Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Lytham

Pages 107-111

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The Benedictine priory of Lytham was founded between 1189 and 1194, during John count of Mortain's tenure of the honour of Lancaster, by his knight, Richard son of Roger, of Woodplumpton in Amounderness; Count John gave his licence to alienate the vill of Lytham, assessed at two plough-lands, to any religious he pleased in free alms, undertaking to remit its thegnage rent of 8s. 10d. (fn. 1) Richard seems at first to have contemplated the establishment of an independent house with the help of one of the two great abbeys which had interests in his neighbourhood, Shrewsbury, the patrons of Kirkham church, and Evesham, the owners of a cell at Penwortham. Apparently he applied to each in turn, for two documents are extant in one of which Hugh, abbot of Shrewsbury, agrees to send his monk Robert de Stafford, as head of the new house, without founding thereon any claim to subjection, (fn. 2) while in the other Roger Norris, abbot of Evesham (1191-1213), accedes to a request that his 'familiaris' William should 'order (ordinare) the place called Lytham given to religion' and institute there Benedictine brethren. (fn. 3)

But the idea of an independent house was soon abandoned in favour of the creation of a cell dependent on the priory of Durham. A certain religious connexion already existed between Lytham and Durham. The ancestors of Richard son of Roger, who built Lytham church, dedicated it to St. Cuthbert, and it is the scene of several of the twelfth-century miracles ascribed to the saint by the hagiographer Reginald of Coldingham. (fn. 4) Richard himself, when apparently sick unto death and carried into the church to die, marvellously recovered, and the life of his infant son was preserved in the same way. On both occasions he is said to have gone to Durham to return thanks, and Reginald professes to have had the story from his own lips. (fn. 5) Doubtless he embellished it, but gratitude may have been among the motives which finally determined Richard to give the whole vill of Lytham with its church to 'God and St. Mary and St. Cuthbert and the monks of Durham ' for the foundation of a cell whose priors and monks were to be appointed and removable by the prior and convent of the mother house.

His charter, granted between 1191 and 1194, (fn. 6) survives in two versions; the shorter and evidently the earlier form contains a very imperfect description of the boundaries of the township and no warranty clause. In the fuller version these defects are remedied. (fn. 7) Charters of confirmation were obtained from the founder's two married daughters, Maud and Avice, with their husbands, Robert de Stockport and William de Millom, and a similar confirmation was executed jointly by his three unmarried daughters, Margaret, Quenild, and Amuria. (fn. 8)

Shortly after the accession of John, the founder added half a plough-land in Carleton to his endowment. (fn. 9) He died before 26 February, 1201, when the king, at the instance of his son-in-law, Robert de Stockport, confirmed his charter made when count of Mortain. (fn. 10) Roger of St. Edmund, archdeacon of Richmond, confirmed Richard's foundation charter. (fn. 11)

The founder's widow, Margaret Banaster, gave the church of Appleby in Leicestershire to the Lytham monks, (fn. 12) but their right to the advowson was frequently disputed by the Vernon and Appleby families. In 1265-6, in 1288, and again in 1325, the king's court decided in their favour, (fn. 13) yet forty years later a rector presented by Sir Richard de Vernon was in possession. (fn. 14) Durham procured from Pope Innocent VI a bull appropriating the rectory, the net profits being estimated at £5, to their college at Oxford, and between 1364 and 1366 tried to buy out the rival claims; the presentation of the vicar was reserved for the prior of Lytham. (fn. 15) The scheme broke down, however, and though the priors of Lytham presented rectors as late as 1422-5, (fn. 16) a compromise seems to have been subsequently arranged by which they resigned the patronage to the Vernons on payment of an annual pension of 13s. 4d. from the church. (fn. 17) The right of Durham Priory to the cell of Lytham itself was impugned, in 1243, by the abbot and monks of Evesham, who alleged that they had been in peaceful possession of the said cell by William of Lytham, their fellow monk, but that the prior and convent of Durham and Roger their monk usurped their just claim. (fn. 18) The claim was probably based upon Richard son of Roger's arrangement with Abbot Roger of Evesham, already mentioned. Papal delegates induced Evesham, in 1245, to withdraw it, but Durham agreed to pay her 30 marks. (fn. 19) This condition remaining unfulfilled the claim was reasserted in 1272, and two years afterwards delegates appointed by Gregory X enforced payment of the money and enjoined silence upon Evesham. (fn. 20)

