A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
It appears from an early charter of Henry II that here was originally a hermitage, occupied by one Jordan before Hugh, monk of Westminster, became abbot of St. Edmunds (1157). About the end of 1175 it was converted into a priory by Maurice FitzGeoffrey of Tiltey. He had been sheriff of Essex, and in the Pipe Rolls of 10 and 11 Henry II is mentioned as owing £280 6s. 7d. to the king, which entry is repeated each year from the twelfth to the twentyfirst, with the addition that he had undertaken to make an abbey. The Pipe Roll of 22 Henry II records that he has paid £5 5s. 10d. into the treasury and has been pardoned the remaining £275 0s. 9d. for the church of the canons or Woodham, which henceforth is a royal foundation. The name Bicknacre does not occur till about the beginning of the next century. The priory was dedicated to St. Mary and St. John the Baptist.
Henry II confirmed the possessions of the canons, and Richard I also granted a charter to them. Henry III on 22 March, 1255, granted (fn. 3) to them licence to hunt the hare, fox and cat in the forest and free warren in their demesne lands in it. All these charters were confirmed by Henry VI in 1449. (fn. 4)
The church of Woodham Ferrers was granted to them by the earl of Derby, though they do not appear ever to have presented to it. They also had half of the church of Steeple, and shared the presentation to the vicarage with Stanesgate Priory. Bicknacre is not mentioned in the Taxation of 1291. Its possessions were not extensive, and it was often in difficulties, in 1311 (fn. 5) and 1313 (fn. 6) being sequestrated on account of its indebtedness. The canons had licence to enclose 60 acres in the forest in Woodham Ferrers and Danbury in 1285. (fn. 7) Some of the lands belonging to them were taken into the king's hands in 1320 and 1321 as having been alienated without licence, but were restored, (fn. 8) as they were not held of him, on petition being made in Parliament. (fn. 9) In 1368 the pope granted certain indulgences to penitents visiting the church at certain times. (fn. 10)
In 1337 Richard de Badewe had licence to grant land in Woodham Ferrers to the prior and convent to find a canon as chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in the chapel of St. Mary in the priory for the souls of his father and mother, ancestors, and heirs. (fn. 11) Apparently, however, this was not exactly carried out at once, for an indenture (fn. 12) made in 1352 recites that they held land called 'Lache Leghes' in Woodham Ferrers at farm of him for the maintenance of a secular chaplain in the chapel of Holy Trinity in the parish church of Great Baddow; but as they found themselves on many accounts oppressed by the tenancy they surrendered all to him saving a rent of 42s. for the maintenance of a canon as chaplain in the chapel of St. Mary in the priory.
In 1286 the prior and convent undertook (fn. 13) to grant to John son of Hugh de Swanesheth victuals for life in their house befitting a clerk in food, clothing, and shoe-leather and 10d. a week for his commons when he should go to the University, and necessaries as before when he returned. He was to serve them faithfully as long as he remained in secular habit, or until he took the habit of religion.
In the fifteenth century the house appears to have gradually fallen into decay. The last five priors were appointed by the bishop; in three cases, and probably in all, because the numbers were insufficient for election. The end came early in the next century. On 10 February, 1507, it was found by inquisition (fn. 14) that Edmund Godyng, late prior, died on 20 January seised of the priory, monastery, house and church of Bicknacre, the manor of Bicknacre, and thirty messuages, 300 acres of land, 40 acres of meadow, 60 acres of wood, 500 acres of pasture, 62 acres of marsh and £5 rent in Woodham Ferrers, Danbury, Norton, Steeple, Chelmsford, Mayland, Stowe, East Hanningfield, Hanningfield, Purleigh, Burnham and Downham, held of the king in chief in frankalmoin, and worth in all £40 10s. 0d. yearly; and that there were at the time no canons in the monastery, so that it was dissolved and terminated. The priory accordingly reverted to the king, who granted (fn. 15) it with all its possessions for the sum of £400 to the prior and convent of the hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate, London, to hold from 20 January. It was united (fn. 16) to the hospital by the bishop on 9 November, 1509. The prior and convent of the hospital were to maintain a chaplain resident at Bicknacre, where he was daily to offer up prayers for the souls of Henry VII and Henry II and Maurice de Tiltey and other benefactors, and for the good estate of Henry VIII; and on 26 and 27 October in each year certain masses were to be said for the above both in the hospital and in the priory, and twenty pence distributed among the poor at each place.
After the suppression of the hospital the priory and all its possessions, including the advowsons of the churches of Woodham Ferrers and Steeple, were granted (fn. 17) in fee on 23 February, 1540, to Henry Polsted, of London, and Alice his wife for £540 at a rent of £3 yearly.
Bicknacre was one of the four Essex houses which regularly sought licence for election from the king; and the elections of the priors are consequently recorded on the Patent Rolls. The following list is almost, if not quite, complete:—
Priors of Bicknacre
Thomas. (fn. 18)
Robert. (fn. 19)
John Cradock, resigned 1479. (fn. 61)