Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Coxford

Pages 378-380

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

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William Cheney founded a priory of Austin Canons, temp. Stephen, in the church of St. Mary, East Rudham. About the beginning of the reign of Henry III the priory was removed to the eastern boundary of the parish at a place called Cotesford or Coxford. John Cheney, the nephew of the original founder, granted to the canons the churches of East and West Rudham, together with land, mills, fishponds, &c., in those parishes. This charter is undated; but the witnesses prove that it was between 1146 and 1149. (fn. 1)

Hervey Beleth, lord of East Rudham, whose mother was the daughter of John Cheney, gave the manor of East Rudham and lands in several other townships, about 1215, to these canons, and placed the maintenance of the hospital for poor folk of his founding at Boycodeswade in their hands. (fn. 2)

In 1227 Henry III granted the prior a fair on the feast of the Translation of St. Thomas of Canterbury and the two following days. (fn. 3) A yearly fair was also granted to the priory in 1251 on their manor at Rudham, on the vigil, morrow and feast of St. Barnabas. (fn. 4)

The hundred rolls of 1273-4 show that the prior of Coxford claimed a lete in Rudham, and held certain tenements in both East and West Rudham, together with the churches and the church of Houghton in free alms, as the gift of Hervey Beleth. He also held thirty acres of land, the gift of Nicholas de Beriner, which had been alienated to him in the time of Henry III. (fn. 5)

The taxation of 1291 showed that this priory had rents, &c., in forty-two Norfolk parishes, which were reckoned at the annual value of £144 19s. 4¼d.

In 1293 William de Say, son and heir of Geoffrey Lord Say and Alice his wife (who was one of the daughters and co-heirs of Sir John Cheney), died seised of the patronage of the priory. Geoffrey Lord Say had confirmed to the canons all the gifts of William and John Cheney, and William de Say added to them the church of St. Margaret at Thorpe Market. (fn. 6)

Licence was granted in 1326 for the alienation by Maud de Tony to Coxford Priory of 3 messuages, 100 acres of land, 100 acres of pasture, and 10s. rent in Grimston, Congham, Roydon, Weavling, and Appleton, to find a chaplain to celebrate daily in the chapel of St. Katherine, lately built by her in the churchyard of Appleton for the souls of Maud, Robert her husband, and all the faithful; in lieu of a licence granted her in 1320 to assign the same to West Acre priory. (fn. 7)

The Valor of 1535 gives the gross annual value of the priory as £153 7s. 1d., and the clear annual value £121 18s. 10½d.

Archbishop Peckham visited the priory in January, 1281, and found so lax a state of discipline that he subsequently sent the prior a long letter, (fn. 8) in which he says that he had found him lacking in religious zeal, not attending divine service regularly, and failing to control his subordinates, so that by his negligence the canons go out coursing with hounds, attend banquets, chat with girls, and bring the house into contempt, causing it to be a scandal and a jest to the neighbourhood. Nor did he show care or diligence in the temporal affairs of the priory, but in spite of his age preferred to follow hounds rather than books. The archbishop, therefore, appointed John, formerly official of the bishop of Norwich, and another monk to act with the prior in the control of the business of the house; he further ordered that if any of the canons wanted to follow the hounds they should do so on horses and not on foot, and that only when the prior himself was present. Those who were suspected of incontinency were not to be allowed outside the priory except in cases of necessity, and then only when accompanied by others of good fame, and if they spoke to women or went into their houses they were to be severely punished; nor were women to be admitted to the priory on any account, save in the case of great and noble ladies accompanied by their trains who could not be refused. Chess and similar games were at the same time strictly forbidden, one of the canons, Robert de Hunstanton, being singled out as a special offender in this particular respect. Finally, the archbishop ordered that his letter should be copied and shown to the visitors on the occasion of all future visitations, that they might see how far the state of the house had improved.

