Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Old Buckenham

Pages 376-378

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

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This priory was founded about the year 1146 by William de Albini, second earl of Arundel, and Queen Adeliza his wife. The foundation charter, given in full in the Monasticon, is cited in confirmation charter by Edward II. (fn. 1) By this charter the priory was endowed with the rectories of All Saints and St. Andrews on the manor of Buckenham, the site of the old castle, and its materials, eighty acres of lands and much wood and meadow. The priory was dedicated to the honour of St. Mary, St. James, and All Saints, and the canons were to follow the rule of the order of St. Augustine, according to the institution of St. Mary of Merton, and to pray for the souls of the founder and his wife, King Stephen, Maud, their ancestors and progeny, and for the souls of all benefactors.

William de Albini, earl of Sussex, the son of the founder, gave the canons the advowson of Kenninghall; Richard, son of Robert de Scenges gave them the advowson of St. Mary's, Barwick, Peter de Cley the advowson of St. Peter's, Cleythorpe; Robert son of Robert de Tateshall the advowson of Gunneby, and Thomas de St. Giles the advowson of St. Benedict, Norwich. They also received large benefactions, in the lifetime of the founder's son, of lands, tenements, rents, and services from Richard de Scenges and others, as set forth in the same confirmation charter of Edward II.

When the taxation roll of 1291 was drawn up this house had possessions in forty-two Norfolk parishes, of the annual value of £52 0s. 9½d., and in one Suffolk parish, value 1s. 2d. (fn. 2)

Pardon was granted in 1335 to the priory for having obtained various small grants of land in Buckenham, &c., without mortmain licence, (fn. 3) and the church of Griston was appropriated to the convent in 1348. (fn. 4)

The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual taxation value of the priory at £108 10s. 2¼d.

On 18 August, 1310, the prior of Buckenham received a letter from the crown, thanking him for the loan that he had agreed to make to the king of victuals for the Scotch expedition, namely, 6 quarters of wheat, 10 of malt, 10 of oats, and 2 beeves and 10 sheep. He was ordered to deliver them to the sheriff of Norfolk, so that he might speedily forward them to Berwick-on-Tweed, making indentures with him of the sum of the victuals and of their market price. He was to be repaid the following Easter. (fn. 5)

In 1479 there were eight canons at Old Buckenham Priory, in addition to the prior, namely, Thomas Fincham, Richard Cley, Henry Lychefield, Thomas Beverley, John Buckenham, John Chambyr, William Harnsych, and Richard Buckenham, cellarer. In 1480 there were the same canons, with the addition of John Baron. In 1493 there were these nine canons, with the addition of John Formale, a novice just admitted amongst them. The full complement of the house was reached in that year, for it consisted, according to its foundation, of a prior and ten canons. Each canon, in addition to food and maintenance, received 40s. yearly stipend, somewhat after the fashion of secular canons. They chose yearly from their numbers a sub-prior, a sacrist, and a cellarer. The temporal officers of the household were the steward of their courts, a hayward, a woodward, and a porter. There was also an auditor, appointed by the lord for the annual auditing of their accounts. In 1493 John Bown was their auditor; the total income was about £110, and they disbursed about £100. In that year John Plattynge was prior. (fn. 6)

Bishop Gold well visited this house on 16 October, 1492; the prior and seven canons then present were each privately examined, with the result that various complaints were formulated against the prior. They were to the effect that Prior John did not show yearly to the chapter the state of the house; that he was too partial, and that there was not perfect charity among the canons; that there was not a sufficiency of fish on fast days; that he did not seek the advice of his chapter on serious affairs, but did everything after his own judgement; that he had pledged a silver-gilt bowl, value eight marks; that if any of the brethren were ill he did not assign anyone to attend them in the farmery but obliged them to attend hall; that he farmed out the dairy to the great loss of the house; that the frater was not served save in Lent and Advent, nor was care taken for the observance of silence in cloister and quire; that the food for the kitchen was not good or wholesome; that the house and walls of the priory were ruinous; and that a certain woman named Isabel Warner was often at the priory under suspicious circumstances.

