Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of St John Baptist & St Godric, Finchale

Pages 103-105

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

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Early in the twelfth century the hermit Godric settled at Finchale under the auspices of Bishop Flambard. The place was then exceedingly wild, overrun with snakes, and used by the bishop merely as a hunting-ground. (fn. 1) Here St. Godric lived for half a century, accompanied at first by a poor sister, but after her death entirely alone; and here he cultivated the ground and erected a chapel which he dedicated to St. John the Baptist, an oratory of St. Mary, and other buildings, (fn. 2) and when this had been done Bishop Flambard granted the reversion of the hermitage, its fishery, and its possessions to the prior and convent of Durham. (fn. 3) Godric died in 1170, (fn. 4) and soon afterwards Bishop Pudsey confirmed to the monks the gift of his predecessor, (fn. 5) and conferred upon Reginald (fn. 6) and Henry, the two Durham monks in possession, and their successors, the tract of land near the hermitage which now chiefly constitutes the Finchale farm. (fn. 7)

Such was the state of Finchale when in 1196 Henry Pudsey, son of the bishop, was compelled by the jealous monks to transfer to it the possessions of the New Place at Baxterwood. (fn. 8) There was a small church, a salmon fishery in the Wear, dwelling-rooms for two monks and their attendants, and nearly the whole of the present Finchale farm, 3 acres of land at Bradley, (fn. 9) and 2 bovates at Sadberge, (fn. 10) for their maintenance. (fn. 11) Henry Pudsey reserved to himself and his heirs the privilege of appointing the prior, and chose Thomas, sacrist of Durham, to be the first to hold that office; (fn. 12) but he afterwards conceded the right to the prior and convent of Durham. (fn. 13) Bishop Kellaw conferred upon the house land on Finchale Moor. (fn. 14) Other donations included the advowson and impropriation of the churches of Wicton [? Wigton] and Giggleswick, (fn. 15) and land at Yokefleet (fn. 16) and Hetton (fn. 17) (Heppedun), all given by Henry Pudsey; land at Bradley, (fn. 18) Woodsend, (fn. 19) Brandon, (fn. 20) Hutton, (fn. 21) Softley, (fn. 22) Spirlswood, (fn. 23) Lumley, (fn. 24) Ferimanside, (fn. 25) Newton, (fn. 26) Amerston, (fn. 27) Castle Eden, (fn. 28) Thorpe Thewles, (fn. 29) Hollinside, (fn. 30) Iveston, (fn. 31) Yupeton, (fn. 32) Smallees, (fn. 33) and Little Stainton; (fn. 34) a fishery in the Tyne at Crook; (fn. 35) land and a fishery at Cocken; (fn. 36) land and a mill at Coxhoe; (fn. 37) common of pasture at Baxterwood; (fn. 38) a house in the North Bailey at Durham; (fn. 39) rents in Sunderland, Hartlepool, and other places, (fn. 40) and the church of Bishop Middleham granted by Bishop Robert Stichill in 1268. (fn. 41)

Most of these endowments were conferred within the first fifty years after Henry Pudsey established the monks at Finchale. As the revenues of the house increased, the monks, no longer content with St. Godric's chapel, resolved in 1241 to build a new church, and the archbishop of York granted an indulgence of thirty days to all who should contribute to this work. (fn. 42) In the following year the church was begun, (fn. 43) and it appears to have been completed in or about 1264. (fn. 44) In 1266 the monks added a chapel dedicated to the honour of St. Godric, in the south transept. (fn. 45)

About the year 1350 the prior of Durham severely reproved the Finchale monks for keeping a pack of hounds, (fn. 46) but they did not waste all their time in sport. In 1381, Uthred of Boldon, prior of Finchale, himself the most learned man of his day, brought to his church a foreigner, one William du Stiphel, of Brittany, and employed him in transcribing Jerome's Eusebius and Bede's Ecclesiastical History. (fn. 47) There is also a record of at least one boy lodged, boarded, and clothed at Finchale, and sent to Durham Grammar School for six or ten years as his case might require. (fn. 48) Two aged bedesmen were also maintained. (fn. 49)

There were usually eight monks at Finchalebesides the prior, of whom (by an ordinance made by the prior of Durham in 1408) four were constant residents, and the other four visitors from the convent. The natural beauties of the place made it very suitable as a sort of holiday home for the Durham monks. Each set of four were allowed three weeks' furlough, and their time was divided by the following rules:—Two were every day to be present at mattins, mass, vespers, and the other services in the choir, while the other two had liberty to ramble in the fields 'religiously and honestly,' provided that they were present at mass and vespers. All four visitors were to sleep in the dormitory with the four resident monks, but they were allowed a special chamber with a fire and other comforts, to which they might resort when they pleased, and the prior assigned a servant to wait on them. Each of the visitors was to celebrate high mass at least once a week, and on Sunday all were to be present in the chapter and at the Lady-mass. (fn. 50)