On 2 November, 1492, Archdeacon Goldwell, as commissary of the bishop, visited Coxford, when prior Henry, sub-prior Robert Dereham, and six other canons were present. The report showed that the farmery was not open for the reception of infirm brethren; that the frater was too cold for sitting at meals; that it would be for the good of the house to have a grammar master for the younger canons; and that there was no honest recreation provided. (fn. 9)

Bishop Nicke paid a personal visitation to the priory on 12 July, 1514. John Mathew, the prior, said that mattin mass was not celebrated; that the brethren were disobedient, quarrelsome, and incorrigible; and that Canon John Berdon had taken flight three or four times and was then imprisoned. Sub-Prior John Nytingale said that silence was not observed; that the prior did not present annual accounts; that the frater was ruinous; and that they had no farmery. Canon William Kettilston re-echoed the complaints as to frater and farmery. Canon Richard Andrew said that the prior only rose for the night offices on the four great festivals. Five other canons reported omnia bene. The consequent injunctions provided for the presenting of an annual account, for the better observance of silence, for the providing of suitable food for the sick, and for the obedience and religious behaviour in quire of the canons. (fn. 10)

The bishop suffragan of Chalcedon visited in 1520. After preaching in the chapter-house from the text, Sitis solliciti servare unitatem, the prior and nine canons were severally examined. Prior Mathew complained that at the request of Dr. Hare they had assigned an annuity of 40s. to his nephew, Nicholas Hare, to act as their steward, an office which they found he could not lawfully hold. John Nightingale, sub-prior, said that there was no annual return of accounts, but cetera omnia bene. The eight other canons had no complaint, and spoke the praises of the prior. The prior exhibited an inventory of the goods of the house, and was enjoined for the future to lay an annual balance-sheet before the senior canons. (fn. 11)

At the visitation on 8 August, 1526, Prior Mathew acknowledged that he had not presented any annual statement of accounts, and John Nightingale, sub-prior, testified that such had not been the custom of the priory for the past forty years. There were only three other canons at the visitation, two of them priests and one a deacon; they all said omnia bene. (fn. 12)

Henry Salter was prior when the last visitation of this house was held in 1532. The prior said that there was no record of the possessions of the house in consequence of his predecessors having kept no accounts; that he had not yet been prior for a year, but that at the end of the year he promised to produce a balance-sheet. He further reported that Canon Robert Porter had been guilty of incontinence, and had been corrected by Master Rawlins, his predecessor. Sub-Prior William Neville made a good report of everything save as to the condition of the dorter; four other canons were content to testify omnia bene. The visitor enjoined that, with the consent of the prior and convent, the house and chamber of the sub-prior should be used as a farmery; that the dorter should be repaired as soon as possible; and that the year's balance should be presented within a month after Michaelmas. (fn. 13)

John de Cokesford was prior on 17 September, 1534, when the prior and nine canons subscribed to the king's supremacy. (fn. 14) In several documents of 1534-6, evidently referring to the same prior, the sub-prior is indifferently termed Mathew, Coxford, and Adamson; apparently John Mathew, the former prior, was re-elected about 1533.

According to Legh and Ap Rice's scandalous comperta of 1536, one of the oldest canons of this house, the sub-prior, William Neville, confessed to them his incontinency. (fn. 15) Later in the same year the county commissioners for suppression reported that 'The Priory of Chanones of Cokesforde of the order of Seynt Augustine ys a hede house and hathe a Covent seale and ys of the yearly value of cxxli, ixs, ixd, with xvijli, vijs, xd for the demayne under ther in the occupacione of the Prior. Religious persones iij alle Prystes of goode name and they require their dispensaciones. Persones havynge livynges ther lxiiij, whereof weytinge servauntes vij, hindes xl, childerne iiij, almes folke in the hospitalle xiiij.' The lead and bells were reported to be worth £100, but the house was in decay and ruinous. The goods were worth £67 7s. 11d.; the movable goods and cattle £17 7s. 11d.; and the corn £50. There were no debts due, but the house owed £26 13s. 4d. (fn. 16)

On 30 April, 1536, Prior John Mathew wrote to Cromwell asking for his poor living and pension without further vexation and trouble, and said that Dr. Legh had assured him he should have £20 a year. He also begged for his chamber with two beds, one for himself and one for his servant. (fn. 17) The pension eventually granted was one of £15.

