Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Hempton

Pages 381-383

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

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This house was at first a hospital, founded in the reign of Henry I by Roger de St. Martin, (fn. 2) in conjunction with Richard Ward, (fn. 3) who afterwards became an Austin Canon and the first prior. The house was situate at the end of a dam or causey between the towns of Fakenham and Hempton, and hence was sometimes known as Damnesende. Soon after its first foundation it was changed into a small priory, dedicated to the honour of St. Stephen, for three or four canons of the order of St. Augustine. The priory eventually held the rectory of Hempton, the manors of Hempton, Waterden, and Tofts, parcels of land in various parishes, two fairs, a market, a water-mill, and extensive rights of pasturage for sheep.

In the year 1200 John, archdeacon of Worcester, gave a palfrey to the king in acknowledgement of his grant of a fair to be held on Whitsun Tuesday for the use of the brethren of St. Stephen's by the causey of Fakenham.

The taxation of 1291 showed that this priory held lands or tenements or rents m no fewer than forty of the Norfolk parishes; but they were mostly small parcels and only produced a total income of £29 2s. 0½d.

Licence was granted to the prior of St. Stephen's in 1302, after inquisition ad quod damnum by the sheriff and payment of a fine, to bring back to its old bed a watercourse which used to run through the court of the priory. (fn. 4)

During the long rule of Nicholas de Kettleston (1339-86), Sir John Bardolf, of Mapledurham, was patron of the priory; he held the great manor of Hempton, in succession to the family of St. Martin.

The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 gave the clear annual value at £32 14s. 8d.

In November, 1297, a commission of oyer and terminer was issued on the complaint of Guy Ferre, to whom the king had granted for life the manor of Fakenham, that the prior of St. Stephen's, Hempton, had depastured his beasts on the pastures of the said Guy and of the king's villeins in the hamlet of Pudding Norton, a member of the manor of Fakenham. (fn. 5) In the following February, Guy Ferre further complained that Giles, prior of Hempton, with a multitude of malefactors, arrested in the high road at Waterdene the villeins of Fakenham Manor as they were taking the goods of the said Guy to the fair of Creake, imprisoned them, carried away the goods, and depastured not only the several pastures of the manor, but even the growing corn. (fn. 6)

These were troublous times for the priory. There seems to have been much difficulty in securing their manorial rights. In February, 1299, William de Bedingham, the king's minister for the execution of the sheriff's writs, complained that, being ordered by the late sheriff in pursuance of a writ to aid the prior of St. Stephen's to distrain the prior's villeins of Worstead to perform their due and accustomed services, he was attacked by a mob of over sixty men and women, all of whose names are duly set forth. (fn. 7)

The priory of Hempton held of the priory of Castle Acre a water-mill called ' Bryggemylle,' in Hempton, by Fakenham, at the yearly rent of 42s. Close to the mill was a high road, over the millpool causey, leading to Walsingham, which causey needed yearly repair. Certain men of Fakenham, scheming to destroy mill and high road, so as to make the high road go through Fakenham and not over the causey, got the prior and convent fined, from year to year, in the court of the lords of Fakenham, by presenting them for raising the causey beyond customary bounds, and keeping the water higher than usual. On the other hand, if Hempton Priory neglected to repair the causey, they would be fined no small sum at the sheriff's turn, to their own great impoverishment, the disinheritance of their churches, and the peril of travellers to Walsingham and others using the road. A commission of oyer and terminer was appointed, 1385, to adjudicate on the complaint of the two priories. (fn. 8) By an indenture made in 1461 between Nicholas, prior of Castle Acre, and Stephen, prior of the church of St. Stephen de Dammysende of Fakenham, the yearly rent of 42s. paid by the canons of Hempton to Castle Acre Priory for the water-mill, termed Bridgemill, was lowered to 20s.

Accounts of the receipts and expenses of Hempton Priory from Michaelmas, 1500, to Michaelmas, 1501, as entered by Canon Richard Marham, are extant. (fn. 9) The rents of the tenants, the farms of the mills, and the receipts of grain and pease, and the sales of skins and underwood, &c., are all set forth. From the expenses it appears that considerable repairs were in progress in the cloister. There were at that time in the house three canons (including the prior), thirteen servants, and two boarders.

William Fakenham was the next prior. He was in office in 1514, when the house was visited, on 13 July, 1514, by Bishop Nicke. The prior and Canon Creke bore testimony that all was well. Brother Henry Beteele, subdeacon, and brother Henry Milham said that they had usually nothing to eat before high mass was finished, except on days when they laboured, but had no other complaints. The bishop enjoined the prior that the brethren should have something to eat daily at eight o'clock, save on fast days, and that silence should be observed in the cloister throughout one whole day each week. (fn. 10)

John Sambrook occurs as prior in 1529, and Henry Salter, alias Salt, in 1534. On 22 November, 1534, Prior Henry and three other canons signed their acknowledgement of the king's supremacy.

This small priory is included in the list of lesser monasteries of Norfolk drawn up in 1536 for immediate suppression. (fn. 11) On 11 August, 1536, the priory was visited by Sir Roger Townsend, Sir William Paston, Richard Southwell, and Thomas Mildemay, as commissioners. They drew up an inventory of articles that were to be kept by the prior for the king's use until further orders.

In the quyer at the hygh alter.

Fyrst ij olde alter clothys not worne; iiij lytle candyll stykes off latyne; an olde crosse with ye foote of copper; iij lityle olde cruettes off pewter; an olde hangynge off Rede and grene sylke hangynge before yo alter not worne; ij olde corporasse casys nothynge worthe; ij olde syngle vestmentes worne and lytyll worthe; vj olde bokes off there servys nothynge worthe; a lytyll sacrynge belle.

