Hermitage: The 'Priory' hermitage of Blackmoor

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

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'Hermitage: The 'Priory' hermitage of Blackmoor', in A History of the County of Dorset: Volume 2, (London, 1908) pp. 96-97. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/dorset/vol2/pp96-97 [accessed 19 April 2024]

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Obscure though the early history of this house is it may reasonably be assumed that, originally a hermit settlement in the heart of the forest of Blackmoor, it attracted to itself so large a company of the faithful that a community was formed, a rule adopted—apparently similar to that of the friars hermits of St. Augustine, though the hermitage seems clearly never to have been affiliated to that order—and the brethren placing themselves under the protection of the lords of the forest, the earls of Cornwall, who had permitted if not built the earlier foundation, acquired the site of their dwelling and such property from time to time as the generosity of their patrons added to them. The precise date of these events cannot be given, though they probably took place in the reign of Henry III. Edmund, earl of Cornwall, died in 1300 seised of the hermitage in Blackmoor, (fn. 2) and in 1314 Edward II granted a licence to the brethren to retain without let or hindrance of any justice or forest officer the land which they had acquired within the forest without licence from his predecessors, comprising the site of their hermitage, consisting of 10 acres of land the gift of Ralph, earl of Cornwall, 7 acres acquired from Richard, earl of Cornwall, who died in 1272, and 7 acres bestowed by Edmund, the late earl, (fn. 3) which they had inclosed according to the assize of the forest so that the deer could enter and leave. The following year the prior and hermits were allowed 8 acres of land out of the waste of the forest in a place called 'Rocumbe,' with liberty to inclose the same with a little dyke and low hedge and bring it into cultivation, (fn. 4) and in 1325 Ingelram Berenger, who had been appointed steward of the forest, (fn. 5) made over to them 100 acres of land in 'Rocumbe,' held in chief for the service of rendering 32s. 4d. at the Exchequer, on condition that they should find a chaplain to celebrate daily in the church of the hermitage for the souls of the said Ingelram and the faithful departed and for the maintenance of ten mendicants to be refreshed once a day in the hermitage. (fn. 6) The last charge seems to have dropped speedily out of practice and even memory, for the return made to the writ of Edward III, dated November, 1338, requiring to be certified whether it would be to the injury of the king or any other for the prior and chaplains of the hermitage of Blackmoor Regis, Dorset, to retain 14 messuages, 100 acres of land, 2½ acres of meadow with a rent of 67s. 4d. and of a pound of cummin in Knighton, Fossil, Winfrith, and Baltington, which they had acquired in fee from the late Ingelram Berenger since the publication of the Statute of Mortmain without licence of the late king, stated that the grant had been made on condition that the brethren should pay the said Ingelram the true yearly value of the same during his life and after his death should provide a chaplain to celebrate daily for the souls of the kings of England, of Ingelram and the faithful departed, (fn. 7) without mention of the daily provision for mendicants; possibly it may have ceased owing to the financial condition of the house, for the grant of the following February, enabling them to retain the land and premises, records that it was made by fine of 100s. because of the poverty of the said chaplains. (fn. 8)

A few particulars as to this forest house may be gleaned from the episcopal registers. They record that the house belonged to the order of St. Augustine and that the prior and brethren were presented to the ordinary for examination and approval before admission, as in the case of John de Ramesham, 28 October, 1327; (fn. 9) William de Bradewas, who was presented to the custodian of the spiritualities of the bishopric, Robert de Worth, (fn. 10) in the vacancy of the see, 8 May, 1330; another instance is recorded 2 October, 1387. (fn. 11) On the resignation of John de Ramesham the house presented John de Wyke to the bishop, who on account of the poverty of the brethren proceeded to admit him in a summary manner, 9 July, 1340. (fn. 12) In 1389, all the inmates being dead, the bishop bestowed the house in commendam on Thomas Wilton 25 August. (fn. 13) An inquisition being held as to its state in 1424 it was found that the house was of royal foundation and that the king held the custody of it when vacant, that the brethren elected a prior subject to the royal assent, and that the house was not taxed at 10 marks per annum.

