Charlton, Lord Powys, William Thornhill, lord of Eaton Constantine, and his wife Florence, and Alan Peshale, lord of Shifnal, whose wife had already been received when she was married to Baldwin Freville. (fn. 112)
There are few hints of intellectual interests. The register of the abbey is a haphazard compilation begun in the 13th century, with additions up to the 16th. (fn. 113) One of the earliest hands inserted a single column of sketchy chronological information and a few facts relating to the Norman Conquest, perhaps intended as a first step in a chronicle. (fn. 114) If so, the project was still-born; the blank spaces were filled up in the 14th century with specimens of letters used in monastic business and miscellaneous legal information of a practical kind, including a glossary of technical terms commonly occuring in charters and lawsuits. But the one surviving volume believed to come from the library is a copy of the chronicle attributed to Peter of Ickham, with additions from 1272 to 1327, probably written near Hereford. A few notes were added, presumably by a canon of Lilleshall, giving the accessions of Edward III and Richard II and recording a visit of Richard II to Lilleshall in 1398. (fn. 115) He came on his way to the Shrewsbury parliament accompanied by his young French wife, five dukes, four earls, three bishops, and a French chamberlain; they arrived after dinner on 24 January, spent the feast of the conversion of St. Paul in the abbey, and went on to Shrewsbury on 26 January. The survival of this book shows that the canons sometimes read, even if they did not write, the history of the kings their patrons; history had, too, a practical significance for them, for marginal notes draw attention to earlier royal demands for clerical taxes and to records of unusual weather and the price of grain. (fn. 116) There is little evidence of university study; one canon, William of Longdon, was licensed to study at Oxford or Cambridge for ten years in 1400, (fn. 117) although the abbey was not under the jurisdiction of the Augustinian general chapters and was under no obligation to maintain a canon at the university. (fn. 118) One canon, John Mirk, translated the Pars Oculi into English verse in the early 15th century. (fn. 119)
By the second quarter of the 15th century a fairly sound organization of the abbey's finances is suggested by the survival of two treasurer's rolls for 1428-9 and 1436-7. (fn. 120) At this time the treasurer certainly did not handle all the revenue of the monastery. Certain gifts had been assigned to particular purposes by their original donors: Burlington had been given for the wardrobe of the canons, (fn. 121) two-thirds of the revenues of Braunston (Northants.) were assigned to the wardrobe and the rest to the provision of lights for the church, and Arkendale (Yorks.) was for the maintenance of the abbey kitchen. (fn. 122) From time to time ordinances had been made to divide revenues according to changing needs: in 1278 some of the tithes of Ashby De La Zouch were assigned to the pittancer to help him to support all guests other than abbots and conventual priors, who were to be entertained by the abbot. The pittancer was to pay 30 marks annually to the chamberlain for the monks' clothing. The abbot was allowed to dispose as he wished of a fishery at Atcham and the house called Ireland in Dogpole, Shrewsbury, but if these were farmed out all revenues from them were to be paid to the treasurer. (fn. 123) It is, however, plain from the two rolls that in the early 15th century the bulk of Lilleshall's cash revenues passed through the treasurer's hands. (fn. 124) He received nothing from Braunston or Arkendale or from the rectory of Ashby De La Zouch, but the farm for Burlington (£5 6s. 8d.) came to him. Two mid15th-century bailiffs' accounts for Atcham show that the bailiffs were responsible for paying cash revenues to the treasurer and delivering corn to the granger at Lilleshall. (fn. 125) Demesne cultivation by means of wage labour was still being carried on at the home grange of Lilleshall and also at Atcham, though some nearer granges had been let. At Uckington, where the arable had been leased, a shepherd was employed. On the two granges where the demesne was cultivated the tithe corn was collected and threshed with the demesne corn; elsewhere tithes were leased sometimes, but not invariably, to the farmer of the demesne, who might also be the abbot's bailiff and rent-collector. Corn was grown chiefly for consumption, but stock-farming was rather more important: the value of stock sold amounted to £46 2s. 2d. in 1428-9 and £38 12s. 8d. in 1436-7 and, as the abbey bought horses and cattle, chiefly young stock, to the value of £37 16s. 7d. and £27 16s. 7d. respectively, its interest seems to have been in rearing and fattening rather than in breeding. Wool-sales were uneven, amounting to just over £20 in the first roll and under £10 in the second. The salt-pans in Nantwich were let and salt was purchased there for the use of the convent. Rents totalling over £150 were the most important item of revenue; these included small but significant town rents of £4 0s. 5d. from Shrewsbury, £1 19s. 3d. from Newport, £2 0s. 8d. from Bridgnorth, £4 from Welshpool, and £1 1s. 6d. from the tenement in London.
