Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Little Dunmow

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.


'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Little Dunmow', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, (London, 1907), pp. 150-154. British History Online [accessed 19 June 2024].

. "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Little Dunmow", in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, (London, 1907) 150-154. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024,

. "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Little Dunmow", A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2, (London, 1907). 150-154. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024,

In this section


A copy (fn. 2) is preserved of a short chronicle begun by Nicholas de Bromfeld, canon of Dunmow, who was born in 1259. By this it appears that in 1104 Juga Baynard, lady of Little Dunmow, caused Maurice, bishop of London, to dedicate the church of the town to the honour of St. Mary the Virgin. The cure of souls was committed by the bishop to a priest named Britric, and the said Lady Juga granted to the church on the day of dedication half a hide of land free of all service. In 1106 her son and heir, Geoffrey Baynard, placed canons in the church with the assent of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury. In 1111 William Baynard, of whom Lady Juga held the town of Little Dunmow, lost his barony by misfortune and felony; and Henry I granted the whole barony to his sewer, Robert Fitz Richard, the ancestor of the barons Fitz Walter, to whom the advowson of the priory belonged until the dissolution.

The endowments of the priory are set out in detail in numerous charters in the register, (fn. 3) preserved in the British Museum. Geoffrey Baynard confirmed whatever his mother had granted to the church, and added further lands and tithes. Robert Fitz Richard and Maud his wife confirmed the possessions of the canons and granted lands and tithes in Henham, Norton, Sturston, Passefeld, Barnston and Paglesham. His son, Walter Fitz Robert, confirmed the grants already made by his predecessors and others, and granted the churches of Burnham, Hempnall and Poslingworth. Robert Fitz Walter, the next patron, granted a charter of confirmation. He also, for the soul of Gunnora de Valoniis, his wife, and with the assent of his son-in-law, William de Mandeville, earl of Essex, granted so far as he could as patron the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen, Hertford. Richard I on 3 June, 1190, confirmed the possessions of the priory and granted liberties; and charters of confirmation were obtained from Gilbert, Richard, William and Robert, bishops of London.

In the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities of the priory were valued at £40 19s. 2½d. yearly, the principal amounts being £11 2s. 8d. in Little Dunmow, £5 9s. 3½d. in Burnham, £4 5s. 9½d. in Rayne and £3 11s. 8d. in four parishes in London. Property was also owned in Stebbing, Roydon, Great Dunmow, Henham, Saling, Lambourne, Great Bardfield, Great Tey, Barnston, Tolleshunt Major, Steeple Bumpstead and several other parishes in Essex, and in Norfolk, Suffolk and Hertfordshire. The spiritualities were considerable. The church of Little Dunmow was appropriated to the priory, and served as a curacy by one of the canons. The church of Burnham was appropriated and a vicarage endowed, but to this also a canon was presented. The churches of Henham and Old Saling in Essex, Sturston and Hempnall in Norfolk, and Poslingford in Suffolk were also appropriated; and the priory owned the advowsons of the rectories and portions in the churches of Barton All Saints and Boughton in Norfolk, and portions in the churches of Finchingfield, Paglesham, High Ongar, Cold Norton and Shimpling. Henry VI on 23 May, 1451, inquired about the appropriation of the church of Burnham, and the bishop reported (fn. 4) on 10 June that the prior and convent had held it appropriated since 1301, and that a vicarage was endowed to £10 and more, and at each tenth the convent paid 2 marks and the vicar 20s.

Several licences for the further acquisition of property are recorded on the Patent Rolls, the most important being that of the manor of Southall in Little Dunmow in 1389. (fn. 5) Licence was granted (fn. 6) on 20 June, 1412, for Joan de Bohun, countess of Hereford, and others to found a chantry in the church of the priory for the souls of Walter Fitz Walter, lord of Woodham, and Eleanor his wife, and to grant the advowson of the church of Great Tey to the prior and convent, and for these to appropriate it. But this grant does not seem ever to have taken effect.