There was in the priory a room known as the 'player chamber,' which is supposed to have been appropriated to dramatic representations, such as mysteries or miracle plays, and to such amusements as listening to the minstrels and gleemen who visited the house. (fn. 51)

In 1453 the prior of Durham again found cause of complaint in the laxity of the brethren at Finchale. They had taken to wearing linen shirts, instead of the linsey-woolsey injoined by their rule. The prior sternly forbade the practice. (fn. 52)

Finchale Abbey was so completely under the control of the prior and convent of Durham that it has practically no independent history.

In 1535 its revenues were valued at £122 15s. 3d. (fn. 53) At its suppression, nearly all its lands, except the site of the priory and a portion reserved for the seventh stall in Durham Cathedral, reverted to lay hands. The site formed part of the endowment of the new cathedral. (fn. 54)

Priors Of Finchale (fn. 55)

Thomas, sacrist of Durham, app. 1196

John, contemp. with Henry Pudsey

Ralph, occ. 1242 (fn. 56)

Robert Stichill, elected bishop of Durham, 30 September, 1260

M. . . . (fn. 57)

Geoffrey, occ. 1265 (fn. 58)

Robert of Holy Island, elected bishop of Durham, 12 Sept. 1274

Richard de Escrick, occ. Whitsuntide, 1284

Henry de Teesdale, occ. 1295

Walter de Swinburne

Geoffrey de Burdon, occ. 1303, 1307; prior of Durham, 1313-22


Adam de Boyvill (fn. 59)

Henry de Stamford, occ. 1312; elected bishop of Durham, 1316

Walter de Scaresbreck, prior of Coldingham in 1341

John de Laton, 1317, prior of Holy Island in 1324

Henry de Newcastle, occ. 1318

Richard de Aslakby, admitted prior, 1324; occ. 1331

Thomas de Lund, D.T., 1333

Emeric de Lumley, occ. 1341, 1342; prior of Lytham in 1333

John de Beverley, before 1345; removed to Holy Island

John Barneby, occ. 1345

Nicholas de Luceby, occ. 1346-9

John Wawayne

John de Norton

Thomas Graystanes, occ. 1354

William de Goldisburgh, 1354-60; prior of Holy Island in 1367

John de Newton, 1360-3

John de Tykhill, occ. 1363

Uthred de Boldon, S.T.P., 25 Aug. 1367

Richard de Birtley, 1372; master of Farne in 1380

John de Normanby, 1373; prior of Holy Island in 1379

Uthred de Boldon (again), 1375

John de Beryngton, occ. 18 May, 1384

Uthred de Boldon (again), occ. 1390

Roger Mainsforth

Robert Rypon, occ. 1397

Thomas D'Autre, 1405 to Christmas, 1411

William de Pocklington, 1411-23

William Barry, 1423; d. 1439

Henry Feriby, app. 13 Feb. 1439-40; held office till Sept. 1450

John Oll, (fn. 60) app. 16 Sept. 1450; d. before 1452

Thomas Ayer, 1451-7

Richard Bell, S.T.B., 1457-65; bishop of Carlisle, 1478

Thomas Ayre, occ. 26 Nov. 1464 (sic)

Thomas de Hexham, occ. 11 Sept. 1465

William Burdon, 1466-79

Robert Weardale, or Wardell, 1479-91

John Swan, app. 1 Aug. 1491, with clause of removal

Richard Caley, app. 29 Sept. 1502

William Cawthorne, app. 1506; occ. 1514, 1520

Richard Cayley, occ. 1525-7

John Haleywell, occ. 1528

William Bennett, occ. 12 Sept. 1536 (fn. 61)

No perfect example has yet been found of the seal of Finchale Priory. In the time of Prior John, who was contemporary with Henry Pudsey, the prior's seal was (apparently) oval in shape, and bore the three-quarter length figure of a man in a long robe, with a book in his hand. (fn. 62) The seal appended to a charter of Prior Ralph (c. 1242) bears the winged figure of an angel, presumably St. Michael, with a long spear, in the act of killing the dragon. Legend (defaced)—

✠ Angelico . . . . . . . Carmina . Signo. (fn. 63)


