Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Wallingford

Pages 77-79

A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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The foundation of the Benedictine priory of the Holy Trinity, Wallingford, is assigned by some to Robert D'Oyley, a Norman chief who came over with the Conqueror, and was the holder of Wallingford Castle. (fn. 1)

In the days of Paul, fourteenth abbot of St. Albans, who ruled from 1077 to 1093, the manor of Hendred, Berks., was conferred on the abbey, which the abbot's successor transferred to the monks of Wallingford. (fn. 2) During Paul's rule, the church of the Holy Trinity, Wallingford, the moiety of the church of St. Mary, Wallingford, together with half a hide of land outside the town, were given to the abbey of St. Albans. Walsingham states that it was Abbot Paul who sent a few of his monks to the church of the Holy Trinity, and, constructing buildings for them, established it as a cell of the great abbey. (fn. 3) This statement is so explicit that Paul may be regarded in one sense as the real founder, though the gifts to the abbey must have been made by Robert D'Oyley, as lord of Wallingford. (fn. 4)

Its history was bound up with that of the abbey of St. Albans up to its dissolution. Wallingford Priory had but little independent life, as the priors were appointed by the abbots and could be recalled if the stress of circumstances demanded it.

Jocelin, bishop of Salisbury, in 1160 confirmed to his beloved and religious sons the monks of St. Albans, serving God in the church of the Holy Trinity at Wallingford, all their Berkshire possessions to wit the churches of Holy Trinity, St. John, St. Martin, and St. Mary in Wallingford, the church of Hendred, two parts of the tithes of Moulsford, and the whole tithes of the demesnes of 'Cherseville,' Donnington, Earley, Moreton, and Sotwell. (fn. 5)

In the days of Prior Thomas, circa 1275, the claims of the priory to the church of Chinnor, Oxfordshire, were successfully maintained. (fn. 6)

In March, 1319, the muniments of the priory were inspected by visitation commissioners of the archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the appropriation of the church of Ashton, a pension of 100s. from the church of Garsington, 7s. from the church of Chinnor, a portion of the tithe of Mongewell estimated at a mark, and 10s. from Tonfield. (fn. 7) In the following year the archbishop confirmed to the priory the appropriation of the churches of 'Sholeyndon' and Aston Rowant with the chapel of Stokenchurch, together with the pensions mentioned above. (fn. 8)

The vicarage of Shephall was granted to the abbey of St. Albans in 1474, a pension of 13s. 4d. being reserved to this priory; but in 1480, when Anthony Zouche was presented to the priory for life, the presentation to this vicarage was transferred to the priory. (fn. 9)

Among the Bodleian muniments is a certificate from John de Wyly, rector of Semley, a commissary of the bishop of Salisbury, that he has audited the account of Richard Knight, sacrist of Wallingford Priory, who served the church of the Holy Trinity during a vacancy that extended from Michaelmas 1349 to All Saints 1355, and finds that a sum of 25s. 6¾d. is due to him. (fn. 10) This proves that part of the church of the Holy Trinity was considered parochial.

The oldest charter extant of this priory is one at the Bodleian, temp. Henry I (1100-35), whereby that king grants to the monks of Holy Trinity, Wallingford, the tithes of Moulsford and of the land of Henry the larderer, with small benefits as they had in the days of King William his brother, and as on the day when Geoffrey the chamberlain was seised of that land. (fn. 11)

Master Christian de Wallingford granted certain lands in 1180, in consideration of the monks providing him and his servant with a daily corrody; moreover, after his death the priory was to have all his books of the Divine Scriptures for ever. (fn. 12)

An undated thirteenth-century charter of William Gurmond of Wallingford grants to the sacristan of the priory 31s. 2d. annual quit-rents in the villages of Wallingford and Clapcot, for providing lamps and candles to burn in honour of the Blessed Virgin; Hubert de Hethfield, in 1270, granted 5s. 6d. of annual rents for the sustentation of one wax candle of two pounds to burn before the image of the Virgin in the priory church. (fn. 13)

An early undated grant of William de Druval shows the care bestowed by the monks on the sick outside their own order. William, with the consent of his sons, gave a hide of land in Goring to the monks of Wallingford for their care of him when he was ill. (fn. 14)

Licence was obtained, by a fine of 100s., in January, 1332, for the alienation in mortmain by Richard de Louches to the priory of Wallingford of 13½ acres of land and an acre of meadow in Wallingford, to find a chaplain to celebrate daily in the priory for the soul of Richard and others. (fn. 15)

At the time when Nicholas de Wallingford was prior of Wallingford—he was made abbot of Malmesbury in 1182—a letter of complaint was addressed to the abbot and convent by Peter de Blois, archdeacon of Bath, as to the rough treatment and lack of hospitality shown by the prior of Wallingford. Peter, on returning from the visitation of his archdeaconry, sent on his servant to prepare for his entertainment at the priory for one night, and to ask the prior to assign him vacant rooms and all that was needful for himself and his men and horses; but
the prior replied to them with much pride and abusive language, and breaking out into insult, almost to the extent of blows, provoked them by the disgraceful baseness of his words. (fn. 16)

A declaration was made on the vigil of the Conversion of St. Paul, 1246, by the archdeacon of Berks, that, a synod having been held in the priory church of Wallingford during the vacancy of the see of Salisbury, no claim was hereafter to be made nor the liberties or privileges of the priory be in consequence thereof disturbed. (fn. 17)

The most eminent of the early priors of Wallingford was John de Wallingford, sometimes termed John de Cella from having been superior of this important cell of the great abbey. Though of humble origin he had studied in Paris, and came home
with such a reputation that in grammar he was considered a very Priscian, in poetry a perfect Ovid, and in physics esteemed equal to Galen.

