Houses of Austin canons: The priory of St Gregory, St Canterbury

Pages 157-159

A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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The foundation of this house is by common consent attributed to Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury (1070-89), but different accounts of its original status are given. Eadmer says that he built the church on the opposite side of the road to St. John's Hospital, and placed canons in it to minister to the infirm there. (fn. 1) Gervase speaks of it as having been originally a hospital. (fn. 2) William of Malmesbury says that Lanfranc placed canons regular in it; (fn. 3) but there is good evidence that the order was unknown in England until the settlement at the priory ot St. Botolph at Colchester in the time of Anselm, Lanfranc's successor; and the version of Leland (fn. 4) that Lanfranc placed secular canons there, and William, (fn. 5) archbishop of Canterbury (1123-36), replaced them by canons regular, is probably correct. The possessions of the clerks of St. Gregory's are mentioned in the Domesday Survey. (fn. 6) Lanfranc's foundation charter and others are given in a chartulary preserved in the University Library at Cambridge. (fn. 7)

Gervase records that the church was burnt on 2 July, 1145, (fn. 8) and in 1241 it suffered from the violence of the party of the archdeacon of Canterbury in his dispute with the chapter of Christchurch. (fn. 9)

Archbishop Hubert (1193-1205) granted to the convent a charter (fn. 10) confirming its possessions, including a long list of churches, Northgate, Westgate, and St. Dunstan's, Canterbury; Thanington, Waltham, Bethersden, 'Lyvyngsborne' (Beakesbourne), Nackington, Stalisfield, Oare, and Elmsted, and various tithes. In the Taxation of 1291 the priory is said to own temporalities worth £25 15s. yearly in the diocese of Canterbury and £2 in Northfieet. Henry de Clyf had licence (fn. 11) in 1326 to grant land in Nackington to the prior and convent in aid of the maintenance of a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily in their church for the souls of himself and his ancestors; and John Mot had licence (fn. 12) in 1392 to grant land in Chartham, Harbledown, and Thanington to them to find a lamp burning daily before the altar at high mass.

William de Brichull was sent by the king in 1309 to the prior and convent to have the necessaries of life in food and clothing during his life. (fn. 13)

On 31 May, 1329, the great seal of England was, given into the custody of Henry de Clyf, who sealed writs with it in the priory; (fn. 14) and on 13 June he gave it back again in the hall in the priory, where the chancellor was lodged. (fn. 15) John Knyvet, chancellor, sealed charters, letters patent, and writs with the great seal on I September, 1372, in the priory. (fn. 16)

Archbishop Reynolds found many defects at his visitation in March, 1326, and suspended the prior. (fn. 17) There were further disturbances in the priory in 1330, and the prior of Christchurch and others, appointed by the archbishop to correct matters, ordered the removal of three canons, sending Robert de Wenchepe to the priory of Combwell, and John de Hagh and Adam de Wenchepe to Bentley in Middlesex, where the priory had property, under the charge of J. de Merston, one of the canons. (fn. 18) John and Adam were not to go out except to look after the property of the house, (fn. 19) but nevertheless were afterwards reproved for breaking bounds. (fn. 20) Richard atte Notebeame, another canon, was imprisoned about the same time, probably in connexion with the same affair, and appealed to the archbishop, who ordered his case to be inquired into; but it was found in January, 1331, that he had broken the treasury at night and carried off goods of the priory and then fled in secular habit, but was taken and brought back and imprisoned in consequence. (fn. 21) Robert de Wenchepe was afterwards in 1340 ordered by the archbishop to be sent to the priory of Leeds, but the chapter of Christchurch interceded for him on the ground that when he was treasurer he had done well in his office. (fn. 22)

The prior of St. Gregory's was appointed visitor of the Augustinian houses in the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester with the prior of Tonbridge in 1353, (fn. 23) and with the prior of Leeds in 1356. (fn. 24)

Archbishop Langham at a visitation in February, 1368, found that the rule of silence was not observed and that women had access to the priory, and ordered both these points to be corrected. (fn. 25)