The Chronicle tells that Walter Fitz Robert, patron of the church, who died in 1198, was buried in the middle of the choir; and his son, Robert Fitz Walter, who died in 1234, before the high altar. Walter, lord Fitz Walter, by his will (fn. 7) proved on 10 November, 1432, left his body to be buried in the priory, willing that his executors make an arch in the wall near to the grave of his mother, and that therein his body, and the bodies of his wife and children, as likewise the bones of his mother, be deposited, for the charges whereof he bequeathed 40 marks. In 1268 Prior John was suspended (fn. 8) and the conventual church interdicted, on account of unpaid tithes, for four days by Master Godfrey de Sancto Dunstano and Fulk Lovel; but on appeal they reversed the suspension. On 10 August, 1510, the five bells in the belfry of the church were consecrated (fn. 8) in honour respectively of St. Michael, St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Baptist, the Assumption of St. Mary, and Holy Trinity and All Saints.

On 29 August, 1369, a writ (fn. 9) was issued for the arrest of William de Stoke, a canon of Dunmow, on a charge of counterfeiting the king's money, both gold and silver. Probably he cleared himself, for he appears to have been presented (fn. 10) to the vicarage of Burnham on 14 October, 1371.

The register contains, besides the charters, a considerable quantity of miscellaneous matter added at various times. At the beginning is the appointment (fn. 11) by John Orwell, prior, and the convent on 7 November (the year not given) of Walter Wirtyll as steward of their lordships and manors in Essex for life, receiving from the manor of Clopton Hall 20s. yearly during the life of John Sandon, and afterwards 40s. yearly. Apparently this proved unsatisfactory, for above is written, in bold letters, Caveatis ne decetero fiant alique littere consimiles. On Sunday before St. Valentine, 11 Edward I, the conventual loaf called 'miche' was weighed (fn. 12) before Prior Richard and the brethren, and the weight was found to be 63s. 4d. sterling, and when baked it should weigh 62s. 8d. The weight was sealed in the treasury with the prior's seal. The white loaf of the same quality weighed 42s. 3d. and 41s. 7d. in like manner.

Robert de Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, visited (fn. 13) the priory on Saturday before St. Botolph the Abbot, 1303, and stayed for five days. A note is made of several charters which were produced for his inspection, and of the expenses of the priory on the occasion, amounting to £21 8s. 10½d.

John, prior, and the convent undertook (fn. 14) on Wednesday after St. Luke the Evangelist, 1265, to appoint a canon to celebrate divine service daily for the souls of Master Roger de Salinges and others in the chapel of St. Mary, specially constructed for this in the court of the priory, Roger having granted lands to them.

Richard, prior, and the convent granted (fn. 15) allowances to Master William de Standon, clerk, on 6 May, 1289; as also (fn. 16) did Prior Stephen to Master Richard de Neuport, archdeacon of Middlesex, on the Translation of St. Erkenwald, 1305. William de Chikewelle was sent (fn. 16) by Edward I to the priory on 29 August, 1304, with a request for maintenance; but the prior asked to be excused, alleging losses through inundations of the sea and difficulty in paying tenths and other charges.

Other subjects mentioned in the register are the indebtedness (fn. 17) of the priory to Sir Ralph de Hengham in the times of Priors Richard de Witham, Stephen de Notele and Robert de Feryng; the vesture (fn. 18) of the canons and the articles allowed for their use at table and bed in the year 1288; a list (fn. 19) of tenants in Little and Great Dunmow and Barnston, to whom dishes of meat were to be given at Shrove Tuesday, 1302, according to old custom, and also of eggs received; a list (fn. 20) of utensils of the kitchen on Monday after Michaelmas, 1303, on the death of Geoffrey, the cook; requests for ordination; (fn. 21) an extent (fn. 22) of the manor of Henham on Tuesday before Midsummer, 1275; and the order (fn. 23) for consecrating a church.

