Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of West Langdon

Pages 169-172

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

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The abbey of St. Mary and St. Thomas the Martyr, Langdon, was founded by William de Aubervilla and colonized from the abbey of Leiston in Suffolk. The founder, by a charter which is witnessed by Hubert, bishop-elect of Salisbury, and must therefore belong to the year 1189, with the assent of Maud his wife and his heirs, granted all his town of Langdon for the making of a Premonstratensian abbey by Robert, abbot of Leiston, and gave to it the churches of Langdon, Walmer, Oxney, and Lydden, for the soul of Henry II and the souls of William his son, Emma his daughter, Hugh his father, and Wymarc his mother, and Ranulph de Glanvilla and Berta his wife. The phrasing seems to indicate that Henry II was then dead, and in that case the date of the foundation must lie between 6 July and 22 October, when Bishop Hubert was consecrated.

A chartulary (fn. 1) of the abbey is preserved, in which the foundation charter and others are set out. The grants of the founder were confirmed by his over-lord Simon de Abrincis, and also by his son Hugh de Aubervilla, his grandson William de Aubervilla, and his great-grandson Nicholas de Cryoll; and Archbishops Baldwin (1184-90), Hubert (1193-1205), and Stephen granted charters of confirmation. Gunnora de Soneldon and Denise de Newesole granted the chapel of St. Katharine, Newsole, in the parish of Coldred.

At the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities of the abbey were valued at £25 17s. 10d. yearly, and besides its churches it owned tithes of £1 10s. in Coldred. Edward II on 28 August, 1325, 'out of affection for Abbot William and the canons' granted to them the advowson of the church of Tonge, which had belonged to the rebel Bartholomew de Badlesmere; with licence for appropriation. (fn. 2) The king was then staying at Langdon, and it is possible that his affection for the abbot may have been more than a phrase; for the latter was afterwards mixed up with the disastrous attempt of the earl of Kent to restore Edward, supposed to be still alive. (fn. 3) The church of Waldershare came into the possession of the abbey in a somewhat similar way. The king on 21 July, 1322, granted (fn. 4) to the abbot the body and forfeited lands of Sir John Malmeins, a rebel; .and though the abbot apparently was not able to enjoy this grant to the full, he secured from Sir John all. his land of Apelton in Waldershare and the advowson of the church of Waldershare in exchange for 66 acres of land in Lydden, (fn. 5) releasing all claims against him on 4 April, 1323. (fn. 6) The king granted licence (fn. 7) for the appropriation of the church on 28 September, 1322, and it was effected on 20 March following; but in 1336 the abbot and convent had to pay heavily for a final settlement with the Malmeins family. (fn. 8)

In 1331 protection was granted (fn. 9) to the abbot while going beyond the seas on the king's service; and in 1316, (fn. 10) 1325, (fn. 11) and 1329 (fn. 12) he had licence to cross at Dover to attend the chapter general at Prémontré, taking 20 marks with him for his expenses on the last occasion.

The Premonstratensian abbey of Egglestone in Yorkshire was destroyed by the Scots in 1323, and its eight canons temporarily dispersed among other houses of the order. One of these, Bernard de Langeton, was sent by the king to Langdon on 20 September with a request that the abbot and convent should receive him as one of themselves until his own house be relieved. (fn. 13)

Edward III on 20 August, 1347, made a grant to the abbot of free warren in his demesne lands of Holyrpod (in Stelling), Enbrook (in Cheriton), Lydden, Newsole, Southwood (in Waldershare), and Langdon Wood; (fn. 14) and on 10 March, 1348, he gave licence for the crenellation of the gatehouse of the abbey. (fn. 15) Pope Boniface IX in 1400 granted indulgence to penitents visiting the abbey from the first to the second vespers of Easter Tuesday and the following day. (fn. 16)

Langdon is often mentioned in the Premonstratensian records. (fn. 17) Abbot William was the principal intermediary in the dispute between the abbot of Prémontré and the English houses of the order in. 1310; and Abbot W. appears as vicegerent of the abbot of Prémontré in 1345. A list of the community on 6 June, 1475, gives the names of John .Kentwell, late abbot, John Lyon, sub-prior, and six other canons, one of whom was not professed. A similar list in 1478 mentions John Brohdysch, abbot, and eleven other canons; and in answer to a set form of questions it was stated (fn. 18) that Sir Thomas Keryell was patron, the abbot of Leiston was father abbot, the abbey was founded in honour of St. Thomas the Martyr in 1212, and it had six churches, served by canons who were not perpetual.

Richard Redman, bishop of St. Asaph, abbot of Shap and vicar of the abbot of Prémontré in England, made several visitations of Langdon.