Disputed rights of pasture on the borders of Lytham brought the monks into conflict with their neighbours, the Butlers of Lytham, (fn. 21) the Beethams of Bryning and Kellamergh, (fn. 22) and the Cliftons of Westby. In 1320 Prior Roger of Tynemouth complained to the earl of Lancaster that William de Clifton had invaded the priory with 200 armed men, rescued some impounded cattle, done damage to the amount of £100 and put him in fear of his life so that he dare not stir abroad. (fn. 23)

Prior Roger's relations with his superior at Durham were also strained. He was charged with oppressing the tenants and selling the stock to maintain an excessive household. (fn. 24) But times were bad; Scottish raids had so reduced the value of the Lytham temporalities that they were rated for the tenth at £2 only, instead of £11 6s. 2d., the assessment of 1292. (fn. 25) Durham itself was in difficulties and giving its creditors a lien on the revenues of its cells, (fn. 26) so that possibly Roger was not wholly to blame.

The priors sometimes rebelled against the complete subjection to the mother house upon which the founder had insisted. They were merely the agents of the convent of Durham, (fn. 27) and had to attend the general chapter there at Whitsuntide, bringing with them an inventory of the goods of the cell and a balance sheet for the year. (fn. 28) Although instituted by the archdeacon of Richmond, (fn. 29) and owing canonical obedience to him for the appropriated church of Lytham, discharging its burdens and ministering to the parishioners either in their own person or (usually) by one or two secular chaplains, they were liable to be recalled at any moment. (fn. 30) It was alleged that the frequent changes in the headship of the priory did it injury; that they were sometimes arbitrary is shown by the case of Richard of Hutton. Richard was sub-prior of Durham when Hugh of Darlington became prior in 1285, and having offended him was sent to Lytham as prior, only to be removed as soon as he began to make his mark there. (fn. 31) Robert of Kelloe, who became prior of Lytham in 1351, procured a papal bull some ten years later exempting him from being removed from the office during his life without good cause shown. But he was compelled to renounce it and return to Durham. (fn. 32) About eighty years later Prior William Partrik procured a similar bull from Eugenius III, and royal letters patent condoning his action. (fn. 33) The reservation, however, of power to remove him for sufficient cause afforded a loophole of which his superiors took advantage. They accused him of non-attendance at the general chapter, of omission to pay any contribution (collecta) to the mother house for two years, and of having set upon the bearer of their letter of admonition armed men, who threatened to make him eat it cum pixide. (fn. 34) On these grounds he was deposed, the prior and convent formally disclaiming any intention of violating the writings granted to the said William by the Holy See or the crown. (fn. 35) The papal privilege was in any case personal to Partrik and did not, as Canon Raines asserts, (fn. 36) secure life-tenure to his successors. With this exception the known history of the priory during the fifteenth century and down to the Dissolution was uneventful. It seems to have felt to some extent the effects of the anarchy of the reign of Henry VI. In 1425 certain persons unknown were threatened with excommunication for having destroyed and detained its property and withheld the tithes and mortuaries due to the church of Lytham. (fn. 37) Twenty-three years later the services of Thomas Harrington, son of Sir James Harrington, had to be requisitioned to secure the recovery of a number of Lytham charters from one Christopher Bayne, into whose custody they came during a vacancy of the priorship. Bayne professed to have been offered by certain interested persons I oo marks and a large pension, and Harrington tried to counteract the temptation by promising him for life an annual suit (toga) of the prior's livery, and a pension of half a mark along with the favour of the priory for himself and a living for one of his servants; (fn. 38) with what result is not recorded.