Dunmow is probably more widely known to fame than any other of the smaller English houses on account of the custom of the bacon. The exact origin of this is not known, but it is popularly ascribed to Robert Fitz Walter. Anyone who had not repented of his marriage, sleeping or waking, for a year and a day, might go to Dunmow and claim a gammon or a flitch of bacon. The applicant had to take oath before the prior and convent and the whole town, humbly kneeling in the churchyard upon two hard pointed stones, and he was then paraded with ceremony through the priory and town. Three instances are recorded of successful claims before the dissolution. Richard Wryght, (fn. 24) of Badeburgh by Norwich, yeoman, came to Dunmow and sought the bacon on 17 April, 23 Henry VI, and was sworn according to the form of the charter before John Canon, prior, and the convent and many neighbours, and presented with a flitch. Stephen Samuel, of Little Ayston, husbandman, on Lady Day in Lent, 7 Edward IV, came to the priory and demanded a gammon. He was sworn before Roger Bulcott, prior, and the convent and a multitude of neighbours, and it was delivered to him. In 1510 John Ley, (fn. 25) fuller, of Coggeshall, came to the priory and sought a gammon on Sunday, 8 September, and was sworn before John Tyler, prior, and the convent and many neighbours. A form in rhyme of the oath is preserved, but it is probably spurious. The ceremony was revived later on several occasions, and at the present day it forms a regular Bank Holiday amusement.

An interesting book of accounts is preserved (fn. 26) of miscellaneous expenditure by Prior Geoffrey, beginning at the week before Palm Sunday, 23 Henry VIII, and ending the third Sunday after Trinity, 27 Henry VIII. The total amounts to £45 4s. 7d., of which the following are specimen entries:—

Christmas, 25 Henry VIII, a bottle of red wine 5d., alms 5½d., to my lord of Misrule 12d.

First Sunday after Epiphany, my cost to my lord Fywater 3s. 10d., reparations at Henham 'jauncell' 4s. 4d.

Sexagesima Sunday, reward to two scholars of Cambridge 2s. 4d.

First Sunday in Lent, to Skoryer, for making of a buttress at the Dorter wall, 16s. 8d.

Dominica in Albis, reward to three minstrels 16d., to the bayley of the hundred 3s. 4d., to the King's players 20d., the escheator's fee 5s., repairs at Styrstun for a 'jemny' 20s.

Fourth Sunday: convent's wages £3 6s. 8d., my costs to London 12s. 5d.

First Sunday: the Novys when they went to orders 3s. 8d.

Second Sunday: repairs at Mangap 7s. 11d.

Fifth Sunday: costs of my lord of Canterbury's visitation £4 11s. 2½d., wine 16d., rewards among his servants 7s.

Twelfth Sunday: wine I bought when lord Fywater was here 20d.

Sixteenth Sunday: to a man of law for seeking of evidence 3s. 4d., reward to the King's pursuivant 16d.

Eighteenth Sunday: Bensun for making of 9½ feet of the steeple £11 0s. 7d.

Twenty-third Sunday: to the prior of Lyys [Leighs] 2s.

Advent: for my lady Gate's 'deryge' 6s. 8d.

There is also preserved (fn. 27) a book of household expenses kept by the same prior. The dates range from 25 December, 1528, to 11 July, 1536, and the average expenses are somewhat over £1 a month.

The oath of acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was taken (fn. 28) on 4 July, 1534, by Geoffrey Schether, prior, William Gray, Ralph More, Humphrey Mertyn, Hugh Yonge, John Ram, Robert Stok, William Wyseman, William Daynguet, Henry Fynche and Edward Braynewode. Humphrey Martyn appears afterwards as a canon of Waltham, having probably been transferred there after the dissolution of Dunmow.

