A History of the County of Derby: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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6. THE PRIORY OF REPTON, WITH THE CELL OF CALKE
It has been already mentioned (fn. 1) that a monastery was founded—tradition says by St. David— at Repton about the year 600. Little is known of it except that it was under the rule of an abbess, Alfthritha, (fn. 2) holding that post in 697, when St. Guthlac, repenting of his youthful wildness, 'came to the then famous monastery of Repton, and receiving the tonsure and religious dress determined to do penance for his sins,' (fn. 3) a determination which resulted in his leaving the abbey for the solitary life of a hermit. It is noteworthy that the monastery of Repton is almost invariably spoken of as 'famous,' for instance, when Cynehard, King Sigebert's brother, was killed in battle with Cynewulf, king of Wessex, in 786, it is recorded that he was buried at Repton, 'quod tunc nobile coenobium erat et famosum.' (fn. 4) And again, when St. Wystan had been killed, we are told that his body was laid in the sepulchre of his grandfather, King Wiglaf, in the monastery of Repton, tunc temporis famosissimum. (fn. 5) And a charter of 874 is said to have been written in venerabili monasterio at Repton; (fn. 6) this charter is a grant to the Worcestershire abbey of Bredon, by Berhtuulf king of Mercia, at the instance of a certain 'Humberht princeps,' in whom we may probably see the 'Hunbert dux' to whom Cynewara, abbess of Repton, leased the lead mines of Wirksworth in 835. (fn. 7)
With this Saxon Benedictine abbey, which perished by the hands of the Danes, the later Austin priory of Repton had no connexion, this latter originating from the grant of the parish church of Repton, dedicated in honour of St. Wystan, to the Austin Canons of Calke, about the year 1153, by Maud widow of Ranulph fourth earl of Chester, who was lady of the manor of Repton, with the assent of her son Hugh fifth earl of Chester. By this charter it was expressly stipulated that the gift was made on condition that the head quarters of the canons should be transferred to Repton at the first fit opportunity — 'cum opportunitas idonea hoc expetierit.' (fn. 8)
As to the small priory of canons regular of St. Augustine, dedicated to the honour of St. Giles, and founded at Calke, its precise date and origin are not known. But the earliest charter relative to it is about the year 1100. By that charter, Gregory de Diva gave to the church of St. Giles of Calke and to the religious men there serving God, the church of St. Anne, Sutton-on-Soar, on condition that they found a canon who was a priest or a secular priest, and a clerk to celebrate daily for him in the church of Calke. (fn. 9) This fiat was confirmed by his son Leger de Diva in the reign of Henry II, and subsequently by William de Marteigni. (fn. 10) Another charter, assigned to 2 Henry I, is a grant from one William Patricius to the priory of Calke, of 6s. rent from the mill at Sutton. (fn. 11) Not long after their establishment the canons would seem to have had trouble with their powerful neighbour, the abbey of Chester, as about 1125, William archbishop of Canterbury puts on record that the abbot of Chester, while in the council at London, promised to restore to the canons of Calke their church of Calke and all their property, which had been taken away from them by him or by his men. (fn. 12)
Robert de Ferrers, circa 1150, confirmed to the canons of Calke certain land and a chapel at Leca, which had been granted them by one Harold for the benefit of the soul of his brother Reinolde, a late canon of the house. Agnes daughter of Richard FitzNigel of Malpas was another early benefactor, granting the canons 32 acres of land at Kegworth. (fn. 13) Hugh fifth earl of Chester confirmed to Calke the gifts of his father of lands, woods, and a mill at Repton, and lands at Ticknall, the gift of lands at Ticknall and the chapel of Smisby by Nicholas the priest, and land at Tamworth by Geva Ridell. (fn. 14)
The opportunity for transferring the main body of the canons to Repton occurred in 1172, when Maud—who, with the consent of her son Hugh, had begun the building of the priory of Repton and dedicated it to the Holy Trinity at an earlier date—effected the transference, but stipulated that Calke should be continued as a cell (membrum) of Repton. For a century or more after the subjection of the older priory to its daughter at Repton, the dignity of the parent establishment was usually consulted in the drafting of deeds and charters, which for the most part ran in the names of the 'Prior and Canonry of Holy Trinity of Repton and the Canonry of St. Giles of Calke'; (fn. 15) but even this acknowledgement afterwards fell into abeyance.
