Houses of Austin canons: The abbey of Grimsby or Wellow

Pages 161-163

A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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The abbey of Wellow was founded, like the priory of Dunstable, by King Henry I, (fn. 1) and dedicated to St. Augustine and St. Olaf. (fn. 2) There is no evidence at present to determine the exact date of foundation. Ranulf earl of Chester and Geoffrey Trussebut were benefactors of the house before the reign of Henry II, who confirmed the gifts of his grandfather, and took the abbey under his own patronage. (fn. 3)

In 1202 the abbot secured the advowson of the church of Riby in a suit against Emma of Riby. (fn. 4) In 1228 a licence was granted to the canons to preach and beg alms for the repair of their house throughout the king's dominions. (fn. 5) During the Scottish wars of Edward II the abbot was required to supply the king with wheat, malt, and sheep to the value of £18, and had £12 10s. 8d. besides exacted from him, but these sums were repaid by Edward III. (fn. 6) The house was seriously in debt in 1325, and a secular was appointed to take charge of its affairs for awhile; (fn. 7) and again, in 1359, arrangements had to be made by the bishop to reduce the expenses of the canons' maintenance. (fn. 8) Later on, in 1372, the abbot, John Utterby, was accused of having sold, alienated, and dissipated the goods of the house and brought it almost to ruin. (fn. 9)

In 1534 Robert Whitgift, the abbot, with ten canons, signed the acknowledgement of royal supremacy. (fn. 10) The abbey at this time had a clear revenue of only £95; it consequently fell within the range of the first Act of Suppression. It was dissolved before Michaelmas, 1536. The abbot received a pension of £16 a year, and nine canons had £8 10s. divided between them 'in regard,' as well as their arrears of 'wages,' amounting to £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 11) The bells and leads of the monastery were sold for £202 16s., (fn. 12) which makes it probable that the buildings were fairly extensive, and had been intended at first for a large number of canons.

There are several notices relating to the internal history of this abbey in the Lincoln registers. In 1359 the bishop made arrangements for one secular clerk to manage its revenues and another to collect the rents and hand them over to the prior, as it was evident that the canons at that time were not good men of business. (fn. 13) In the same year it was noticed that some scandal had arisen because the north gate of the church had been frequently left open; this defect was to be remedied in future. (fn. 14) In 1368 the canons were accused of frequenting the taverns of Grimsby, and passing a good deal of time there in drinking and gossip. (fn. 15) In 1372 the abbot was suspended for his bad government, and required, with another brother, to do penance for crimes (not specified) which had been proved against them. (fn. 16)

Bishop Flemyng visited the house in 1422, but found nothing specially worthy of comment. He ordered his injunctions as to the keeping of the rule to be read twice every quarter in English, to avert, as far as possible, the danger of laxity. (fn. 17) Bishop Alnwick visited in 1438 and in 1440; his injunctions are again formal, and such as might have been delivered to any monastery at the time: to safeguard the observance of the rule an apostate canon was to be caught and brought back. (fn. 18) In 1444 the same bishop gave orders that the parish church of Clee should be served by a secular priest instead of a canon, as religious men suffered so much loss to soul and body by wandering from the cloister and conversing with the world. (fn. 19)

In 1519 the monastery was visited by Bishop Atwater. The abbot complained that his obedientiaries were not diligent in performing their duties. No other complaint seems to have been made. The bishop enjoined that accounts should be duly shown, and exhorted the brethren generally as to charity and diligence in study. (fn. 20) The house was evidently in better condition at this time than some others of the order, for the abbot in 1518 had been made one of the definitors at the general chapter held at Leicester (fn. 21) under the presidency of Cardinal Wolsey, when such great efforts were made to secure reform and renewal of fervour among the Augustinians generally.

