Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Hickling

Pages 383-386

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

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This small Austin house was founded by Theobald, son of Robert de Valoines, in the year 1185, and was dedicated to the honour of St. Mary, St. Austin, and All Saints, the observances in use being those of the Essex house of St. Osyth, from which four canons came for a while to Hickling to instruct the brethren in the rule of their order. (fn. 1)

In January, 1204, King John confirmed Theobald's foundation charter, by which he had granted to the canons of Hickling his lands at Arlum, together with the churches of Hickling, and of Parham and Hasketon in Suffolk. By the same charter were confirmed the gifts by William de Muntchanesy, of his land at Kessingland, Suffolk; by Robert de Waxham of a moiety of the church of Waxham; and by Henry de Fleg of the other moiety of the same church. (fn. 2) About the same time the king granted them a Friday market at Hickling. (fn. 3)

The founder and his wife Avice also granted to the priory the church of All Saints, Ditton, which was confirmed to them by the bishop of Norwich in an undated charter. (fn. 4)

In 1209 Innocent III granted protection to the prior and brethren of Hickling, present and future, together with confirmation of their possessions, namely: the parish church of All Saints, Hickling, with St. Mary's chapel, the church of St. Mary, and chapel of St. Andrew's, Parham; All Saints church and chapel of Hasketon; the church of Hanwich and tithes of Runcton; the rights they had in St. John Baptist's church, Waxham, and in St. Margaret's, Westwick, Norwich; the patronage of St. Margaret's Palling, the lands they had of the fief of Palling and Waxham; lands and rents in the city of Norwich and town of Yarmouth, and a yearly rent of 14 marks due to them by gift of Hamon de Valoines from the monks of Gerwalle, in the name of the town of Runcton. (fn. 5)

In 1227 Henry III granted to the priory of Hickling the right to hold a three days' fair at All Saints' tide at Hasketon. (fn. 6)

The priory had possessions in no fewer than thirty-two Norfolk parishes at the taxation of 1291, but their total annual value was only £15 12s. 9d.

The advowson of the church of Raveningham was given to the priory of Hickling, in 1339, by Katharine, widow of Walter de Norwich, and her son John. (fn. 7)

The heavy fine of £24 was paid by the priory in July, 1380, to obtain licence for alienation in mortmain by John de Eccles and Geoffrey de Somerton of the reversion of a third part of the manor of Hickling called 'le Netherhall,' which was held by trustees during the life of Edward de Berkale, for finding a lamp to be kept burning daily before the high altar in the priory church. (fn. 8) In October of the same year, the further sum of £20 was paid in a hanaper by the prior for the alienation in mortmain by the same donors to the convent of a messuage, 40 acres of land, 30 of pasture, and 10 of rush bed, and 60s. of rent in Palling and Waxham for finding a chaplain to celebrate daily in the priory church for the souls of John de Toucestre, Richard de Pouche, chaplain, and others. (fn. 9)

The priory paid 20 marks to the king in 1384 for licence to hold a third part of the manor of Hickling, a moiety of the church of Catfield, and the manor called 'Boylondeshall' in North Walsham. (fn. 10) In 1397 Pope Boniface confirmed the bishop's sanction to the priory that, on the resignation or death of the perpetual vicar of All Saints, Hickling—in consideration of impoverishment through frequent hospitality and great exactions—they might cause the vicarage to be served by one of their canons. (fn. 11)

The Valor of 1535 gives the clear annual value of the priory as £100 18s. 7¼d. Their most valuable possession was the manor of Hickling, which was estimated to be worth annually £45 0s. 11¾d.