The treasurer paid the expenses of the abbot when he was travelling but not otherwise; presumably the cellarer and pittancer were answerable for those of the canons. The treasurer made only small purchases: fish, figs, and raisins for the fasts of Advent and Lent, various spices, cider, and a small quantity of wine. Possibly these purchases were for the household and visiting officials; the cloth that he bought was certainly for their liveries. He paid the fees of steward and bailiffs and the wages of the numerous household. Over twenty household servants were paid, including two porters, a butler, a chamberlain, two cooks, a baker, a bell-ringer, a cobbler, and a washerwoman. The community continued to provide for many of its own needs. There was a tannery within the abbey precinct (fn. 126) and in 1447 a carpenter was taken into the convent's service; with his apprentices he was to carry out all necessary repairs in the abbey and outside, receiving a stipend and robe of the same quality as that of the butler and chamberlain while he worked and in his old age a room in the abbey with a corrody equal to that of the porter. (fn. 127) This high degree of selfsufficiency recalls the type of community existing in Arrouaisian houses on the continent in the 13th century. (fn. 128)
John Wenlock, who was treasurer in 1428-9, became abbot in 1432 (fn. 129) and continued to concern himself with the finances of the house. In 1442, on the grounds of poverty, he obtained a crown grant of view of frankpledge and felons' goods (fn. 130) and four years later obtained exemption from the burdensome office of collector of clerical subsidies except in the archdeaconry of Salop. (fn. 131) His successors found small ways of increasing the revenues. Some of the late-15th-century leases suggest either that earlier farms had been disadvantageous to the abbey, or that the convent was trying to take advantage of rising prices. Lizard Grange (including the mill) had been farmed for £1 17s. 4d. in 1436-7; (fn. 132) in 1485 it was leased for 70 years at an annual rent of £2 5s. 4d. (fn. 133) The hospital of St. John in Bridgnorth, granted to the canons in 1471, (fn. 134) presumably brought some profit even when the obligations incumbent on the hospital had been discharged. (fn. 135) The tale of debt, however, continued to the end, with a fresh crisis in the early 16th century. The visitation of Bishop Blythe in 1518 found debts of about 1,000 marks, set against an estimated revenue of only 600 marks. (fn. 136) In 1521 the debts still stood at £400 (fn. 137) and four years later at £370. (fn. 138) A letter from Blythe in 1523 to Robert Watson, the last abbot, put the responsibility for the debt on his predecessors and advised him to reduce the excessive number of petty servants and be content with a modest household, so that the debts could be paid and long overdue repairs carried out. (fn. 139) Watson accounted to the chapter from the time he became abbot (fn. 140) and by the Dissolution he had apparently reduced the debts greatly. (fn. 141) There then appears to have been no treasurer; in 1521 the community comprised, besides the abbot, a prior, sub-prior, refectorer, cellarer, sacrist, infirmarer, abbot's chaplain, one other canon, (fn. 142) and two novices. In these, as in earlier visitations, finance was the principal weakness of the house, with the consequent dilapidations and, as many complaints from canons relate, bad food. It was alleged also that too many lay persons were living on the house. Apart from this some of the charges common in visitations were made against individual canons: Christopher Ledes, prior in 1518, was said by the abbot to obey in appearance only qui potius semireligiosus est censendus quam vere religiosus. He was subsequently removed from the office of prior to be warden of St. John's hospital. (fn. 143) One or two canons were accused of seeing women of bad repute, and once the prior complained that there was no schoolmaster. (fn. 144) Some of these failings were corrected by Watson: at the Dissolution a schoolmaster was found there, with four gentlemen's sons who may have been under his instruction, and the debts had apparently been reduced to £26 6s. 8d., which included £9 10s. clothing money owed to the canons (fn. 145) and £1 13s. 4d. owed to brother Thomas Dawson (probably the sacrist) for wax. (fn. 146)