After the Lincoln rebellion the prior of the suppressed abbey of Wellow was accused by one of the king's officers of charging him to join the Commons, but the matter does not seem to have been taken up. (fn. 22)

The original endowment of the abbey of Wellow by Henry I consisted of the site in Grimsby, with the church of St. James and divers ponds, mills, &c., for which they had to pay a rent of 40s. a year to the exchequer, (fn. 23) and tithes of the manors of Lusby, Grimsby, and of fish in the port of Honfleet. (fn. 24) Ranulf earl of Chester gave the churches of Tetney, Clee, Humberston, and Huttoft, with lands in Tetney and Humberston; Geoffrey Trussebut gave the church of Riby; (fn. 25) Gilbert de Turribus the church of Cabourn. (fn. 26) The burgesses and knights of Grimsby gave other lands in that vill. (fn. 27) The churches of Thorganby, Holton, and Cadeby also belonged to the abbey at an early date. (fn. 28) In 1291 the temporalities of the abbot were assessed at £67 2s. 5d. (fn. 29) In 1303 he held one-twelfth of a knight's fee in Irby, three-quarters in Thorganby, one-eighth in Swallow, one-twelfth in Clee, (fn. 30) and very much the same both in 1346 (fn. 31) and 1428. (fn. 32) In 1401-2 he held the churches of St. James, Grimsby and Clee, and a quarter of a fee in Clee. (fn. 33) Mention is made during the fourteenth century of the manors of Tetney, Weelsby, Cabourn, Thorganby, Swallow, Grimsby, and Stallingborough as belonging to the abbey. (fn. 34) In 1534 the clear revenue of the house was only £95 6s. 1d. (fn. 35) The Ministers' Accounts amounted to £178 9s. 10d., including the rectories of Grimsby, Clee, Riby, Cabourn, and the manor and rectory of Tetney. (fn. 36)

Abbots of Wellow

William, (fn. 37) occurs about 1153

Richard, (fn. 38) occurs 1202

Richard, (fn. 39) elected 1217, occurs to 1226

Reginald, (fn. 40) elected 1234

Philip de Gammes, (fn. 41) elected 1252

William Cabourn, (fn. 42) elected 1252, occurs 1261

John, (fn. 43) elected 1271, died 1271

Simon of Wainfleet, (fn. 44) elected 1271, died 1293

William of Croxby, (fn. 45) elected 1293, died 1317

Thomas of Wellinghom, (fn. 46) elected 1317, died 1341

John of Holton, (fn. 47) elected 1341

Richard of Utterby, (fn. 48) died 1369

John of Utterby, (fn. 49) elected 1369, deposed 1374

John Thorp, (fn. 50) elected 1374, died 1410

William Cotes, (fn. 51) elected 1410, died 1417

John Grimsby, (fn. 52) elected 1417, resigned 1421

Henry Sutton, (fn. 53) elected 1421, died 1456

John Anglesby, (fn. 54) elected 1456

Richard Clee, (fn. 55) elected 1467, died 1477

Richard Hamilton, (fn. 56) elected 1477

Thomas Cawode, (fn. 57) elected 1501

Richard Kyngson, (fn. 58) elected 1504, died 1525

Robert Whitgift, (fn. 59) last abbot, elected 1525

A twelfth-century pointed oval seal (fn. 60) shows St. Augustine, standing, lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand a pastoral staff.


The fourteenth-century pointed oval seal made by John de Utterby (fn. 61) shows, in a double niche, with carved canopies, crocheted and pinnacled, with a small vacant niche between the two large ones; on the left St. Augustine fulllength with mitre lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand a crozier; on the right King Henry I, the founder (or perhaps St. Olaf), with crown, lifting up the right hand with first finger extended, in the left hand a battle-axe. On the tabernacle work at the sides, two shields of arms—the left, quarterly 1 and 4 England, 2 and 3 France (ancient); on the right England.

In base, between two trees, a shield of arms; on a chevron between a royal crown and a lion of England in chief, and in base a pastoral staff, issuing from the base three fleurs-de-lis, Grimsby Abbey.


The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal of an abbot (fn. 62) shows the abbot standing on a platform, a book in the hands. In the field on the right an estoile; the corresponding device on the left side is destroyed. The legend is destroyed.


