Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Bromehill

Pages 374-375

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

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Bromehill Priory, in the parish of Weeting and about a mile south-east of the village, was founded by Sir Hugh de Plaiz about the beginning of the thirteenth century. It was clearly well established by 1224, for in April of that year the king granted a two days' fair on the vigil and day of St. Thomas the Martyr, to the prior of Bromehill. (fn. 2) This Austin house was under the joint invocation of the Blessed Virgin and St. Thomas the Martyr. The priory was endowed by the founder with a moiety of the manor of Weeting, termed Bromehill Priory Manor. The hundred jury of 1275 returned the prior as lord of a moiety of Croxton as well as of the Weeting submanor, both being of the gift of Hugh de Plaiz in free alms. (fn. 3)

The taxation of 1291 shows that the priory then held lands or rents in ten Norfolk parishes of an annual value of £23 8s. 2d., in addition to the land in the two Suffolk parishes just named, which was valued at £2 2s, 7d. (fn. 4)

In 1349 the priory obtained the royal licence for the appropriation of the church of Croxton. (fn. 5) In this year Prior Thomas de Saham died, in all probability of the plague, and was followed by Peter de Burnham.

In 1371 the priory obtained licence of alienation in mortmain to hold a messuage, 46 acres of land, 2 of meadow, and a fishery at Bernham, Suffolk, and lands and rents in Threxton, the gifts of William Smith and William Attemore. (fn. 6) Three years later they obtained the handsome grant of £20 in rents at Weeting from Sir John de Plaiz. (fn. 7) The manor of Mundford and the advowson of the church there were granted to the priory, in 1391, by William Beauchamp, (fn. 8) and in 1395 Boniface IX sanctioned the appropriation of the church of Croxton, value 25 marks, to this monastery, which was declared of the value of 80 marks. The advowson had recently been given to the priory by its lay patrons with a view to appropriation. (fn. 9)

Frequent discord arose between the priory and the neighbouring town of Thetford as to the toll, stallage, and pickage of Bromehill fair. It seems to have originated through the mayor's right to hold a court at the fair clashing with the original grant of the fair to the prior and canons by Henry III. At last, in 1331, an agreement was drawn up on the fair day between the mayor of Thetford and the prior of Bromehill, whereby the latter resigned all control of the fair to the town authorities for an annual payment of 18d. out of the fair profits, with a proviso that in case of neglect the prior had power to indemnify himself. (fn. 10)

Philip Martin, vicar of Croxton, in 1452 left to the prior 3s. 4d., and to each of the three canons 20d., showing that there were then only three canons besides the prior. On 20 June, 1514, however, when the house was visited by Bishop Nicke, there were four canons in addition to the prior, all of whom were severally examined in the chapter-house. Prior Martin made a favourable report, and said that they had more than 2,000 sheep. Canon Henry Sympson had several complaints as to ruined walls, insufficient lamps, and the quality of the bread, ale, and meat. It is of interest to note a reference to the bad repair of the school-house ('camera scolae vocata scolehous-chambre '). This must refer to a school for outsiders; so small a house would not require a separate room for the instruction of novices. Canon Edmund also complained as to lights and food, the hours of meals, the lack of a barber, absence of servants and defects in the building, all the fault of the prior; but he disbelieved a reported scandal against his superior. He also stated that the number of canons on the foundation was formerly seven. Canon John Whetebred complained of the quality of the bread and ale and the absence of servants. Canon Richard Mason thought the food was not wholesome and that there was no provision for administering the necessaries of life to the infirm or giving them attendance; he also drew attention to the bad condition of the church, and buildings.

The bishop's consequent injunctions included the removal of one Agnes Clarke from the priory's service, and the exclusion of Christian de Weting; the finding light and lamps for the church in the winter; an improvement in food and drink; the repair of the school-house before All Saints' Day, and the execution of other necessary repairs; and the providing of a barber and servants. The visitation was then prorogued to Michaelmas. (fn. 11)

In 1520 Prior Martin was followed by Robert Codde. In that year John, bishop of Chalcedon, with certain colleagues, visited the house on behalf of Bishop Nicke. Prior Codde testified that all things were going on well, and a like brief report was made by the four canons, Edmund Banyard, John Whetebred, Richard Mason, and Richard Breccles. The injunctions, consequent on this visitation, ruled that the prior was to provide within thirty days a place of confinement with stocks and chains for the, correction of canons; and that the canons were not to frequent taverns, nor to leave the priory without permission of their superior, and to give up the use of buckles. (fn. 12)

William Barlow alias Finch occurs as prior in 1525. He had already been prior of several small Austin houses, Tiptree and Leighs in Essex, Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, and Bisham in Berkshire; he was afterwards successively bishop of St. Asaph, St. David's, Bath and Wells, and Chichester.

