Alien houses: Priory of Hayling

Pages 216-219

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1903.

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The island of Hayling is stated by the Winchester Annals to have come into the possession of the cathedral church of St. Swithun, partly by the gift of Queen Emma, the wife of Ethelred, and partly by the gift of Bishop Alwyn.

A charter of William I., probably of the year 1067, in which he describes himself as Lord of Normandy and King of England by hereditary right, for the profit of his soul and at the urgent advice of his councillors, bestows on the famous abbey of St. Peter of Jumièges the manor of Hayling. The charter concludes with a prayer that any one infringing this gift may be removed from the communion of saints. (fn. 1) A charter of Henry I. between 1101 and 1106, addressed to Archbishop Anselm, William, Bishop of Winchester, Henry de Port, sheriff, and all his lieges of Hampshire, granted to the abbey of Jumièges, Hayling with all its appurtenances and privileges. A charter of Bishop Henry de Blois, between 1139 and 1142, refers to the strife between the churches of Winchester and Jumièges concerning the right to a portion of Hayling Island, and states that he and the whole convent of Winchester at the prayer of Pope Innocent, and in consideration of the poverty of the church of Jumièges, grant the said portion of the island to that church as its possession for ever, and will never again stir up strife concerning it. The first witness to this charter was King Stephen, and the second Archbishop Theobald. But notwithstanding this solemn covenant the dispute still lingered. In 1150 Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote to Bishop Henry of Winchester saying that the monks of Jumièges had lately approached him, imploring him to bear witness to the truth as to the agreement made in his presence between them and Bishop Henry as to Hayling. He therefore stated simply what he remembered of it. His recollection was that, for the peaceful and quiet possession of the land, the monks promised him to pay 100 marks, of which Henry, if he will kindly remember, remitted 20; of any other undertaking given him, neither Theobald nor any of those who were present have any recollection. He bears witness to what he heard. The archbishop concluded with the pious aspiration that Henry might be pleased to approve what so many witnesses declare to have been done, and that God would grant him eternal bliss. (fn. 2)

About the year 1174 Henry II. granted a general charter of confirmation to the abbey of Jumièges of their English possessions. Therein is specified the 'greater part of the island of Hayling, with the church and tithes of the whole island, except the tithes of pulse and oats in the land of the Bishop of Winchester, and in the same island sac and soc and thol and theam and infangenethef and all othercustoms.' (fn. 3) From this it is evident that the whole of the land of the island was not then in the possession of the abbey, but that the monks had manorial rights and franchises over the whole. The grant of 'thol' would be of much importance and value. They also held the whole of the ferry rights.

In 1248 there was a fierce dispute relative to the right of presentation to the church of St. Peter, Winterborne Stoke, in the diocese of Salisbury. Eventually the pope issued his mandate to the Bishop of Salisbury formally to induct one of the claimants, and stated in his communication that the prior of Hayling, who claimed the church by gift of Pope Gregory, deserved to forfeit Pope Gregory's grant because of his violence. (fn. 4)

The church of St. Swithun managed to keep a foothold in the island, and in 1284 transferred their tenants of Hayling to Bishop Pontoise and his successors. These lands in the north of the island remained in the possession of the Bishops of Winchester, as part of the manor of Havant, down to 1553. (fn. 5)

It has been more than once asserted that the priory of Hayling was not founded or erected till the reign of Henry III., but this is improbable. The abbot and convent of Jumièges would be quite sure to send over a colony of monks to the island so soon as the Conqueror gave them so valuable a gift, and a cell or priory, with suitable buildings, including a chapel or conventual church, would be speedily erected.

A dispute arose during the episcopate of John de Pontoise respecting the chapel of St. Peter in the north of Hayling Island, sometimes termed the chapel of Northwood. The bishop's award was to the effect that the vicar of Hayling and his successors were faithfully to serve the chapel as had been customary; namely that during the weeks of Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, and on double festivals and on every Sunday, there was to be full and complete service, namely mattins, evensong and compline, as well as masses, and that mass should also be celebrated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every week. (fn. 6) The dispute was however renewed in 1317 between the parishioners of the chapel of St. Peter and Michael, the vicar, inasmuch as he had for some time neglected to give them mattins, evensong or compline on any of the appointed times. The vicar was summoned before the bishop, and pleaded as an excuse that no books were provided for such services. The vicar and parishioners however agreed to accept implicitly the bishop's ruling. The bishop, recognizing the right of the rector of the church of Hayling, to which the chapel was annexed, summoned the prior of Hayling, as proctor for the abbot of Jumièges, as well as the vicar and parishioners to appear before Master Henry de Clife, his commissary. After deliberation, the vicar of his own free Will undertook to follow out precisely the ordinance of Bishop Pontoise, and also took upon himself the burden of finding the necessary books. The bishop gave his formal decision, reciting the action of the vicar, on 9 December, 1317. (fn. 7)