Upon this the bishop adjourned the visitation to the following day, and then further prorogued to 9 July of the next year, doubtless with the object of seeing whether the necessary reforms were carried out.

On 26 June, 1514 Bishop Nicke visited; and after a sermon in the chapter-house by Master Forthe, Prior John Millgate complained that Canon Thomas was not obedient; Sub-Prior Beverley, that Canon Thomas Ixning was not obedient, and only attended mattins and mass at his pleasure; Sacrist Thomas Buckenham, that Canons Ixning and Benet came late to mattins, and that the procession before mattins was not duly observed; Canon Richard Buckenham, that Canons Benet and Tailour did not duly attend divine offices; Canon George Buckenham, that there was no due provision for the canons when ill; Canon Ixning accused himself of very frequent absence from mattins; and Canons Norwich, Benet and Winkfield all testified that omnia bene. A list of the debts of Canon Ixning, amounting to 55s. 3d. was appended to the visitation.

On 27 June, 1520, the house was visited by John, bishop of Chalceddn, and two other commissaries of the bishop of Norwich. George Walden, one of the canons, though duly summoned, did not appear, and was pronounced contumacious. Prior John gave a good report, and stated that the parish churches of Buckenham were served by the canons, by licence sought and obtained from the bishop. The subprior, sacrist, and Canon Norfolk testified that all was well, save that they had no schoolmaster (preceptorem in grammatica). The remaining five canons confined themselves to a good report.

The priory was again visited on 24 July, 1526, when John Millgate prior, Thomas Beverley sub-prior, Thomas Brown sacrist, and five other canons all testified omnia bene. Thomas Flixtoun, and William Harvy, novices, complained of the insolence of a servant; whilst John Sharpyng and Thomas Reve, two other novices, complained that their annual stipends of 13s. 4d. were so small that they could not provide themselves with necessaries.

Yet another visitation of this house is recorded on 13 July, 1532. Prior Millgate, five of the canons, and two of the novices knew of nothing worthy of reformation; Sub-Prior Brown complained that some of the younger canons left the cloisters after compline against rule, and that Canon Sharpyng wore pointed shoes; Canons Sharpyng and Harvy owned to wearing such shoes; Canon Flixton complained that silence was not duly observed after compline, and that some left the cloister; and Richard Godeman, a novice, stated that Canon Harvy served the cure of Stanford and was not fit for it, and also complained of Canon Sharpyng.

The consequent injunctions ordered that the canons should retire to the dorter immediately after compline; that the south gates should then be closed and no one suffered to go out save by leave of the prior or sub-prior; that no canon should wear pointed shoes, but only those of the old pattern; and that no canon was to serve a secular cure without the bishop's licence. (fn. 7)

Prior Millgate and the full complement of ten canons signed the Acknowledgement of the King's Supremacy, in August, 1534. (fn. 8)

On 10 November, 1535, when it was known that suppression was imminent, the aged Prior Millgate wrote to Cromwell a somewhat piteous letter, enclosing a fee, and 'beseeching that we may obtain your favourable licence for the keeping of one cure and one chapel with four masses in the week day, with two honest religious priests for maintaining their poor house.' Also that they may put some of the laymen of their house in trust for employing their pastures and receiving their rents; else they are afraid great men who could not be resisted would require them to do as they like; also that they may receive members and observe Cromwell's injunctions for maintaining God's service. Some of the younger men of their company, the prior continued, were not godly disposed, and rather desire liberty than to be straitened. (fn. 9)

The local suppression commissioners of 1536, who visited Buckenham on 22 September, (fn. 10) reported that this 'priory of Black Chanones' was of the clear annual value of £143 7s. 8d., that there were five canon priests, of whom one desired to remain religious, and the rest desired dispensations; that 'the name ys good as we can lerne by reporte of there neybures,' that there were twenty-one waiting servants of the house, eleven hinds, and eight children which had their living there; that the house was 'newly buylt and in marvellous goode reparacion,' and worth with the bells and lead £180; that the movables, goods, stocks, and stores were worth £117 9s. 4d.; that the debts due to the house were £50 2s. 11d.; and that the woods of diverse years growth covered 111 acres, and were worth £233 6s. 8d. (fn. 11) The house was suppressed on 2 September, 1536. (fn. 12)

