Houses of Benedictine monks: The priories of Cranbourne and Horton

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

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


, 'Houses of Benedictine monks: The priories of Cranbourne and Horton', in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 70-73. British History Online [accessed 28 May 2024].

. "Houses of Benedictine monks: The priories of Cranbourne and Horton", in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) 70-73. British History Online, accessed May 28, 2024,

. "Houses of Benedictine monks: The priories of Cranbourne and Horton", A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908). 70-73. British History Online. Web. 28 May 2024,

In this section


The monastery of Cranborne is said to have been founded as an abbey for Benedictine monks about the year 980. (fn. 1) The chronicle of Tewkesbury describes its foundation and early connexion with the more widely-famous abbey in Gloucestershire in the following manner:

About the year 930, in the reign of King Athelstan, flourished a certain noble knight sprung of the illustrious stock of Edward the Elder and known by the name of Haylward Snew on account of his fairness. And being not unmindful of his end, he built for himself and Ælfgifu his wife in the days of King Ethelred and St. Dunstan the archbishop a small monastery to the honour of God and Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Mother, and St. Bartholomew the Apostle, and endowed it with lands and possessions. And having assembled there brethren to serve under the obedience of an abbot according to the rule of St. Benedict, he made Tewkesbury, of which he was patron, wholly subject to it. These things were done about the year 980. And Haylward, having died and received burial in the church which he had built, was succeeded by Ælfgar his son, the father of Brihtric, who according to the vow of his parents 'amplified' the church which they had begun. (fn. 2)

'Subsequently,' pursues the chronicle—

William Duke of Normandy acquired England, bringing with him Robert Fitz-Hamon, lord of Astremarvilla in Normandy, and Matilda the wife of the Conqueror hated the said Brihtric Snew or Meaw because when sent abroad on an embassy for the affairs of the realm he refused her hand in marriage. She afterwards married William, and having sought opportunity stirred up the king's wrath against the Saxon nobleman so that he was seized by the king's order in the manor of Hanley (Worcestershire) and conveyed to Winchester, where he died and was buried leaving no heir. (fn. 3)

His estates were granted to Queen Matilda and subsequently to Robert Fitz Hamon, who, in the year 1102, 'led by the Holy Spirit' and at the instigation of 'his good wife Sybil' and of Gerold, abbot of Cranborne, greatly enlarged the church of Tewkesbury and endowed it with further possessions; and finding that the place enjoyed a more agreeable site and a more fertile soil he transferred the whole community from Cranborne thither, leaving only a prior and two monks that the memory of its founders might be held for ever in remembrance, and so, transforming the former abbey into a priory, he made it entirely subject to the abbey of Tewkesbury. (fn. 4) The regulations for the newly-constituted abbey drawn up by Abbot Gerold in the year 1105, when the transference to Tewkesbury seems to have been finally completed, assigned the manor of Tarrant (Monkton) towards the improvement of the monks' food, the churches 'which had belonged to Robert the chaplain' towards their clothing, and the manor of Chettle in Dorset for almsgiving. (fn. 5)

Previous to this removal the Domesday Survey of 1086, which separates the estates of Cranborne from those of Tewkesbury, states that the church of St. Mary here held 2 carucates of land in Gillingham valued at 60s. in Edward the Confessor's time, but then worth 20s., Boveridge and Up Wimborne, both of which had been and were then worth 100s., Lestisford, half a hide in Langford in the parish of Frampton, and the manor of Tarrant Monkton, which had fallen in value from £12 to £10. (fn. 6) Under the holding of the widow of Hugh Fitz Grip it is recorded that Hugh gave the church of St. Mary, Cranborne, a hide of land in Orchard for the good of her soul, and 'it is worth 20s. (fn. 7) A charter of Roger, bishop of Salisbury, confirmed to the abbey of Tewkesbury the gifts of Robert Fitz Hamon and his knights in the year 1109, including the church of St. Mary of Cranborne with all its appurtenances, and certain churches which had belonged to R[obert] the chaplain, viz., Pentridge, Ashmore, and Frome, with other tithes. (fn. 8) The Taxatio of 1291 gives the abbey spiritualities valued at £1 12s. from the churches of Belchalwell, Pentridge, and Langton Matravers; (fn. 9) those of the priory of Cranborne, amounting to £2 1s., consisted of a pension of 7s. from the church of Sturminster Newton, 12s. from the church of Edmondsham, 2s. from that of Wimborne Karentham, and £1 from the vicarage of Dewlish. (fn. 10) The temporalities were all entered under Tewkesbury, and realized £25 12s. 6d. (fn. 11)

