Houses of Austin canons: The abbey of Creake

Pages 370-372

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section



In a meadow of forty acres, on the right of the road leading from North Creake to Burnham Market, a house of Austin Canons was founded in 1206, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, by Alice, widow of Sir Robert de Nerford, governor of Dover Castle. At an earlier date, in the reign of Henry II, Sir Robert and Alice, his wife, had founded here a hospital, dedicated to the honour of St. Bartholomew, for a master, four chaplains, and thirteen poor brethren. The first master, William de Geyst, a secular priest, soon after its establishment, with the consent of Lady Alice (Sir Robert having died), became an Austin Canon and changed the foundation into a priory of that order, becoming himself the first prior of St. Mary de Pratis by Creake. Geoffrey, bishop of Ely, nephew of the patroness, consecrated the chapel of the priory in 1221. A bull of Gregory IX (1227-41), ordained that the rule of St. Augustine was to be observed by the canons, and confirmed them in the possession of the great meadow round the monastery, the vills of 'Receresthorp' and Ilveston, in Lincoln diocese; various houses, lands, mills, woods, and rents in Norwich diocese; a messuage in the city of London; and bestowed on them several privileges and immunities.

In 1231, Lady Alice having granted the patronage of the priory to the king, Henry III confirmed all its privileges, and sanctioned the priory being changed into an abbey. (fn. 2)

In 1239 Bishop William de Raleigh confirmed to the abbey the patronage and appropriation of the church of St. Margaret, Habeton, and a moiety of that of All Saints, Wreningham, which had been bestowed during the vacancy of the see, and in 1247 Bishop Walter of Norwich sanctioned the appropriation to the abbey of the church of St. Martin of Quarles. In 1257 a bull of Pope Alexander authorized the appropriation of the church of Gateley, which was already in the abbey's gift. This appropriation was confirmed by the bishop of Norwich in 1259, and a vicarage formally ordained.

A deed of confirmation of the various appropriations held by the abbey, executed by the archbishop of Canterbury in 1281, which is now amongst the Christ's College muniments, has on the back an extent of all the abbey lands, rents, and services. It is therein stated that there were sixteen acres within the precinct walls of the house.

In 1286 a jury returned that the abbot of Creake held four fairs at the abbey, namely at the Annunciation, the Translation of St. Thomas, and the festivals of Saints Bartholomew and Nicholas; these had been granted by Henry III in 1227. (fn. 3)

The taxation returns ot 1291 gave the annual value of the temporalities of the abbey in Norwich diocese as £39 6s. 0¼d., and in Lincoln diocese as £20 11s. 1d.; and this exclusive of the great tithes of their several appropriated churches.

Richard Roulf, who had long served the king, and was incapacitated by age, was sent to the abbey of Creake in 1325 to receive the same maintenance that had been assigned to Adam de Waltham, deceased, at the request of the late king. (fn. 4)

In 1331 the abbey received a grant from James de North Creake, chaplain, and William Quarles of a messuage and forty acres of land in South Creake and North Creake, to maintain a chaplain to celebrate daily mass in the abbey for the faithful departed. (fn. 5) In the following year William Quarles, in conjunction with Laurence Hemming and Walter de Melford, granted the abbey further lands for a daily mass for their three souls. (fn. 6)

Land was also held by the abbey in Gedney, Lincolnshire, by the service of finding a canon to celebrate daily in the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr, on the site of a messuage formerly belonging to Thomas Dory, and supporting there five paupers, giving them daily a loaf of fifty shillings' weight, broth, and beer, and a portion of either meat or fish, and a cloth tunic every other year. This service Margaret, widow of John de Roos, alleged in 1341, had been discontinued for two years or more by the abbot. (fn. 7)

The accounts for the year of Abbot Brandon's death (1360) show that the deceased abbot's copes were converted into money; his quire cope (capa chore) realized 3s. 4d. The extant accounts for different years of this century prove that the revenues of this comparatively small house varied from £130 to £140, of which about £90 were derived from rents of lands and houses, and the residue from the sale of corn and stock from their own demesnes, from the four quarterly fairs, and from occasional legacies and gifts. The accounts very rarely denote anything that could be termed luxurious living. One shilling was spent on wine and threepence on apples in 1360, but even this was on the occasion of the abbot's funeral, and was probably for guests. Occasionally they accepted presents in kind, but there always seems to have been some return. In 1345-6 twopence and a pair of gloves were given to one bringing capons and mallards to the convent from Congham, and two knives, value 1½d., were given to two girls who brought apples to the abbot.