At the time of this transference (1163-89) or soon after, Earl Hugh wrote to Gilbert Foliot, bishop of London, sending him a copy of his grant to Nicholas, prior, and the canons of Repton, of the advowson of the church of Great Baddow, Essex. (fn. 16) But Prior Aldred and the canons, in the days of William bishop of London, 1199-1218, granted this Essex advowson to Ranulph de Bisacia, prebendary of St. Paul's. (fn. 17)
In 1220 a grant was made of the advowson of the church of Willington, by Nicholas de Willington, to John, prior of Repton, and his successors, in consideration of which, Nicholas and his heirs were to be sharers in all the benefits and prayers of the convent church. (fn. 18)
In November, 1254, Pope Innocent IV granted an indult to the prior and convent of Repton, to take possession of and apply to the use of their table, the church of Croxall of their patronage, the value not exceeding 20 marks per annum; the appropriation was to take effect on the death or resignation of the rector, and a fit portion was to be reserved for a vicar. (fn. 19)
Pope Urban IV, in January, 1263, granted an indult to Master John de Ebulo, papal subdeacon and chaplain, to hold a pension of forty silver marks from the priory of Repton, and this in addition to three English rectories and two continental canonries. (fn. 20)
A confirmation charter of Henry III, dated 1272, and a like document of Roger Longespée, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, a year earlier in date, assured the priory in their possession of the church of Repton, with its eight chapelries of Newton, Bretby, Milton, Foremark, Ingleby, Ticknall, Smisby, and Measham; the churches of Willington and Croxall; and the Essex church of Baddow. (fn. 21) The priory obtained most exceptional control over their church (parish church of Repton) and its widespread chapelries. The canons drew the whole of the ecclesiastical revenues of this large area, serving the parochial church and its dependencies for the most part with those of their own order, so that we look in vain for any institution to the church of St. Wystan in the episcopal registers, as the parish church did not possess even a vicar. The priory kept the chancels of both church and chapels in repair, but for the remainder of the buildings the parishioners were responsible. (fn. 22)
In 1283 Adam Raven, of Repton, obtained licence to alienate to the priory 10 acres of land and 1½ acres of meadow at Repton. (fn. 23) Two years later the priory acquired land at Repton to the yearly value of 100s. from Bernard de Brus, and 125 acres of land and wood at Hartshorn from William and Roger de Hertishorne. (fn. 24) In 1290 they obtained a further endowment, from Robert de Sumervill, of 3 virgates and a bovate of land, 8 acres of meadow, 5 acres of wood, and rent to the annual value of 66s. 10d., all in Ingleby. (fn. 25) The Taxation Roll of 1291 testifies to the considerable possessions of this priory. The annual value of the temporalities in Derbyshire amounted to £29 9s. 0½d.; their temporalities in Nottinghamshire, in the parishes of East and West Leake, brought in an annual income of £8 2s. 3d., whilst they had a further sum of 9s. from Leicestershire. The church at Repton was at that time valued at £28 per annum, and the churches of Croxall and Willington (which were not, however, at that date appropriated to the priory) were of the respective value of £10 13s. 4d. and £8. And in 1297 the prior of Repton was summoned to attend the muster at Nottingham and do military service, as holding land worth upwards of £20. (fn. 26)
On 16 March, 1337, pardon was granted, on payment of a fine of 40s., to the priory for having acquired in mortmain from Roger de Chaundos and Millicent his wife a virgate of land in Milton and other lands in Packington and Ticknall, without licence, and permission was granted to retain them. (fn. 27) Henry de Bakewell, vicar of Croxall, and William de Bretby, chaplain, obtained licence in June, 1380, to alienate to the priory land in Derby, Ticknall, Ingleby, and Willington; and Robert Colley a messuage in Derby of the yearly value of 13s. 7½d., in part satisfaction of lands to the value of 10 marks which the convent had licence to acquire in mortmain from the late king. (fn. 28)
At an inquisition held at Newark on 26 October, 1503, it was returned, inter alia, that a parcel of meadow land lying between Swarkeston Bridge and Ingleby had been given in ancient times to the prior of Repton and his successors, upon condition of the priory providing a priest to say mass in the bridge chapel. The meadows were declared to be of the annual value of 6 marks, but there was then no priest provided by the prior, nor had there been for twenty years past. (fn. 29)
A commission was appointed 13 July, 1302, on behalf of the prior of Repton and William de Repton, lay brother of that house, touching the persons who assaulted the latter at Measham, and carried him, together with the prior's goods, to places unknown and imprisoned him. (fn. 30) On 30 July the commission was amended, when it was further stated that William de Repton was still detained in unknown places and that he could not be reprieved. (fn. 31) It would seem, however, that William was subsequently released and peace made, as although the prior actually brought a suit against John de Walkingham and others for this assault and abduction, he afterwards sought leave of the court to withdraw from the suit. (fn. 32)
Bishop Langton visited the priory on 13 June, 1316, and four days later issued the following orders:—That the prior should change his chaplain every year; that an account of the manors and obedientiaries should be yearly rendered before the prior and convent, or senior canons; that Brother John de Coventry was to be removed from the office of cellarer on account of age; that Brother Ralph de Schepeye was to remain in quire and cloister for a whole year; that those in the infirmary should receive food and drink according to their state and requirements, and that no liveries should be granted from the house. (fn. 33)
