A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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16. THE PRIORY OF COLD NORTON
The priory of Cold Norton was founded by 'Avelina domina de Norton,' in the days of Robert bishop of Lincoln. (fn. 1) Avelina is well known as the daughter of Ernulf de Hesding, lord of the manor of Norton in 1086. Her first husband was Alan Fitz-Flaald; her second, who was alive after 1135, was Robert Fitz-Walter; she outlived both and died before 1158. (fn. 2) Bishop Robert de Chesney says that at the presentation of Avelina, the lady of Norton, he has 'canonically instituted the priory of the church of St. John the Evangelist, the hospital house of Cold Norton, and the church there built,' and that it was endowed with the tithes of her demesne and with lands. We can therefore fix the date of this foundation between 1148 and 1158. It seems that a priory with a church was built in the hamlet of Cold Norton, and also a hospital, the latter probably under the patronage of St. Giles; for several of the earliest grants are 'to God, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Giles.' Bishop Walter de Coutances (c. 1183) confirmed the possessions of the priory in general terms; (fn. 3) but its history is blank until we reach 1201, when Reginald, count of Boulogne and Ida his wife, who by some means had become lords of Norton, confirmed to the priory 348 acres in Norton. (fn. 4) Three years later the property returned to the family of Fitz-Alan, and William Fitz-Alan confirmed the lands of the priory, mentioning among them 'the manor of the house,' (fn. 5) i.e. the manor of Cold Norton; for the Domesday manor of Norton contained the vills of Chipping Norton, Over Norton, and Cold Norton. (fn. 6)
In 1229 we have a charter of confirmation (fn. 7) by Henry III, enumerating the scanty property of the canons, and in 1263 the bishop (fn. 8) admitted them to the tithes of the demesne of Adam de Brimton of Middle Aston, granted by him.
The possessions of the priory in 1291 were worth only £16 a year, all being in Oxfordshire with the exception of half the rectory of Thenford, Northamptonshire, which had been appropriated. The house was always afflicted with poverty. In July, 1304, the bishop granted an indulgence to all those who should contribute towards the maintenance of the canons of Cold Norton, and the archdeacons of Bucks, Oxon, and Northants were instructed that if representatives of the canons come to the faithful to ask for alms, they should welcome them, and by word and example forward their business. (fn. 9) No other monastery in Oxfordshire was ever reduced to this step. In 1363 the church of Steeple Aston, Oxon, was given to the canons, (fn. 10) and in 1377 they were allowed to appropriate it; (fn. 11) also in 1370 they were given a manor in Rollright to support two canons who should pray for the soul of the donor; (fn. 12) yet in 1399 the priory was so poor that the pope gave permission that the prior might hold a vicarage or rectory, and that the vicarage of Steeple Aston in addition to the rectory should be appropriated to the priory and the church be served by a canon; (fn. 13) and in 1401 their income was stated to be only 20 marks. (fn. 14) Among the charters of Brasenose College, Oxford, is a rental of about 1440, which gives the income as £44, of which the manor of Cold Norton produced £14, and the manor of Rollright £5; it does not mention what the necessary outgoings were.
For a subsidy, (fn. 15) collected about 1460, the priory was estimated to have an income in Oxfordshire of £22; but it is noticeable that the land at Cold Norton is not valued. It is a natural conjecture that this, having been set apart for the support of the hospital rather than the priory, was exempt from payment to a subsidy, as was all land that belonged to hospitals. If to this £22 we add a moiety of the church of Thenford, and the demesne land of Cold Norton, we reach a total of about £41.
We have no knowledge of the internal affairs of the house from any visitations, for it is not mentioned in the reports of Bishop Alnwick; but we have a letter from the bishop in 1396 describing what allowance was to be granted to Robert de Enstan, the prior who had just resigned. The bishop says that for his negligence and idleness, whereby the priory is burdened with debt, and short of vestments and books, he deserves punishment rather than honour; but having compassion on his old age, the bishop allows that he should eat at the prior's table, unless a worthier person be present, in which case he must sit among the brethren. He is to attend all the services, and shall be allowed one servant at the expense of the priory. (fn. 16)
About twenty years later Bishop Repingdon issued a commission to hold a visitation of the priory and inquire into the excesses and crimes, of which there is public talk, especially the wasting of goods by the present prior, and his contumacy; if it is necessary, he is to be deposed. No date is given, but it must be in Dec. 1415 or Jan. 1416. (fn. 17)
In 1507 the prior died, and as he was the only inmate, it was impossible to elect a successor. The house was surrendered by the patron, the lord of the manor, into the king's hands, (fn. 18) and by him given to the dean and canons of the chapel of St. Stephen's, Westminster. Among the deeds at Brasenose College is a record that they were offered 1150 marks by Bishop Smith of Lincoln, the founder of Brasenose, for the priory and its possessions. (fn. 19) This would suggest that its income was about £50.
Priors of Cold Norton, Oxford
S., occurs 1212 (fn. 20)
Ralf, occurs 1235, (fn. 21) deposed 1236
Adam, c. 1260 (fn. 24)
Simon de Rollesham, elected 1264, (fn. 25) died 1284
Adam de Wodford, elected 1284 (fn. 26)
Peter de Wadington, elected 1285 (fn. 26)
Walter de Stratton, elected 1290, (fn. 26) resigned 1292
Robert of Ravenesdene, appointed 1292, (fn. 27) resigned 1297
William de Tywe, elected 1297, (fn. 28) resigned 1322
John de Wotton, elected 1322, (fn. 29) died 1330
William de Hokenorton, elected 1335, (fn. 32) deposed 1343
W. de Tewkesbury, elected 1343 (fn. 33)
Thomas de Bradeley, occurs 1399 (fn. 36)
William Dadington, occurs 1405, (fn. 37) resigned 1417
William Islep, elected 1417 (fn. 38)
William, occurs 1429 (fn. 39)
John Haseley, occurs 1452, (fn. 40) died 1469
John Wotton, the last prior, died before February, 1507 (fn. 43)
The twelfth-century seal of Cold Norton (fn. 44) is a pointed oval, representing a church, viewed from the east or west, with a central tower and transepts; there are slender turrets at the end of each transept, and the tower has a pointed roof; the nave and the tower are of the same width; no windows can be detected. Legend:—
[S]IGI[llum]: ECLESIE . SA[n]CTI . IOHA[n]IS. ET . CONVE[ntus] . DE . NORT'. †