The four commissioners for Norfolk certified, on 27 January, 1537, to the sale of goods of this house, (fn. 18) including the following interesting items:—

Furst sold to Mr. Fermor, the table at the high altar xs
Item sold to Mr. Fermor, the orgaynes in the quire iiijli
Item sold, the table of alabaster in the quire to Sr. Thomas Strange vs
Item sold, a pece of lynen and another olde altar cloth iiijd
Item sold to Master Fermor, the stuff in the churche vijs viijd

The plate valued at 68s. 8d. was reserved in the charge of Richard Southwell.

The site and possessions of the priory were granted in May, 1537, to Thomas, duke of Norfolk. (fn. 19)

Priors Of Coxford

Matthew Cheney, (fn. 20) first prior

Hubert, (fn. 21) occurs 1190, 1219

William, (fn. 22) occurs 1232

Adam de Dalling, (fn. 23) occurs 1244

John, (fn. 24) occurs 1250 and 1257

Hugh de Elmham, (fn. 25) occurs 1286

Reyner, occurs 1288 (fn. 26)

Robert, (fn. 27) occurs 1299, 1314 (fn. 28)

William de Hampton, (fn. 29) elected 1315

John Thorp, (fn. 30) died 1342

John de Thornham, (fn. 31) elected 1342

Peter de Fleckenho, (fn. 32) elected 1346

Henry de Elmham, c. 1369

John de Walsingham, (fn. 33) elected 1404

Edmund de Snetisham, (fn. 34) elected 1430

John de Dereham, (fn. 35) elected 1438

Benedict de Snetisham, (fn. 36) elected 1449

John Wichingham, resigned 1468

John Knollys, (fn. 37) alias Clement, died 1478

Henry Mileham, (fn. 38) elected 1478

John Mathew, (fn. 39) occurs 1514

Henry Salter, (fn. 40) occurs 1532

John de Coxford, (fn. 41) alias Mathew, occurs 1534, last prior

There is a cast of an imperfect impression of a fifteenth-century seal of this priory at the B.M. The seated Virgin bears the Holy Child on the left knee and holds a fleur-de-lis-headed sceptre in the right hand. On each side is a kneeling canon. In the base the prior kneeling. Legend:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 369; Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 153.
  • 2. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 153.
  • 3. Chart. R. 11 Hen. III, pt. i, m. 7.
  • 4. Ibid. 35 Hen. III, m. 10.
  • 5. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 452-3, 535.
  • 6. Dugdale, Baronage, i, 511.
  • 7. Pat. 19 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 22.
  • 8. Reg. Epis. Peckham (Rolls Ser.), i, 162-5.
  • 9. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 29.
  • 10. Ibid. 111-12.
  • 11. Ibid. 169.
  • 12. Ibid. 251.
  • 13. Ibid. 313-14.
  • 14. Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), xiv, 501.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII, iv (3), 2699.
  • 16. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 17. Cott. MS. Cleop. E. iv, 269.
  • 18. Suppression Papers (P.R O.), 832/5.
  • 19. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xii (i), 605.
  • 20. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 156.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Assize R. 1282, m. 18 d.
  • 27. Pat. 27 Edw. I, m. 37.
  • 28. Assize R. 593, m. 32 d.
  • 29. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 61.
  • 30. Ibid. iii, 56.
  • 31. Ibid.
  • 32. Ibid. iv, 55.
  • 33. Ibid. vi, 314.
  • 34. Ibid. ix, 41.
  • 35. Ibid. x, 21.
  • 36. Ibid. xi, 43.
  • 37. Ibid. xiii, 63.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. 111.
  • 40. Ibid. 169.
  • 41. Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), xiv, 501.
  • 42. B.M. lxix, 14; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 369.