After this date the style of the house alters and it becomes known as the free chapel of St. Mary, 'called the Hermitage,' and as such was placed by Edward IV in 1469 in the custody of William Brown, clerk, who already held the mastership of the hospital of St. John the Baptist, Dorchester, with a grant for life of the yearly pension or annuity of 52s. 2d. with which the chapel was charged to the king, of which 38s. 10d. was payable to the Exchequer and 13s. 4d. to the bailiff of the king's manor of Fordington for the use of the duke of Cornwall, on condition that he should maintain the old service and pray for the good estate of the king and his consort and for their souls after death. (fn. 14) Henry VI the following year, 17 December, 1470, ratified the estate of William Brown as master of the hospital of St. John the Baptist, Dorchester, and as master of the house or chapel called 'le priory hermitage' by Dorchester. (fn. 15) On the death or cession of William in 1473 Edward IV made a grant of the custody of the 'chapel' to Robert Bothe, doctor of law, (fn. 16) the deed being annulled four years later, November, 1477, in favour of Master Robert Myddelham, bachelor of theology. (fn. 17) He was succeeded by Richard Hill, dean of the king's chapel, appointed by Henry VII in the first year of his reign, (fn. 18) who was again followed by John Cole, appointed by Henry VIII in 1511. (fn. 19) Two years later, on the surrender of the patent by which it had been bestowed on John Cole, (fn. 20) the king granted the free chapel called 'le Hermytage' in Blackmoor to the abbot and convent of Cerne.

No reference is made to this house in the chantry certificates of Henry VIII and Edward VI.

Priors Or Masters Of Blackmoor

William, occurs 1327 (fn. 21)

John de Ramesham, resigned 1340 (fn. 22)

John de Wyke, presented 1340 (fn. 23)

Richard Andrew, presented 1349 (fn. 24)

Thomas Marshall (fn. 25)

Thomas Wilton, appointed 1389 (fn. 26)

John Baret, appointed 1424 (fn. 27)

William Brown, appointed 1469 (fn. 28)

Robert Bothe, appointed 1473 (fn. 29)

Robert Myddelham, appointed 1477 (fn. 30)

Richard Hill, appointed 1485-6 (fn. 31)

John Cole, appointed 1511, surrendered 1513 on the annexation of 'le Hermytage' to the abbey of Cerne (fn. 32)


  • 1. This house has not been fully or correctly treated by previous compilers. Tanner, in the earlier Notitia (1744), mistaking it for an Austin priory of the same name in Essex, states that it was dedicated to St. Lawrence and attributes to it various references relating to the Essex house. The matter is not cleared up in the later Notitia, and the edition of the third and corrected edition of Hutchins, while giving much fresh information, repeats some of the old errors. Hist. of Dorset, iv, 467.
  • 2. Inq. p.m. 28 Edw. I, No. 44. Unfortunately the section giving the return relating to the hermitage within Blackmoor forest, parcel of the duchy of Cornwall, is reported as 'missing' at the P.R.O.
  • 3. Pat. 7 Edw. II, pt. 2, m. 15; see Dugdale, Baron. of Engl. i, 761.
  • 4. Pat. 9 Edw. II, pt. I, m. 28.
  • 5. Ibid. 18 Edw. II, pt. I, m. 25.
  • 6. Ibid. 19 Edw. II, pt. I, m. 13.
  • 7. Inq. p.m. 2 Edw. III (2nd nos.), No. 147.
  • 8. Pat. 3 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 35.
  • 9. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, fol. 164.
  • 10. Ibid. Wyville, fol. 3.
  • 11. Ibid. Erghum, fol. 84.
  • 12. Ibid. Wyville.
  • 13. Ibid. Waltham.
  • 14. Pat. 9 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 22.
  • 15. Ibid. 49 Hen. VI, m. 12.
  • 16. Ibid. 13 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 3.
  • 17. Ibid. 17 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 23.
  • 18. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iv, 467.
  • 19. Pat. 3 Hen. VIII, pt. 1, m. 3d.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII, i, 3853.
  • 21. Sarum Epis. Reg. Mortival, fol. 164.
  • 22. Ibid. Wyville.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iv, 467.
  • 26. Sarum Epis. Reg. Waltham.
  • 27. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iv, 467.
  • 28. Pat. 9 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 22.
  • 29. Ibid. 13 Edw. IV, pt. 1, m. 3.
  • 30. Ibid. 17 Edw. IV, pt. 2, m. 23.
  • 31. Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, iv, 467.
  • 32. Pat. 3 Hen. VIII, pt. 1, m. 3d.; L. and P. Hen. VIII, i, 3853.