Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Beeston

Pages 372-374

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

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The priory of Austin Canons at Beeston-onthe-Sea, dedicated to the honour of St. Mary, was founded by Margery de Cressy about the end of the reign of John. (fn. 2) The original endowment was a messuage and 40 acres of land in Beeston and Runton, together with certain demesne lands, rents, services, meadows, wreck of sea and fisheries. (fn. 3)

Lucy, abbess of Caen, granted to Roger the prior and the convent of Beeston, in 1267, the advowson of the church of Staninghall, Norfolk. (fn. 4)

The taxation of 1291 gave the annual value of the temporalities of this priory in Norfolk, which were widely scattered in small parcels throughout the county, as £25 5s. 10¼d., and of its possessions in Suffolk at £2 10s. 10½d. (fn. 5)

Nevertheless, their appropriations could not have been carried out at that date, for when a crown return was called for in 1416 of the appropriated churches of this diocese, the reply from Beeston Priory was that they held no appropriations, and that their goods had been destroyed or much diminished in the pestilence of 1349 and by a terrible inundation in 1400. (fn. 6)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the priory at £43 2s. 4¾d., drawn from the manors and court fees of Beeston, Runton, Sheringham, Holt Perers, and Ranworth, and from lands at Sparham and Buxton, Norfolk, and Reydon, Suffolk.

In 1370 letters patent were granted on payment of 100s. for the alienation to the priory of lands and tenements in Upton, Ranworth, Pankeford, and Woodbastwick, to find a lamp burning daily in the priory church before the high altar at the time of divine services. (fn. 7)

Boniface IV sanctioned, in 1401, the appropriation by this priory of the church of Runton, as their income was too slender for their sustentation and hospitality. The value of the benefice did not exceed 20 marks, and that of the monastery 30 marks. The church might be served by one of their own canons or by a secular priest, removable at the will of the prior. (fn. 8)

In 1408 the manor of Perers, and in 1412 tenements in Aylmerton, Felbrigg, and Shipton, a moiety of the advowson of Beeston and the advowson of Runton were all granted to the priory. (fn. 9)

In 1466 Isabel Lady Morley died seised of the patronage of the priory, and Eleanor her cousin, wife of William Lovell, Lord Morley, inherited it. This patronage had come to the Morleys as heirs of the Cressys.

John de Walsam, one of the canons of Beeston, got into serious trouble in 1317. The cause of the outrage cannot now be ascertained, but on one occasion he attacked and wounded his diocesan with a sword. Ultimately the case was referred to the pope, and the canon sent to Rome. In December of that year John XXII instructed the bishop to enjoin penance and satisfaction on John de Walsam, for now that he had recovered from his wounds the pope had given the canon absolution. (fn. 10)

The priory was visited by Bishop Goldwell on 25 August, 1494. He was received at the west gate of the monastery by Prior John Poty and the other priests, and proceeded in solemn procession to the high altar of the church, whence he gave his blessing. The visitation was held in the chapter-house. The prior testified that there was only one canon of the house besides himself, namely Thomas Taverner, and he was absent without leave. The bishop enjoined him to have at least two fellow-canons as speedily as possible, and annually to draw up a true return of the priory accounts. (fn. 11)

Thomas Plattyng, by will proved in 1507, left 6d. to Our Lady of Grace and 4d. to Our Lady of Pity in Beeston Priory church. (fn. 12)

Bishop Nicke visited the house on 18 July, 1514. The prior reported that Canon Thomas Taverner was in Norwich without leave. Canon Nicholas Wodforth said that the prior did not produce his accounts, and charged him with a scandal. Canon Robins testified that all was well. Canon Daume said that they had no school; that mattins were said at five o'clock and not in the night; that the common seal was in the prior's private keeping, but that everything else was right. Canon Rump knew of nothing to depose. (fn. 13)

Bishop Nicke again visited Beeston in August, 1532, when Richard Hudson, who had become prior that year, exhibited his accounts and inventory; Canon Woodford reported that all was well, with which report Canon Yorke agreed. The bishop finding nothing worthy of reformation dissolved his visitation. (fn. 14)

On 11 August, 1539, Prior Hudson and his four canons, Nicholas Wodforth, William Wusbarow, James Fysser, and Robert Swyer put their signatures to the acknowledgement of the king's supremacy. (fn. 15) It is said that the income of the house was never sufficient to sustain more than four canons in addition to the prior; but this is highly improbable in its earlier days, considering the size of the house as shown by the ruins.