  • 1. See Confirmation Charter of Henry II in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 470, and Pat. I Edw. IV, pt. ii, m. 24.
  • 2. The double dedication appears frequently on the Patent Rolls.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 470. It remained under the royal patronage to the dissolution.
  • 4. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i, 25.
  • 5. Pat. 12 Hen. III, m. 4.
  • 6. Close, 1 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 3.
  • 7. Pat. 19 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 34.
  • 8. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Gynwell, 117.
  • 9. Ibid. Memo. Bokyngham, 109d.
  • 10. L. and P. Hen. VIII, vii, 1121 (38).
  • 11. Mins. Accts. (27-28 Henry VIII), No. 166.
  • 12. Mins. Accts. (27-28 Henry VIII), No. 166.
  • 13. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Gynwell, 117.
  • 14. Ibid. 138.
  • 15. Ibid. Memo. Bokyngham, 66 d.
  • 16. Ibid. 109d.
  • 17. Linc. Epis. Reg. 233 d. The notice that the injunctions should be read in English here and elsewhere at this period points to the decay of learning which was among the causes of decline in the religious life during the fifteenth century.
  • 18. Visitations of Alnwick (Alnwick Tower), 69, 75 d. The visitation report is not very legible, but the entries are all short and evidently not very important.
  • 19. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Flemyng, 44 d.
  • 20. Visitations of Atwater (Alnwick Tower), 53. There is a direction, not easy to understand, that nothing must be allowed to grow for a space of three feet beyond the walls of the monastery. One person was to do all the washing for the brethren.
  • 21. Cott. MS. Vesp. D. i, fol. 63 d.
  • 22. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 975.
  • 23. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 291.
  • 24. Dugdale, Mon, vi, 470; and Lans. MS. 207 C, 128 d. The church of Humberston belonged later to the abbey there and Huttoft to Markby (Gibbons, Liber Antiq. 43).
  • 25. Lans. MS. 207 C, 128 d.
  • 26. Liber Antiq. (ed. A. Gibbons), 96.
  • 27. Cart. Antiq. K. 34.
  • 28. Pope Nick. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 57, 58; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 470.
  • 29. Pope Nich. Tax, 68b.
  • 30. Feud. Aids, iii, 137, 141, 153, 161.
  • 31. Ibid. 214, 217, 220, 230-2.
  • 32. Ibid. 256, 278, 282, 292, 296.
  • 33. Feud. Aids, iii.
  • 34. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Gynwell, 117; Add. MS. 6165, fol. 63.
  • 35. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), iv, 67.
  • 36. Mins. Accts. (27-28 Hen. VIII), No. 91. The churches of Tetney, Huttoft, and Cadeby are mentioned as late as the confirmation of Edw. IV (Pat. 1 Edw. IV, pt. ii, m. 24).
  • 37. Dugdale, Mon. v, 579 (Foundation Charter of Greenfield Priory), where he is contemporary with Ralf, abbot of Louth Park.
  • 38. Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i, 25.
  • 39. Pat. 1 Hen. III, m. 4; Boyd and Massingberd, Abstracts of Final Concords, i, 182.
  • 40. Pat. 18 Hen. III, m. 5.
  • 41. Ibid. 26 Hen. III, m. 10.
  • 42. Ibid. m. 7.
  • 43. Ibid. 55 Hen. III, m. 4. It is noticed that he died immediately after his election.
  • 44. Ibid.
  • 45. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Sutton, 12; Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 7.
  • 46. Pat. 11 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 5; ibid. 15 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 24.
  • 47. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Gynwell, 92.
  • 48. Ibid. Inst. Bokyngham, 35.
  • 49. Ibid. and Pat. 43 Edw. III, pt. ii. William of Utterby was first elected, but the bishop set him aside as illegitimate, and provided John of Utterby, whom the king at first refused, as the provision was made without his assent, but afterwards accepted.
  • 50. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Bokyngham, 61; Add. MS. 6165, fol. 67.
  • 51. Ibid. Inst. Repingdon, 47.
  • 52. Pat. 5 Hen. V.
  • 53. Ibid. 9 Hen. V, pt. ii, m. 19.
  • 54. Ibid. 35 Hen. VI.
  • 55. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Chedworth, 79 d.
  • 56. Pat. 17 Edw. IV, pt. ii.
  • 57. Lans. MS. 963, fol. 29.
  • 58. Ibid. fol. 22.
  • 59. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (2), 2367.
  • 60. B.M. Seals, lxvi, 100.
  • 61. Ibid, xliii, 42.
  • 62. Harl. Chart. 45, A 24.