Records : The fifteenth century

Pages 148-152

Register and Records of Holm Cultram. Originally published by T Wilson & Son, Kendal, 1929.

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X. The Fifteenth Century.

During the fifteenth century the history of the abbey has been very insufficiently recorded. We collect such entries as are known:—

1411, 16 Kal. Sept. (Aug. 17). A petition of the abbey contends that the island [Holm], on the confines of England, being before the foundation of the monastery extra-parochial, the abbot and monks caused secular priests to administer the sacraments to their servants and others at their granges, etc. and buried them at the monastery. Afterwards, the late John [de Halton], bishop of Carlisle, licensed a church or chapel beyond the Wavyr [i.e. Newton Arlosh] with parochial rights and a secular priest to be presented by the abbey and admitted by the bishop, and to be removed on reasonable cause. On account of the said river, the tides of the sea and fresh-water floods in winter, and also on account of the Scottish raiders, communications [between the abbev and Newton Arlosh] have been difficult to keep up. The Pope therefore grants a faculty, without requiring the bishop's licence, to appoint monks or secular priests to celebrate and administer sacraments to the people of this district.

This appears to be the circumstance meant by the tradition of abbot Gregory, mentioned above, and perhaps may indicate one of the events of his tenure. Then follows a gap into which another abbot has been thought to fit, namely—

Robert Pym, of whom nothing is known but that in the British Museum is the cast of a signet bearing the legend—ROB'TI PYM ABB'TIS DE HOLME.

1424, Feb. 14. Inspeximus and confirmation of Letters patent dated May 21, 5 Ric. II, confirming those dated Nov. 11, 10 Ric. I.

1424, iv Kal. Oct. See p. 89.

1428, Id. Mar. From the Lateran the Pope grants indulgences to penitents visiting the abbey church and giving alms for its repair.

1433, Oct. 14. Inspeximus by assent of the Lords in parliament at Westminster of a charter to Holm Cultram dated April 19, 2 Hen. III, granting that the abbot and convent shall not be impleaded for any tenement held in demesne, except before the king or his chief justice, or on the king's writ.

William Rydekar (or Reddekar) was the next abbot known, dating about 1434. His tombstone, found in 1867, is ornamented with a pastoral crook between shields which bear the abbey arms, a cross moline and a lion rampant; the inscription in black letter is— + hic iacet Will'ms Ry[de]kar abbas [xxi?] de Holme Coltran cuius aie propicietur Deus, amen +; suggesting that he was 21st abbot, though 17th on the known list.

He is mentioned by Fuller, Worthies of England, ed. Nichols, i, 240.

Thomas York, c. 1450—c. 1470, was in 1458 one of the commissioners for preserving the truce with the Scots (Arch. Aeliana, o.s. ii, 399). The smaller of the two ancient bells bears in black letter— + ihs: Thomas : York : abbas : de : Holm : cū : dominio : anno dni : millo : ccc° : lxv° : +. At Kingside Hill is a stone with his initials on a shield supported by monks. A grant by him to Seaton nunnery (Register no. 86c) gives the date Oct. 18, 1450.

In 1472 (according to the Liber S. Marie de Melrose, i, 596–9, quoted in V.C.H. Cumbd., ii, 165) there was a vacancy at Holm Cultram, and abbot Richard of Melrose visited the house to preside at the election of a new abbot. Who the abbot elected was we do not know, but Richard of Melrose as superior caused a code of injunctions to be read in the chapter-house on November 30, 1472. In this he ordered the monks to celebrate the daily and nightly offices of the Blessed Virgin and the canonical hours; to receive the Eucharist, if priests, four times a week and if in lower orders twice at least in the fortnight; to study the Scriptures as the surest refuge in all troubles; to allow no monk out of bounds alone; to permit no women within the precincts; to provide a schoolmaster for the younger brethren; to rebuild the infirmary and to supply the inner doors of the monastery with locks to keep out unwelcome visitors; and finally, as monks must not be mixed up with secular affairs, to forbid any of them, and especially brother John Ribtoun, to be bailiff or forester or otherwise engage in worldly business.

In connexion with the educational equipment of the abbey, Canon James Wilson (loc. cit.) noticed that Holm Cultram abbey and Carlisle priory had been required to send historical information to Edward I in his dispute with Scotland (1301); and that two books belonging to the abbey are in the British Museum. One is a Bestiary (Cotton MSS. Nero A. v, 1–3) and the other a twelfth century account of the miracles of St. John of Beverley (Faustina B. iv, 8, printed by Raine, Historians of the Church of York [Rolls Ser.] i, 261).

In 1480 the accounts of the diocesan register of Carlisle (quoted in V.C.H. Cumb. ii, 173) appear to show that there was a fresh election to the abbacy, by the entry, "Paid to four clerks of Carlisle living at Rose, for the blessing of the abbot of Holme, 2s." But we have no further notice of the history of the abbey until we come to its best-known head—

Robert Chamber (?)1489–1519(?). We venture on the tentative date of his accession on the strength of the memorandum in the parish chest at Holm Cultram, which says that he reigned 30 years and died 72 years before the date, 1591, of the writing. We have stronger evidence that he was abbot in 1507 from the date on the porch he added to the west front of the church, still to be read, "Robertus Chamber fecit fieri hoc opus A° Dni M.D. VII."

According to the Visitation of Cumberland in 1615 by St. George, Norroy King at arms, he was one of four brothers of the family of Wolsty Castle, of whom Thomas became abbot of Furness in 1491, and Lancelot, the youngest, abbot of Peterborough; but in the Chambers MSS. at Holm Cultram he is represented as second of three sons of Chamber of Raby Cote, of whom the eldest (who died in 1523) and youngest remained as residents in the Holm, and the three daughters married local men. The name of Chamber (de Camera) is not uncommon, nor need all of the name be of one family.

On March 12, 1512, abbot Robert was one of the commissioners to enquire into the estate of the late George Kirkbride (L. & P. Hen. VIII, i, 3075). He endowed yearly masses at the altar of the Holy Saviour for the souls of Kings Henry II [as founder], Henry VIII, and himself. He built much at the abbey and its dependencies. Besides his porch there is the base of a statue of the Virgin on which is seen the chained bear, his rebus for 'Chamber,' and the inscription was noted by Bishop Nicolson, 'Lady Deyr save Robert Chamber.' Many fragments in the parish show his initials or rebus. In 1702 Bishop Nicolson saw his tombstone (the 'blue stone' or 'lang stane' of later notices) with 'Orate pro anima Roberti Chamber abbatis'; part of this tomb still exists, with the figure of a mitred abbot, wearing the alb and chasuble, and on his breast the rationale or breastplate usually worn by bishops celebrating mass. A great block of red sandstone bears a monk's head at each end, and the inscription "Cha[m]b[er] c[on]struxit op[us] h[oc] plu[m]boq[ue] texit," perhaps alluding to the porch, of which the leaden roof was no doubt destroyed when in 1730 a second storey was added. Of personal details about so stirring a man we are strangely ignorant; but we often meet with his kinsmen again in the history of the Holm, in which they played a conspicuous part. For that reason we subjoin a sketch pedigree compiled from local sources and neglecting the Visitation account as well as persons of less note. For wills and parish registers relating to the family seeC. & W. Transactions, N.S. i, 221–232.

[Pedigree of Chamber]