  • 1. Vita Sti. Godrici (Surt. Soc.), 62-7.
  • 2. Ibid. 126, 152.
  • 3. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. iii, 274; Orig. 2, 1; Pont. i, 1.
  • 4. Vita Sti. Godrici (Surt. Soc.), 326, 330.
  • 5. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 21.
  • 6. Probably Reginald the historian.
  • 7. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. 3, 7ae, H. 1.
  • 8. Wharton, Angl. Sacr. i, 727. See below, Baxterwood.
  • 9. MS. Treas. Dur. 1a, 1ae, T.
  • 10. Collect. Topograph. pp. xiii, 79.
  • 11. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), pref. p. xiv.
  • 12. Angl. Sacr. i, 727.
  • 13. MS. Treas. Dur. 3a, 6ae, Spec. M.I.
  • 14. Reg. Palat. Dun. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 1144.
  • 15. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 61.
  • 16. MS. Treas. Dur. 2a, 2ae, 16.
  • 17. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 54.
  • 18. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. 1a, 1ae, T. This gift appears to have been made to the monks at Finchale before Pudsey's foundation, and to have been lost before the dissolution; Priory of Finchale, pref. p. xv.
  • 19. MS. Treas. Dur. 4a, 3ae, 4.
  • 20. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 79.
  • 21. Ibid. 101.
  • 22. Ibid. 107.
  • 23. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. ii, 108.
  • 24. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 111-16.
  • 25. Ibid. 117.
  • 26. MS. Treas. Dur. 3a, 7ae, Spec. 3a, 1ae, 28.
  • 27. Ibid. 3, 6, Spec. K. 1.
  • 28. Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 2. See 3, 8, Spec.
  • 29. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 137-47.
  • 30. Ibid. 151-2.
  • 31. Ibid. 154.
  • 32. Ibid. 155.
  • 33. Ibid. 157.
  • 34. MS. Treas. Dur. 2a, 3ae, 4.
  • 35. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 82. See Raine, North Durham, App. No. cx.
  • 36. Ibid. 86-96.
  • 37. MS. Treas. Dur. 3, 6, Spec. O. 1, &c.
  • 38. Ibid. 3, 6, Spec.
  • 39. Ibid. 3a, 2ae, 26.
  • 40. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 127-31, &c.
  • 41. Reg. i, fol. 28b.
  • 42. MS. Treas. Dur. 3a, 1ae, 32.
  • 43. Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 38.
  • 44. Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 47.
  • 45. Ibid. 3a, 1ae, 46.
  • 46. B. M. Cott. MS. Faust. A. vi, fol. 8.
  • 47. B. M. Burney MS. 310, p. 178.
  • 48. A.D. 1387, Reg. ii, fol. 272.
  • 49. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), p. ccccxv.
  • 50. Reg. ii, parv. fol. 8b.
  • 51. Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), p. ccccxli.
  • 52. Reg. iii, parv. 60.
  • 53. Valor Eccl. Hen. VIII; Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), p. ccccxvi. Speed says, £146 19s. 2d., taking the gross sum. Stevens (vol. i, 26) gives the clear value at £120 15s. 3d. only. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. (ed. 1846), iv, 331.
  • 54. Ibid.
  • 55. The following list of priors is taken from Mr. Raine's preface to the Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), where references are given to a good many of the names, chiefly from the Finchale charters and account rolls. The fifth and sixth names, though not mentioned by Mr. Raine, occur in the charters which are printed in the same book.
  • 56. MS. Treas. Dur. 1a, 3ae, 5.
  • 57. In a charter apparently of about this date there is mention of 'M. Prior of Finchale'; Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 88.
  • 58. Ibid. 143.
  • 59. One of three monks who ran away from Durham Priory in 1303, and were brought back by command of the pope. The others were Henry of Luceby and Henry of Stamford. It is remarkable that all three subsequently became priors, and one was elected bishop, though not confirmed. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. iii, 184b.
  • 60. He was a native of Brancepeth parish, and when there was a charge against him that he was born in a servile condition, and therefore unable by law to hold office in the church, it was proved in his favour that his father was a freeman and had a silver knife; see Raine, North Durham.
  • 61. In Dugdale, Mon. Angl. (ed. 1846), iv, 331, Christopher Hapworth is mentioned as the last prior, but there was no Durham monk of that name at the period. Bennett was the last who held office, and he married as soon as he was discharged from his vow. 'In the time of James I and before that there was an old proverb or saying— The Prior of Finkela hath got a fair wife, And every monk will have one'; Mickleton MS. i, 92; Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), pref. pp. xxxi, xxxii.
  • 62. Engraved, Priory of Finchale (Surt. Soc.), 63.
  • 63. Ibid. 67.