At our Ladys alter.

An olde table of alabaster; ij olde aulter clothys off lynyn roome; an old vestment; an old payntyd clothe before ye aulter worne and nothynge worthe.

In a cheste nere to ye prior's chamber.

An olde vestement with decon and subdecon and a cope of blew or purpur velvyt; an olde cope with a vestment and a decon and subdecon off olde blew sarsnet worne and nothynge worthe; an old cope of olde copper gold and sylk; iij copys or vestmentes decon and subdecon off blake sylke and worne nothynge worthe; an olde syngle vestment off blake velvyt; ij olde vestments the on off whyt . . . the other grene worne and lytell worthe; iiij olde copys off sylke nothynge worthe; a fayer chalesse por' at x Oz di'; a lytyll crosse of wode playtyd with sylver where ys conteynyd certeyn relyques; ij other pecys of wode playtyd with sylver; x sylver sponys pond viii Oz di', at iijs. iiijd. ther oz.

Inventories were also taken of the contents (for the most part ordinary and poor) of the little chamber next the prior, the guest chamber called 'Walles chamber,' the hall, buttery, kitchen, bakehouse, brewhouse, storehouse, and bailiff's chamber. The cattle consisted of 20 swine, 5 kine, 125 sheep, 40 lambs, and 13 horses and mares for the plough. The standing corn on 68 acres was estimated at £13 12s., and the barley, pease, and oats on 97 acres at £14 11s. 9d. The total of the inventory estimate came to £128 3s. 9d.

On 24 January, 1537, Richard Southwell was again at Hempton and paid various small sums as 'rewardes' to twelve different persons attached to the monastery in sums varying from 10s. to 20d., and including 6s. 8d. to ' the daye wyff.' Opposite the name of Henry Salter, prior, is nil. On the following day (25 January) the goods of the house were sold; they realised £73 13s. 6½d.

With these papers is given the sworn deposition of the prior before the commissioners, to the effect that—

the howse ys of th order of seynt Augustyne and ys a hede howse havynge a convent scale. Item ther ben of religious persones within the same howsse ij requyryng capacities. Item there of servants xv, hindes x, and waityng servants v.

The lead on the steeple, transepts, quire, south chapel, gate-house, and cloister was estimated at twenty-one fodders, worth £63. The four bells in the tower weighed 24 cwt., and were valued at £25 4s. The debts of the prior were £8 17s., whilst there was £6 16s. owing to him. The priory debts included 10s. for beef owing to the butcher, and 12d. due to the ' Butter Wyffe' for butter. (fn. 12)

The priory obtained a pension of £4 13s. 4d. on 10 December, 1537. (fn. 13)

On 22 March, 1537, Francis Bedingfield, of London, obtained a lease of the priory site and demesne lands. (fn. 14)

The site of the priory, with the manor and appropriated rectory, were granted in 1546 to Sir William Fermer and Catharine his wife.

Priors Of Hempton

Simon, (fn. 15) before 1165

Richard, (fn. 16) occurs 1269

Giles, (fn. 17) occurs 1297

Richard de Westacre, (fn. 18) elected 1301, occurs 1305 (fn. 19)

Alexander de Lenn, (fn. 20) elected 1324

Nicholas de Kettleston, (fn. 21) elected 1339

John de Snoring, (fn. 22) elected 1386

John Pensthorp, (fn. 23) elected 1393

Richard, (fn. 24) occurs 1438, 1450

Stephen Wighton, (fn. 25) elected 1451

John de Lexham, alias Penton, (fn. 26) elected 1481

William Fakenham, (fn. 27) occurs 1514

John Sambrook, (fn. 28) occurs 1529

Henry Salter, alias Salt, (fn. 29) occurs 1534, last prior

The thirteenth-century seal of this house is oval (2 × 1½ in.) and shows St. Stephen standing between two great candles under a gothic canopy; below was apparently a half-length figure (? of the prior), but in the only known specimen (fn. 30) this part is broken. Legend:—



  • 1. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 100-2. The priors are taken from this account, where there is no other reference.
  • 2. Leland, Collectanea, i, 60.
  • 3. Weever, Antient Funerall Monuments, 824.
  • 4. Pat. 30 Edw. I, m. 16.
  • 5. Cal. of Pat. 26 Edw. I, m. 32d.
  • 6. Ibid. m. 28d.
  • 7. Ibid. 27 Edw. I, m. 36d.
  • 8. Pat. 9 Rich. II, pt. i, m. 29d.; pt. ii, m. 37d.
  • 9. Add. MS. 10621. It is a small quarto, of twenty-nine paper folios, and would be well worth printing in extenso.
  • 10. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 112-13.
  • 11. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 516.
  • 12. Suppression Papers (P.R.O.), 17,270; also 832/5.
  • 13. Aug. Off. Books ccxxxii, fol. 3.
  • 14. Ibid. ccix, fol. 57b.
  • 15. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 101.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Assize R. 591, m. 15d.
  • 20. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 114.
  • 21. Ibid. iii, 24.
  • 22. Ibid. vi, 119.
  • 23. Ibid. 184.
  • 24. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. vii, 101.
  • 25. Norw. Epis. Reg. xi, 27.
  • 26. Ibid. xii, 82.
  • 27. Tanner, Norw. MSS. i, 344.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Rymer, Foedera, xiv, 503.
  • 30. Ackn. of Supr. (P.R.O.), 62.