Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Upholland

Pages 111-112

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 (Up) Holland, near Wigan, founded in 1319, replaced a college of secular canons founded nine years before by Sir Robert de Holland, kt., who laid the basis of the fortunes of a noble house on the favour of Thomas, earl of Lancaster. (fn. 1) Bishop Langton, finding that the canons had deserted the place, whose wildness made it a more suitable residence for religious than seculars, with the consent of Holland substituted (10 June, 1319) Benedictine monks for the chaplains and assigned the endowments of the college, including the rectories of Childwall and Whitwick (in Leicestershire), to the new priory. (fn. 2) Edward II added his confirmation and licensed the house to acquire in mortmain lands to the value of £20 a year. (fn. 3)

The house has little history. Its endowment was small and the times were not propitious for further additions. (fn. 4) Whitwick church was taken into the royal hands in or before 1323 by reason of the prior's default; (fn. 5) the nature of his offence is not further defined, but the first prior is known to have resigned or been deprived of his office, and this may have been the occasion. Possibly he was a partisan of Thomas of Lancaster, whose execution was then recent. The sequestration of Whitwick, however, was not permanent. As early as 1334 the priory attracted episcopal animadversion. William of Doncaster, (fn. 6) former prior, was living alone on the manor of Garston, 'contra canonica et regularia instituta.'

In 1391 the priory became involved in a violent quarrel with Henry Tebbe of Threnguston, who farmed part of the Whitwick tithes. Tebbe refused to pay, tore up the obligation into which he had entered when it was shown to him, drove the prior Robert of Fazakerley out of the church, carried off oblations to the amount of £5 from the altar, and menaced Robert with death if he tried to re-enter. Failing to get any redress from the sheriff of Leicestershire the prior brought the matter before Parliament. A sergeant-at-arms was sent to arrest Tebbe and his chief abettor, who, being produced in Parliament, confessed their guilt and were clapped in the Fleet, but on paying a fine and coming to terms with the prior obtained their pardon and release. (fn. 7)

By an indenture dated 15 May, 1464, the prior and convent undertook that one of the monks should daily say mass in their church for the souls of Sir Richard Harrington, kt., and of his father and mother. (fn. 8)

If the house was not belied the end of the century found it in a parlous state. Bishop Hales was informed that the monks did not observe their rule, that their church was out of repair, and their other houses ruinous and their spiritual and temporal goods dilapidated or dissipated by their negligence. In 1497 he appointed commissioners to inquire into the excesses of the monks and others, but unfortunately their report has not been preserved. (fn. 9)

As the income of the house was less than £100 it was dissolved under the Act of February, 1536. Some light is thrown upon its condition at that date by the 'Brief Certificate' (fn. 10) of the royal commissioners, who then revalued it, and from their detailed inventory of its plate, jewels, and furniture. (fn. 11) The buildings were again in good repair, but the thirteen monks of the original foundation were reduced to five (including the prior), all of whom were in priest's orders. (fn. 12) Three were desirous of 'capacities,' the others seem described as 'aged and impotent, desiring some living of the King's alms.' The list of rooms shows that the rule was laxly observed. Each monk had a separate bedchamber, the common dorter being appropriated to the use of the sub-prior. With one exception they were provided with feather-beds. To judge by the report of Doctors Legh and Layton, the visitors of the previous year, the morals of the prior, Peter Prescot, and two of his brethren were exceedingly loose. (fn. 13) The testimony of the two visitors lies, as is well known, under some suspicion of hasty exaggeration. (fn. 14) But even if we make allowance for this, it is pretty clear that unless the monks were the victims of local spite things were worse at Holland than in some other houses, e.g. at Burscough. (fn. 15)

Charity was not altogether neglected in the priory. It supported two aged and impotent persons, and there were two children at school 'kept of devocion.'

The commissioners found that part of the plate of the priory had been recently pledged. Two silver reliquaries in the shape of arms from the elbow upwards, one containing a bone of St. Thomas of Canterbury, the other a bone of St. Richard of Chichester, worth £16 13s. 4d., and a chalice worth £6 13s. 4d. were in the possession of Sir Richard Fitton of Gawsworth, who had received them in the February previous as security for a loan of £10. The prior's explanation was that the money had been wanted to pay the tenth and the king's visitors. Two parcel gilt salts had disappeared altogether. During the prior's absence in London in April, 1536, Elizabeth Bradshaw, brewer and daywoman of the priory, had entrusted them for safe keeping to William Topping, servant of the house. They were not forthcoming, and Topping and his wife lay in Lancaster Castle awaiting trial. (fn. 16)

The priory was dedicated to St. Thomas the Martyr. The patronage passed by marriage in 1373 with the manor of Holland to John, Lord Lovel of Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire, and Minster Lovell, Oxon. Forfeited in 1485 by the last Lord Lovel, the estates, and probably the patronage of the priory, passed to the earls of Derby. (fn. 17) Its original endowment transferred from the college consisted of a plough-land in Holland and the appropriate churches of Childwall and Whitwick. (fn. 18) Some additions had probably been made to their holding in Holland and Orrell before the Dissolution, and they then possessed a little land in Childwall parish, but the annual value of these temporalities in 1535 only amounted to £12 10s., Childwall Rectory was worth £38 13s. 4d., that of Whitwick (rent) £10. (fn. 19) The net annual income of the house was £53 3s. 4d. This was increased to £78 12s. 9d. in the new valuation made at the Dissolution in May, 1536.