The priory is returned in the Valor as being of the net value of £150 3s. 4d., the gross value being given by Speed as £173 2s. 4d. yearly. It thus came under the operation of the Act of 1536 and was dissolved accordingly, a pension (fn. 29) of £20 yearly being assigned to the prior. An inventory (fn. 30) of the goods in the various chambers and buildings was taken on 3 June, 1536. These were valued at £83 10s. 8d., besides cattle worth £19 16s. 2d., and corn worth £62 1s. 4d. There were 206¼ ounces of plate, valued at £38 4s. 11d. The debts of the house amounted to £34 4s. 3d. On 20 July in the same year the king granted (fn. 31) to Robert, earl of Sussex, the late patron, in tail, the site and church of the priory, the manors of Little Dunmow and Clopton Hall, the rectories and advowsons of Little Dunmow, Henham, Old Saling, Burnham, Sturston, Hempnall and Poslingford, annuities from the rectories of Boughton and Barton Bendish and other possessions of the priory in London, Little and Great Dunmow, Tolleshunt Major, Lambourne, Henham, Old Saling and Burnham in Essex, Sturston, Hempnall, Boughton and Barton Bendish in Norfolk and Poslingford in Suffolk; with the exception of the manors of Westwikhall and Estwik and a marsh in Burnham; the whole being of the yearly value of £121 14s. The manors of Westwykehall and Estwyke and lands called Westwyke and Estwyke in Burnham were granted (fn. 32) to Robert Riche of London and Elizabeth his wife and his heirs on 25 November, 1543.

Priors (fn. 33) of Dunmow

Britric, the first prior, died 1127.

Augustine succeeded, died 1163.

Robert succeeded, died 1179.

Ralph succeeded, died 1208.

Durand succeeded, died 1217.

William succeeded, died 1221.

Thomas (fn. 34) succeeded.

Thomas de Tanton, died 1238.

John Pateforde (fn. 35) succeeded, died 1245.

Hugh de Stebenhethe succeeded, died 1246.

Edmund succeeded, died 1247.

Geoffrey succeeded, died 1248.

John de Codham (fn. 35) succeeded, died 1270.

Hugh de Poslington succeeded, ceased 1279.

Richard de Witham succeeded, occurs 1296. (fn. 36)

Stephen de Notele, succeeded in or before 1301, (fn. 37) died 1312.

Robert Feryng, (fn. 38) succeeded 1312, died 1329. (fn. 39)

John de Gelham, elected 1329. (fn. 40)

Robert de Wodehouse. (fn. 41)

Richard de Plescys, resigned 1365. (fn. 42)

Nicholas de Helmenden, elected 1365, (fn. 43) resigned 1370. (fn. 44)

John de Swafham, elected 1370, (fn. 45) died 1390. (fn. 46)

John de Burnham, elected 1391. (fn. 47)

Robert Fordham, occurs 1418. (fn. 48)

Richard Gloucestre, (fn. 49) died 1437. (fn. 50)

John Newport, elected 1437, (fn. 51) resigned 1440. (fn. 52)

John Sutton, elected 1440, (fn. 53) died 1444. (fn. 54)

John Canon, elected 1445. (fn. 55)

William. (fn. 56)

John Orwell, (fn. 57) occurs 1458. (fn. 58)

Roger Bulcott, occurs 1467. (fn. 59)

John, occurs 1490. (fn. 60)

John Tyler or Blakemore, occurs 1510, (fn. 61) died 1518. (fn. 62)

Geoffrey Shether, elected 1518, (fn. 63) the last prior. (fn. 64)