After taking the Benedictine vows he was sent to Wallingford and became prior in 1191. Four years later he was elected abbot of St. Albans, where he presided with sanctity and success until his death in 1214. (fn. 18)

Owing to the disturbance made by the prior of Wymondham, one of the several important cells of St. Albans, Hugh the twenty-seventh abbot, in 1319, ordered that the priors and brethren of all the cells were to make oath of obedience to the abbot. The prior of Wallingford was present in chapter when this decree was ordained. (fn. 19)

In January, 1333, justices were appointed, on the complaint of the prior of Wallingford, to inquire into the charge made against Sir Roger Ruwand and many others, of breaking into the prior's close at Chalford, county Oxford, burning his house there, taking away five horses, twenty-three oxen, two cows, and fifty swine worth £50, carrying away his goods, and impounding his plough cattle without reasonable cause until he made a fine of 100s. with the said Roger for their delivery, and further for assaulting and imprisoning his servants. (fn. 20)

In 1396, when there was an election of an abbot of St. Albans, William Bynham, prior of Wallingford, was excused attendance on account of infirmity. (fn. 21) Whilst John V was abbot (13961401) a contribution of twenty marks was forwarded by this priory to St. Albans on one occasion, and 40s. on another. (fn. 22) On the election of William Heyworth as abbot, in 1401, Richard Hely was present as prior of Wallingford; but the new abbot speedily recalled him from his priory and made him sacrist of the abbey, appointing Robert Botheby in his place. This change caused some excitement in the monastery. (fn. 23)

Ordinances of the abbey temp. Richard II decided that the prior of Wallingford was to pay a pension of 31s. 9d. towards the support of the scholars at Oxford. (fn. 24) In an inventory of the jewels and church goods of the church of St. Albans, drawn up in the reign of Henry IV, the list of lapides pretiosi is headed by a sapphire stone of an intense yellow colour, weighing six pennyweights, the gift of Thomas a former (thirteenth-century) prior of Wallingford; it had been mounted on a ring. (fn. 25)

Cardinal Wolsey, commendatory abbot of St. Albans, obtained a papal bull in 1524 for the dissolution of Wallingford and other small monasteries, to obtain funds for founding his college at Oxford. Accordingly the surrender of the priory was made by Prior Geoffrey, on 19 April, 1525, to John Allen, notary public, Thomas Cromwell being one of the witnesses. (fn. 26) But its actual dissolution was delayed for some time, whilst the college was building.

Thomas Cannar, the sub-dean of Wolsey's college, wrote in January, 1528, to Cromwell, saying that he had heard the cardinal intended, on the authority of the pope, to suppress the monastery of Wallingford. In that event, he begged Cromwell to let the people of Basingstoke, where he was brought up, have the bells. With the letter the sub-dean sent Cromwell a pair of Oxford gloves 'as a token.' (fn. 27)

In the following April, Cromwell wrote to Wolsey to the effect that he had visited the monastery of Wallingford, and found all the church and household implements had been conveyed away, save the evidences which he had forwarded to the dean of Cardinal College. (fn. 28)

It was not until 6 July, 1528, that the grant of the lands, site, &c. of the priory of Wallingford, suppressed on papal authority, was formally transferred by the crown to Wolsey for his Oxford college; and on 10 July Dean Higden appointed Nicholas Gifford and Hugh Whalley to take seisin of the monastery and its lands. (fn. 29)

Priors of Wallingford

Hubert, occurs 1112 (fn. 30)

Nicholas, resigned 1182 (fn. 31)

John de Wallingford, 1191-95 (fn. 32)

Simon, appointed 1195 (fn. 33)

Rualend (thirteenth century) (fn. 34)

Geoffrey, occurs c. 1250 (fn. 35)

Ralph de Watlington, occurs 1254-74 (fn. 36)

Thomas, circa 1275 (fn. 37)

Gregory, temp. Edw. I (fn. 38)

William de Kirkeby (fn. 39)

Germanus (fn. 40)

Stephen de Wittenham, occurs 1314 (fn. 41)

William de Huntingdon (fn. 42)

William de Huron, occurs 1335 and 1357 (fn. 43)

William de Stevington, occurs 1359 and 1367 (fn. 44)

William de Bynham, occurs 1379 (fn. 45)

Richard Hely, occurs 1401 (fn. 46)