Archbishop Warham made a visitation (fn. 26) of the priory in 1511; when Thomas Well or Wellys had been prior for six years and Walter Canterbury was sub-prior, Edmund Faversham sacrist, and William Tailor precentor, with six other canons, including a student of Cambridge. The sub-prior said that the precentor was fond of quarrelling with the brethren, and feared that if he were allowed to remain in office much contention would arise; in the absence of the prior and sub-prior he acted as president of the chapter, but there were others better fitted for this office. The prior only gave a general account to the brethren, not the items, so they could not know the state of the priory. Others corroborated his evidence. One said that the prior did not give his account in writing, but only verbally, and also that the butler gave the brethren very bad beer; another that the precentor was unfit for office, as he did not know how to sing; and a third that they had no bell-ringer, so that the brethren did not know the time of divine service. The prior and other officers were ordered to show their accounts annually in writing, and also to show them to the bishop on 1 April with an inventory of the goods of the priory at the time of the prior's accession to office. Tailor was forbidden to quarrel, under pain of removal from office.

The prior resigned in 1533, and Cromwell endeavoured to secure the succession of a nominee of his own. Cranmer wrote to answer on 6 May that he was resolved to prefer to the office a member of the same house if fit, or if not fit, the fittest he could find; and asked for further details, trusting that Cromwell would oppose the unseasonable ambition of men of the church and consider how unreasonable a thing it was for any man to labour for his own promotion. (fn. 27) The abbot of Waltham pressed the candidature of John Symkyns, cellarer of St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield (fn. 28); and the latter got the post, writing to thank Cromwell on 3 December. (fn. 29)

The oath of acknowledgement of the royal supremacy was taken on 9 January, 1535, by John, prior, and six other canons, Thomas Wellys, Christopher Cherche, Gregory Botolfe, Nicholas Champyon, Thomas Cawntterbury, and William Hamond. (fn. 30)

In the Valor of that year the possessions of the priory, including the manor of Howfield in Chartham, the manors and rectories of Bethersden, Waltham, and Nackington, and the rectories of Stalisfield, Elmsted, and Beakesbourne, amounted (fn. 31) to the value of £166 4s. 5½d. yearly; and deductions of £44 9s. 4½d, for rents, alms, pensions and fees brought the net income down to £121 15s. 1d. The priory was accordingly dissolved under the Act of 1536, the prior receiving a pension of 20 marks yearly. (fn. 32)

Priors of St. Gregory's, Canterbury

Richard, occurs c. 1183, (fn. 33) resigned 1187 (fn. 34)
Dunstan, occurs 1198 (fn. 35)
Robert de Oseneye, elected 1213 (fn. 36)
Peter, occurs 1223 (fn. 37)
Elias de Dierham, occurs 1225 (fn. 38)
Thomas, occurs 1227 (fn. 39)
Nicholas de Shotindon, elected. 1241 (fn. 40)
Robert, occurs 1253 (fn. 41)
Hugh, occurs 1263 (fn. 42)
William Pig, occurs 1271 (fn. 43)
Henry, occurs 1275, 1278 (fn. 42)
Guy, died 1294 (fn. 44)
Elias de Sandwyco, elected 1294 (fn. 45)
William de Lyndstede, elected 1301 (fn. 46)
John, occurs 1325 (fn. 47)
Thomas, occurs 1340 (fn. 48)
Robert de Wenchepe, died, 1349 (fn. 42)
William atte Thorne, elected 1349, (fn. 42) died 1378 (fn. 49)
Thomas Rauf, elected 1378 (fn. 49)
John de Bedynden, died 1409 (fn. 50)
William Cauntirbury, elected 1409 (fn. 50)
William Surrenden, resigned 1426 (fn. 51)
Thomas Kenyngton, elected 1426,57 occurs 1460 (fn. 52)
William Egyrton, occurs c. 1470, (fn. 53)
Edward Qyldford (fn. 42)
Clement Harding (fn. 42)
Edward, occurs 1486 (fn. 54)
Thomas Welles, elected 1505, (fn. 55) occurs 1151 (fn. 55)
William Braborne, occurs 1528 (fn. 42)
John Symkyns, elected 1535, (fn. 56) the last prior (fn. 57)

The seal (fn. 58) (thirteenth century) of the priory measures 2⅞ in.