The seal of the priory attached to the acknowledgement of supremacy (fn. 65) is a pointed oval of red wax measuring about 23/8 in. by 13/8 in. It represents the coronation of the Virgin in a canopied niche with tabernacle work at the sides. In the base under a round-headed arch is a monk kneeling in prayer between two shields of arms — a cross between four mullets. Legend:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 145.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Cleop. C. iii, f. 291.
  • 3. Harl. MS. 662.
  • 4. Register, f. 109.
  • 5. Pat. 13 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 16.
  • 6. Ibid. 13 Hen. IV, pt. 2, m. 15.
  • 7. Testamenta Vetusta, 221.
  • 8. Chronicle.
  • 9. Pat. 43 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 22 d.
  • 10. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii, 113.
  • 11. Register, f. 3.
  • 12. Ibid. 5.
  • 13. Register, 115.
  • 14. Ibid. 110.
  • 15. Ibid. 119.
  • 16. Ibid. 116.
  • 17. Ibid. 81, 116.
  • 18. Ibid. 5.
  • 19. Ibid. 120.
  • 20. Ibid. 124.
  • 21. Ibid. 127.
  • 22. Ibid. 126.
  • 23. Ibid. 122.
  • 24. Ibid. 128.
  • 25. Ibid. 3.
  • 26. B. M. Add MS. 20,021; L. and P. Hen. VIII, viii, 865.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 57.
  • 28. Ibid. vii, 1024.
  • 29. Ibid. xiii (1), 1520.
  • 30. Ch. Gds. (Exch. K. R.), xii, 31, 32, 33. See Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. ix, 280, 282.
  • 31. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 202 (36).
  • 32. Ibid. xviii (2), 449 (63).
  • 33. The names and dates of the earlier ones are given in the Chronicle.
  • 34. Probably Thomas de Tanton.
  • 35. One of these is probably identical with John de Sanford, who is mentioned as prior in the register, f. 72.
  • 36. Register, f. 116. He resigned later through illhealth; and Stephen, sub-prior, and the convent reported to the bishop and Robert FitzWalter that they had granted to him a chamber with a garden, two conventual loaves, two flagons of ale and two dishes of flesh or fish from the kitchen daily, and 40s., six cartloads of wood and six pounds of candles yearly (Ibid. 114).
  • 37. Ibid. 116.
  • 38. Ibid. 81.
  • 39. Pat. 3 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 22. The convent had licence to elect on 22 April.
  • 40. Ibid. 21, 12. The king gave his assent to the election on 1 May.
  • 41. Newcourt, op. cit. ii, 228.
  • 42. Pat. 39 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 15. The convent had licence to elect on 8 May. Richard occurs in 1351 (Coram Rege, Mich. 25 Edw. III, 94 d.).
  • 43. Ibid. m. 8. The king gave his assent to the election on 18 May.
  • 44. Lond. Epis. Reg. Sudbury, 126. On 20 June.
  • 45. Ibid. On 3 July.
  • 46. Ibid. Braybrook, 290.
  • 47. Ibid. On 9 January. John occurs as prior in 1404 and 1414 (Register, f. 127).
  • 48. De Banco, Mich. 6 Hen. V, 267.
  • 49. A presentation to the vicarage of Burnham, vacated by his election as prior, was made on 18 October, 1426 (Newcourt, op. cit. ii, 114). Richard was prior in 1425 (L.T.R. Mem. R. 3 Hen. VI, Trin. No. 2).
  • 50. Lond. Epis. Reg. Gilbert, 109-111. On 31 March.
  • 51. Ibid. On 11 May.
  • 52. Ibid. 116, On 14 April.
  • 53. Ibid. On 10 May, by way of inspiration.
  • 54. Ibid. 126. On 26 December.
  • 55. Ibid. On 15 February. He was prior of Blackmore.
  • 56. Register, f. 127. He was prior in the time of Thomas, bishop of London [1448-89].
  • 57. See above. According to Newcourt, op. cit. (ii, 114), John Orwell, perhaps the same, was vicar of Burnham from 1461 to 1473, when he died.
  • 58. Chanc. Warrants, 1,762.
  • 59. See above. Roger was prior in 1475 (De Banco, East. 15 Edw. IV, 243 d.).
  • 60. Blomefield, Norfolk, vii, 302.
  • 61. See above.
  • 62. Lond. Epis. Reg. Fitz James, 132. On 15 November.
  • 63. Ibid. On 2 December. He was sub-prior. Seven canons took part in the election, which was by way of scrutiny, and all but one voted for him.
  • 64. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 202 (36).
  • 65. Acknowledgements of Supremacy. S. A. i, 44x.