On 29 August, 1482, he found an excellent abbot, who had inclosed and cultivated many fields, and whom he exhorted to pay equal attention to internal discipline. The canons were to remember that the rule enjoined work, to rise to mattins, to keep to the traditional chant in singing, and not to go out of the monastery without leave. The debt at the creation of the abbot had been £100, but this was more than cleared off, and the house was excellently supplied with provisions. Robert Waynflett was abbot and John Lyon sub-prior, and the names of nine other canons are given.

In 1488 there were thirteen priests and four novices besides the abbot. The bishop visited on 12 July and directed the abbot to send a canon who did not get on with the rest to some cure of souls. John Kentwell was appointed prior and ordered to punish with a day's bread and water anyone absent from mattins, leaving the cloister without permission, or breaking the rule of silence. Incorrigible offenders were to be sent to the bishop. The hours of St. Mary were to be sung. More attention was to be paid to the tonsure, and two canons were reproved for appearing in choir without cloaks. The house was free from debt and well provisioned.

At the visitation on 7 October, 1491, Robert Waynflett was still abbot and John Kentwell prior, but only five other canons are mentioned. One who had been convicted of incontinence with a married woman was to receive 40 days' severe punishment and then to be sent to the monastery of Wendling for three years. The canons Were again reminded of the form of the tonsure, and ordered to rise to mattins under pain of a day on bread and water. The abbot had repaired the big bell and the walls of the cloister, and done many other things; and the house was prosperous.

In 1494 the bishop visited on 30 June, when Richard Coley was abbot and John Kentwell prior with six other canons, including one apostate. The administration of the abbot was excellent, but he was directed riot to receive canons of other monasteries except by order of the visitor; and the tonsure was once more referred to. The house was still prosperous.

The number of the canons was the same at the visitation on 11 October, 1497, and again there was one apostate. The bishop perceived that the church was ruined, and ordered the abbot to repair it and also to pay the stipends of the canons more regularly. One was punished with bread and water till Christmas for not rising to mattins, and others offending in this way were to receive the same punishment on the morrow. The house had a debt of £10, but was well provided with corn and animals.

Redman made his last recorded visitation on 5 October, 1500. Richard Coley was still abbot, and there were eight other canons, including John Kentwell, John Lyon, sub-prior, and two novices. The abbot was ordered not to receive any canon of another monastery, but to increase the number of his own as soon as possible. The law of silence was to be observed. The debts of the house amounted to £60, but more was owing to it, and it was sufficiently provided with corn and animals.

Thomas Wilkinson, abbot of Welbeck, arranged to visit. Langdon on 4 October, 1506, but no record of his visitation is preserved.

The gross income of the abbey amounted (fn. 19) in 1535 to £91 3s. 4d., and the net income to £56 6s. 9d. yearly, the deductions including a pension of £9 to John Yorke, late abbot, and £3 18s. 9d. in rents to the castle of Dover for castle-ward for the manors of West Langdon, Enbrook, Lydden, Apeltdn, and Southwood.

Langdon was visited on Friday, 22 October, in the same year by Richard Layton, who gave a most unfavourable and curiously circumstantial report (fn. 20) to Cromwell. Probably he had heard of it beforehand, for he writes that he sent Cromwell's servant, Bartlett, and his own servants to circumcept the abbey and keep all starting holes. He himself went alone to the abbot's lodging ' joining upon the fields and wood even like a cony clapper full of starting holes,' and was a good space knocking at the door. He found a short poleaxe and dashed the door in pieces, and went about the house with the poleaxe, for the abbot was ' a dangerous desperate knave and hardy.' Finally the abbot's ' gentlewoman bestirred her stumps towards her starting holes,' where Bartlett took 'the tender damoisel.' Her apparel was found in the abbot's coffer. After examination he sent her to Dover to the mayor to set in some cage or prison for eight days, and brought the abbot to Canterbury, where he would leave him in prison in Christchurch. He gives further details about the abbot and canons, and says that the house is in utter decay and will shortly tumble down.

It was no doubt in direct consequence of this that the abbey was formally surrendered (fn. 21) on 13 November by William Dayer, abbot, William Feyld, sub-prior, and nine other canons, before the Act of Dissolution; and Thomas Bedyll, who took the surrender, bears Layton out, declaring the house in decay, the abbot unthrifty, and the convent ignorant. (fn. 22) The abbot was, however, well treated, receiving a pension (fn. 23) of £7.

