House of Gilbertine canons: New Bigging priory, Hitchin

Page 443

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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The priory of St. Saviour, New Bigging, Hitchin, (fn. 1) was founded by Sir Edward de Kendale, kt., at the end of 1361 or beginning of 1362 (fn. 2) for three canons of the Gilbertine order, of whom one was to be prior. (fn. 3)

Tanner and others have called this house a nunnery, but as there had to be at least seven canons in a double establishment (fn. 4) of the Gilbertine order, there could have been no women there at the foundation, and there is no trace of any afterwards. (fn. 5)

Kendale received the royal licence in February 1362-3 (fn. 6) to give to the prior and canons in order that they might celebrate for the souls of Robert and Margaret de Kendale, his father and mother, and of King Edward II, the advowson of the church of Orwell (co. Cambridge) and some land there which Margaret had intended to assign for this purpose to the warden and chaplains of the chapel of St. Peter in the church of Hitchin. The canons at the same time had leave to appropriate Orwell Church to their own uses.

From William Rous, chaplain, the convent in 1372 obtained eight messuages, 63 acres of land and 3s. rent in Willian and Hitchin in aid of their maintenance. (fn. 7) The resources of the house, no doubt still very small, were augmented thirty years later by other means. On 22 September 1402 the pope empowered the canons to choose eight priests, seculars and regulars, to hear the confessions of and absolve penitents who on the feast of the Annunciation between the first and second vespers visited and gave alms for the conservation of the priory church, and granted to such penitents the same indulgence as to persons visiting on 1-2 August the church of St. Mary of the Portiuncula, Assisi. (fn. 8)

The grant was perhaps made to meet a special emergency, for the statement in 1400 that Sir Robert Turk, kt., held a free chapel in Hitchin called 'le Bygynge ' (fn. 9) may mean that he had a mortgage on the place.

The house, the net annual value of which was returned in 1535 as £13 16s., (fn. 10) figured in 1536 among the smaller monasteries marked out for suppression, (fn. 11) and in that year Rauf Morice was petitioning Cromwell for a farm of the priory. (fn. 12) As, however, the first Ministers' Accounts (fn. 13) of the place date from Michaelmas 1538, and the prior was not granted a pension (fn. 14) until December of that year, the priory appears to have escaped dissolution (fn. 15) until the surrender of the parent-house of Sempringham in September 1538. (fn. 16)

John Mounton, the last prior, (fn. 17) is the only one recorded.


  • 1. Cal. of Papal Letters, iv, 349.
  • 2. The inquisition ad quod damnum preceding Kendale's grant of land to the canons for their buildings took place in November 1361 (Inq. a.q.d. file 340, no. 4).
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines, 33.
  • 5. The lack of proof that New Bigging was a house for both sexes has been noticed by Messrs. Pollard and Gerish, 'The Religious Orders in Hitchin,' East Herts. Arch. Soc. iii (1), 3.
  • 6. Pat. 37 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 37.
  • 7. Ibid. 46 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 32.
  • 8. Cal. of Papal Letters, iv, 349. The indulgence in 1402 for the benefit of certain religious dwelling by the vill of Hitchin is mentioned in 'Annales Ric. II et Hen. IV,'see Trokelowe and Blaneforde, Chron. et Ann. (Rolls Ser.), 348.
  • 9. Chan. Inq. p.m. 2 Hen. IV, no. 36.
  • 10. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 276.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 1238.
  • 12. Ibid. xi, 1479.
  • 13. Hen. VIII, no. 1617.
  • 14. £4 a year until he received an ecclesiastical benefice of that amount (Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. ccxxxiii, fol. 97).
  • 15. The commissioners who dissolved the small houses made no report on New Bigging, but sent the prior to the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations (Land Rev. Rec. bdle. 66, no. 3).
  • 16. V.C.H. Lincoln, ii, 186. It is here pointed out that the master of Sempringham used his influence with Cromwell to save the small Gilbertine houses from dissolution under the Act of 1536.
  • 17. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiv (2), 1355.