The priory was again visited by Bishop Nicke in 1526. Prior Barlow gave a good report of everything. Canon Banyard said that there was no farmery nor attendance for the infirm canons; Canon Whetebred complained that there was no regular confessor, and that an annuity had been granted to one Mr. Redmayne; Canon Mason also objected to this annuity, and drew attention to the ruinous condition of the church; and Canon Breccles complained that silence was not observed in the dorter. The only consequent injunction was an order to the prior to provide a confessor for the canons. (fn. 13)

This house was suppressed, at Cardinal Wolsey's request, by Pope Clement's bull of 14 May, 1528, towards the endowment of his projected college at Ipswich. It was dissolved on 18 September, 1528, by Drs. Gardiner and Legh, the canons being ordered to enter other Austin houses. The work of demolishing the church and building was at once undertaken, £4. 13s. 4d. being paid for taking down the lead. In the same year 53s. 4d. was paid by the cardinal to the vicar of Croxton as his pension, and there was also a payment of 40s. to ex-Prior Barlow. (fn. 14)

After the cardinal's fall the land and site and possessions of the late priory of Bromehill, including six manors in Norfolk, a windmill at Weeting, lands, rents, &c., in twenty-four Norfolk and three Suffolk townships, together with an annual rent from Weeting of £20, and the advowson of Croxton Church were granted by the crown to the master, fellows, and scholars of Christ's College, Cambridge. (fn. 15)

Priors Of Bromehill

Geoffrey, (fn. 16) occurs 1240

Henry, (fn. 17) occurs 1268

William, (fn. 18) occurs 1308

Ralph de Threkestone, (fn. 19) elected 1311

John de Welle, (fn. 20) elected 1342

Thomas de Soham, (fn. 21) elected 1344

Peter de Burnham, (fn. 22) elected 1349

William Estmore, (fn. 23) elected 1394

Robert Stowe, (fn. 24) elected 1412

John de Walsoken, (fn. 25) resigned 1424

Richard Winchester, (fn. 26) elected 1424

John Rammesey, (fn. 27) elected 1446

Robert Foster, (fn. 28) elected 1466

William Kyrtelyng, (fn. 29) elected 1479

William Lovell, (fn. 30) elected 1491

Thomas Axill, (fn. 31) elected 1491

Thomas Martin, (fn. 32) elected 1514

Robert Codde, (fn. 33) elected 1520

William Barlow, (fn. 34) occurs 1525, last prior


  • 1. In Blomefield (vi, 163-7) is a list of priors and numerous documents are cited. Where no other reference is given the information in this sketch is taken from that source.
  • 2. Close, 8 Hen. III, m. 8.
  • 3. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 439.
  • 4. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 95b, 100b, 101, 101b, 113b, 130, 131b.
  • 5. Pat. 23 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 18.
  • 6. Ibid. 45 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 11.
  • 7. Ibid. 48 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 20.
  • 8. Escaet Norf. 13 Ric. II, m. 130, cited by Tanner.
  • 9. Cal. Papal Reg. iv, 519.
  • 10. This agreement is given in full in Martin's Hist, of Thetford (1779), App. 27.
  • 11. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 85-7.
  • 12. Ibid. 154-85.
  • 13. Ibid. 242-3.
  • 14. L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv, 4229 (9), 4755.
  • 15. Pat. 23 Hen. VIII, pt. ii, mm. 23 and 24.
  • 16. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ii, 164.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 44.
  • 20. Ibid. iii, 54.
  • 21. Ibid. iv, 46.
  • 22. Ibid. 103.
  • 23. Ibid. vi.
  • 24. Ibid. vii, 33.
  • 25. Ibid. ix, 37.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ibid. xi, 6.
  • 28. Ibid. 156.
  • 29. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ii, 164.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Ibid.