At the beginning of the reign of Edward III the prior of Repton discharged for several years an important county duty. On 4 December, 1327, he was made surveyor of the tolls taken on goods passing over Swarkeston Bridge; this pontage had been granted to the men of Sturston and Swarkeston for four years and collectors appointed, the money to be used towards the repair of the bridge over the Trent. (fn. 34)
In October of the same year, Robert de Driffeld, yeoman of the king's kitchen, who had long served the king and his father, was sent to Repton Priory to receive the same allowance as Robert de Say, deceased, had in that house at the late king's request. (fn. 35)
Letters of licence to the sub-prior and canons of Repton were granted by the crown for a new election, on the death of Prior Ralph, on 5 October, 1336. It was therein stated that the advowson of Repton was then in the king's gift by reason of the lordship, &c., of John de Baliol, being in the king's hands. The royal assent was given on 16 October to the election of John de Lich, one of the canons. (fn. 36) The interference of Edward III with the temporalities during voidance, was, however, due to the too great officiousness of his servants, and proved to be illegal. On 25 October the king ordered William Russel, escheator beyond Trent, not to intermeddle further with the priory of Repton and its temporalities, but to restore the issues during the voidance to the sub-prior and canons, and merely to take a simple seisin in the priory in the name of the king's lordship; for the king had learnt by inquisition that Ranulph, earl of Chester and lord of the manor of Repton, had founded the priory in free alms, and that the manor with the advowson of the priory descended after the earl's death to his four daughters as to one heir, and that the advowson of the priory was assigned to Matilda, one of the daughters, and that that right after Matilda's death, descended from heir to heir to John de Balliol, who afterwards forfeited to Edward I; and that John and his ancestor, whenever the priory was void, sent a bailiff to the priory to take a simple seisin without taking any issue or profit; that when the priory became void in John's time, before his forfeiture, by the death of Prior Stanton, the sub-prior and convent sought from John licence to elect, and chose Prior Ralph of Ticknall, their fellow canon; and that on Ralph's death the convent recognized that licence to elect belonged to the king owing to John's forfeiture, but that there was no precedent for seizing the temporalities. (fn. 37)
In November, 1336, Bishop Northburgh annulled the election by the chapter of John de Lichfield as prior, in consequence of informality in the process; but he then proceeded to collate the same John as superior on his own authority. (fn. 38)
On 2 November, 1364, Bishop Stretton, who was then at Alfreton, took the grave step of interdicting the community, town, and parish church of Repton in consequence of a serious disturbance. In the course of his episcopal visitation of Derbyshire, the bishop had recently arrived at Repton Priory. Whilst he was in the act of holding his visitation in the chapter-house, certain satellites of Satan—the whole community of the town— bearing swords and staves, and bows and arrows, came with much noise and tumult, and villainously hindered and alarmed the bishop and his clerks. They rushed up to the gates of the priory, and causelessly attacked one of the episcopal retinue who was there; then, having broken down the gates, they besieged the priory, and overran it from the eleventh hour of that day till the first hour of the day following, shooting through the windows of the chambers where the bishop and his clerks were, with utter inhumanity, so that they could none of them go out without fear of death or at least of grievous bodily harm. But at last two of the neighbouring gentlemen, Sir Aluric de Solney and Robert Fraunceys, arrived, and by their power and counsel obtained peace. The bishop then proceeded to state that in consequence of this violation of the king's peace and that of the church, which had become notorious throughout the diocese, he pronounced sentence of greater excommunication on all members of the community who were in any way to blame and did not utterly abhor this detestable conduct; and in order to punish further so detestable a crime, the whole place and parish church were placed under an interdict, and all persons were warned against having any communication with it, whilst absolution was to be withheld from the inhabitants save at the point of death. This sentence was to be published in all churches of the diocese on the following Sunday, and publication was to be continued until they merited the grace of reconciliation. (fn. 39)
It is difficult to account for this sudden outbreak of violence against the monastery and the bishop, but it is just possible that we have the key to it in an undated petition (fn. 40) of Edward III's reign, in which the prior and convent of Repton set forth that
Brother Robert Tebbe one of our canons of Repton of the order of Saint Austin was accused in our chapter of many crimes which it would be too shameful to relate, for which crimes penance, lighter than he deserved, was enjoined on him, but he broke out of our house passed our walls and became apostate, changing his garment and going into the world in worldly raiment, with a bow or other arms, threatening with his companions to ill-treat our persons and to set fire to our barns and goods, to the great dishonour of our order and our own disquieting.
