A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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10. THE PRIORY OF HASTINGS (fn. 1)
The Austin priory of the Holy Trinity of Hastings was founded, according to Leland, (fn. 2) by Sir Walter Bricet in the time of Richard I; the authority for this statement does not appear, and while the date seems fairly correct, Walter de Scotney seems more likely to have been the founder. Whether he was the founder or not Walter de Scotney certainly gave the canons the churches of Crowhurst and Ticehurst, his gift being ratified by Henry count of Eu, and subsequently confirmed by Walter's son Peter deScotney, who stipulated that the priests for these churches should be chosen, and if necessary deprived, by the lord of Crowhurst and the canons acting in common. (fn. 3) Peter also confirmed to them certain lands and the tithe of all his salt. (fn. 4) These two churches were confirmed to the priory by Bishop Seffrid II (1180-1204), and again, with the addition of those of Dallington, Ashburnham, and St. Michael of Hastings, by Ralph Neville in 1237 (fn. 5); but Crowhurst not long afterwards came into the hands of the canons of the collegiate church of St. Mary in the Castle of Hastings, the priory retaining only a pension of 4 marks. The temporal endowments of the house were small, amounting only to £8 13s. 4d. in 1291. (fn. 6) Licence was obtained in 1334 to acquire lands to the value of 100s., (fn. 7) but the encroaching sea devoured their profits more rapidly than benefactors replaced them, and in a petition for leave to acquire lands to the amount of £15 about this period—possibly preceding the licence given—the prior states that owing to the inundations three churches in Hastings, formerly worth £100, are now not worth 20s. (fn. 8) The three churches were no doubt St. Michael, St. Peter, and St. Margaret, (fn. 9) but their original value appears to be much exaggerated. The sea continued to encroach until at last the priory itself was in danger of being swept away, and Sir John Pelham in 1413 gave them a site at Warbleton to which Henry IV licensed them to remove; (fn. 10) the king further gave them a grant for twenty years of the manor of Monkencourt in Withyham, late belonging to the alien priory of Mortain. (fn. 11) After their settlement at Warbleton the canons were called by the title of 'the New Priory of Hastings.'
In 1229 Gilbert of Laigle, lord of Pevensey, wishing to found a house of religion, bestowed lands at Michelham and elsewhere upon the prior of Hastings to that intent; (fn. 12) the resulting priory of Michelham does not, however, seem to have been in any sense a cell of that of Hastings.
Archbishop Peckham visited the priory in 1283, when the canons, disregarding their oaths, kept back matters of importance, probably through fear of the prior; but afterwards two of them confessed, or rather denounced, serious irregularities. The prior was not legitimate and was a man of little learning; he did not sleep with the others, came rarely to chapter, and did not take his place with his brethren in the church. He kept all the property of the house in his own hands, took the side of his servants against the canons, and oppressed the men of the neighbourhood. Further, he had made sub-prior one John de Wepham, who stirred up strife in the house and even drove two of his brethren out of it, and was, moreover, known to have property and business dealings on his own account. (fn. 13) Also the prior wandered about the country with a single attendant and ruled neither himself nor his brethren rightly. (fn. 14) The archdeacon of Lewes was ordered to inquire into the case, but the result is not known. In 1300 the prior, John, possibly the same whose conduct has just been considered, was accused of dilapidation and other offences and, evidently fearing deprivation, resigned at once without awaiting an inquiry. His rule had so exasperated all the canons that the archbishop feared his continuing to dwell in the priory would lead to much unseemly strife; he, therefore, desired that the prior might be sent back as a simple canon to the priory of Michelham, from which he had been taken originally. (fn. 15)
In 1352 certain poor tenants of Ticehurst brought an action against the prior of Hastings for withdrawing an annual payment of 40s. made in alms. He claimed that the alms had only been given of goodwill in time past and were not obligatory, as the priory held of the gift of Walter de Scotney in frankalmoign; against this the crown lawyers asserted that longcontinued custom was binding, but the final decision is not given. (fn. 16)
When prior John Hassok resigned in 1402 Richard Weston, canon of Michelham, was elected in his place, (fn. 17) and himself resigned in 1413, retiring to his former house, where he was granted food, attendance and other necessaries for the remainder of his life. (fn. 18) There were at this time only three canons besides the prior, (fn. 19) but in October, 1441, there were five. At this time the house was in debt to the extent of 20 marks, and the prior was ordered to keep the annual expenses below £40; (fn. 20) the result was satisfactory, as by the following January the debts were reduced to 10 marks, with good prospect of their soon being completely cancelled. (fn. 21) At the visitation in January, 1442, only three canons beside the prior are mentioned; probably two others were acting as incumbents of Ashburnham and Dallington, as was the case in 1478. At this latter date there were considerable defects in the fabric of the church, and it was noted that one of the canons, Thomas Grene, vicar of Dallington, had possession of two cups, which he said were security for 40s. lent by him to the prior. (fn. 22) The visitation in 1521 showed nothing wrong except that the prior did not render account, (fn. 23) and that of 1527 returned 'all well.' (fn. 24) The whole tour of visitation of 1527, however, which was held not by the bishop but by his commissary, shows marks of having been performed with less than the usual amount of care, and it seems possible that some offences may have escaped notice, as the certificate of the county commissioners in 1536, which bears every evidence of being reliable, enters under the New Priory of Hastings, 'Religious parsons iiij, whereof preests iij, Novises j; incont[inent] iiij.' This certificate further mentions that the house was 'holy in ruyne.' (fn. 25) The clear value of the house was only £51 9s. 5½d. in 1535, and had decreased the following year by £4 owing to incursions of the sea. (fn. 26) The movables fetched only £88 5s. 10¾d., including £33 6s. 8d. for the bells, £24 4s. 10¾d. for 128 oz. of silver. (fn. 27) Thomas Harmer, the last prior, surrendered on a pension of £6. (fn. 28)
Priors of Hastings
Jonas (fn. 29)
Nicholas, c. 1233 (fn. 30)
John, resigned 1300 (fn. 33)
John Longe (fn. 34)
Philip, before 1344 (fn. 35)
William de Dene, occurs 1352 (fn. 36)
John Hassok, resigned 1402 (fn. 37)
Stephen Lewes, occurs 1441 (fn. 40)
Thomas Harmer, occurs 1527, (fn. 42) last prior
The circular twelfth-century seal shows the priory church, with cruciform ground-plan, central tower, thatched roof, and round-headed windows. (fn. 43)