Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Wendling

Pages 421-423

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

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The abbey of Wendling, dedicated to St. Mary, was founded about 1265 by William de Wendling, one of the king's justices, for canons of the Premonstratensian order. By the foundation charter, the abbey was endowed with William's messuage at Wendling, and three carucates of land in the towns of Wendling, Seaming, Great and Little Fransham, with all appurtenances and services, also with all his houses, buildings, services, &c., at Feltwell, in order to sustain the lights and ornaments of the abbey church, and for the dress and shoes of the canons and lay brethren. By other charters William de Wendling conveyed to the canons all his possessions or rents in Langham, Yaxham, Reymcrston, Cranworth, Letton, Shipdham, Rising Crethemere, Tilney, Wiggenhall, Saddlebow, Clenchwarton, North Lynn, Walpole, Elmham, Oxborough, Brandon, Thetford, Dunham, and Kempstone.

Reyner de Gimmingham granted to Nicholas, the first abbot, and his convent the advowson of the church of All Saints, Burnham Ulph, with two and a half acres of land, and the advowson of a moiety of Burnham St. Margaret with three and a half acres of land.

Robert de Stoteville granted to the same abbot, in 1273, his lordship in Wendling and the advowson of the church, and all the church and chapels of Weasenham, together with forty acres at a place called Merledelond. (fn. 1)

At the compiling of the Valor of 1291, this abbey had possessions in twenty-nine Norfolk parishes, and its annual value was £39 19s. 7½d. This total was slightly augmented in succeeding years by occasional gifts of lands and rents; thus in 1306, the abbot and convent were licensed to accept the gift, by Nicholas de Stokesley, of a messuage, a mill, three acres of land, three acres of meadow, and 26s. 8d. rents in Yaxham. (fn. 2) A considerable number of deeds relating to grants and leases made by or to the abbey in Seaming and the neighbourhood are preserved at the Record Office. (fn. 3)

The abbey obtained the royal licence to appropriate the church of Langham (fn. 4) in 1329, and that of Yaxham in 1363. (fn. 5)

The clear annual value of the abbey was declared to be £55 18s. 4¾d. by the Valor of 1535, when Thomas Ellington was abbot.

In September, 1291, the abbot of Wendling received the papal mandate to grant a dispensation to John de Scippedaham, priest of his monastery, of illegitimate birth, to minister in orders received, and to be promoted to dignities of his order. (fn. 6)

In September, 1327, the constable of Dover Castle was ordered to permit the abbot of Wendling to cross the fens from that part to attend the general chapter at Prémontré, and to supply him with twenty marks towards his expenses. (fn. 7)

In 1330 Lady Margaret Foliot, as patroness of the abbey, was buried before the high altar of the conventual church on the north side.

Pope John XXIII, in 1411, granted an indulgence during ten years, of one hundred days to penitents who, on certain specified feasts, should visit and give alms for the repair of the monastic church of Wendling, where were preserved certain pieces of the true cross, a foot of St. Lucy the Virgin, and other relics. (fn. 8)

On the death of Abbot John de Norwich in 1339, the canons proceeded at once to the election of a successor, without waiting for the necessary formalities. Thereupon the abbot of Langdon, who was acting as visitor and commissary for the abbot of Prémontré, wrote to the abbot of Dereham, styling the late John of Norwich an unworthy man who had assumed the position of abbot, and pointing out the irregularities of the canons who had proceeded to make another unworthy election. He ordered the abbot of Dereham to cite before him, as commissary, in the church of St. Radegund, on Monday after the Exaltation of the Cross, the new abbot, (if he could be called so) and two proctors to represent the convent, to show cause why this uncanonical election should not be annulled. (fn. 9)

The result is not known, but John de Tytleshalle eventually succeeded as superior.

At his first visitation tour as commissary of the abbot of Prémontré, in 1475, Bishop Redman tarried at Wendling from 28 to 30 June. (fn. 10) Three years later he was again at Wendling, on 30 June, when the abbot was ordered to see to the observance of the day and night hours, which was imperilled through paucity of numbers, and to rebuild the church, which had been destroyed by fire, as soon as possible. The debt of £60 noted in 1475 had been reduced by the abbot's care to £13.

In addition to John Skerning, abbot, and John Grey, sub-prior, there were only four other canons. They had three churches in their charge, which were served either by secular curates, or by canons who could be recalled at will. (fn. 11)

When Bishop Redman reached Wendling on his visitation tour of 1482, he praised the general condition of the house. Considerable progress had been made with the new buildings, but he urged greater speed with the church. He gave some attention to the smaller details of worship (in minutis observanciis) such as directing that the antiphons of the canticles should be sung only by the priests. Richard Fenwick, contumacious and rebellious, was sentenced to forty days of severe penance, and to banishment to Leicester Abbey for three years. In addition to abbot and prior, there were but four other canons, two of whom were novices. (fn. 12) The numbers were the same at the visitation made on the 27 June, 1488, when two of the inmates were sentenced by the bishop. In one case there had been rebellion (disobedience) but the offender promised obedience and was ordered to be castigated, otherwise to appear before the provincial chapter. The other offender was brought before the visitor for defects in singing the collects; but he refused to ask pardon, and was ordered to say the nocturn of the psalter in cloister the same day after dinner, as discipline.