The state of Lilleshall at the suppression is better documented than that of most Shropshire houses, for in addition to the Valor of 1535 (fn. 147) and the first ministers' account (fn. 148) the inventories taken under the direction of the royal commissioners, Legh and Cavendish, have survived. (fn. 149) In 1535 the gross general income was put at £324 0s. 10d., of which £232 16s. 6d. came from temporalities, but expenses were heavy: £45 2s. 7½d. for ecclesiastical pensions, payments to vicars, and discharge of other spiritual obligations, £3 17s. 10d. for procurations, £7 3s. 4d. for alms, and £28 8s. 8d. for fees to estate officials. The list of officials, namely the chief steward (George, Earl of Shrewsbury), an auditor, a receiver-general, stewards of Bridgnorth, Atcham, Lilleshall, (fn. 150) Arkendale, Braunston, Shrewsbury, and Ashby De La Zouch, and eight bailiffs, illustrates the structural weakness of the estate and the problems of administration. The net revenue was only £232 16s. 6d., which placed Lilleshall slightly lower than Haughmond, though its gross revenue was thirty pounds more. The abbey still held eight appropriated rectories: Lilleshall, Atcham, and St. Alkmund's in Shropshire, and Ashby De La Zouch, Badminton, Farnborough, Holme, and North Molton elsewhere. The demesne of Atcham had by now been abandoned and the tithes were leased.
The survey of October 1538 covered the demesne estate at Lilleshall, which was not included in 1535. Livestock was valued at £33 19s. 4d. Grain was less important; only 54 quarters remained a month or two after harvest and were valued at £11 18s. Of this only one quarter was wheat; there were 13 quarters of rye, 20 of barley, 10 of oats, and 10 of mixed corn. The 157 acres of demesne arable at Lilleshall were worth only £3 12s. 4d., or 5½d. an acre; their low value probably explains why Atcham, a wheatgrowing manor, had been kept in demesne so long. The pasture too was rough: 331½ acres, valued at 9d. an acre, were below the national average, but to compensate this 35½ acres of meadow, valued at £3 4s., were exceptionally rich. (fn. 151)
Many of the furnishings of the monastery itself had been sold before the inventory was taken but the description serves as a commentary on the buildings. (fn. 152) The altars in the church were listed: these were, in addition to the high altar, one in the new chapel of St. Michael, three in the chapel of St. Anne, one in the Lady Chapel (with 'a little pair of organs'), and two in the body of the church. By the last was meant either the chapel between the choir screen and the rood-screen or the western end of the nave, which was used by the lay residents and guests. These persons may have occupied the small rooms in the west range of the cloister, whose purpose is not known. In addition to the normal conventual buildings the inventory refers to a hall, a parlour, a buttery, and to a number of chambers: the inner chamber (2 beds), the long chamber (2 beds), the chamber at the hall door (1 bed), the new lodging (3 beds), the knights' lodging (2 beds), the second and third chambers in the knights' lodging (each 2 beds), and the chamber within the hall door (2 beds). These may have lodged corrodiaries, or the higher ranks of conventual servants, who were still numerous even if the household had been cut down as an economy. Rewards given to servants of the monastery at the surrender amounted to £28 15s. 4d., Many members of the community were, however, lodged outside the conventual buildings, within the monastic precincts: the inventory notes that all the houses built on the site of the monastery remained.
The abbey surrendered to the king on 16 October 1538 (fn. 153) and William Cavendish received possession of the site and demesnes on 18 October. (fn. 154) There were then ten canons besides the abbot. Abbot Watson was granted a pension of £50 besides the London house with an acre of land adjoining; the others received pensions of between £5 and £6 and gifts of between 40s. and 55s. each on their departure. The first ministers' account shows that the abbey still retained all the properties of its early endowment apart from Boningale. The gross revenue, including the former demesnes of Lilleshall, was then about £340, (fn. 155) a figure very close to the estimated annual value in 1535. A year after the surrender the site was granted to James Leveson, (fn. 156) whose family took up residence there. The building suffered severely during the Civil War. In 1643 it was fortified by Sir Richard Leveson and garrisoned with 160 men. The parliamentary forces laid siege and battered down the towers, lady chapel, and north transept before the garrison capitulated. (fn. 157) Thereafter the church remained ruinous.