Hickling was one of the townships that suffered most severely from the tremendous storm of December, 1287, no fewer than nine score persons being drowned there. In the priory the water rose more than a foot above the high altar, and all the canons fled away except two, who stayed behind and managed to save the horses and other property by bringing them up into the dormitory over the vaulted undercroft. (fn. 12) A still worse disaster befell the priory in 1349, when the prior, Richard, died of the plague, as did his elected successor, Simon Wodewale, who passed away even as the brethren were informing him of his election. Such havoc did the pestilence work that only two canons were left alive, one of whom, John, became prior, though only a novice and not even professed. (fn. 13) Another epidemic in 1439 visited Hickling and carried off three or four of the brethren. (fn. 14) Nor did all go well with the religious life of the house, for the chronicler records that after the death of Prior William Wroxham in 1390 all signs of true religion disappeared from the priory and had scarcely been restored more than forty years later, adding that with the fall of the bell tower in 1400 perished also nearly all regular discipline at Hickling. (fn. 15)

In September, 1343, Martin de Hapesburgh, canon of the priory of Hickling, petitioned the pope to order the abbot and convent of St. Benedict, Holme, to receive him as a monk according to the mandate of Benedict III from which the abbot, at the suggestion of the prior of Hickling, did remove the bull. The petition was granted, provided it was found that Pope Benedict did make a special mandate. (fn. 16) In the following December Clement VI issued his mandate to the bishop of Norwich, the dean of Lincoln, and the chancellor of Hereford to cause Martin de Hapesburgh to be received into the monastery of Holme. (fn. 17)

A faculty was granted in 1364, by Pope Urban V, to Prior Richard to dispense four of his canons, provided they had completed their twentysecond year, to be ordained priests, there being but few by reason of the pestilence. (fn. 18)

Archdeacon Gold well, as commissary of the bishop, visited Hickling on 23 October, 1492. Thomas Greggs, the prior, and eight canons were in attendance. The result of their examination was summed up in the report. The servants of the house were badly paid; there were formerly three lamps burning in the church, and then scarcely one; the altars lacked their proper coverings; there was too great parsimony both in food and drink; the vestments of the church needed repair; the fire for the canons was insufficient in the winter; there was an absence of necessaries for the sick in the farmery; the prior did not show the state of the house to his brethren; Robert Sutton obtained the prior's licence to hold the cure of Hanworth for two whole years, and the prior was too rigorous in correcting him without reasonable cause; and the prior was unwilling to pay to Canon Robert Wymondham his pension as a priest. There is no record of the injunctions that followed on this visitation. (fn. 19)

The priory was visited on 21 July, 1514, by Bishop Nicke. The prior acknowledged that he made no return of his accounts to his brethren. Canon Edmund Norwich said that there was general irregularity in attending the divine services. Canon Andrew Wales said that the cure of Hanworth was served by a canon and not by a secular chaplain. Canon John Hickling complained that there was no schoolmaster. Five other canons, one of whom was a subdeacon, and another an acolyte, were content to testify omnia bene. As a result, the bishop enjoined on the prior to provide an instructor in grammar before Christmas. The bishop also united the vicarage of Hanworth with the rectory for the term of the life of the then prior. (fn. 20)

The priory was again visited on 18 July, 1520, by the bishop suffragan of Chalcedon and other commissaries, when Prior Robert Wyndham and eight canons were severally examined. They all united in reporting omnia bene, and the only injunction was that the prior should furnish an inventory and balance-sheet of his house at the next Michaelmas synod at Norwich. (fn. 21)

On 13 June, 1532, the aged Bishop Nicke visited the priory in person, when Prior Robert and nine canons were examined. The prior, Robert Walsham the sub-prior, and five of the canons had no complaints to make. Richard Norwich, the chanter, stated that the steps to the hall were so worn that they were in a dangerous state. Canon John Hickling said that the expense of attendance in the farmery was laid upon the sick. Canon Robert Aleyn confirmed this statement. The bishop's consequent injunctions provided that the attendance in the farmery was to be paid for at the expense of the house, and that the steps to the hall were to be repaired before Christmas. To these injunctions was added a most exceptional one that does not appear to have been caused by any statements in the formal examinations. It was ordered that cudgels (fustibus) should be provided for the defence of the priory. This was evidently considered a matter of importance, for there is added in English 'Memorandum for clubs to be provided.' (fn. 22)

Prior Robert and nine of the canons subscribed to the king's supremacy in the chapter-house on 4 June, 1534. (fn. 23)