A sad disaster occurred at the beginning of the year 1378, when a great part of the monastery was 'petuously burnt.' It was beyond the power of the convent to re-edify, and there was danger of the house failing into extreme desolation, and of divine service being withdrawn, or much diminished, unless charitable remedy for their relief could be devised. The abbot appealed to the king as patron of the house, and Richard II, by letters dated 20 February, 'moved with pite,' gave the abbey by way of alms towards the rebuilding the handsome sum of £40 13s. 4d., to be paid out of the revenues of the lordship of Fakenham, one half at Easter and the remainder at Michaelmas. (fn. 8)

Robert Walsingham was appointed in 1491, and whilst he was abbot extensive rebuildings of the quire and presbytery of the conventual church were in progress or contemplation. Sir William Calthorp, of Burnham Thorpe, many of whose ancestors were buried in a chapel of the conventual church, by will dated 31 May, 1495, left £74 towards the building of the quire and presbytery and general repairs of Creake Abbey.

Giles Shevington, the last abbot of the house, occurs in 1503. He is mentioned in that year in the will of Walter Aslake, who gave to the convent all the lands in Holm and Ringstead that he purchased of Sir Roger Strange, on condition of his obit being duly observed. Walter also left 5s. to each canon, and to the abbey a complete vestment of white damask, and willed that—

the north side of the quire in the said abbey be made with tymber workmanship and nayles of my goods, and mete and drink, and sand and lime, at the cost of the abbot and convent.

Not long after this date 'an infectious or epidemical disease' carried off the several canons of this small house, Abbot Giles being the last survivor. (fn. 9) The abbot himself died on 12 December, 1506; there was no convent left to elect a successor. The house was, therefore, ipso facto dissolved, and reverted to the crown. Through the intervention of the king's mother, the Lady Margaret, countess of Richmond, the lands and revenues of the abbey were settled upon Christ's College, Cambridge, which was of her foundation.

Priors Of Creake

William le Geyst, (fn. 10) temp. Hen. II

Robert, occurs 1228


Robert, (fn. 11) occurs 1230

Angerius, (fn. 12) occurs 1237

William, (fn. 13) occurs 1246

Godfrey, (fn. 14) elected 1262; resigned 1281 (fn. 15)

John Chevre, (fn. 16) elected 1281

Thomas Sutherck, (fn. 17) elected 1303

John de Harpole, (fn. 18) elected 1334

Robert de Dokking, (fn. 19) elected 1352

Thomas de Redham, (fn. 20) elected 1353

Thomas de Brandon, (fn. 21) elected 1357

John de Asshe, (fn. 22) elected 1360

John de Wighton, (fn. 23) elected 1393

Robert Felbrigg, (fn. 24) elected 1413

Thomas Crakyshyld, (fn. 25) died 1439

John Stanhow, (fn. 26) elected 1439

William Raume, (fn. 27) alias Wyssyngset, elected 1465

John Churche, (fn. 28) elected 1466

John Debenham, (fn. 29) elected 1473

John Elvysh, (fn. 30) elected 1475

Robert Walsingham, (fn. 31) elected 1491

Giles Shevington, (fn. 32) occurs 1503, last abbot, died 1506 (fn. 33)


  • 1. There are articles on this abbey by the late Mr. Carthew, F.S.A. in Norf. Arch. (vi. 314-59; vii, 153-69), which give many interesting extracts from, and accounts of, charters and rolls among the muniments of Christ's College, Cambridge. The statements in this sketch, where no reference is given, are taken from these articles. There is a short thirteenth-century chartulary of Creake, opening with an account of the foundation, which is given, with two early charters in the Mon. (vi, 487-8). Bishop Kennett's extracts from it are in Lansd. MS. 1040, fols. 203-4.
  • 2. Chart. R. 15 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 3. Ibid. 11 Hen. III, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 4. Close, 19 Edw. III, m. 30 d.
  • 5. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. i. m. 33.
  • 6. Ibid. 6 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 16,
  • 7. Year Book 15 Edw. III (Rolls Ser.), 448-50.
  • 8. Harl. MS. 433, fol. 153.
  • 9. Nichols, Leic. ii, 551. Probably the sweating sickness which raged in many parts of England in 1506.
  • 10. Norf. Arch. vi and vii.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Reg. Epist. Peckham (Rolls Ser.).
  • 16. Pat. Edw. I, m. 26, 22.
  • 17. Ibid. 31 Edw. II, m. 23, 21, 20.
  • 18. Ibid. 8 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 37, 31, 20.
  • 19. Ibid. 26 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 24.
  • 20. Ibid. 27 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 3, 5.
  • 21. Ibid. 31 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 22. Ibid. 34 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 13.
  • 23. Harl. MS. 6961, fol. 97.
  • 24. Pat. 14 Hen. IV, m. 13, 8.
  • 25. Norw. Epis. Reg. x, 25.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ibid. xi, 147.
  • 28. Ibid. 157.
  • 29. Ibid. xii, 29.
  • 30. Ibid. 47.
  • 31. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 77.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Nichols, Leic. ii, 551.