The priors of Hayling were simply nominated by the foreign abbot and were removable at will, and so we look in vain for any reference to them in the episcopal books. On an aid being granted to Edward I., the prior of Hayling was summoned, but he pleaded that the priory was alien and not conventual, and that all the priors of the same, from time whereof the memory of man ran not to the contrary, had been appointed or removed at the motion and will of the abbot of St. Peter of Jumièges in Normandy and were not perpetual and were not inducted. (fn. 8)

The taxation of 1291 returned the prior of Hayling as holding in the island £20 of rents, agricultural land taxed at £5, a mill taxed at 13s. 4d., a dovecote at 4s., a garden at 6s., and service of villeins at 20s., yielding an annual income of £27 3s. 4d. At the same time the rectory of Hayling, which was in the hands of the prior on behalf of the abbot of Jumièges, was returned at the high annual value of £80, whilst the vicarage was worth £14 6s. 8d.

This priory suffered much from two causes, war and the encroachment of the seas. In 1294 Edward I., in consequence of war with France, seized all the alien priories in England which were dependent upon the abbeys of Normandy. The prior himself was for a time taken into custody, the goods and chattels seized, and an inventory of the lands and tenements forwarded to the exchequer. In this return of the priory of Hayling, it is stated that the prior's garden and dovecote within the precincts were worth by the year 50s., and that there were 366 acres of waste land in demesne worth by the year £12 4s. 2d.; 10 acres of wood, 20s.; 100 acres of sheepwalk, 16s. 8d.; and a watermill, 60s.; giving a total of £19 10s. 10d. The annual value of the whole manor, including the church at £80, was £144 8s. 3½d. The goods and crops were estimated at £67 16s,; under this heading were included a palfrey worth, 60s.; a sumpter horse, 40s.; and two asses, 4s. The prior himself was probably released, as was the case with the heads of other alien houses, on finding sureties to observe neutrality during the continuance of the war. (fn. 9)

On the renewal of hostilities with France in the reign of Edward II., the alien priories including Hayling were again seized. A return was made of its possessions in January, 1325, by authority of a commission addressed to Ralph de Bereford and Richard de Westcote, keepers of the alien houses of Hampshire. The prior of Hayling however appeared in person before the barons of the exchequer at Westminster, and pleaded that his house and its appurtenances might be committed to him for safe custody. His prayer was granted on condition of his finding security for the safe custody of all the goods and chattels.

And now another misfortune befell the priory. From the beginning of the reign of Edward I. the sea had been making gradual encroachments on the west shore of the island, and lessening by degrees the property of the monks. But in 1324-5 the whole line of our south coast suffered much depredation, and a very considerable portion of the island of Hayling was definitely submerged beneath the waters, including the priory church and conventual buildings. The prior forwarded a statement to the Crown, and on 8 March, 1325, an inquisition was held before Ralph de Bereford and Richard de Westcote, as wardens of the alien houses, to ascertain the truth. The jurors found upon oath that 206 acres of arable land of the priory demesne had been inundated and destroyed by the sea since 1294, and that they were worth £10 6s. by the year, because the better land of Hayling was that nearest the sea; that 80 acres of pasture belonging to the priory had been submerged, worth 20s. a year; that six virgates of the land of customary tenants had been destroyed, the rental of which was 48s.; that nearly the whole hamlet of East Stoke with lands pertaining, as well as a great part of the larger hamlet of Northwood and its lands, which belonged to the parish church of Hayling and which the prior had for his proper use, were submerged, diminishing the annual value of the priory by £26 13s. 4d.; that the two priory mills were less by 20s. a year because the tenants used to grind at these mills; that the court fines and perquisites were less by 20s. a year; and that the full annual value of the possessions destroyed by the sea amounted to the considerable total of £42 7s. 4d. They returned the then annual value of the lands, tenements and church at £48 8s. 5d. (fn. 10)

In November, 1313, John Abel, escheator citra Trentam, received orders to desist from demanding fealty from the prior of Hayling for the priory lands, and to permit him to hold the same without hindrance, as he complained of being distrained for fealty of the lands he held of the king in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset of the gift of William the Conqueror in free alms, without doing any secular service. It was definitely stated in this order that none of the priors of Hayling nor the abbots of St. Peter of Jumièges, of which the priory was a cell, had done fealty at times of voidance of either the priory or the abbey. (fn. 11)