The infection of disorder seems to have found entrance into the priory itself. About the same time a local justice of the peace requested the prior of Durham to recall Dan George his monk, who had been ryght mekill mysrewlet and mysgovernet and yet is in speciall in fightyng and strikyng of seculares and also in schrowet countenance makyng to Dan Thomas and to the priest of Lethum in drawyng of his knyves and lyftyng up of staves likely for to sle or mayne and hayme. (fn. 39)

The priors did not always refrain from worldly business. In 1472, Nicholas Bedall of Coventry, chapman, appointed Prior Cuthbert his attorney, to recover his debts in Lancashire. (fn. 40) Litigation arising out of the landed interests of the house still played a part in its annals. In 1428 the authority of Rome was invoked in a quarrel over tithes with the Cistercian abbey of Vale Royal, which had secured an appropriation of Kirkham church in the reign of Edward I. (fn. 41)

Fresh disputes with the Cliftons as to the boundaries of Westby and Lytham were settled in 1507, (fn. 42) and in 1518 and 1530 the priory was again at law with the Butlers of Layton over the old question of pasture rights at the north end of Lytham. (fn. 43) On 9 May, 1530, the Layton people pulled down a boundary cross bearing a picture of St. Cuthbert and, according to the prior, though some denied this, would have destroyed the monastery, had not two monks gone out to meet them with the sacrament.

Between 1535 and 1540 the prior and convent of Durham withdrew the monks from Lytham and let the property of the cell to Thomas Dannet for eighty years at a rent of £48 19s. 6d. (fn. 44) If this was an attempt to avert confiscation, it failed, for after the surrender of Durham Dannet paid his rent to the crown until Queen Mary on 23 July, 1554, gave the cell to that devourer of monastic lands, Sir Thomas Hoicroft, kt. (fn. 45)

The priory was dedicated to St. Cuthbert. Endowed by the founder with two plough-lands in Lytham and half a plough-land in Carieton it had received from other local families, mainly in the thirteenth century, numerous small parcels of land in the adjoining townships. (fn. 46) Prominent among these benefactors were the Butlers of Warton. Its rent-roll in 1535 was £35 5s. 7d., and the site of the cell with its demesne land, estimated to be worth £8 13s. a year, brought up its temporalities to a total of £43 8s. 7d. The tithes (fn. 47) and offerings of Lytham church yielded £9 13s. 11d. a year, and that of Appleby paid a pension of 13s. 4d. After deducting the fees of the priory bailiffs and of its steward, the earl of Derby, who received £2 annually, a sum of £48 19s. 6d. remained available for the upkeep of the cell and any contribution to the mother house which this might allow. (fn. 48) The priory, however, had a debt of £40. (fn. 49) Two centuries earlier the gross income had been rather higher. In 1344 it reached £66 8s. 11½d. (fn. 50) The expenditure was £61 8s. 4d. Among its items were £1 6s. 9d. for the journey of the prior and perhaps one or more of the monks to the general chapter at Durham, £3 13s. 6d. on Lytham church (including the stipend of the chaplain), £4 10s. to three monks pro rebus ordinatis, (fn. 51) £10 on the kitchen, £3 9s. 3d. on robes at Christmas for the steward and servants, £3 8s. 4d. on wages, and £6 13s. 10d. in contributions towards the support of monks at Oxford and other gifts. The small balance was reduced by arrears to 14s. 3½d.

