Houses of the Gilbertine order: The priory of Catley

Pages 196-197

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

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The Gilbertine priory of St. Mary, Catley, was founded as a double house between 1148 and 1154 by Peter of Billinghay. (fn. 1) He endowed it with the whole island of Catley, the site of a grange and some arable land at Walcote; the church of Billinghay and the chapel of Walcote; pasturage for 400 sheep in the two townships, and rights of fishing on Walcote marsh. The number of inmates was limited by St. Gilbert to sixty nuns and lay sisters and thirty-five canons and lay brothers. (fn. 2) The priory was always one of the poorest houses of the order of Sempringham. In 1254 the spiritualities were assessed at £20, the temporalities at £30 17s. 11d., (fn. 3) and in 1291 these had increased only to £34 12s.10d. (fn. 4) At the beginning of the fourteenth century the average yearly sale of wool was seven sacks, (fn. 5) which added considerably to the income of the nuns and canons.

In 1303 the prior held half a knight's fee in Brauncewell, one-third in Dunsby, a quarter in Billinghay and Walcote, a quarter in Digby, onefifth of half in Ingleby, one-fifth and one-twentyfourth in Hemswell, one-eighth in Dorrington, one-tenth and one-sixtieth of one in Glentworth, and one-twenty-fourth of another. In 1401 he also held one-seventh in Scopwick. (fn. 6)

In 1338 the house was in serious financial straits, and Edward III pardoned the payment of the tenth, £5 11s. 3¾d. (fn. 7) Seven years later the prior, canons, and nuns again petitioned to be excused from the tax. They urged that by fires and murrain of their animals they were so impoverished that they had neither crops nor goods for their sustenance. (fn. 8) The loss of tenants and the mortality among their sheep after the Black Death no doubt greatly increased the embarrassment of the priory.

The house was surrendered by the prior and two canons on 25 September, 1538. (fn. 9) Pensions were also granted to the prioress and four nuns. (fn. 10)

In 1535 the net valuation of the property amounted to £34 18s. 6d., of which £8 4s. 10d. was drawn from the rectories of Billinghay and Digby. (fn. 11) The demesne lands of the priory were only worth £4 a year.

In the hands of the crown bailiff four years later the property brought in £38 18s. 11d., and included, besides the rectories, the grange of Scopwick, and lands and tenements in Billinghay, Timberland, Walcote, Digby, Ingelby, Saxilby, Lincoln, and Rowston. (fn. 12)

Priors of Catley

Thomas, (fn. 13) occurs 1245

Thomas South, (fn. 14) occurs 1522

William Swift, occurs 1535 to 1538 (fn. 15)

Prioress of Catley

Margaret Gastwek, occurs 1538 (fn. 16)

The seal, of the thirteenth century, (fn. 17) is a pointed oval, and represents the Virgin, with a crown, seated on a throne, the Child on the left knee; on base under an arch, the prior kneeling in prayer to the right. The legend is—

S' . PRIORATUS . DE . CATTELE (fn. 18)


  • 1. Ibid. 25.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 967.
  • 3. Ibid. vii, p. xcvii, cap. vi.
  • 4. Cott. MS. Claud. D. xi, fol. 278v.
  • 5. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 70b.
  • 6. W. Cunningham, Growth of Engl. Industry and Commerce, i (ed. 1905), 635, at prices varying from 19 to 8½ marks the sack, according to the quality.
  • 7. Feud. Aids, iii, passim.
  • 8. Cal. Pat. 12 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 7.
  • 9. Ibid. 19 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 9.
  • 10. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 15.
  • 11. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 233, fol. 30.
  • 12. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 123.
  • 13. Dugdale, Mon. vii, 968.
  • 14. Linc. N. and Q. vi, 239.
  • 15. Ibid. v, 37.
  • 16. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.) iv, 123; Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii, App. ii, 15.
  • 17. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 283, fol. 30.
  • 18. B.M. Seals, lxvi, 90.
  • 19. cf. also Deed of Surrender (Aug. Off.), No. 51.