The bishop entered that everything else was excellent, that there had been much progress in the building of the church and conventual houses, and that there was no debt. (fn. 13)

At the visitation of September, 1491, there were six canons in addition to Abbot Skerning, but one was a rebel. Thomas Milham, the rebel of the last visitation, had not improved, but the contrary; he was sentenced to forty days of penance and to three years' absence at Sulby. The abbot was ordered to raise the number of canons to at least eight. (fn. 14) There was, however, no improvement in numbers when the bishop again visited in 1494; the canons, including the abbot, numbered six. On this occasion there were various ritual injunctions, and John Barlyng, for incontinency, was condemned to forty days' penance and two years at some other house. (fn. 15)

At the visitation of 1497, there were five canons and two novices. On this occasion the bishop found nothing worthy of correction; the house was not in debt, and was abundantly supplied. The abbot was ordered to repair the dormitory. Ave Maria Stella was to be sung daily at evensong.

The last recorded visitation of Bishop Redman was in 1500, when there were six canons and two novices. The visitor found that all was delightful. (fn. 16) In 1536 the secret comperta of Legh and Leyton allege incontinency against the abbot. (fn. 17)

Later in the same year the county commissioners reported that the abbot and convent had leased, on 1 November, 1534, a large portion of their lands and possessions for ninety-nine years to Richard Southwell (one of the commissioners) and Robert Logan. They found at the house 'religious persones and all prystes who done Require Capasities; Ther name ys nott goode.' There were also two hinds and ten servants at the abbey. The lead and bells were worth £100, but the house was in much decay. The goods were worth £ 12 8s. 9d. but the house owed £66 17s. 11d. (fn. 18) According to the same commissioners' certificate, dated 27 January, 1537, the 'stuff' of this house contained in the inventory was sold to Robert Logan for £13 6s. 8d.; the plate, valued at 41s. 8d., was reserved in the charge of Richard Southwell.

On 6 February, 1537, ex-Abbot Thomas Ellington was assigned a pension of 100s. in spite of the charge of incontinency. (fn. 19)

This small abbey was one of those whose dissolution was permitted by Clement VII's bull of 1528, and whose possessions were granted to Cardinal Wolsey for the erection of his two colleges. But Wolsey's fall prevented that dissolution being carried out. Eventually, in 1546, Henry VIII granted it to the dean and chapter of Christ Church, Oxford, on its own foundation.

Abbots of Wendling

Nicholas, (fn. 20) appointed 1265, (fn. 21) occurs 1273

Robert, (fn. 22) occurs 1286

John, (fn. 23) resigned 1329

William de Saxlingham, (fn. 24) elected 1329

John de Norwich, (fn. 25) died 1339

John de Tytleshalle, (fn. 26) elected 1339

Thomas, occurs 1352 (fn. 27)

John, (fn. 28) occurs 1377, 1398

Ralph, (fn. 29) 1425

Edmund, (fn. 30) 1432

John Skerning, (fn. 31) elected 1474

Thomas Walsoken, (fn. 32) elected 1503

Richard Rolston, (fn. 33) elected 1504

John York, (fn. 34) elected 1509

George, (fn. 35) occurs 1529

Thomas Ellington, (fn. 36) occurs 1535, last abbot


  • 1. The whole of the above grants are cited in a royal confirmation grant of 1331. Pat. 6 Edw. III pt. i, m. 25.
  • 2. Pat. 34 Edw. I, m, 17.
  • 3. Cal. of Anct. D. vol. v.
  • 4. Pat. 3 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 2.
  • 5. Ibid. 37 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 17.
  • 6. Cal. Papal Reg. i, 541.
  • 7. Close, I, Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 12 d.
  • 8. Cal. of Papal Reg. vi, 308.
  • 9. Sloane MS. 4935, fol. 83.
  • 10. Redman, Visit. (Bodl.) fol. 5.
  • 11. Ibid. fols. 13, 21.
  • 12. Ibid. fols. 33, 44.
  • 13. Redman, Visit. (Bodl.) fol. 72.
  • 14. Ibid. fols. 99, 100.
  • 15. Ibid. fols. 118, 124.
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 152.
  • 17. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 143.
  • 18. Chant. Cert. Norf. No. 90.
  • 19. Aug. O. Bks. ccxxxii, 4 b.
  • 20. Pat. 6 Edw. III. pt. i, m. 25.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. Tanner, Norw. MSS. i, 25
  • 23. Norw. Epis. Reg. ii, 38.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Ibid. iii, 27.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Assize R. 1450, m. 15.
  • 28. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 90.
  • 29. Norw. Epis. Reg. ix, 4.
  • 30. Ibid. 58.
  • 31. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. x, 90.
  • 32. Tanner, Norw. MSS. i, 136.
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv, (3), 2699.
  • 36. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.)