Priors (or Wardens) of Lytham

William, (fn. 52) occurs after 1205 and before 1226
[John, (fn. 53) occurs before 1233]
[Helias, (fn. 54) occurs after 1205 and before 1240]
Roger, (fn. 55) occurs after 1217 and before 1249
Thomas, (fn. 56) occurs 1250
Clement, (fn. 57) occurs before 1258
Stephen of Durham, (fn. 58) occurs January, 1259, and February, 1272
Richard of Hutton, (fn. 59) occurs between 1285 and 1288
Ambrose of Bamborough, (fn. 60) occurs 1288
Henry of Faceby (Faysceby), (fn. 61) occurs 1291 (fn. 62)
Robert of Ditchburn, (fn. 63) occurs 1307
Hugh Woodburn, (fn. 64) occurs 1310-11
Roger of Stanhope (fn. 65)
Roger of Tynemouth, (fn. 66) occurs 1316-25
John of Barn by, (fn. 67) occurs 20 March, 1332, left 133
Aymer of Lumley, (fn. 68) occurs 1333
Hugh of Woodburn, (fn. 69) occurs 1338-42
Robert of Camboe, (fn. 70) admitted 31 October, 1342, occurs until 1349, when he died, probably of the plague
Robert of Kelloe, (fn. 71) inducted 9 July, 1351, occurs until 1361
John of Normanby, (fn. 72) inducted 3 July, 1362, left 1373
Richard of Birtley, (fn. 73) instituted 29 October, 1373, left 1379
William of Aslackby, (fn. 74) occurs 1379-85
Thomas of Corbridge, (fn. 75) occurs 1388-1402
Richard of Heswell, (fn. 76) appointed 1412, occurs until 1431
William Partrik or Patrik, (fn. 77) admitted 20 June, 1431, removed 11 January, 1444-5
Henry Heley, (fn. 78) appointed 17 April, 1445, instituted 21 March, 1445-6.
John Barley, (fn. 78) admitted 12 September, 1446, occurs 1456
William Dalton, (fn. 78) 1456-8
John Middleham, (fn. 78) admitted 13 July, 1458, last occurs 1459
Thomas Hexham, (fn. 78) admitted 16 May, last occurs 1465
William Cuthbert, (fn. 78) occurs 1465-72
Robert Knowt, (fn. 78) occurs 1474-9
William Burdon, (fn. 78) occurs 1479-84
William Cuthbert, occurs 1486-91
Richard Tanfield, (fn. 78) occurs 1491-1510
Robert Stroder, (fn. 79) occurs 1514-16
Edmund Moore, (fn. 80) occurs 1525-30
Ralph Blaxton, (fn. 81) occurs 1533-5

An oval seal attached to a deed of Prior John of Normanby dated 1366 (Lytham Chart. 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 30) has at the top the Virgin and Christ seated; beneath, a female figure (? St. Catherine) crowned holding a crozier (?); at the base a half figure praying. Legend effaced.


