A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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18. THE PRIORY OF WORSPRING
The house was founded in or about 1210 by William de Courteney, a grandson of Reginald Fitz Urse of Williton, one of the knights who murdered Archbishop Becket. No foundation charter exists. Our information comes from the confirmation of the endowment by Edward II in 1325, (fn. 1) and a copy of a letter of William de Courteney to Jocelin, Bishop of Bath, which records the founder's object. The house was in some way connected with the larger house of Austin Canons at Bristol, but the exact nature of this connexion is not clear.
The letter of William de Courteney (fn. 2) to Bishop Jocelin is not dated, but as the bishop is called the Bishop of Bath, it is clear that it was written after 1219 and before 1242. He says that he had and he still has in his mind a desire to found a convent at Worspring in his domain, where he had built a chapel in honour of the blessed martyr St. Thomas. The convent was to be for canons of the Order of St. Augustine of Bristol, and he purposed to endow the priory with land at Worspring and with a church at Worle.
The Bath Cartulary (fn. 3) gives us an inspeximus by Walter the prior of a charter of William Button I, Bishop of Bath and Wells 1262, confirming a charter of Jocelin, Bishop of Bath, to 'the canons of Dodlinch' in the year 1230, which itself is a confirmation of an earlier charter granted by him to the same canons in 1217, by which he confirmed to them the gifts of Sir William de Courteney of the church of Worle and of Master Geoffrey Gibwinne of the church at Locking. The original foundation was at 'Dodlinch,' a place which has never been identified but probably was in the immediate neighbourhood of Worspring, and the site of the first chapel of St. Thomas of Canterbury.
In 1226 (fn. 4) we find the Prior of Worspring appearing as plaintiff against William de Cantlow concerning the advowson of the church of Bulwick in Northants. The prior did not gain his case, but the incident proves that the transference from Dodlinch to Worspring must have taken place before this date.
In 1243, (fn. 5) during the vacancy of the see, the dean and chapter confirmed the appointment of Canon Richard of Keynsham as Prior of Worspring in succession to the late Prior Reginald, and it is recorded that twenty-six canons were present at that election.
On 16 August 1266 (fn. 6) John the prior 'of the order of St. Victor,' in return for gifts received from the late William de Wethamstede, provost of Combe, and Alexander de Bamfield, canon of Wells, their benefactors, for 100 marks provided by the executors of William and Alexander, bound himself and the priory to provide 53s. 4d. towards the maintenance of a chaplain in the cathedral church of Wells to celebrate for the souls of the said canons, and also to perform a similar service in their own house on the morrow of St. Vincent with Placebo and Dirige in the choir for ever, and also provide pittances to the value of 4s. to be divided among themselves and the poor.
On 4 July 1277 (fn. 7) we find the same John, the prior of Worspring, and the convent on account of the benefactions granted to them by William de Button II, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and for 210 marks paid to them by his executors as a legacy from him, agreeing to pay 10 marks a year towards the obit of the bishop, and the maintenance of a chaplain who should say mass for his soul. This pledge was also confirmed in 1279. (fn. 8) The prior says that the bishop's legacy came to them at a time of great need, and had enabled them to pay off an annual payment of £10 due to Sir John de Engayne and his heirs upon the manor of Worle.
In 1298 (fn. 9) Lucy Lundreys of Wells bequeathed in her will a silver spoon to her brother John, canon of Worspring, and in 1310 (fn. 10) Sir John de Engayne endowed the priory with rents to the value of 20s.
In 1325 (fn. 11) we have in the inspeximus and confirmation of the charters of the priory by Edward II information concerning the earlier endowments of the priory. The canons owned all the land of Worspring that belonged to William de Courteney and Robert de Newton. Half of the manor of Worle was granted them by Henry Engayne, and the homage and dues of his tenants at Worle, Worspring, Kewstoke, Milton, Ebdon and Locking.
In 1331 (fn. 12) Henry Cary, vicar of Locking, obtained a licence to alienate to the priory his lands in Sandford Marsh.
In 1410 (fn. 13) licence was granted to Robert Pobelowe and John Venables to alienate 174 acres in Worle, Winscombe, Rolstone and Poke Rolstone to the priory. In the Valor of 1535 (fn. 14) the value of the property was assessed at £98.
Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury visited Worspring in August 1333, (fn. 15) but nothing is recorded as the result of his visitation. The house seems to have been uniformly well-kept. The only trouble it seems to have got into was in 1419, (fn. 16) when the prior and canons were summoned for placing obstructions on a public path or causeway called Worall. Richard Spryng, prior from 1491 to 1525, concerning whom a papal letter enlarging and describing his powers is preserved in Bishop Fox's Register, (fn. 17) was appointed on 11 July 1505 vicar of Berrow, and licence was given to him to hold Berrow and Worle with the priorship of Worspring.
On 21 August 1534 (fn. 18) the prior and seven canons signed the acknowledgement of the king's supremacy.
It would appear from a letter (fn. 19) written by Richard Byschoppe, the sub-prior of Bruton, to Lady Lisle, that there was some rumour that Prior Tormynton would not sign the Act of Supremacy, and would therefore be expelled from Worspring.
A letter from Humphry Stafford about February 1536 shows that the house was regarded as desirable for a private residence (fn. 20) :—
So if it pleasith it yor mrship . . . my naturall ffather willed me to write to yor mrship and to none othere for to be good mr unto me for a house of chanons yn somersett their called worspryng where my seyd ffather is ffounder therof and as I do subpose of like value or thereaboutes. And if it wold please yor mrship to be as god mr unto me as to helpe me to worspryng Priorie I were and wylbe wylst I leve yr bedman and alweys redy to yor mrship suche poore service and pleasure as shalbe come me to doo whillest I do leve god wylling who ever have yor mrship yn his provysshion ffrom Bletherwere this present palme Sonday.
Priors of Worspring
Reginald, died 1243 (fn. 21)
Richard, elected 1243 (fn. 22)
John, occurs 1266, 1276 (fn. 23)
Reginald, occurs 1317 (fn. 24)
Henry, occurs 1325 (fn. 25)
Thomas, occurs 1383, (fn. 26) died 1414
Peter Lobiare or Loviare, elected 1414 (fn. 27)
William Lusshe or Lustre, died 1458 (fn. 28)
John Gurman, elected 1458 (fn. 29)
The early 13th-century seal of the Austin and Victorine canons of Worspring (fn. 34) is a vesica, about 17/8 in. by 11/8 in., having a conventional representation of the house. Below is the martyrdom of St. Thomas of Canterbury, one of the patron saints, before an altar on which stands a chalice. Of the broken legend there remains:—