The bells and lead were valued at £18; the painted glass in the church was sold for £13 to the inhabitants of Upholland, Orrell, Billinge, Higher End, Winstanley, and Dalton, to whom the church was transferred as a parochial chapel. (fn. 20) The plate, church ornaments, furniture of the priory buildings, horses, cattle, and stock of corn, &c., with debts due to the house figured in the valuation at £114. 2s. 8d. (fn. 21) £18 18s. 10d. was owed by the priory.

In 1545 the priory was granted to John Holcroft.

Priors of Upholland

Thomas of Doncaster, (fn. 22) first prior, occurs 1319. Resigned ?
An unnamed prior, (fn. 23) occurs 1334
John of Barnby, (fn. 24) occurs 1340 and 1350
William, (fn. 25) resigned 1389
Robert of Fazakerley, (fn. 25) elected 1389, died 1403
John Cornewayll, (fn. 26) elected 1403, resigned 1445
William Whalley, (fn. 27) elected 1445, died 1466
John Topping, (fn. 28) elected 1466, died 1470
Matthew Whalley, (fn. 29) elected 1470
Thomas, (fn. 30) occurs 27 January, 1493-4
Peter Prescott, (fn. 31) occurs 1535, surrendered 1536

The seal of the priory attached to the deed settling the Harrington Chantry, referred to above, (fn. 32) is of brown wax, large and oval in shape. In the centre there is a figure on horseback. Above, three figures approaching a person seated (murder of St. Thomas). Below, shields of Lancaster and Holland.


  • 1. For the college see below, p. 166. Lancaster had himself given the advowson of Whitwick. His arms were conjoined with those of Holland in the priory seal.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. iv, 401-11; Cal. of Pat. 131721, p. 353. Childwall had been appropriated to the college for some time. Holland and the earl petitioned the pope to appropriate Whitwick, but the consent of John XXII was only given two months before the refoundation; Cal. Pap. Letters, ii, 188. It was thought prudent in 1321 to obtain a new papal order appropriating it to the priory; ibid. 215: The rectory is here valued at 30 marks a year, but the earlier mandate makes its annual value 40 marks. In the Pope Nich. Tax. (646) it was assessed at 20 marks.
  • 3. Cal. of Pat. 1317-21, p. 398.
  • 4. No chartulary of the priory is known to exist.
  • 5. Cal. of Close, 132 3-7, pp. 131, 135.
  • 6. V.C.H. Lanes, iii, 125. Thomas of Doncaster was the name of the first prior according to Bishop Langton's ordinance.
  • 7. Rot. Parl, iii, 286b, 298b.
  • 8. B.M. Norris of Speke Chart. No. 645x.
  • 9. Lich. Epis. Reg. Hales, fol. 236b.
  • 10. Duchy of Lanc. Rentals and Surv. fol. 5, No. 7.
  • 11. Duchy of Lanc. Miscellanea, bdle. xi, No. 47. It was made on 15-17 May.
  • 12. The priory had eight 'waiting servants' and thirteen hinds.
  • 13. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 364.
  • 14. Gairdner, Hist. of the Engl Ch. in the Sixteenth Century, 165.
  • 15. On the supposition that the charges reflected more or less baseless local gossip the comparatively clean record of some houses might be attributed to a more friendly neighbourhood or the greater hurry of the visitors. But it is more probable that they did exercise some sort of rough discrimination. Here and there an accusation receives some independent support. See, for instance, a case at Furness, below, p. 124.
  • 16. Duchy of Lanc. Misc. bdle xi, No, 47.
  • 17. A different opinion might be gathered from the statement of Leland (Itin. vii, 46), that 'the Wottons were Founders there.' But this lacks confirmation.
  • 18. Cal. of Pat. 1307-13, p. 233.
  • 19. Val. Eccl. v, 221.
  • 20. Duchy of Lanc. Misc. bdle. xi, No. 47; Not. Cestr. (Chet. Soc.), ii, 259. There was 780 ft. of painted glass worth 4d. a foot.
  • 21. The furniture of the monks' rooms varied in value from £1 (the prior's) to 9s. 8d. (Dan John Ainsdale's; he had no feather-bed).
  • 22. Cal. of Pat. 1317-21, p. 353. William of Doncaster, who is described in 1334 as a former prior, is probably the same person. The method of election prescribed by the foundation was that the convent sent up three names to the patron, who presented one of them to the bishop for admission; Dugdale, Man. iv, 410.
  • 23. Lich. Epis. Reg. Northburgh, vol. 2, fol. 6ob.
  • 24. Coram Rege R. 321, m. 50 d; V.C.H. Lanes. iii, 125. Exonerated in 1349 of a charge of complicity in the abduction of Margery de la Beche two years before; Cal. of Pat. 1348-50, p. 269; below, p. 150.
  • 25. Lich. Epis. Reg. Scrope, fol. 54.
  • 26. Admitted 9 Nov. 1403; ibid. Burghill, fol. 91.
  • 27. Ibid. Hey worth, fol. 127b. This is a confirmation of the election by the bishop's commissary in the chapel of Douglas 'in the parish of Wigan ' . . .
  • 28. Ibid. Hales, fol. 103. Confirmation of election (3 April).
  • 29. Ibid. fol. 105. Confirmation of election (23 July).
  • 30. Towneley MS. penes W. Farrer, fol. 226.
  • 31. Duchy of Lanes. Misc. bdle. xi, No. 47; Valor Eccl. v, 2 21.
  • 32. See p. 111.