From the date of its subjection to Tewkesbury the history of the cell is all but entirely merged in that of the larger house, and save on one or two occasions, when the abbot is shown as keeping a watchful eye on his estate here lest any of his rights should be infringed by his powerful neighbour, the earl of Gloucester, (fn. 12) references to it are brief and rare. We read that the body of Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, who died abroad in 1230, was conveyed home for burial, and stopped at Cranborne on its way to Tewkesbury. (fn. 13) The church was rebuilt in 1252 and dedicated to St. Mary and St. Bartholomew. (fn. 14) Occasionally the prior acted as proxy or attorney for the abbot, as in 1314 when he was appointed to do suit and service to the abbot of Glastonbury for lands held in his manor of Damerham (Wiltshire). (fn. 15) In the course of a diocesan visitation by the bishop in 1379 he was ordered to appear in the church of Sonning the second Thursday after the Feast of St. Barnabas, prepared to exhibit the title deeds of the abbot and convent of Tewkesbury for their possessions in the Salisbury diocese. (fn. 16) Among the expenses charged on the priory in the Valor of 1535 is an entry of 7s. 10d. due to the bishop of Salisbury for the triennial visitation of the church of Cranborne. (fn. 17) In the course of the Hundred Years' War the prior was required, together with the abbots of Sherborne, Cerne, Bindon, and Abbotsbury, &c., to move nearer the sea-coast for the purpose of repelling invasion, under peril of being regarded as rebels and favourers of the enemy. (fn. 18) Edward III in 1329 'out of affection for Peter de Broadway, prior of Cranborne,' granted a licence for the abbot and convent of Tewkesbury to acquire in mortmain lands not held in chief to the value of £10; three years later the prior of the subject-cell was induced to surrender this grant and another was obtained more specifically in favour of the parent house. (fn. 19)

According to the Valor of 1535 the gross income of the priory at that time amounted to £55 6s. 1d.; the expenses to £17 16s. 8d., including £10 paid to the vicar of Cranborne for his stipend 'according to the composition made by the ordinary,' and a yearly distribution of 10s. in bread to the poor, for the soul of the founder 'Ailward Mayewe'; Henry Bromall was then prior. (fn. 20)

At the Dissolution the cell shared the fate of the abbey, which was surrendered to the king's commissioners 31 January, 1540. William Dydcotte, who in 1335 held the office of sacrist of Tewkesbury, received a pension of £10 as the last prior of Cranborne. (fn. 21)

The manor of Cranborne Priory, pertaining to the late abbey of Tewkesbury and rated at £14 13s. 3d., was sold in the reign of Philip and Mary to Robert Freke at seventy-four years' purchase; the manor, rectory, and advowson of the vicarage in the first year of Elizabeth were granted to Thomas Francis for life. Subsequently they were given by James I to Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury, in the possession of whose family they still remain. (fn. 22)

Priors of Cranborne

Gerold, abbot of Cranborne, transferred the abbey to Tewkesbury 1102 (fn. 23)

Adam de Preston, died 1262 (fn. 24)

Walter de Appleleigh, occurs 1314 (fn. 25)

Peter de Broadway, occurs 1329 and 1332 (fn. 26)

Henry Bromall, occurs 1535 (fn. 27)

William Dydcotte, last prior 1540 (fn. 28)


(Cell to the abbey of Sherborne)

The foundation of the Benedictine abbey, afterwards priory, of Horton is generally attributed to Ordgar or Orgar, earl of Devon, the founder of Tavistock, who flourished in the reign of King Edgar and died in the year 971. (fn. 29) The account, however, of William of Malmesbury, from which all subsequent accounts are drawn, (fn. 30) seems rather to imply that the abbey was the work of Ordulph or Edulph, son of Ordgar, and should consequently be dated a little later; possibly the two accounts may be reconciled by supposing that it was begun by the elder man and carried on to completion by the younger in deference to his father's wishes. Horton, dedicated to St. Wolfrida, the mother of Edith abbess of Wilton, was situated, like Little Malvern and other foundations of that age, in the midst of forest; (fn. 31) centuries later Leland writes of the abbey as four miles distant from Wimborne 'much by woody ground.' (fn. 32)

The earlier chronicler relates some of the stories that have been handed down anent the enormous strength and prowess of the younger founder, the giant Edulph, (fn. 33) but adds 'spite of this matchless physical strength death carried him off in the flower of his age, and he ordered that he should be buried at Horton.' Abbot Sihtric of Tavistock, however, foreseeing the advantage that would thence accrue to the smaller foundation, stepped in and 'by violence' caused the body to be transferred to his own church where Earl Ordgar already lay buried.