The scandalous comperta of Legh and Ap Rice, drawn up early in 1536, give the names of six canons of this house who are supposed to have confessed their incontinency to these visitors. (fn. 24) Before, however, the county commissaries could visit the priory later in the same year, the house had been dissolved. They therefore contented themselves with reporting its dissolution, and stating that 'the Religious persones are sent uppe for ther Dispensacions to my lorde of Caunterburyes grace. They added that —

the possessiones of the housse ys grauntyd to the Bishoppe of Norwiche by Acte of Parliamente whiche said Bisshope claymeyth by the same Act the goodes and catalles appertaynyng to the same whiche we have lefte to your determinacione and judgement. (fn. 25)

The prior obtained a pension of 20 marks. (fn. 26)

Priors Of Hickling (fn. 27)

Alexander, 1185-1209

Roger, 1209, resigned 1232

Nicholas, 1232-48

Alan, 1248-70

Hubert, 1270-6

Geoffrey, 1276-88

Ranulf, 1288 (fn. 28) -93

John, 1293-1319

Richard de Hemesby, (fn. 29) 1319-49

John Grys (fn. 30) alias Netesberch, (fn. 31) 1349, resigned 1358

Richard de Hemesby, (fn. 32) 1358, resigned 1366

William de Wroxham, (fn. 33) 1366-90

John de Tudyngton, (fn. 34) 1390-3

Thomas Haneworth, (fn. 35) 1393, resigned 1408

John de Hickling, (fn. 36) 1408-24

Richard Norwich, (fn. 37) 1424, resigned 1431

Roger Okkam, (fn. 38) 1431

Thomas Thorp, (fn. 39) 1461

Thomas Gregg, (fn. 40) 1485-1503

Robert Botyld alias Wyndham, (fn. 41) 1503

There is a cast of the pointed oval seal of this house (2 in. by 1¼in.) of thirteenth-century date at the British Museum. The seated Virgin bears the Holy Child on the left knee. On each side are three cherubs. Legend:—



  • 1. Oxenedes, Chron. Minor (Rolls Ser.), 433.
  • 2. Chart. R. 5 John, m. 15, No. 117.
  • 3. Ibid. No. 116.
  • 4. Cott. MS. Vit. F. iv, fol. 11.
  • 5. Cal. Papal Reg. i, 34.
  • 6. Close, 11 Hen. III, m. 26.
  • 7. Cal. of Pat. 13 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 9.
  • 8. Ibid. 4 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 39.
  • 9. Ibid. m. 13.
  • 10. Ibid. 8 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 12.
  • 11. Cal. Papal Reg. v, 19.
  • 12. Oxenedes, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), 270.
  • 13. Ibid. 437.
  • 14. Ibid. 439.
  • 15. Ibid. 438.
  • 16. Cal. Papal Pet. i, 74.
  • 17. Cal. Pap. Reg. iii, 144.
  • 18. Ibid. iv, 41.
  • 19. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. (Camd. Soc.), 25-7.
  • 20. Ibid. 125-6.
  • 21. Ibid. 173-4.
  • 22. Ibid. 277-8.
  • 23. Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), xiv, 506.
  • 24. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 143.
  • 25. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 20.
  • 26. Aug. Off. Books, ccxxxii, fol. 56b.
  • 27. The list of priors is complete from 1185 to 1431 in Oxenedes, Chron. Minor (Rolls Ser.), 433-8, but for the most part only their Christian names are there given.
  • 28. He was a canon of Butley and was not elected but collated by the bishop.
  • 29. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 79.
  • 30. Ibid. iv, 96.
  • 31. Ibid. v, 27.
  • 32. Ibid.
  • 33. Ibid. 73.
  • 34. Ibid. vi, 153.
  • 35. Ibid. 184.
  • 36. Ibid. vii, 5.
  • 37. Ibid. viii, 90.
  • 38. Ibid. ix, 55.
  • 39. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ix, 305.
  • 40. Ibid. He is called the twenty-first prior by the chronicler.
  • 41. Ibid.
  • 42. B.M. lxix, 25; Ackn. of Supr. (P.R.O.), 63.