A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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HOUSE OF KNIGHTS HOSPITALLERS
15. THE PRECEPTORY OF HALSTON
This preceptory (fn. 1) was founded between 1165 and 1187, when Roger de Powys, lord of Whittington, granted the Hospitallers a portion of his demesne. (fn. 2) By the second decade of the 13th century it was sufficiently well established to be considered by the bishop of St. Asaph a suitable guardian for his hospital at Oswestry (fn. 3) and by 1240 it had acquired some interest, if only temporary, in the churches of Oswestry and St. Martin's. (fn. 4) Kinnerley church had been appropriated to Halston by 1248, when the knights owned the tithes of Osbaston in Kinnerley. (fn. 5) The great tithes of Whittington demesne were also granted to Halston at an early period, apparently in return for the provision of a chaplain at Whittington castle. (fn. 6)
By 1294 the preceptory of Dolgynwal (Yspytty Ifan, Denbighs.) had been united with Halston, (fn. 7) which was subsequently the administrative centre for all Hospitaller estates in north Wales. (fn. 8) Dolgynwal, which had been founded c. 1190, (fn. 9) had acquired Ellesmere church, its most substantial property, from Llywelyn the Great in 1225. (fn. 10) Its estates also included the chapel of Penmachno (Caern.) and presumably Gwanas grange (Merion.), since this also lay in Gwynedd. Of the three remaining properties in north Wales later administered from Halston the church of Tregynon (Mont.) already in part belonged to Halston by 1254, (fn. 11) while Carno manor and Llanwddyn grange (Mont.) may always have been dependencies of this preceptory rather than that of Dolgynwal. (fn. 12) The unification clearly followed the Edwardian conquest and may have taken place in 1288, when the prior of the order was visiting royal castles in north Wales. (fn. 13) During the later Middle Ages Halston also possessed a small estate, later known as the manor of St. John's, in Ellesmere and its townships of Haughton, Colemere, and Crosemere. This was said in 1371 to have belonged to the order for over a century (fn. 14) and may originally have been the Ellesmere church estate.
Although domestic buildings at Dolgynwal were apparently still in use in 1338, (fn. 15) when periodic visits were being made by the preceptor of Halston, it no longer housed any brethren. Its small demesne, only capable of growing oats, was, however, still in hand. Aparts from the preceptor there were then at Halston a serjeant-at-arms, a corrodiary, and two chaplains. There were also eight hosuehold or farm servants, a steward, and two 'frary' clerks. A 200-acre demesne was kept in hand and the hosuehold consumed 70 qr. wheat, 30 qr. rye, and 160 qr. malt annually. Of a total gross income of £152 2s. 6d. nearly half (£72 13s. 4d.) was derived from tithes and £42 15s. 10d. from rents. Ellesmere, which produced about £50 in rents and tithes, was and remained the most profitable part of the estate. The preceptory also drew a substantial income from two sources not available in the same form to other religious houses: in 1338 £26 13s. 4d. was received from confraria or voluntary contributions and £7 was paid by expedores. (fn. 16)
Surviving estate records of the manor of St. John in Ellesmere of the late 14th and early 15th centuries (fn. 17) suggest that the knights were managing this nearby property with some care. In 1366 the 27 tenants held a little more than 6½ virgates. Although the total rents of some £4 a year remained unchanged until the Dissolution (fn. 18) entry fines were sometimes heavy, life leases were the usual form of tenure, and amobyr dues were scrupulously exacted. In 1415 a new preceptor required the tenants to erect crosses on their houses and wear crosses on their caps, as was common on Hospitaller estates, and in 1429 an unsuccessful attempt was made to claim the third part of the goods of deceased tenants.
