A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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5. THE PRIORY OF ST. JAMES, BRISTOL
The priory of St. James, Bristol, was founded about 1137, by Robert, earl of Gloucester, as a cell to the Benedictine monastery of Tewkesbury. (fn. 1) He set aside a tenth of the stone which had been brought from Normandy for the keep of Bristol Castle for the building of a Lady chapel in his new foundation. (fn. 2) He died 31 October, 1147, and was buried in the choir. (fn. 3) His son William, earl of Gloucester, completed the endowment which was confirmed by Henry II about 1181. (fn. 4) It included the manor of Ashley, the profits of his fair at Bristol in the week of Pentecost, a tenth of the rent of the earl's mills at Newport, a tenth penny of the rent of that vill in Monmouthshire, of his forest, and of three other mills, a burgage in the new part of the town which was then growing up around the castle on the land which separated it from the monastery. For the sustenance of the monks he gave the church of Escremoville in the diocese of Bayeux, and all the churches of his fee in Cornwall, viz. Eglosbrech, Connarton, Egloshale, Eglossant, Egloscrawen, with the chapel of Bennarton, and Melidan, with the chapel of St. Germoch.
The priors were appointed absolutely at the will of the abbot and convent of Tewkesbury, (fn. 5) and in the absence of other evidence, it may be concluded that the monks were sent there for a time from the mother house. The priors were usually summoned to take part in the election of the abbot. (fn. 6) The house was subject to the visitation of the bishop of Worcester. (fn. 7)
In 1230 the prior and monks of St. James were in conflict with the Dominicans, who had built an oratory within their parish. (fn. 8) When, at the request of the friars, William of Blois, bishop of Worcester, came to dedicate their altar and burial-ground, the monks protested against the dedication; they petitioned that their privileges might remain intact, and that the friars should be forbidden to receive oblations or to have a burial-place. However it is recorded in the Annals of Tewkesbury that the bishop did not desist from the dedication nor the friars from building and taking offerings, to the great prejudice and loss of the church of St. James.
It was doubtless to attract offerings that in 1238 the prior and convent persuaded Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, to institute the Feast of Relics which was celebrated on the Thursday of the week of Pentecost, when Bristol was thronged with visitors to the fair. (fn. 9) He granted an indulgence of fifteen days to all who came to the church and gave alms. Probably the offerings were needed for the fabric, as some building was then proceeding, and on St. Luke's Day 1239, Cantilupe dedicated the church. (fn. 10)
It is evident from the charter of Henry II that, as at Tewkesbury, the nave of the priory church had always been used by the parishioners. (fn. 11) In virtue of a papal bull the prior and convent had the right of sending a monk to serve the parishioners or of appointing a chaplain, and in 1242 they successfully resisted Walter de Cantilupe's attempt to create a perpetual vicarage. (fn. 12) In 1374 the parishioners undertook to build a bell-tower, but they resisted the obligation to rebuild the roof of the nave, and the prior and convent agreed to undertake it for an annual payment of 3s. 6d. in Redland. (fn. 13)
In 1310 the prior and convent proved their right to take 3d. for every hogshead of wine which came to the port of Bristol from twelve o'clock on the Saturday before the Feast of St. James for a full week. (fn. 14)
In 1394 a dispute with the steward of the honour of Gloucester was concluded. (fn. 15) When he came to hold a court at Bristol he claimed hospitality for a day and a night at the priory for himself, his bailiffs, servants and horses, but on inquiry he failed to prove the right.
The history of this priory, as of most other cells, was uneventful. It was reckoned as part of the possessions of the abbey of Tewkesbury, which was surrendered on 9 January, 1539. (fn. 16) There were probably at that time not more than three or four monks, and they would be included in the pension list of Tewkesbury. The prior received £13 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 17)
In 1535 the clear yearly value of the property was £57 7s. 4d. (fn. 18); of this sum over £31 was drawn from rents in Bristol and the immediate neighbourhood.
Priors of St. James, Bristol
Jordan, ob. 1231 (fn. 19)
Henry of Washbourn, resigned 1234 (fn. 20)
Thomas of Keynsham, appointed 1234 (fn. 21)
Thomas de Stokes, occurs 1255 (fn. 22)
Richard of Devizes, appointed 1255 (fn. 23)
William Isaac, appointed 1262 (fn. 24)
William of Campden, occurs 1347 (fn. 27)
Thomas Norton, occurs 1374 (fn. 28) and in 21 Ric. II.
William Newport, occurs 1454 (fn. 31)
William, occurs 1465 (fn. 32)
John Aston, occurs 1486 (fn. 33)
Robert Cheltenham, occurs 1523 (fn. 34)