In March, 1400-1, William Tutbury, prior of Repton, and Alured de Lathbury were charged, on the complaint of Sir Walter Blount, with breaking a weir lately erected by him in his fishery in the Trent at Willington, and with cutting up into small pieces the pales and instruments and engines fixed therein, and fishing in it. This was doubtless done by the priory servants to assert alleged fishing rights. A strong commission of oyer and terminer was appointed to adjudicate in the matter, consisting of John Markham, Sir Hugh Shirley, Sir Nicholas Longford, Sir Nicholas Mountgomery, Peter de la Pole, and Thomas Foljambe. (fn. 41)
On 17 January, 1436, Prior Wystan Porter, owing to old age and infirmity, was permitted to resign his office, and was assigned a pension for food and clothing. On the 29th of the same month the chapter's choice fell on John Overton as his successor. Overton at first resolutely declined the honour, and retired into the chapel to pray that he might be relieved from the responsibility, but eventually his scruples were overcome, (fn. 42) and he held the office till his death, two years later, when John Wylne, who received a general pardon on 19 December, 1461, (fn. 43) succeeded to the priory, which he retained till 1471. His successor, Thomas Sutton, resigned in September, 1486, and was succeeded by Henry Prest. In the following January a dispute arose as to a pension claimed by Sutton, who had retired to the cell of Calke. Prior Henry and the convent declined to grant the ex-prior any pension, or to permit his residence at Calke, save by the decree of the bishop. A suit was entered before the chancellor, with the result that Sutton was ordered to retire from and relinquish the cell of Calke, and to give up to Prior Prest all evidences, muniments, and jewels of the house of Repton and Calke, besides a covered mazer cup (murram coopertam), and a cup called 'le nutt'; but a yearly pension of £13 6s. 8d. was assigned to the ex-prior. (fn. 44)
The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 returned the annual value of Repton rectory as £72 8s. 3d., and of three other rectories (Willington, Croxall, and Baddow) appropriated to the priory as £22; but the temporalities were inconsiderable, and there were a large number of outgoings and pensions, so that the total clear income was only £118 8s. This brought the house well within the limit of the smaller monasteries (£200 and under) whose doom was settled in the following year. Moreover, in 1536, the house had to submit to the visitation of two of the crown visitors, Thomas Legh and Richard Layton. Their private report was that the sub-prior and three other canons were guilty of foul offences; but fortunately every student of those times admits that the accusations of Messrs. Legh and Layton are usually worthless. The visitors further reported that Nicholas Page, another of the canons, desired to be released from his vows, and that the (gross) annual value of the priory was £180. Under the heading of superstitio they made the interesting entry that pilgrims came to the priory to visit (a shrine of) St. Guthlac, and his bell, which they were wont to place on their heads for the cure of headache. (fn. 45) It will be remembered that St. Guthlac was received into the old monastery of Repton by the Abbess Alfritha about 696, whence a few years later he passed down the Trent in a boat to Croyland, where he died in 714.