The abbey site was placed in the guardianship of the Ministry of Public Building and Works in 1950. (fn. 158) The main walls of the church are still standing although in the 1960s they had been extensively shored up with timber to protect them against mining subsidence. The church, over 200 feet long and originally vaulted in stone, was a cruciform building with a square east end, north and south transepts with eastern chapels, an aisleless nave, and probably a west tower. Most of the north transept has been destroyed. The eastern half of the church, where building work began, dates from the later 12th century and suffered few subsequent alterations except for the insertion of a large 14thcentury east window. In the south wall, just west of the crossing, is a fine processional doorway which led into the church from the east cloister walk. It has a semicircular arch of three orders below which a segmental arch supports a crescent-shaped tympanum, a feature of several other doorways at Lilleshall. The flanking shafts, the jambs between them, and the orders of the arch are all richly carved with zig-zag and other late-12th-century ornament. The nave was completed early in the 13th century. The west front has a wide central doorway, its details of that period but its semicircular arch reflecting the older work further east. The doorway is flanked by two massive projections, probably the bases of the west buttresses of the former tower. The northern base, which is the more complete, carries trefoil-headed arcading at the sill level of the vanished west window. North-east of the church are the foundations of a detached lady chapel and other foundations suggest that an eastward extension of the church was begun but not completed. There are also indications of a projected aisle on the north side of the nave. The footings of two screens across the church, the rood screen and the pulpitum, survive, together with the foundations of two nave altars flanking the more westerly screen.
The buildings on the east and south sides of the cloister, which lay south of the church, were completed in stone in the late 12th century. There are considerable remains of the east range which consisted of a sacristy adjoining the transept, a vaulted slype, and the chapter-house. The southern end of the range, with the dorter on its upper floor, originally extended beyond the cloister. The south range contained the frater, later divided so that its eastern half became a warming-house; east of this a vaulted passage led southwards from the cloister into a second court. The west end of the range was altered, like the frater, in the 14th century and gave access to a kitchen and service rooms which were shared by the west range. Little remains of the buildings in the west range; they probably dated from the 14th century when they replaced earlier timber structures. Several of the rooms listed in the 1538 inventory may have been located here. The range contained an outer parlour next to the church, the abbot's or guest hall on the first floor, and the abbot's lodging in a projecting wing near the south end. The first-floor hall may have been a rebuilding of an earlier one, mentioned c. 1272, (fn. 159) in the same position. In the early 19th century it was recorded that the hall measured 66 feet by 28 feet; it had a number of small rooms below and a staircase leading to an upper story. Many floor-tiles, some with armorial bearings, were being carried away at that time. Foundations of buildings have been uncovered in the outer court to the south of the cloister but, pending scientific excavation, their function remains unknown. The position of the infirmary has not yet been established and the guest accommodation of the abbey was clearly on a scale that could house, albeit with some difficulty, the huge retinue of John of Gaunt. Traces of the precinct wall have been discovered, but the exact location of the great gate is not known.
Abbots of Lilleshall
The common seal in use in the 13th century was a pointed oval, 2¼ × 1¾ in., showing the Virgin and Child enthroned, the Virgin holding in her right hand a sceptre fleur-de-lizé. In the field on the right the word AVE; on the left a crescent. Legend, lombardic:
SIGILLUM E[CCL]ESIE BEATE MARIE DE LILLESHULL (fn. 208)
The impression of another seal is attached to a grant by the abbot and convent of 1367. (fn. 209) The deed states that the abbot has affixed the seal that he uses and the common seal of the house, but only one has survived, which from its character is probably the common seal. It is oval, measuring 21/8 × 13/8 in., and shows the Virgin standing, the Child on her left arm, between two female figures; below, the kneeling figure of a canon. Legend illegible.
Impressions of two abbots' seals survive. The oval seal of Abbot Alan (c. 1220-26), (fn. 210) measuring 2 × 17/8 in., shows the standing figure of a canon with pastoral staff. Legend, lombardic:
An oval seal, in use in the early 14th century, (fn. 211) measures 17/8 × 11/8 in. and shows a standing figure, probably of a canon, with pastoral staff. Legend, lombardic, ends: