Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Cockerham

Pages 152-153

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

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This cell of the abbey of St. Mary in the Meadows (de Pratis) at Leicester, served by Austin Canons, was established in 1207 or 1208. William de Lancaster I on his marriage to Gundreda daughter of Roger, earl of Warwick, cousin of Robert, earl of Leicester, founder of the abbey (1143), had given the canons between 1153 and 1156 his manor of Cockerham, itschurch with the dependent chapel of Ellel, and the hamlets of Great and Little Crimbles. (fn. 1) Henry II in the latter year confirmed the gift, to which William before 1160 added a grant of common of pasture throughout his fee in Lonsdale and Amounderness. (fn. 2) His son William de Lancaster II (died 1184) dispossessed the abbey and founded the hospital (afterwards abbey) of Cockersand on part of the manor. The Leicester canons obtained judgement in the court of John, count of Mortain, when lord of the honour of Lancaster, between 1189 and 1194, against William's widow Heloise and her second husband Hugh de Morvill, who thereupon confirmed the original gift, as did also Count John. (fn. 3) This was followed by an agreement between the two houses by which the site of Cockersand was cut out of the manor and parish of Cockerham, Leicester Abbey conveying it in free alms to the hospital. (fn. 4) Further litigation between the abbey and William de Lancaster's daughter and heiress, Heloise and her husband Gilbert son of Roger Fitz Reinfred ended (13 May, 1207} in a final concord; Heloise and Gilbert renounced all claim on Cockerham and Crimbles, in consideration whereof Abbot Paul and the convent undertook to place three of their canons in the church, which had hitherto been served by a chaplain, on whose death the number of canons was to be raised to four. (fn. 5) A prior of Cockerham is mentioned in 1208. (fn. 6)

The new cell never became conventual. Its canons remained under the authority of the abbot, its prior or warden was no doubt removable at his pleasure and acted merely as agent of the chief house, which by the middle of the fourteenth century put an end to its existence. The introduction first of a stipendiary and then (between 1281 and 1290) of a perpetual vicar paved the way for the withdrawal of most of the canons. (fn. 7) Christiana de Lindsay, wife of Euguerrand de Guisnes, lord of Coucy, in confirming (1320) the grant of her ancestor William de Lancaster to the abbey, stipulated for their retention, (fn. 8) but after her death, some fourteen years later, the abbey abandoned all pretence of observing the undertaking of 1207. In 1366 and again in 1372 its title to Cockerham manor was questioned on this ground by royal officers, but the courts decided in its favour because the original gift imposed no conditions. (fn. 9) The final concord was apparently ignored. But Christiana's great-great-granddaughter Philippa de Coucy, widow of Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford and duke of Ireland, formally renounced any claim derivable from its non-observance, and this waiver was confirmed by Henry IV and Henry VI. (fn. 10)

The Lancashire estate of Leicester Abbey was still managed by a warden (custos, gardianus), probably always a canon of Leicester. (fn. 11) In 1477, however, it was leased to one John Calvert at a rent of £83 6s. 8d., (fn. 12) and was apparently still farmed for that sum in 1535. (fn. 13) The original, gift of William de Lancaster I comprised two plough-lands, (fn. 14) to which some small parcels were subsequently added. The gross value of the property (including the rectory) in 1477 was estimated to be £99 10s. 9d. without reckoning perquisites of courts and some other ' commodities of the manor.' (fn. 15) In 1400 an extent which included these gave a total income of £117 7s. 8d. (fn. 16) The pestilence of 1349 is said to have about halved the return from the rectory tithes of Cockerham. (fn. 17)

Priors or Wardens of Cockerham

A [ ], (fn. 18) occurs 1208
Henry, (fn. 19) occurs circa 1250


  • 1. Farrer, Lancs. Pipe R. 391. The evidences of the manor were destroyed by a fire there before, 1477, but these and other deeds are recited in a rental drawn up in that year embodied in the cartulary of the abbey; Bodl. Lib. MS. Laud, Misc. 625 (olim H. 72), fol. 45-52b, 167b.
  • 2. Lancs. Pipe R. 392; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 467.
  • 3. MS. Laud, Misc. 625, fol. 45-45b.
  • 4. Cockersand Chartul. (Chet. Soc. new ser. 38), xiii. The abbey had also to recover its rights in the King's Court against several tenants in Cockerham and Crimbles between 1206 and 1209; MS. Laud, Misc. 625, fol. 47b; Final Conc, i, 24.
  • 5. Final Conc, i, 26. There is nothing to show that the foundation of a cell was an unexpressed condition of William de Lancaster's original gift, unless the fact that he seems to have appropriated the church entirely to their own uses may be regarded as evidence of such an intention. If we could suppose that this was the case and that the abbey ignored his wishes, a motive would be supplied for his son's disseisin of the canons.
  • 6. Lancs. Pipe R. 365.
  • 7. A prior and a vicar of Cockerham witness a document dated 1275; Hist, of Lanc. Church (Chet. Soc.), 380. Ordination of a vicarage in MS. Laud, Misc. 625, fol. 51.
  • 8. Cockersand Chartul. (Chet. Soc.), 299.
  • 9. Coram Rege R. 446, m. 13; MS. Laud, Misc. 625, fol. 47b.
  • 10. Ibid. Baines quoting 'Duchy Rec.' dates Philippa's renunciation 1400, that of Henry VI, 1423; Hist, of Lancs, v, 492.
  • 11. See below.
  • 12. Calvert was required to find provision for one or two canons and their horses for a week's stay; MS. Laud, Misc. 625, fol. 51.
  • 13. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 147; cf. Duchy of Lanc. Mins. Accts. No. 33, m. 22.
  • 14. Final Conc, i, 26.
  • 15. MS. Laud, Misc. 625, fol. 52b.
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 49-50. Its temporalities (bona) had been taxed at £13 in 1292; reduced to £3 6s. 8d. after the Scottish raid; Pope Nich. Tax. 309. In, 1366 the yearly value of the manor 'ultra reprisas' was estimated at £40; Coram Rege R. 446, m.. 13.
  • 17. MS. Laud, 152b, 167b. They were worth £22 5s. 8d. in 1477, their value before the Black Death being then estimated to have been £40 or .£50. The rectory was assessed for tithe at £17 6s. 8d. in. 1292 and this fell to £5 in the ' New Taxation.'
  • 18. Lancs. Pipe R. 365.
  • 19. Hist. of Lanc. Church (Chet. Soc.), 431. He. witnesses a deed which is clearly prior to 12 75, for, another witness is Alexander, rector of Poulton, where a vicarage was ordained in that year. If this Alexander was the Alexander of Stanford who seemsto have resigned the rectory in 1250 (Exch. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. vol. 40, No. 6) the date is considerably earlier. Philip, rector of Croston, a third witness, attests documents about 1250. The unnamed prior among the witnesses to the ordination of Poulton vicarage in 1275 (Hist, of Lanc. Ch. 380) may be this Henry or a successor. Brother William of Cockerham, who was sued with the abbot of Leicester in 1302 for a disseisin in Garstang may possibly have been prior;. Assize R. 418, m. 14. Sir Gilbert, a canon and keeper of Cockerham, is mentioned in 1330; Coram Rege R. 297, Rex. m. 21. John of Derby is described as 'canon and custos of Cockerham' in 1360 (ibid. 451, m. 2), but the other canons had probably been, withdrawn before this.