Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Gresley

Pages 56-58

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


William de Gresley, son of Nigel de Stafford, founded in the time of Henry I a small priory of Austin Canons, near his castle of Gresley, in honour of St. George. There is no chartulary known to be extant of this priory, but in the Chetham Library, Manchester, there is a family chartulary of the Gresleys from which certain particulars relative to this religious house can be gleaned. (fn. 1)

A deed of remission from the priory, circa 1200, to Sir Geoffrey Gresley, the great-grandson of the founder, supplies the name of Walter as the then prior. In a somewhat later but undated deed Reginald is named as prior, whilst Richard the prior is witness to a deed, circa 1240. Richard, prior of Gresley, had granted to him and his successors in 1245, by William de Gresley, the advowson of the church of Lullington, the donor and his heirs being received into all the benefits and prayers which should henceforth take place in the conventual church of Gresley, for ever. (fn. 2)

Henry occurs in 1252 as prior of Gresley in a life-grant from him to William de Gyville and Alice his wife of 2 virgates and 10 acres of land and 2 acres of meadow at Castle Gresley, at the yearly rent of 1½d. (fn. 3)

Richard II was prior in 1268, when Sir Geoffrey de Gresley, son of William, son of the Sir Geoffrey, c. 1200, confirmed all the charters of his ancestors, including the grant of the mill of Castle Gresley to the priory. On the death of Prior Richard in 1281, the canons sent two of their brethren to obtain their patron's licence to elect, and on one of these two messengers, William de Seyle, their choice subsequently fell.

Sir Geoffrey de Gresley in 1281 had confirmed the grant of the advowson of Lullington to the priory, (fn. 4) and licence was granted upon fine, in February, 1310, for the appropriation in mortmain by the prior and convent of Gresley, of the church of Lullington, which was of their own gift. (fn. 5)

But it was not until nearly twenty years after the civil licence for the appropriation of Lullington church, namely in 1339, that the episcopal sanction of Bishop Northburgh was obtained. The bishop, in granting the repeated request of the convent, cites the reasons given by the canons in their petition. They stated that although bound by their rule to perform divine service continually both by night and day, and though they are compelled to exercise hospitality and to discharge other burdens incumbent on them, yet from the fewness of the brethren, who only number four together with the prior, and from the well-known mean estate of the house, no less than the barrenness of its lands and the insupportability of divers oppressions which daily gain strength as the malice of the world increases, they are unable to bear in a fitting manner the Lord's yoke, or to augment the number of the brethren, being hindered by these obstacles and scarcely able to support themselves. In consideration of these statements the bishop consented, with the express approval of his chapters of Coventry and Lichfield, to sanction the appropriation of Lullington on the death or resignation of the rector, due provision being made for a vicar, in order that the 'woeful disgrace of the dispersion' of the canons might be avoided and that two more might be added to their number. Although the bishop expressed himself in language of great devotion and piety, he was careful to see, as was invariably the case in such appropriations, that the religious paid for the privilege. In this case Prior Roger undertook to pay a pension of 2 marks a year to the vicars of the cathedral church of Lichfield, and pledged himself and his successors that every future prior of Gresley should, within six days of his election, repair to Lichfield, and there in the chapter-house, before the assembled chapter, take an oath on the Gospels as to the faithful payment of the pension. (fn. 6)

In the year 1291 Geoffrey de Gresley, son and heir of Sir Peter, son of the last-named Sir Geoffrey, assigned to the priory, of which William de Seyle was then superior, 'Shertewode, in the territory of Castle-Greseleye,' and the next year Sir Geoffrey made arrangements with the priory whereby one canon was found to sing mass for the soul of his wife Anneys.

The Taxation Roll of 1291 values the temporalities of this priory at merely £3 19s. 7½d. a year. The churches of Gresley and Lullington were each valued at £5 6s. 8d.

On 12 June, 1327, the priory obtained licence at the request of John de Bentley, king's yeoman, to acquire in mortmain lands and rents to the yearly value of £10. (fn. 7)

In 1363 Sir John de Gresley, son of the third Sir Geoffrey, gave certain property at Heathcote, Church Gresley, Castle Gresley, and Lullington, to the value of £10 per annum to the prior and convent of St. George. (fn. 8) The patent sets forth that the various messuages, lands, and meadows were to fall to the priory on the death of the then tenants.

The Valor of 1535 gives the annual value of the temporalities at £26 15s. 4d. and of the spiritualities (the rectories of Gresley and Lullington) at £12 18s. 4d., making a total of £39 13s. 8d. Various deductions, which included 18s. 4d. in alms to the poor, left the clear annual value at £31 6s.

Bishop Langton visited the priory in June, 1316, and subsequently ordered that licences and pensions were not to be granted from the house without episcopal licence, and that no women were (fn. 9) to be allowed within the monastery bounds.