The priory was bound to provide support for two of the king's pensioners. In February, 1318, Oudinus Bruant, king's yeoman, was sent to the prior and convent of Hayling to receive the same maintenance for life as Philip Walrond, deceased, had received in that house by order of Edward I. (fn. 12) In 1334 Simon Bacon was sent to the house of Hayling to receive such maintenance as Philip Walrond had had there. (fn. 13)

These were bad times for even the best established of the alien houses. The heavy exactions of the Crown led the manorial villeins in some cases into the mistake of thinking that the law would not intervene for the maintenance of their rights. In February, 1338, the prior of Hayling, who was holding the priory and its lands of the Crown at a rental of £80, complained that though his predecessors time out of mind had had divers villeins in the manor of Hayling, from whom they used to receive corporal ransom at their will, arid fines in any voidance, yet these had by their confederacy among themselves and others refused to make such ransoms and fines or other services and customs to the prior; had rescued distraints made for these; and when the prior and his bailiffs and servants would have taken other distraints had rescued them with armed force. Commissioners were thereupon appointed to take an inquisition at Hayling as to all the particulars.

Nor had the inundations come to an end with the winter storms of 1324-5. The sea continued to encroach on Hayling throughout the fourteenth century. In 1340 there was a further grievous incroach of the water to such an extent that men then living officially testified that they had known the first church of Hayling (which was originally all in the centre of the island) standing in good preservation by the sea shore, and that it was then two miles (leucas) from the shore, and so deep in the water that an English vessel of the larger class could pass over it. (fn. 14) Jurors in 1341 testified to the greatly diminished value of the priory and the church, so much having been destroyed by the sea. (fn. 15)

In 1391, Simon Dubosc, abbot of Jumièges, retired from the abbey to Hayling, having obtained a restoration of the priory through the Duke of Lancaster, while he was in France as an ambassador endeavouring to arrange terms of peace. Three monks accompanied him from the mother abbey to re-establish discipline at Hayling Priory. (fn. 16) The abbey continued to enjoy a considerable share of the revenues of the priory until 1413, when the general dissolution of the alien priories came about, and Henry V. granted Hayling to the monastery of Sheen in Surrey.

A chartulary of Sheen in the British Museum contains a catalogue, covering many folios, of the various evidences and charters of the suppressed house of Hayling that had come into their keeping. (fn. 17) Among the long list of muniments were indentures binding the prior to find life corrodies for two men at the king's mandate; a charter of free-warren from Henry I., the titles to the churches of Hayling, Winterborne Stoke and Chewton, 'a byll of supplication made by the tenantys of Hayling to the priour and convent of Shene,' also 'a byll of supplication made by the tenantys of Hayling to the Comons in the Parlyament of ther sume of dymes to be diminished,' and a bull of Pope Innocent as to the appropriation of the church of Hayling and the chapel of Northwood.


  • 1. Round's Cal. of French Documents, i. 526; see also vol. i. V.C.H. Hants, p. 435, as to the Domesday entry.
  • 2. Round's Cal. of French Documents, i. 55, 56.
  • 3. Dugdale's Monasticon, ii. 1087.
  • 4. Cal of Papal Letters, i. 257.
  • 5. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise; Longcroft's Hundred of Brosmere, p. 176.
  • 6. Winton. Epis. Reg., Pontoise, f. 42b.
  • 7. Ibid. Sandale, f. 21.
  • 8. Longcroft's Hundred of Brosmere, p. 177.
  • 9. Add. MS. 6164, ff. 4, 5.
  • 10. Extents of alien priories, 18 Edw. II. P.R.O.
  • 11. Close, 7 Edw. II. m. 18.
  • 12. Ibid. 11 Edw. II. m. 10d.
  • 13. Ibid. 8 Edw. III. m. 37d. The name of William, prior of Hayling, occurs about this time on recognizances dated 1330 and 1337. Close, 4 Edw. III. m. 39d; and 11 Edw. III. pt. 2, m. 23d.
  • 14. Longcroft's Hundred of Brosmere, p. 220.
  • 15. Inquisitones Nonarum, f. 120.
  • 16. Deshayes' Histoire de l' Abbaye de Jumièges, pp. 87, 88.
  • 17. Cott. MS., Otho B. xiv. ff. 53-68.