The site and possessions of the abbey were granted on 31 July, 1538, to the archbishop of Canterbury. (fn. 24)

Abbots of Langdon

Bartholomew (fn. 25)
William (fn. 26)
Richard, (fn. 27) occurs 1206 (fn. 28)
Peter, occurs 1227 (fn. 29)
Robert, occurs 1236 (fn. 30)
John, occurs 1248 (fn. 31)
Nicholas, occurs 1276 (fn. 32)
W., occurs 1284 (fn. 33)
Roger, blessed 1289 (fn. 34)
William de Digepet, occurs 1305 (fn. 35)
William, occurs 1310, (fn. 36) 1316, (fn. 37) 1323, (fn. 38) 1331, (fn. 39) 1338 (fn. 40)
W., occurs 1345 (fn. 41)
John de Hakynton, elected 1369 (fn. 42)
Robert de Estry, elected 1381 (fn. 43)
John, elected 1392, (fn. 44) occurs 1415 (fn. 45) Philip (fn. 46)
Thomas, occurs 1446, (fn. 47) 1459 (fn. 48)
John Kentwell, (fn. 49) resigned (1475)
John Brondysch, (fn. 41) occurs 1478
Robert Waynflett (fn. 41) or Wanflete, occurs 1482, 1491
Richard Coley, (fn. 41) occurs 1494, 1500
John Yorke (fn. 50)
William Dayer (fn. 51) or Dare, (fn. 52) resigned 1535, the last abbot

The seal (fn. 53) of the abbey (late thirteenth century) measures 2 / 516 inches.

Obverse.—the Virgin seated, crowned, on a throne, in the left hand the Child, in a canopied niche, on a corbel ornamented with sunk quatrefoiled panels. The arch of the canopy with five cusps, the canopy crocketed, the sides ornamented with four stories of double niches; outside these tabernacle work of corresponding character. Legend:—


Reverse.—Becket's martyrdom in the interior of Canterbury Cathedral. Legend:—


Another seal (fn. 54). (thirteenth century) is a pointed oval measuring 2¼ by 1¼ inches, representing the Virgin seated, crowned, on a throne, on the left hand the Child, in the right hand a sceptre. The Child, with nimbus, lifts up the right hand in benediction, holding in the left hand a book. The Virgin's feet on a carved corbel. Legend:—



  • 1. Misc. Books, Exch. K.R. 29. The foundation charter and a few others are printed in Dugdale, Mon. vii, 898.
  • 2. Pat. 19 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 28.
  • 3. Close, 5 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 27 d.
  • 4. Pat. 16 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 30.
  • 5. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 12.
  • 6. Ibid. 17 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 11.
  • 7. Ibid. 16 Edw. II, pt. 1, m. 20.
  • 8. Close, 10 Edw. III, m. 26 d.
  • 9. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. 2, m. 24; Close, 10 Edw. III, m. 43.
  • 10. Close, 10 Edw. II, m. 28d.
  • 11. Ibid. 18 Edw. II, m. 1 d.
  • 12. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, m. 9.
  • 13. Close, 17 Edw. II, m. 37d.
  • 14. Pat. 21 Edw. III, pt. 4; m. 21.
  • 15. Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 17.
  • 16. Cal. Papal Let. v, 375.
  • 17. B.M. Add. MSS. 4934-5 and Ashmolean MS. 1519. Printed in Collectanea Anglo-Praemonstratensia (Camd. Soc.).
  • 18. Two slightly different versions are given.
  • 19. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i, 43.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 668-9.
  • 21. Ibid. 816.
  • 22. Ibid. 829.
  • 23. Ibid. xiii (1), p. 577.
  • 24. Ibid. 1519 (68).
  • 25. Addy, Beauehief, 51.
  • 26. Gervase of Canterbury, Opera (Rolls Ser.), ii, 410. He was blessed abbot by Archbishop Hubert [11931205].
  • 27. Ibid.; he was blessed later by the same.
  • 28. Feet of F. Kent, 7 John.
  • 29. Ibid. 11 Hen. III.
  • 30. Ibid. 20 Hen. III.
  • 31. Ibid. 32 Hen. III.
  • 32. Chartulary, fol. 41d.
  • 33. Ibid. 125d.
  • 34. Gervase of Canterbury, Opera, ii, 295.
  • 35. a Exch. K.R. Eccl. 6 (18).
  • 36. See above.
  • 37. Close, 10 Edw. II, m. 28 d.
  • 38. Ibid. 16 Edw. II, in. 11 d.
  • 39. Ibid. 5 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 27 d.
  • 40. Chartulary, fol. 19 d.; it appears from Close, 10 Edw. III, m. 43, that he was a brother of Robert de Canterbury.
  • 41. See above.
  • 42. Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Whittlesey, fol. 70b.
  • 43. Ibid. Courtenay, fol. 5.
  • 44. Ibid. Morton-Courtenay, fol. 206b.
  • 45. a Pardon R. 2-5 Hen. V, m. 40.
  • 46. Chartulary, fol. 182.
  • 47. a De Banco, Hil. 24 Hen. VI, 58.
  • 48. Ibid. 49.
  • 49. See above; his successor had not been elected by 6 June.
  • 50. See above. He was a novice at the visitation in 1500.
  • 51. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 816.
  • 52. Ibid, xiii (1), p. 577. William was abbot in 1529 (ibid. iv, 6047).
  • 53. B.M. Seals, DC. E. 147.*
  • 54. Ibid. lxv, 73.