In all probability Horton shared the fate of Tavistock, which was destroyed in the Danish raid of 997. (fn. 34) To return to the account of William of Malmesbury, Abbot Sihtric added to his crime in robbing Horton of the body of Edulph by turning pirate in the reign of William the Conqueror, whereby he 'polluted religion' and 'defamed the church.' (fn. 35)

At the time of the Domesday Survey the abbey was in possession of the manor of Horton, which was taxed at 7 hides and valued at £4, 'the king holds two of the best hides in the forest of Wimborne.' (fn. 36) The church would go with the possession of the manor as was then the custom and the monks held at the same time a little church or chapel (ecclesiola) in Wimborne and land with two houses, the church of Holy Trinity, Wareham, and five houses paying a rent of 65d., and a house in Dorchester (fn. 37) besides estates in Devonshire.

Among the changes in his diocese introduced by Roger, the great bishop of Salisbury and chancellor of Henry I, was the reduction of Horton from an abbey to a priory and its subsequent annexation as a subordinate cell to Sherborne, which in the same manner was raised to the position of an abbey, the transference taking place in 1122 according to the Annals of Margam, (fn. 38) in 1139 according to William of Malmesbury. (fn. 39) By this change the lands and possessions of Horton passed over to Sherborne, as we may gather from a bull of Pope Eugenius III in 1145 and again of Pope Alexander III in 1163, confirming the possessions of Sherborne and enumerating among them the manor and church of Horton with the adjacent chapel of Knowlton, the chapel of Holy Trinity, Wareham, and the church of St. Mary Wimborne. (fn. 40) The Taxatio of 1291 gives the prior of Horton temporalities at Horton valued at £4 17s. 4d., (fn. 41) the church of Horton belonging to Sherborne was valued at £10, the endowment of the vicarage amounting to £5. (fn. 42) In 1535 the rectory was not worth more than £9 5s. 4d., the vicar only receiving 17s. 4d.; (fn. 43) the gross value of the manor at that time was returned at £22 10s. 6d., out of which 2s. was paid to the hundred court, and a fee of 16s. 8d. to Giles Strangweys, knt., steward of the manor. (fn. 44)

From the date of its annexation to Sherborne the priory sinks into that obscurity mostly attending the existence of small dependent cells from which it rarely emerges. (fn. 45) In April 1286 we read that simple protection, until the Feast of St. Peter ad Vincula, was granted to Hugh prior of Horton, going beyond seas, and appointing John de Chegy and Henry son of William de Horton his attorneys during his absence. (fn. 46) A commission was issued in February, 1348, on the complaint of Alesia countess of Lincoln, that the abbots of Sherborne and Milton, John de Bradeford, prior of Horton, and others, had broken her park at Kingston Lacy, cut down her trees and hunted her deer. (fn. 47) Again in 1401 dispensation was granted to John Cosyn, Benedictine prior of Horton, 'who is also a monk of Sherborne,' to hold another benefice, office, dignity, or priory of the same or another order and to resign it in exchange for another as often as he pleases. (fn. 48)

At the Dissolution the abbey of Sherborne was surrendered to the king on 18 March, 1339, the deed being signed among others 'per me John Hart,' (fn. 49) the same John Hart or Herte alias Raynold, prior of Horton, receiving a pension of £8. (fn. 50) The manors, together with the site of the priory, the rectory and advowson of the vicarage, were granted in the first year of Edward VI to Edward duke of Somerset, and on his attainder to the earl of Pembroke. (fn. 51)

Priors of Horton (fn. 52)

Hugh, occurs 1286 (fn. 53)

John de Bradeford, occurs 1348 (fn. 54)

John Cosyn, occurs 1401 (fn. 55)

Henry Trew, occurs 1459–60 (fn. 56)

John Dorchester, occurs 1504 (fn. 57)

John Hart or Herte alias Raynold, occurs on its surrender, 1539 (fn. 58)