In February, 1493-4, the sub-prior of Gresley wrote to the bishop to acquaint him with the death of Prior John Smyth, and prayed him to present a prior, as they were unable to elect one themselves through insufficiency of numbers. Whereupon Bishop Smith appointed Robert Mogge, the sub-prior, as superior. (fn. 10)

This monastery fell with the smaller houses in 1536. A pension of £6 was allowed to John Okeley, the prior, and of £5 16s. 8d. to each of the two other canons who were then serving the churches of Lullington and Gresley as vicars, and who resigned their benefices. (fn. 11) It may here be remarked that there was no regularly ordained vicarage of Gresley, and that no pre-Reformation institutions to it appear in the diocesan registers; the parish part of the church was, as a matter of course, served by the prior or one of the canons. As to Lullington, Henry de Bentley, canon of Gresley, was the first vicar. He was instituted in 1341. All the succeeding vicars were canons of Gresley, inclusive of John Cowopp, who was instituted in 1529, and who resigned in 1536 on the suppression of the monastery. (fn. 12) Lullington was only a short distance from Gresley, and these vicars probably resided at the priory.

The site of the priory was assigned to 'Henry Churche of the Householde' immediately on its downfall, (fn. 13) and afterwards repeatedly changed hands.

Priors Of Gresley

Walter, c. 1200 (fn. 14)

Reginald, c. 1220 (fn. 15)

Richard I, c. 1240 (fn. 16)

Henry, occurs 1252 (fn. 17)

Richard II, occurs 1268, (fn. 18) died 1281 (fn. 19)

William de Seyle, appointed 1291 (fn. 19)

Roger, occurs 1339, (fn. 20) died 1349 (fn. 21)

John Walrant, appointed 1349 (fn. 21)

John Hethcote, died 1400 (fn. 22)

John Tutbury, appointed 1400 (fn. 23)

Simon Balsham, occurs 1420 (fn. 24)

William of St. Yvo, died 1438 (fn. 25)

Richard Coventry, appointed 1438 (fn. 25)

Thomas, occurs 1450 (fn. 26)

John Smyth, appointed 1476, (fn. 27) died 1493 (fn. 28)

Robert Mogge, appointed 1493 (fn. 28)

John Okeley, surrendered 1536 (fn. 29)

Mr. Pegge, writing on the history of St. George, says:—

The seals of Gresley Priory are extant in drawings in a MS. chartulary of the library at Manchester, one with the equestrian figure of St. George alone inscribed, + Sigillum Prioratus Sti. Georgii de Greseley; and another with the same type and the dragon underneath, whereof the legend is, Sigillum Conventus Sci. Georgii de Greseley A:: The first of these seals belongs plainly, as appears from the instrument to which it hangs, to the reign of Henry II or Richard I, and the latter to the year 1420. It appears to me from a deed, sans date, and from another of 19 Edward I, in the same chartulary, that the family of Gresley made use of the same design on their seals. (fn. 30)

There is also a seal attached to a return made by the prior of Gresley in 1420, as collector of the clerical subsidy in the archdeaconry of Derby; (fn. 31) it is a small oval of dark green wax, unbroken, but a poor impression, showing two half-length figures under a canopy, the dexter figure is full face and its right hand grasps the left hand of the sinister figure which is in profile; of the legend only the last three letters—s L E, are legible; this was probably the private seal of the prior of that date.


  • 1. There are a certain number of extracts and abstracts of this chartulary given in the Reliquary, vi, 29-37, 79-86, 139-147.
  • 2. Feet of F. 29 Hen. III, 29 June-6 July.
  • 3. Ibid. 36 Hen. III, 31 Mar.-15 Apr.
  • 4. Ibid. 9 Edw. I, 13-28 Jan.
  • 5. Pat. 3 Edw. II, m. 19.
  • 6. Lich. Epis. Reg. Northburgh, vol. 2, fol. 59, 80, 87b.
  • 7. Pat. 1 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 12.
  • 8. Inq. p.m. 27 Edw. III, No. 39; Pat. 37 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 19.
  • 9. Lich. Epis. Reg. Langton, fol. 53b.
  • 10. Ibid. Hales, fol. 152b.
  • 11. The pension to the prior was first fixed at £5, then raised to £5 12s. 6d., and finally settled at £6. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 232, fols. 37b, 53b.
  • 12. Cox, Churches of Derb. iii, 371.
  • 13. Aug. Off. Misc. Bk. 209, fol. 616b.
  • 14. Chetham Chartul.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Feet of F. 29 Hen. III, 29 June-6 July.
  • 18. Chetham Chartul.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Lich. Epis. Reg. Northburgh, vol. 2, fol. 80.
  • 21. Ibid. fol. 87.
  • 22. Ibid. Burghill, fol. 78 d.
  • 23. Ibid. John, prior of Gresley, was collector of the clerical subsidy in the archdeaconry of Derby in 1417; Cler. Subs. 15/56.
  • 24. Chetham Chartul.
  • 25. Lich. Epis. Reg. Heyworth, fol. 79b.
  • 26. Chetham Chartul.
  • 27. Lich. Epis. Reg. Hales, fol. 70b.
  • 28. Ibid. fol. 152b.
  • 29. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 232, fols. 37, 53.
  • 30. Archaeologia, v, 24.
  • 31. Cler. Subs. 15/73.