On 25 March, 1537, Harry Lord Morley wrote to Cromwell making bold to sue him for the priory of Beeston 'whereof sometime I was founder' (patron), understanding that it would be shortly suppressed. He desired to know whether he should sue the king for it. (fn. 16)

In some curious way, however, Beeston, though one of quite the smaller monasteries, managed to slip through the meshes of the first suppression. In March, 1538, Sir Richard Rich wrote to Cromwell saying that he intended to suppress Beeston 'which pretended themselves to be friars,' but were canons and so apparelled and known. He stated that they were consuming the goods and chattels. (fn. 17)

The confusion as to the proper nomenclature of this house and as to the order to which the inmates belonged is not a little singular. It is usually described after the same fashion as the other small houses of Austin Canons that were so prevalent in East Anglia; but Dr. Jessopp says that he has twice found it described in the Norwich episcopal registers as 'Hospitale sive Ecclesia canonicorum B. Marie in Prato de Beeston.' Nevertheless it was at one time considered by some to be tenanted by friars, for the patent rolls of 1400 have an entry 'pro Priore de Monte Carmali de Beeston.' (fn. 18)

In the report of the 'mixed commission,' consisting of Sir William Paston and three others, the account of this house is headed, 'The Priory of Chanones in Beeston of th' order of Peterstone, they been callyd Chanones hospitlers and they have a convent seale.' This commission returned the annual value at £46 3s. 6¾d., with debts owing to the amount of £20. The lead and bells were valued at £60, and the house was in good repair. The religious only numbered three, and were of 'goode name'; but there were in addition seven servants and six children living in the house. 'One scholler of Oxonforde hath xls. yearly for his exibicione.' (fn. 19)

On its suppression in June, 1539, Prior Hudson was assigned a pension of £5, and the canons smaller sums. (fn. 20) The ex-prior was in receipt of the pension in 1553; he was at that time rector of Newton Flotman.

The crown granted a lease of the site of the priory and its possessions to John Travers in 1540; (fn. 21) and in 1545 the site, lordships, lands, and tenements were granted jointly to Sir Edmund Wyndham and Giles Seafoule.

Priors Of Beeston

Roger, occurs 1267 (fn. 22)

Thomas, occurs 1297 (fn. 23)

William de Beston, elected 1314 (fn. 24)

Geoffrey de Hoton, elected 1325 (fn. 25)

Simon de Calthorpe, elected 1390 (fn. 26)

Laurence de Beeston, elected 1409 (fn. 27)

Geoffrey de Runton, elected 1416, (fn. 28) occurs 1435

John Catteson, occurs 1461

John Wykmer, 1468 (fn. 29)

John Poty, 1444 (fn. 30)

Simon Robyns, 1531

Richard Hudson, 1532


  • 1. See paper by Dr. Jessopp in Norf. Antiq. Misc. iii, 439-61.
  • 2. Rye, Hist. of North Erpingham, pt. i, 4.
  • 3. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. viii, 91.
  • 4. Fin. Rot. Norf. 52 Hen. III, 106.
  • 5. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), fols. 92, 94, 95, 96b, 99, 99b, 100, 104b, 105b, 126b, 127.
  • 6. Norw. Epis. Reg. viii, 130.
  • 7. Pat. 44 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 36.
  • 8. Cal. Papal Reg. v, 416.
  • 9. Pat. 10 Hen. IV, pt. i, m. 24; 1 Hen. V, pt. i, m. 21.
  • 10. Cal. Papal Reg. ii, 136.
  • 11. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 55.
  • 12. Reg. Spiltymbre (Norwich), 4.
  • 13. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 124.
  • 14. Ibid. 316.
  • 15. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. 2, 280; Norf. Antiq. Misc. iii, 460.
  • 16. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 321.
  • 17. Ibid. xiii (1), 232.
  • 18. Pat. 2 Hen. IV, pt. i, m. 30.
  • 19. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 20. Aug. Off. Books, ccxxxii, fol. 43b.
  • 21. L. and. P. Hen. VIII, xv, 250.
  • 22. Fin. R. Norf. 52 Hen. III, 106.
  • 23. Anct. D., A. 5577.
  • 24. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 56.
  • 25. Ibid. ii, 5.
  • 26. Ibid. vi, 15.
  • 27. Ibid. vii, 18.
  • 28. Ibid. viii, 8.
  • 29. Ibid. xi, 170.
  • 30. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 55.