  • 1. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. iii, fol. 220. Dugdale mentions a tradition of a still earlier foundation, contained in an MS. in the Ashmolean Museum, 'de abbatiis et abbatibus Norman. et eorum fundatoribus,' which states that a college of six monks was built here in memory of the Britons who had here been slain. Mon. iv, 465.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. iii, fol. 220. Freeman dismisses this pedigree with the remark that as 'a piece of chronology it attributes a wonderfully long life to the persons concerned;' Norman Conq. iv, App. T. p. 763.
  • 3. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. iii, fol. 220. Freeman commenting on this 'legend,' which comes from the continuator of Wace and may be found in Chroniques Anglo-Normandes (i, 73), says 'it has this much of corroboration from history that a portion of the lands of Brihtric did pass to Matilda'; Norman Conq. iv, 166.
  • 4. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. iii, fol. 220.
  • 5. Cott. MS. Cleop. A. vii, fol. 94b. The Annales of Winchester and Worcester are wrong in giving 1086 as the year in which the removal of Tewkesbury took place. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 34; iv, 373.
  • 6. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i, 77b.
  • 7. Ibid. 84.
  • 8. Cott. MS. Cleop. A. vii, fol. 75b.
  • 9. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 178b, 179.
  • 10. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 178, 178b, 179.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 183, 184.
  • 12. Cott. MS. Cleop. A. vii, fol. 96–8; Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 140, 144.
  • 13. Ibid. i, 76.
  • 14. Ibid. i, 149, 150.
  • 15. Hoare, Modern Wilts. Hund. of S. Damerham, 30.
  • 16. Sarum Epis. Reg. Erghum, fol. 29.
  • 17. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 485. In 1433 a royal writ was issued desiring to be certified as to whether the prior and convent of Cranborne held and hold the parish church of Cranborne, what was the portion of the prior therein, and at what was it assessed in all clerical subsidies. The return stated that the church of Cranborne, with the chapel of Archnal, was appropriated to the prior and convent, and taxed at 25 marks, the vicar of Cranborne was taxed at 6½ marks. Sarum Epis. Reg. Chandler, fol. 114.
  • 18. Rymer, Foed. (Rec. Com.), ii, (2), 1062.
  • 19. Pat. 3 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 21; 6 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 4.
  • 20. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 485.
  • 21. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, 49.
  • 22. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 382–3.
  • 23. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 44.
  • 24. Ibid. i, 169.
  • 25. Hoare, Modern Wilts. Hund. of S. Damerham, 30.
  • 26. Pat. 3 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 21; 6 Edw. III, pt. 3, m. 4.
  • 27. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 485.
  • 28. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xv, 49.
  • 29. Hutchins gives the date of Horton as 961 (Hist. of Dorset, iii, 149), the same year in which Ordgar founded Tavistock according to Matthew of Westminster (Flores Hist. [Rolls Ser.], i, 508). Ordgar will always be remembered as the father of the notorious Queen Elfrida, who, after disposing of her first husband, became the wife of Edgar, and whom tradition has charged with the murder of her step-son Edward the Martyr.
  • 30. Will. of Malmes. Gesta Pontif. (Rolls Ser.), 202–3.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Itin. iii, 73.
  • 33. Will. of Malmes. Gesta Pontif. (Rolls Ser.), 203.
  • 34. Matt. of Westm. Flores Hist. (Rolls Ser.), i, 524.
  • 35. Owing to a misreading of the text, the abbot in many accounts is charged with firing the church (inflamavit instead of infamavit).
  • 36. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i, 78b.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 10.
  • 39. Cott. MS. Faust. A. ii. The account given by the chronicler in his Historia Novella (Rolls Ser.), ii, 559, is that Roger of Salisbury first destroyed Horton and then added it to Sherborne; he may be expressing the same thing in his other account of Horton which speaks of the abbey so being destroyed at the time in which he was writing the Gesta Pontif. (Rolls Ser. 202), meaning that the status of Horton as an abbey had been done away with and not that its existence had ceased.
  • 40. Dugdale, Mon. under Sherborne, i, Nos. v, vi, 338–9.
  • 41. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 184b.
  • 42. Ibid. 174b.
  • 43. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 281.
  • 44. Ibid. 287.
  • 45. Various references given by Tanner under this house belong to Monks Horton, a Cluniac foundation cell to Lewes with which the Dorset Horton is frequently confounded.
  • 46. Pat. 14 Edw. I, m. 18, 19.
  • 47. Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 43d.
  • 48. Cal. Pap. Letters, v, 362.
  • 49. P.R.O. Deeds of Surrender, No. 40.
  • 50. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (i), 556.
  • 51. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iii, 143.
  • 52. Very few of these can be recovered, the prior was 'dative and removeable' by the abbey, consequently his appointment is never recorded in the episcopal registers or in the patent rolls. Dugdale only gives the names of two.
  • 53. Pat. 14 Edw. I, m. 18, 19.
  • 54. Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 43 d.
  • 55. Cal. Pap. Letters, v, 362.
  • 56. Dugdale, Mon. ii, 511.
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. P.R.O. Deeds of Surrender, No. 40; L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (i), 556.