Robert Botheby, appointed 1401 (fn. 47)

John Stoke, 1402, resigned 1440 (fn. 48)

Robert Ormsby, circa 1442 (fn. 49)

Henry Halstede, appointed 1444 (fn. 50)

John Peyton, LL.D., occurs 1452 (fn. 51)

William Wells alias Wallis, occurs 1453 (fn. 52)

John de Banbough, occurs 1458 (fn. 53)

Thomas Wilton, occurs 1465 (fn. 54)

William Hardwick, D.D., 1465-72 (fn. 55)

William Risborough, appointed 1473 (fn. 56)

Anthony Zouch, occurs 1480, 1485 (fn. 57)

John Thornton, occurs between 1497 and 1503 (fn. 58)

John Clare, occurs 1515 (fn. 59)

Geoffrey, surrendered 1525 (fn. 60)

The original eleventh-century common seal (fn. 61) of this priory, of which only an imperfect impression remains, shows Our Lord with cruciform nimbus, in drapery of an archaic style, seated on a rainbow; right hand raised in benediction, and open book in the left hand. The remaining letters of the legend are:—

SIG . . . . . . . E TRINITAT . . . . . . EFORD.


  • 1. Clutterbuck, Herts. i, 38; Newcombe, St. Albans, 495.
  • 2. Walsingham, Gesta (Rolls Ser.), i, 55.
  • 3. Ibid. 56.
  • 4. Geoffrey the chamberlain (? chamberlain of Wallingford) is said by Matthew Paris to have been the donor of the church of the Holy Trinity to the abbey. If so it would be with the assent of D'Oyley as lord.
  • 5. Bodleian Chart. 3.
  • 6. Ibid. 456.
  • 7. Coxe and Turner, Cal. Chart. 17–18.
  • 8. Ibid. 14.
  • 9. Wallingford, Register (Rolls Ser.), ii, 121, 235–7.
  • 10. Coxe and Turner, Cal. Chart. 19.
  • 11. Coxe and Turner, Cal. Chart. pp. 4–23. At the Bodleian Library there is a great store of documents relative to the possessions of the monks of Wallingford, numbering 162. These are undoubtedly the evidences forwarded on 2 April 1538 by Cromwell to Oxford, as mentioned below.
  • 12. Coxe and Turner, Cal. Chart. 15.
  • 13. Ibid. 15–17.
  • 14. Ibid. 11.
  • 15. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 2.
  • 16. Hedges, Wallingford, ii, 359.
  • 17. Ibid. 16.
  • 18. Walsingham, Gesta (Rolls Ser.), i, 217–20.
  • 19. Ibid. ii, 148.
  • 20. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 1d.
  • 21. Walsingham, Gesta (Riley), iii, 426.
  • 22. Ibid. iii, 456, 468.
  • 23. Ibid. iii, 493–4.
  • 24. Cott. MSS. Claude. E. iv, fol. 34b.
  • 25. Ibid. fol. 351.
  • 26. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv, pt. i, 1137 (19).
  • 27. Ibid. 3806.
  • 28. Ibid. 4135.
  • 29. Ibid. 4471, 4496.
  • 30. Chron. de Abingdon (Rolls Ser.), ii, 104.
  • 31. Cole MSS. xxvi, fol. 172b.
  • 32. Walsingham, Gesta (Rolls Ser.), ii, 127.
  • 33. Willis and Hedges, Hist. of Wallingford, ii, 361. Hedges gives a descriptive list of priors based on Willis, Newcombe's St. Albans, and Clutterbuck's Herts. The list given above contains several new names and corrections.
  • 34. Coxe and Turner, Cal. Bodl. Chart. 11.
  • 35. Ibid. 16.
  • 36. Ibid. 4, 14, &c.
  • 37. Walsingham, Gesta (Riley), i, 456.
  • 38. Cal. Chart. 11, 12, 19, 21.
  • 39. Dugdale, Mon. ii, 196.
  • 40. Willis, Mitred Abbeys, ii, 7.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. Ibid.
  • 43. Ibid.; Coxe and Turner, Cal. Chart. 7, 8, 18.
  • 44. Willis, op. cit.
  • 45. Cal. Chart. 4.
  • 46. Walsingham, Gesta (Rolls Ser.), iii, 480.
  • 47. Ibid. iii, 493.
  • 48. Abbot of St. Albans.
  • 49. Amundesham, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 370.
  • 50. Pat. 23 Hen. VI. pt. ii, m. 7.
  • 51. Whethamstede, Reg. (Rolls Ser.), i, 11, 15.
  • 52. Kennett, Par. Antiq. ii, 392.
  • 53. Cal. Chart. 12.
  • 54. Ibid. i.
  • 55. Albon, Reg. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 108.
  • 56. Ibid. 123–4.
  • 57. Wallingforde, Reg. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 235, 237.
  • 58. Willis, op. cit. ii, 7; Cal. Chart. 22.
  • 59. Cal. Chart. 23.
  • 60. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vi, pt. i, 1137 (19).
  • 61. B.M. li, 10.