The demesne at Dolgynwal was set on a threeyear lease in 1377 (fn. 19) and, to judge by the absence of ploughmen among the farm servants at Halston, the demesne arable there was no longer being farmed directly by 1428. (fn. 20) In spite of unsettled conditions in Wales (fn. 21) the gross annual income had, however, risen to nearly £208 by this date. Rents and tithes produced £151 and the income from confraria, oblations on St. John's Day and other dues was put at £53. (fn. 22) Although the preceptor was occasionally resident in the early 15th century (fn. 23) the only permanent staff at Halston in 1428 seem to have been two chaplains and ten servants, including a miller, a warrener, a stabler, and a dairymaid. (fn. 24) These consumed the corn and hay tithes of Halston and of four townships in Ellesmere and Kinnerley.
Little evidence survives to illustrate the relations of Halston with neighbouring magnates. Gifts totalling £10 a year to royal officials and other lords to secure their good will were recorded in 1338. (fn. 25) The earl of March paid a visit in 1355 (fn. 26) and fodder was bought in 1428 for the horses of Richard, Lord Strange, the lord of Ellesmere and Knockin, (fn. 27) with whom the Hospitallers seem to have been on somewhat uneasy terms. In 1430 they had to counter his claim to the assize of bread from their Ellesmere tenants (fn. 28) and in 1432 his servants were alleged to have burnt down the Halston tithe barns at Maesbrook. (fn. 29)
It is unlikely that any preceptor resided at Halston in and after the later 15th century. (fn. 30) In 1535, when the whole estate was valued at £160 14s., a little more than in 1338, the domestic buildings were probably leased with the demesne, and manor courts were no longer being held here or at Ellesmere. Dolgynwal was leased, with the confraria of Caernarvonshire and Anglesey, to Robert ap Rees and all other confraria were leased to Rhys ap Owen who was styled 'frary clerk'. (fn. 31)
Richard Mytton, who in April 1539 was granted a five-year lease of the whole estate except Kinnerley rectory and Dolgynwal, was required to live at Halston, to provide hospitality, and to find a priest for the chapel. (fn. 32) In 1543 the Halston demesne was granted by the Crown to John Sewster (fn. 33) and it was excluded from a new lease made to Mytton in 1545. (fn. 34) Sewster, however, sold Halston in 1544 to Alan Horde, who exchanged it with Mytton for lands in Warwickshire in 1551. (fn. 35) The manor of St. John in Ellesmere was granted to Thomas Onslow in 1545 (fn. 36) and at the same time Carno and Tregynon were acquired by Rhys ap Morris. (fn. 37) Ellesmere rectory, Dolgynwal, Penmachno, Gwanas, and Llanwddyn were granted in 1560 to George Lee, who also obtained portions of the tithes of Kinnerley and Whittington. (fn. 38) Kinnerley rectory, the last portion of the estate to be disposed of, was granted later in the same year to Robert Davy and Henry Dunne. (fn. 39) Although a preceptor of Halston was appointed when the order was revived in England in 1558 (fn. 40) there is no indication that this had any practical effect.
Apart from the fine timber-framed chapel, which probably dates from the earlier 15th century, there are no structural remains of the preceptory above ground, It is said to have stood to the west of the chapel (fn. 41) and was presumably demolished c. 1690, when the present house was built on a more elevated site to the north. There are, however, a number of clearly artificial irregularities in the surface of the field in which the chapel stands, notably two rectangular ditched enclosures to the south.
Preceptors of Halston (fn. 42)
Thomas, occurs 1239 and 1248. (fn. 43)
Odo de Neneth, occurs 1294 and 1300. (fn. 44)
Richard de Bachesworth, occurs 1330. (fn. 45)
Philip de Luda, occurs 1338. (fn. 46)
Walter of Kinnerley, occurs 1350 and 1362. (fn. 47)
Robert of Normanton, occurs as custos 1367 and 1377. (fn. 48)
Walter Grendon, appointed 1382, resigned 1415. (fn. 49)
John Etton, resigned 1420. (fn. 52)
Thomas West, appointed July 1454 but died soon afterwards. (fn. 57)
Stephen Lynde, appointed 1483. (fn. 64)
Robert Dalison, occurs 1492–1501. (fn. 65)
Giles Russell, appointed by July 1523. (fn. 68)
Nicholas Roberts, appointed Aug. 1523. (fn. 69)
Richard Shelley, appointed 1558. (fn. 72)