  • 1. Original charter in Durham Cathedral Treasury, 2a, 4ae, Ebor. No. 20; Farrer, Lanes. Inq. i, 46.
  • 2. Lytham charters at Durham, 2a, 4ae, Ebor No. 11.
  • 3. Ibid. 2a, 2ae, 4ae, No. 63.
  • 4. Reginald of Durham, Libellus (Surtees Soc. i), 280-4. Richard's grandfather Ravenkil is said to have pulled down the original wooden church and built a new one of stone; ibid. 282. He may perhaps be the Ravenkil son of Ragnald who witnessed the foundation charter of Lancaster Priory (c. 1094); Lanes. Pipe R. 290.
  • 5. Reginald, ut supra. The son, however, must have died later, for Richard had only daughters surviving when he founded the priory.
  • 6. After Roger Norris became abbot of Evesham (see above) and before the count of Mortain lost the honour of Lancaster.
  • 7. The originals of both are among the fine collection of Lytham charters at Durham. The revised version is classed 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. No. 57. It is printed from an inspeximus of 9 Edw. III in the Monasticon (iv, 282), and in Lanes. Pipe R. 346. The shorter version, which has the same witnesses, is preserved in two originals classed 2a, 4ae, Ebor, No. 2, and 2a, 2ae, 4ae, No. 58. They are identical in wording except for the omission from the 'salute' clause in the latter of et uxoris mee. As these words are also absent in the revised version, this was clearly made from the second of the two. The Lytham charters are being edited for the Chetham Society by Mr. Farrer.
  • 8. Lytham Charters, 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 59-61.
  • 9. Ibid. 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 3.
  • 10. Chart. R. (Rec. Com.), 88b.
  • 11. Lytham Charters, 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 8. No. 9 is a grant to Durham of the church of Lytham 'in usus proprios,' for the sustentation of their monks living there, by Morgan, archdeacon of Richmond. No holder of the office of this name is otherwise known. Can it be an error of transcription for Honorius, the rival of Roger of St. Edmund ?
  • 12. Before 1226; Lytham Charters, 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 1, 2, 4-6.
  • 13. Ibid. 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 51; 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 3.
  • 14. Ibid. 26.
  • 15. Lytham Charters, 13-22, 26, 28; 4a, 4ae, Ebor. 4.
  • 16. Ibid. 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 70.
  • 17. Before 1493 (ibid. 27; cf. 2a, 4ae, 43).
  • 18. Ibid. 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 15, 26.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Ibid. 13, 15; Cartularium tertium, fol. 132b.
  • 21. Lytham Chsrters, 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 14, 24.
  • 22. Ibid. 48.
  • 23. Ibid. 46; 4a, 4ae, Ebor. 7.
  • 24. Dur. Misc. Chart. 5315, 5470, 5484, 5561-2.
  • 25. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 309. Comparison with the 'compoti' rolls shows that the rating of temporalities in 1292 allowed a liberal deduction from full value.
  • 26. Dur. Misc. Chart. 5560.
  • 27. The title of wsrden (custos) which more clesrly indicated this subordination was occasionally applied to them. In 1292 the prior being summoned to show by what warrsnt he claimed to have wreck of the sea at Lytham fell back on the authority of the prior of Durham, 'who could remove him,' but having previously claimed the right in his own name was decided to be 'in mercy'; Dugdale, Mon. iv, 282.
  • 28. Dur. Chart. Locellus, ix, No. 63; Hist. Dunelm, Seriptores Tres. (Surtees Soc.), App. p. xl. 133 of these 'compoti' rolls arc preserved at Durham, forming a fairly complete series from the beginning of the thirteenth century to the Dissolution.
  • 29. Lytham Charters, 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 31; 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 76.
  • 30. Ibid. 2a, 4ae, Ebor, 18, 33, 40. This was contrary to the usual practice. Normally, a prior instituted by the ordinary could not be removed except for grave reasons, approved by him; Priory of Penwortham (Chet. Soc.), 99. The reason why the priors of Lytham were so instituted, while those of Penwortham never were, is probably to be found in the disinclination of the convent of Durham to be bound to canonical obedience to the archdeacon of Richmond.
  • 31. Hist. Dun. Script. Tres. 72.
  • 32. Lytham Charters, 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 29.
  • 33. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 282.
  • 34. Dur. Chart. Loc. ix, 63.
