Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Great Massingham

Pages 386-387

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

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A small Austin priory, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin and afterwards to SS. Mary and Nicholas, was founded at Great Massingham before 1260, probably by Nicholas le Syre of Massingham. The house was originally termed a hospital, and was doubtless chiefly intended for the relief of the poor, but the master being termed a prior, and the house being placed under the Austin rule, it was also correctly designated a priory. It continued, however, to be referred to occasionally as a hospital and its prior as the warden at least as late as 1405 (fn. 1); and in 1395 it is even called ' the king's Domus Dei' of Massingham, when John Wilton, who had faithfully served the late king but was now incapacitated through leprosy, was sent there to be sustained. (fn. 2)

In 1260 Nicholas de Massingham granted to the Prior William of the hospital of St. Mary of Massingham, a messuage and mill and two carucates of land in Great and Little Massingham, together with 5s. rent and a furlong of heath, with all homages and services, on condition of the hospital paying the donor an annuity of £15 for life, and annuities of £5 and six marks respectively to his brother John and his sister Joan. (fn. 3)

The house had but a small endowment. The taxation roll of 1291 shows that it had possessions in six Norfolk parishes, and that its annual value was £18 2s.

On 12 May, 1293, the prior and brethren of the hospital of St. Mary, Great Massingham, obtained licence to hold, of the gift of John Lamberd and others, twenty-five acres of land in Massingham. (fn. 4) In April, 1302, the prior and convent of the hospital obtained licence to enclose a path below their convent on the west side for the enlargement of their buildings. (fn. 5)

For several years the priory received a great many small gifts of lands from the inhabitants of Massingham, a clear proof that its services were valued.

Edward II, in 1313, granted a licence to the prior and convent of Great Massingham, to acquire in mortmain lands and rents to the value of £10 a year. (fn. 6) On 22 July of the same year in part satisfaction of this licence, Simon Knout assigned to the priory 6 acres and 3 roods of land in Massingham; Avice, late wife of Geoffrey Bartelot, and Reginald her son 2½ acres; Margery and Basilia Chamberleyn, 1 acre; Felicia de Narford, a moiety of an acre; Robert and Emma Cat, 3 roods; Katherine Bryghtlet, a rood; and William de Whitewelle, 35s. 4d. of rent. (fn. 7) In August, 1315, there was an additional alienation of 11½ acres of land in Massingham to the priory, on payment of half a mark. (fn. 8)

In October, 1329, sixteen other persons alienated small plots of lands in Massingham to the priory (here termed hospital) of the united yearly value of 13s. 4d. (fn. 9) In 1335 eleven others granted somewhat larger plots of the annual value of 24s. 2½d., (fn. 10) and the advowson of the church of St. Mary, Warham, with 5d. of rent was given to the priory in 1339, by Katherine, widow of Walter de Norwich, and John her son. (fn. 11)

On 18 February, 1299, the king signified to the bishop of Norwich the royal assent to the election of brother Geoffrey de Fakenham, cellarer of the house of SS. Mary and Nicholas, Massingham, to be prior of that house, he having been presented by the sub-prior and brethren to the king as patron by reason of the knights' fees and advowsons of churches, late of Richard, son of John, deceased tenant-in-chief, being in his hands. (fn. 12)

John de Lenn was instituted to the priory by the bishop in 1325; the royal assent had on this occasion also to be obtained, as the patronage was in the king's hands, by reason of the forfeiture of Thomas de Weyland. (fn. 13)

The buildings of this small priory being much decayed, and its emoluments so small, the bishop's licence was obtained in 1475 to unite it to the priory of West Acre. It was therefore reestablished as a cell of West Acre, and maintained two canons and two poor brethren. (fn. 14)

There is an elaborate survey and rental of the possessions of Massingham priory at Candlemas, 1540, at the Public Record Office, covering twelve closely written folios. (fn. 15) The house is therein termed 'the priory of Datforde in Great Massingham.' Bound up with it are various later surveys, mostly of Elizabethan date.

Priors or Wardens of Great Massingham

William, (fn. 16) 1260

Geoffrey de Fakenham, (fn. 17) elected 1299

John de Lenn, (fn. 18) elected 1325

John Wesenham, (fn. 19) elected 1354

John de Reynham, (fn. 20) elected 1372

Roger de Brisele, (fn. 21) elected 1378

Stephen Helgeye, (fn. 22) appointed 1395

Robert Bate, (fn. 23) appointed 1405

John de Hegham, (fn. 24) elected 1420

Nicholas Felbrigg, (fn. 25) elected 1420

John Gedney, (fn. 26) elected 1456

John Cousyn, (fn. 27) elected 1467


  • 1. Pat. 6 Hen. IV, pt. 1, m. 15.
  • 2. Ibid. 18 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 21.
  • 3. Fin. Norf. 44 Hen. III, 33.
  • 4. Pat. 21 Edw. I, m. 17.
  • 5. Ibid. 30 Edw. I, m. 23.
  • 6. Ibid. 6 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 12.
  • 7. Cal. of Pat. 7 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 18.
  • 8. Ibid. 9 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 25.
  • 9. Ibid. 3 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 18.
  • 10. Ibid. 9 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 9.
  • 11. Ibid. 13 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 9.
  • 12. Ibid. 27 Edw. I, m. 36.
  • 13. Pat. 18 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 16.
  • 14. Norf. Epis. Reg. Goldwell. fol. 221.
  • 15. Rentals and Surv. portf. xxiv, 4.
  • 16. Fin. Norf. 44 Hen. III, 33.
  • 17. Pat. 27 Edw. I, m. 36.
  • 18. Norw. Epis. Reg. i, 115.
  • 19. Ibid. iv, 156.
  • 20. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. ix, 8.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Pat. 18 Ric. II, p. 2, m. 13.
  • 23. Ibid. 6 Hen. IV, p. 1, m. 15.
  • 24. Norw. Epis. Reg. vi, 92.
  • 25. Ibid. viii, 56.
  • 26. Ibid. xi, 94.
  • 27. Ibid. 161.