Religious houses: Introduction

A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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, 'Religious houses: Introduction', in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 47-48. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Religious houses: Introduction", in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) 47-48. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Religious houses: Introduction", A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908). 47-48. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,

In this section



Dorset enjoyed a unique pre-eminence for the number and importance of its religious houses founded during the Saxon period. No fewer than nine monastic establishments are known to have existed in the county prior to the Norman Conquest; of these the great houses of Sherborne, Shaftesbury, Abbotsbury, Cerne, and Milton continued after that epoch to rank as Benedictine abbeys; the two abbeys of Cranborne and Horton survived as priories, dependent respectively upon the abbeys of Tewkesbury and Sherborne; the famous early nunnery of Wimborne was converted into a college of secular canons, while at Wareham, where an early house of nuns is said to have been destroyed by the Danes in 876, a small priory sprang up as a cell to the Norman abbey of Lire.

The reformed Benedictines of the order of Cluny had a small priory at East Holme, and the Cistercians an abbey at Bindon, both founded before the end of the twelfth century. The Cistercians had also a house of nuns of much celebrity at Tarrant Kaines; and it is probable that the 'Camesterne,' where, according to the Mappa Mundi (fn. 1) compiled at the close of the twelfth century, certain 'white nuns' were established, is a corruption of Kaines Tarrant.

It is remarkable that the canons of the Austin and Premonstratensian rules, so numerous elsewhere, had no foundations within this county, unless perhaps the obscure 'priory' or 'chantry' of Wilcheswood in Langton Wallis belonged to the canons regular. It seems, however, more probable that Wilcheswood should be considered as a small collegiate church, of which class the other example in Dorset was Wimborne Minster.

The Templars were unrepresented, but the Knights Hospitallers had a preceptory at Friar Mayne. The Dominican Friars are mentioned at Gillingham in 1267; their other settlement, at Melcombe Regis, was of far greater importance, and is remarkable as being the last house of the order established in England. The Franciscans settled at Dorchester, and the Carmelites had a short-lived settlement at Bridport. During the fourteenth century unsuccessful attempts appear to have been made to introduce Carmelites at Lyme, and Austin Friars at Sherborne. A remarkable 'priory hermitage' at Blackmoor, although stated to have been under the rule of St. Augustine, does not seem to have belonged to the Austin 'Friars Hermits,' nor yet to have become a house of Austin canons, as was sometimes the fate of such hermitages.

Some twelve hospitals are known to have existed in this county, but they were mostly small, and some were apparently unendowed lazar-houses.

A considerable amount of property was held in Dorset by alien houses, and in five or six cases the parent house established a cell or small priory upon its estates. These instances were at Frampton (the abbey of St. Stephen of Caen), Loders (St. Mary of Montebourg), Spettisbury (the abbey of Préaux), Wareham (the abbey of Lire), and possibly Povington (the abbey of Bec Hellouin). The latter is only called a priory in 1467, more than fifty years after it had been separated from the Norman abbey, and it is probable that it was never more than a grange or estate managed by the abbey's chief English cell, the priory of Ogbourne. In the same way the lands given by Roger de Beaumont in Stour Provost to the nuns of St. Leger of Préaux, and those in the neighbourhood of Winterborne Wast bestowed upon the Cluniac priory 'de Vasto,' near Boulogne, were never the site of any cell and priory. At Muckleford, which estate was granted with the advowson of Bradford Peverell to the Norman abbey of Tiron, (fn. 2) a cell was said to have been established, (fn. 3) but it is clear that the estate was really under the control of the abbey's cell of Andwell in Hampshire. (fn. 4) Similarly, the supposed cell of the Carthusian priory of Sheen at Shapwick (fn. 5) was clearly no more than a grange.


  • 1. Gervase of Cant. Op. Hist. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 422. On the other hand, it has been suggested (Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 289) that this was a settlement at Winterborne Came. Leland's statement that the nuns were Benedictines (Itin. viii (2), 62) is presumably a slip, as the latter wore black.
  • 2. Cal. Doc. France, 358.
  • 3. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii, 536.
  • 4. Arch. Journ. ix, 250.
  • 5. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 166.