A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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21. THE PRIORY (fn. 1) OF LITTLE LEIGHS
Leighs Priory, dedicated to St. Mary and St. John the Evangelist, is believed to have been founded by Ralph Gernon. (fn. 2) It is mentioned in the Hedingham Priory bede roll, (fn. 3) and so was probably in existence by the end of the twelfth century. The advowson remained in the family until the death of John Gernon in 1384, and afterwards passed by marriage to the families of Swynborne, Helion, Tyrell and Wentworth in succession. In an inquisition of 1450 it is stated that it belonged to the manor of Garnons in Wormingford. (fn. 4)
The priory acquired property rapidly, and its possessions mentioned in the Taxation of 1291 amount to £121 7s. 11½d. yearly, which is actually more than its net value at the dissolution. The chief amounts in Essex are £22 0s. 6d. in Boreham, £10 in Little Sutton and Stambridge, £7 10s. 1d. in Fyfield, £6 12s. 0d. in Halstead, £4 3s. 4d. in Little Leighs, £2 10s. 0d. in Bradwell, £2 1s. 8d. in Great Leighs, £1 8s. 0d. in Little Waltham and £1 4s. 0d. in Black Notley. But nearly half of its possessions lay in Suffolk, including the church of Wenham Combust, valued at £8 13s. 4d., and temporalities worth £14 15s. 3d. in Bradwell, £8 14s. 0½d. in Belton, £7 7s. 0d. in Wenham Combust, £6 3s. 5d. in Bergholt, £5 15s. 8d. in Swefling and £1 3s. 2d. in Capel, besides other places. The rectories of Birch and Matching were appropriated to the priory and vicarages ordained, (fn. 5) but in 1487 the rectory of Birch was restored. The advowson of the rectory of Little Leighs pertained to the priory, which at one time had also a moiety of the church of Halstead, but granted it to St. Paul's. (fn. 6) Several licences to acquire land in mortmain are recorded on the Patent Rolls; and in 1381 the convent had licence to enclose 100 acres in Little Leighs and make this into a park. (fn. 7)
Bishop Baldock visited the priory in the summer of 1309, and issued injunctions on 21 July. These related to regular attendance at all the offices; the diligent visitation of every part of the house by the sub-prior or president; the giving up to the president by both canons and 'conversi' of anything they might have in the way of private belongings, under pain of greater excommunication; infringement of the rule of silence to be punished by two days of bread and water diet; the exclusion of women; the non-alienation of property; the use of the refectory by two parts of the convent; the abstaining from ever going into the wood, the town or elsewhere without leave of the prior, and then only with an honest companion; the making of annual returns by all the obedientiaries; the forbidding of any individual canon giving his food or fragments from the table to boys or others outside the refectory; the keeping of the seal under three keys; the maintaining of the due number of the canons; and the reading of these injunctions in chapter four times a year. (fn. 8)
The prior of Leighs complained that in the tenth year (of Edward IV ?) Sir Robert Wynkefeld, justice of the peace in Suffolk, seized the convent's manor of Dernford in Swefling under cover of a grant forged by their lessee, and when they sent one of their canons, Robert Colne, to the manor, he seized him with various cattle and goods belonging to the priory. (fn. 9)
The oath of supremacy was signed (fn. 10) on 6 July, 1534, by Thomas Ellys, prior, John Andrew, sub-prior, John Darby, James Bartram, Thomas Russell, William Knyghtbredge, Thomas Eve, Richard Poowlly, John Homsted, Robert Hulle and Edmund Freke. The last three appear as the junior canons of Waltham in 1540, having probably been transferred there after the dissolution of Leighs.
The priory is returned in the Valor as being worth £114 1s. 4d. yearly; and it is one of the few of which we have the complete valuation, (fn. 11) the gross value being £141 14s. 8d., from which deductions were made of £11 15s. 4d. in pensions, £11 18s. 0d. in rents, and £4 in fees. The Suffolk property had fallen off greatly in value, being now only worth £30 4s. 3d. It was dissolved in 1536, the prior receiving a pension (fn. 12) of £16 yearly. An inventory (fn. 13) was taken on 1 June of the goods in the various chambers and buildings, and these were valued at £23 16s. 6d., besides five bells in the steeple worth £33 6s. 8d., cattle worth £11 15s. 0d.t and corn worth £1 5s. 0d. The debts of the house amounted to £32 3s. 10½d. There were 23½ ounces of plate, valued at £4 14s. 2d. The site of the priory and various other possessions, including the manors of Little and Great Leighs, Felsted, Fyfield, Leighs Camset (in Felsted), Bernes and Herons (in Fyfield), were granted (fn. 14) on 27 May, 1536, to Richard Rich, chancellor of the Court of Augmentation, as also later (fn. 15) the manors of Slamsey (in White Notley), Old Hall and Brent Hall (in Boreham), and Gladfen (in Halstead). The manors of Wenham Combust, West (sic) Bergholt, Dernford in Swefling and Gapton in Bradwell and other possessions of the priory in Suffolk were granted (fn. 16) on 15 August, 1536, to Richard Cavendish.
Priors of Leighs
Thomas, occurs 1287. (fn. 27)
Thomas Chelmesho, elected 1307. (fn. 28)
Henry, occurs 1337. (fn. 29)
Hugh, occurs 1354. (fn. 30)
Richard, occurs 1405. (fn. 38)
Peter, occurs 1411. (fn. 39)
John Grene, resigned 1443. (fn. 42)
John Pernel, admitted 1443. (fn. 43)
John Webb, occurs 1479. (fn. 46)
Henry Trotter, resigned 1510. (fn. 47)
The seal of the priory attached to the acknowledgement of supremacy (fn. 58) is a pointed oval of red-brown wax, measuring 2½ in. by 1¾ in. In the upper part is Christ among fishermen in a boat; in the lower a preacher (St. John the Evangelist) surrounded by six mitred heads; and at the base is a swan.
Another seal (fn. 59) (thirteenth century) is a pointed oval of green wax measuring about 2½ in. by 1½ in. representing an eagle holding a scroll. The reverse is a smaller oval representing a sea-horse, with tail nowed and wings erect, with legend—
FAC MECUM SIGNUM IN BONO.