  • 35. Ibid. 64. The archdeacon of Richmond ordered an inquiry into the circumstances and temporarily sequestrated the goods of the cell. Heley the new prior was excommunicated for non-appearance, and did not receive institution for nearly a year; Raines' Lanes. MSS. (Chetham Library), xxii, 374-5.
  • 36. Notitia Cestriensis (Chet. Soc.), 575.
  • 37. Dur. Chart. Loc. ix, 15.
  • 38. Lytham Charters, 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 65.
  • 39. Dur. Chart. Loc. xxv, 39.
  • 40. Lytham Charters, 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 71.
  • 41. Ibid. 69.
  • 42. Dur. Misc. Chart. 5489.
  • 43. Lytham Charters, 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 78; Lanes. Plead. (Rec. Soc.), i, 206.
  • 44. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 283.
  • 45. Ibid.
  • 46. Charters in the collection at Durham.
  • 47. Tithes of sea fish amounted to £1.
  • 48. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 305. It will be noted that as Dannet the farmer had to defray all charges (though these were reduced by the recall of the monks) and pay £48 19s. 6d. to Durham, he cannot have made any profit without raising the income above the figure of 1535.
  • 49. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 364.
  • 50. Compotus R. at Durham.
  • 51. The number of monks (in addition to the prior) seems to have been usually two or three. In 1307 there was only one, if we may argue from Prior Ditchburn's grant of land 'with the assent of his confrater, Geoffrey de Lincoln'; Misc. Chart. 5456.
  • 52. Lytham Chart, 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 51. The order of the priors before Stephen is to some extent conjectural.
  • 53. Perhaps a doubtful case. John, clerk of Kirkham, who witnesses a Lytham charter belonging to 1228-33 (ibid. 4a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 2), is described as 'condam (i.e. quondam) custode.'
  • 54. Ibid. 12 (witnessed by Helias Prior). But it is not clear whether he was a prior of Lytham or of Cockersand, whose abbot Hereward is the previous witness.
  • 55. Ibid. 3a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 45; Dur. Misc. Chart. 5445.
  • 56. Exch. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. vol. 40, No, 6.
  • 57. Lytham Chart. 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 5.
  • 58. Ibid. 36; 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 14; 1a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 12.
  • 59. Robt. de Graystanes, Hist. (Surtees Soc.), 72.
  • 60. Lytham Chart. 1a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 51. Ambrose is mentioned as a past warden (custos) in a deed dated Sept. 1296, Dur. Misc. Chart. 3668.
  • 61. Lytham Chart. 1a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 13.
  • 62. a Assize R. 407, m. 3.
  • 63. Dur. Misc. Chart. 5456.
  • 64. Compotus (Status) R.
  • 65. Ibid. for year 1338-9: 'Debt to King for chattels of Henry Bol fugitive of the time of Sir Roger de Stanhope, 53s. 1d. To same for chattels of John de Blauncheland of the time of Roger de Tynemouth, 12s.'
  • 66. Dur. Locellus xvi, 1; Lytham Chart. 4a, 4ae, Ebor. 1.
  • 67. Ibid. 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 33; Compotus R. anno 1333.
  • 68. Wharton, Angl. Sac. i, 762.
  • 69. Comp. R.
  • 70. Ibid.; Engl. Hist. Rev. v, 525.
  • 71. Comp. R.; Lytham Chart. 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 35-6, 39; 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 29. In 1355 Kelloe was accused of carrying away goods to the value of £27 from Coldingham Priory when resident there, and also of adultery; Dur. Misc. Chart. 1284; Coldingham Priory (Surtees Soc.), 33.
  • 72. Lytham Chart. 2a, 4ae, Ebor. 34, 37.
  • 73. prior of Finchale when appointed to Lytham on 29 Sept. 1373; admitted by Archdeacon Charlton 24 Oct., instituted 29 Oct.; ibid. 3a, 4ae, Ebor. 31; 2a, 4ae, 31, 37.
  • 74. Ibid. 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 82; Comp. R.
  • 75. Ibid.
  • 76. Presented to archdeacon of Richmond on 21 Feb. 1411 [-12]; Lytham Chart. 2a, 2ae, 4ae, Ebor. 76; Comp. R.
  • 77. Raines, Lanes. MSS. xxii, 407; Comp. R.; Dur. Chart. Loc. ix, 63-4; Coldingham Priory, 153.
  • 78. Comp. R. For Heley, Barley, Middleham, and Hexham see also Raines, Lanes. MSS. xxii, 375, 381, 399.
  • 79. Comp. R.; Lytham Chart. 4a, 4ae, Ebor. 10.
  • 80. Comp. R.; Duchy of Lanc, Rentals and Surv. ptfo. 5, No. 15; Lanes. Pleadings, i, 206. In the Rentsls (loc. cit.) under date 1527 he is described as 'incumbent and Keper for the space of 16 years,' which must be an exaggeration.
  • 81. Comp. R.; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 305.