Repton was one of those peculiar cases in which Henry VIII was content to receive a large fine or bribe to renew the doomed life of the house, and yet almost immediately afterwards was ready to resort again to suppression. On 12 June, 1537, John Young was re-appointed prior by the crown, and letters patent were granted exempting the priory from dissolution. For this privilege the very heavy fine of £266 13s. 4d. was paid to the king. (fn. 46) In January, 1537-8, John Young, the prior, and his convent obtained licence to alienate the manor Great Gransden and its appurtenances in Huntingdonshire, and messuages in Sutton Bonington and East Leake and West Leake, Nottinghamshire, together with the advowsons of the churches of East and West Leake, and of Great Baddow, Essex, to Sir Francis Bryan, Sir John Post, Sir George Gresley, and Henry Audeley. (fn. 47)
The priory was finally surrendered on 25 October, 1538, to Dr. Legh on the king's behalf. The surrender was signed by Ralph Clerke, the sub-prior, and eight other canons. (fn. 48) Prior Young died three days before the surrender. (fn. 49) Legh, writing to Cromwell from Grace Dieu three days after the surrender, stated that at their coming to Repton they found the house greatly spoiled and many things purloined away, part of which they recovered. After a certain surrender had been taken, Thomas Thacker was put in possession, but owing to the death of the prior 'an escheator must sit thereupon, or else it must be confirmed by Act of Parliament.' (fn. 50)
An exceptionally full and interesting inventory of the goods of the monastery sold to Thacker, taken by Thomas Legh as commissioner and William Cavendish as auditor, is extant at the Public Record Office, of which a full transcript has been printed. (fn. 51) The inventory is dated the day following the surrender. Thomas Thacker made an exceedingly good sacrilegious bargain over the fittings of the priory church. For the books, quire stalls, six tables or reredoses of alabaster, sanctus bells, lamps, candlesticks, a variety of images, with many partitions and much screen work, he only paid 50s.; the contents of the vestry, vestments, linen, chests, and ornaments realized £4; for the canons' seats in the cloister, with the glass, iron, pavement, and a laver of lead 20s. was paid, and another 20s. for the cubicles, or 'chanonssells,' with a bell in the dormitory. Three cows, ten horses, and two old carts produced £4.
The commissioners paid out 40s. each to Ralph Clerke, the sub-prior, and eight other canons, as 'rewards' or sums for maintenance until pensions were paid. Twenty-one of the priory servants received gratuities, varying from 15s. to the shepherd to 4s. between 'ij boyes plowdryvers.' A further sum of £5 7s. 8d. was entered for 'Cates bought and spent at the tyme of the commissioners being ther for to dyssolve the seid priory,' and for the safe keeping of goods and cattle during that time.
The pensions allotted to the religious were £6 to the sub-prior, £5 6s. 8d. each to four canons, £5 each to three canons, and £4 to two canons.
Thomas Thacker was put in possession the day after the surrender; the buildings remained fairly intact for several years. Thomas died in 1548, and was succeeded by his son Gilbert Thacker. It is of this Gilbert that Fuller says:
Being alarmed with the news that Queen Mary had set up the abbey again (and fearing how large a reach such a precedent might have), upon a Sunday (belike the better day, the better deed) called together the carpenters and masons of that county, and plucked down in one day (church work is a cripple in going up, but rides post in coming down) a most beautiful church belonging thereto, saying 'he would destroy the nest, for fear the birds should build therein again.' (fn. 52)
Priors of Repton
Robert, between 1153 and 1160 (fn. 53)
Nicholas, between 1172 and 1181 (fn. 54)
Albred, c. 1200 (fn. 55)
Richard, occurs 1208 (fn. 56)
Nicholas, c. 1215 (fn. 57)
John, occurs 1220 (fn. 58)
Reginald, c. 1230 (fn. 59)
Peter, occurs 1252 (fn. 60)
Robert, occurs 1289 (fn. 61)
Ralph, 1316-36 (fn. 62)
John de Lichfield, 1336-46 (fn. 63)
Simon de Sutton, 1346-56 (fn. 64)
Ralph of Derby, 1356-99 (fn. 65)
William of Tutbury, 1399 (fn. 66)
William Maynesin, c. 1411 (fn. 67)
Wystan Porter, resigned 1436 (fn. 68)
John Overton, appointed 1436, died 1438 (fn. 69)
John Wylne, 1438-71 (fn. 70)
Thomas Sutton, 1471-86 (fn. 71)
Henry Prest, 1486-1503 (fn. 72)
William Derby, 1503-8 (fn. 73)
John Young, 1508 (fn. 74)
The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal represents the Deity seated on a throne, right hand raised in blessing and left hand holding an orb. Legend:—
. . ILL' : SANTE : T. . . IS : DE : RAPENDON. (fn. 75)
A counterseal of the fourteenth century represents a prior full length, in a niche, holding a book; overhead in a cusped panel a crowned head. (fn. 76)