Obverse,—In a niche with trefoiled arch topped with a small cross and supported on slender columns Lanfranc seated on a throne with mitre and pall, lifting up the right hand in. benediction and holding in the left a crosier, between two saints seated on thrones in smaller niches at the sides, that on the right being Edburga. Legend:—


Reverse.—A geometrical design of circles inclosing quatrefoiled flowers.


  • 1. Eadmeri Historia (Rolls Ser.), 16.
  • 2. Gervase of Canterbury, Opera (Rolls Ser.), ii, 368.
  • 3. Gesta Pontificum (Rolls Ser.), 72.
  • 4. Collectanea, i, 84.
  • 5. He had himself been an Augustinian canon at St. Osyth's.
  • 6. V.C.H. Kent, iii.
  • 7. a Ll. ii, 15. An abstract is given in the Catalogue of the library (1861), iv, 28-43.
  • 8. Op. cit. i, 130.
  • 9. Ibid, ii, 182.
  • 10. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 615.
  • 11. Pat. 20 Edw. II, m. 15.
  • 12. Pat. 16 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 32.
  • 13. Close, 2 Edw. II, m. 6d.
  • 14. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, m. 20 d.
  • 15. Ibid. 19 d.
  • 16. Ibid. 46 Edw. III, m. 12d.
  • 17. a Cant. Archiepis. Reg/Reynolds, fol. 147b.
  • 18. Lit. Cant. (Rolls Ser,), i, 336-9.
  • 19. Ibid. 344.
  • 20. Ibid. 346.
  • 21. Ibid. 343.
  • 22. Ibid, ii, 218.
  • 23. Cal. Bodleian Charters (ed. Turner and Coxe), 134-5.
  • 24. Ibid. 139.
  • 25. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Langham, fol. 76b.
  • 26. Ibid. Warham, fol. 35 b.
  • 27. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vi, 447.
  • 28. Ibid. 449.
  • 29. Ibid. 1495.
  • 30. Ibid. viii, 31.
  • 31. Valor Eccl (Rec. Com.), i, 24.
  • 32. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), p. 576.
  • 33. Thorpe, Reg. Roff. 170.
  • 34. a Hasted, op. cit. He became abbot of Cirencester.
  • 35. Feet of F. Kent, 10 Ric. I.
  • 36. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 41. After a few years he resigned and became a monk of Clairvaux.
  • 37. Feet of F. Kent, 7 Hen. III.
  • 38. Arch. Cant, vi, 211.
  • 39. Feet of F. Kent, 11 Hen. III.
  • 40. Pat. 25 Hen. III, m. 6. Nicholas occurs as prior in 1248 (Feet of F. Kent, 32 Hen. III).
  • 41. Feet of F, Kent, 37 Hen. III.
  • 42. a Hasted, op. cit.,
  • 43. Feet of F. Kent, 55 Hen. III.
  • 44. Pat. 22 Edw. I, m. 19.
  • 45. Ibid. m. 14.
  • 46. Cant. Archiepis. Reg; Winchelsey, fol. 284b.
  • 47. Close, 18 Edw. II, m. 19 d.
  • 48. Ibid. 14 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 30 d.
  • 49. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Sudbury, fol. 47.
  • 50. Ibid. Arundel, ii, fol. 122.
  • 51. Ibid. Chicheley, i, fol. 43.
  • 52. De Banco R. Easter, 38 Hen. VI, 314.
  • 53. Early Chan. Proc. bdle. 46, No. 399; bdle. 57, No. 64.
  • 54. a De Banco R. Mich, 2 Hen. VII, 62.
  • 55. See above. He had previously been prior of Bicknacre in Essex for rather less than a year (V.C.H. Essex, ii, 146), and before that a canon of St. Gregory's. For a short account of him see Arch. Cant, xiv, 164.
  • 56. See above.
  • 57. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), p. 576.
  • 58. B.M. Seals, lxv, 14, 15.