An inventory of church goods of this monastery, taken about 1536, mentions a silver-gilt cross with crucifix attached, a silver-gilt cross enclosing a portion of the true cross, a small silver-gilt cross, two small silver-gilt crosses, four small chalices parcel-gilt, a silver-gilt pix, a silver-gilt pax, two silver-gilt candlesticks, a small parcel-gilt censer, two pairs of small silver-gilt cruets, a parcel-gilt ship, two parcel-gilt basins; also a cope of red velvet, two copes of blue velvet, three copes of white damask, one cope of red damask, one of red silk, one of red satin, one of blue satin, two of white satin, and four of white fustian. (fn. 13)

A pension of £15 was assigned to Prior Millgate on 1 February, 1537. (fn. 14)

According to confessions made by one John Tumour of Old Buckenham on 24 May, 1537, before Richard Southwell and others, a week before the previous Palm Sunday, he had been told by John Lok that Hugh Wilkinson had offered him an angel noble to kill the king's visitors in their beds that night at Buckenham Abbey. Other confessions made at the same time seem to show that there was no plot of the kind, but merely some vague talk reflecting a certain amount of popular indignation at the suppression. (fn. 15)

Immediately on its suppression, Sir Edmund Knevett, of Buckenham Castle, obtained a lease of the priory site and demesne lands. (fn. 16)

Priors Of Old Buckenham

William, (fn. 17) occurs 1216

Walter, (fn. 18) elected 1221

Hugh, (fn. 19) elected 1269

Richard de Otteley, (fn. 20) elected 1286

John de Multon, (fn. 21) elected 1307

Nicholas de Cotton, (fn. 22) elected 1327

Hugh de Brom, (fn. 23) elected 1329

William de Spykeworth, (fn. 24) elected 1354

William de Bonham, (fn. 25) elected 1381

Roger Carleton, (fn. 26) elected 1402

John Norwich, (fn. 27) elected 1437

Bartholomew Melles, (fn. 28) elected 1451

John Whalley, (fn. 29) elected 1458

John Bukenham, (fn. 30) 1480

John Plattynge, (fn. 31) elected 1493

John Millgate, (fn. 32) occurs 1514, last prior


  • 1. Chart. R. 11 Edw. II, No. 49, m. 10; Mon. vi, 419.
  • 2. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.) 97, 99, 100, 104-8, 127.
  • 3. Pat. 9 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 16.
  • 4. Ibid. 22 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 27.
  • 5. Close, 4 Edw. II, m. 23.
  • 6. From particulars given by Blomefield from 'An accoumpt book of this priory in the hands of Mieux Rant Esq.'
  • 7. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.) 29, 44, 160, 257, 307.
  • 8. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. 2, 281.
  • 9. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 269-70.
  • 10. Ibid. xii (1), 455.
  • 11. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 12. Suppression Papers (P.R.O.) 832/5.
  • 13. (1) K.R. Ch. Gds. 1393/101.
  • 14. Aug. Off. Bks. ccxxxiii, fol. 42b.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), 579.
  • 16. Aug. Off. Bks. ccix, fol. 85.
  • 17. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. i, 387.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Ibid.
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 26.
  • 22. Pat. 1 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 16.
  • 23. Norw. Epis. Reg. ii, 29.
  • 24. Ibid. iv, 154.
  • 25. Ibid. vi, 75.
  • 26. Ibid. 282.
  • 27. Ibid. x, 9.
  • 28. Ibid. xi, 27.
  • 29. Ibid. 105.
  • 30. Ibid. xii, 79.
  • 31. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. i, 388.
  • 32. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. 44.