Houses of Cluniac monks: Priory of Preen

Page 38

A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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Preen is first clearly mentioned as a cell of Wenlock in 1244,1 but the Prior of Wenlock had a claim to land in Preen from at least the middle of the 12th century and two or three monks may have been placed there at any time after 1150. Preen manor never formed part of the parish of Holy Trinity, Much Wenlock, and remained outside the Liberties of Wenlock: it was held in 1086 by Helgot, whose descendants, the lords of Castle Holdgate, were later accounted its overlords. The two hides that later made up Church Preen may have been given to Wenlock Priory by Richard, the Domesday undertenant, who was possibly Richard of Belmeis,2 but Combermere Abbey also had a claim to it and even placed some monks there. Between 1150 and 1161 Archbishop Theobald, in response to a complaint from the monks of Combermere, instructed Bishop Gilbert Foliot to secure the restoration of Preen to Combermere. Foliot found that the case also involved the Prior of Wenlock, who was accused of expelling the monks of Combermere from Preen and carrying off their livestock and other goods.3 The prior's actions were evidently upheld, for nothing more is heard of any claim by Combermere, and Wenlock monks were probably settled at Preen soon afterwards.

The lord of the adjoining manor of Holt Preen released his right to a moiety of the advowson of the cell in 1244.4 At the end of the 13th century a royal inquest found that the lord of Castle Holdgate ought to have the custody of the lands of the priory during vacancy, until the Prior of Wenlock had presented a new prior to him to receive investiture with the temporalities, and this procedure was followed when the king had custody of the barony in 1301.5 The prior certainly had a seal of some kind in 1292, when he sealed an indenture with the consent of the Prior of Wenlock.6 He was said in the 16th century to have sealed leases with a common seal on which was engraved the picture of St. John, the patron saint of the church of Preen, but there was some doubt about the validity of such leases at common law.7 In matters of discipline he was certainly subject to the Prior of Wenlock.8 The temporalities administered by the Prior of Preen were simply the lands of Wenlock in Preen. In 1291 they were valued at £8 3s. 4d.9 and, since they were not included in later valuations of Wenlock property, they were evidently regarded as distinct.

The priory has little recorded history, apart from that of the manor and church.10 The prior and his one or two companions probably recited their offices in the chancel of the parish church: there is no record to show whether they served the parish or employed a curate to do so. John Castell, the last Prior of Preen, was one of the three priors who tried to claim a voice in the Wenlock Priory election of 1521.11 The claim was rejected on the grounds that priors of a lesser church, whose professions and property were distinct, could not claim a voice in the election of the head of a motherhouse except by custom: no precedent existed, as this was the first election to be held at Wenlock.12 This suggests that the independence of Preen had grown with the separation of Wenlock from the constitutional framework of the Cluniac Order. Nevertheless the Prior of Wenlock surrendered the manor to the Crown in 1534, and it was granted shortly afterwards to Giles Covert.13 According to one witness at an inquiry in 1590, Prior Castell went to London in the company of the witness's father to complain of the wrong and obtained an annuity of 4 marks for life: immediately afterwards he was placed in the priory of Dudley. He remained there until the Dissolution, after which he lived as curate at Monkhopton.14 Hearsay evidence given so long afterwards cannot, however, be accepted without question.

The church, dating mainly from the 12th and 13th centuries, still stands but there are no remains of the conventual buildings, which were south of the church.15

Priors of Preen

Richard of Wistanstow, occurs 1292,16 resigned 1301.17

Roger of Little Hereford, appointed 1301.18

. . . Cambridge, before 1521.19

John Castell, occurs from 152120 to 1534.21

There was no common seal and no impressions of the prior's seal described in the 16th century are known.


  • 1. Eyton, iv. 22.
  • 2. Ibid. vi. 220–1
  • 3. The Letters and Charters of Gilbert Foliot, ed. A. Morey and C. N. L. Brooke (1967), 152–3. The improved text of the letter in this new edition makes it clear that the monks of Combermere, not the monks of Wenlock, had been driven out of Preen.
  • 4. Eyton, iv. 22.
  • 5. Ibid., vi. 222–3; Cal. Pat. 1292–1301, 594. Another inquisition in 1370 found that the Prior of Wenlock presented three monks to the patron, who chose one as prior: A. Sparrow, The History of Church Preen (1898), 19; E 106/10/1.
  • 6. S.R.O. 1514/254.
  • 7. Sparrow, Ch. Preen, 70–103.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 164.
  • 10. See V.C.H. Salop, viii. 125–8.
  • 11. See p. 44.
  • 12. Rose Graham, English Ecclesiastical Studies (1929), 126–7.
  • 13. V.C.H. Salop. viii. 126.
  • 14. T.S.A.S. 2nd ser. ii, pp. vi–vii; Sparrow, Ch. Preen, 77–103. The witnesses examined were aged 80 or more and their testimony was of events over fifty years before, known partly at second hand.
  • 15. V.C.H. Salop. viii. 125, 128.
  • 16. S.R.O. 1514/254.
  • 17. Eyton, vi. 222.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Sparrow, Ch. Preen, 21, 84.
  • 20. Graham, Eng. Eccl. Studies, 126.
  • 21. T.S.A.S. 2nd ser. ii, pp. vi–vii.