A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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In this section
- HOUSES OF AUSTIN FRIARS
HOUSES OF AUSTIN FRIARS
20. THE AUSTIN FRIARS OF LUDLOW
Some years after the foundation of Woodhouse (fn. 1) a community of Austin friars was established a few miles away in Ludlow, just outside the Galford Gate. Capgrave assigns the building of their house to 1254 (fn. 2) and this is borne out by architectural evidence. (fn. 3) It is not known who helped their settlement. One of their earliest benefactors was Brian of Brampton, lord of Kinlet, who had a letter of confraternity from the provincial chapter in 1279, but he was remembered for his help in alleviating the poverty of the brethren and enlarging their house, not for founding it. (fn. 4) His family was allied by marriage to the Turbervilles, traditionally associated with the foundation of Woodhouse. (fn. 5) There may have been some benefactions from the Beauchamp family also; some 14th-century tiles found on the priory site were decorated with the Beauchamp arms. (fn. 6) At the time of the establishment of the friars Ludlow was a growing market town with only one parish church: their help was probably welcome and there is no record of any difficulties with the secular clergy. In 1290 Bishop Swinfield gave them a pittance of 4s., which possibly indicates a community of 12 friars, and in 1299 he successfully denounced a violation of sanctuary there. (fn. 7) They received sufficient support for the extension of their property and the enlargement of their buildings: in 1284 they were licensed to enclose a lane by their property between Old Street and Galford, (fn. 8) and in 1326 they acquired 2½ acres of meadow south of their site. (fn. 9) Fragments of some sedilia with ball-flower pattern indicate that building was not finished before 1340. (fn. 10) The church when completed was a spacious building with nave and north aisle together measuring 90 feet by 50 feet and a smaller choir 70 feet by 30 feet. (fn. 11) Between choir and nave was a multiangular enclosure, which probably corresponded to the 'walking place' in other friars' churches. (fn. 12) Usually the steeple was erected over this space; since at Ludlow there was a tower at the north-east corner of the choir the two larger bells may have been placed there. (fn. 13) The cloister lay south of the nave, measuring 110 feet by 70 feet, and was surrounded by substantial buildings.
Of the internal life of the priory little is known. Different groups of Austin friars wore black, white, or occasionally grey habits; those at Ludlow appear to have worn black. (fn. 14) The house was important enough for at least one provincial chapter to have been held there, in 1426. (fn. 15) There may have been a falling off in prosperity after the town was sacked by the Lancastrians in 1459, when some churches suffered, (fn. 16) but the town records for the early 16th century reveal only one or two actions for debt and a few affrays: there is no sign of serious poverty or disorder. (fn. 17) Some evidence for the condition of the house in the later Middle Ages comes from the Dissolution records. The friars of Ludlow, like other groups of Tuscan hermits, held property communally and their gardens, orchards, and meadows, extending to over 12 acres, were then leased for £4 16s. 4d. Their moveables were meagre but they may have succeeded in hiding or selling property in advance. The choir had newly-built stalls and there were two fair bells and a little bell in the steeple. One chalice and a copper cross, which was in pledge, were valued at £6 14s. 1d. The inventory seems incomplete: only the sacristy, choir, hall, buttery, and kitchen are mentioned yet the ground-plan of the house reveals more than a dozen rooms with a staircase to an upper floor. (fn. 18) If the other parts of the convent stood bare and empty much must have been sold before the arrival of the commissioners.
The prior and three other friars surrendered to the Crown in August 1538. (fn. 19) The site and gardens were leased to Richard Palmer in December 1539 and were granted to Robert Townsend in 1547. (fn. 20) In 1572 Townsend's widow Alice sold the stone steeple of the late Austin Friars to the corporation with licence to cart away all stone for 21 years. (fn. 21) In spite of these quarrying operations considerable portions of the buildings, including part of a massive precinct wall and an arched gateway, were still standing in the early 19th century. These were pulled down in 1817 but in 1861, before the site was developed as a cattle market, the foundations were surveyed by a local architect. (fn. 22)
William Man, occurs 1520-8. (fn. 23)
William Mentpace, occurs 1531. (fn. 24)
Giles Pickering, occurs 1538. (fn. 25)
No seal known.
21. THE AUSTIN FRIARS OF SHREWSBURY
Within a year of the establishment of a house of Austin friars at Ludlow, Capgrave relates, another house was begun in Shrewsbury. (fn. 26) This dates the origins of the Shrewsbury friary as 1254-5 and proves conclusively that the friars called 'the poor brethren of Coulon' in a number of royal letters were Augustinians: presumably a group of the Tuscan hermits whom the king had welcomed in 1249. (fn. 27) In September 1254, in response to a petition from the burgesses of Shrewsbury and particularly the parishioners of St. Mary's, (fn. 28) Henry III granted the brethren of 'Coulon' an area outside the town of Shrewsbury where the dead had been buried during the Interdict. (fn. 29) 'Coulon' was probably 'Cowlone' or 'Cowlonde', north of the castle, (fn. 30) which lay in St. Mary's parish. When the friars first moved to their 'new place' outside the town walls, near the Welsh Bridge on the other side of the town, they held services in a simple chamber while their church was being built. (fn. 31) In 1269 the king gave 10 marks towards their building fund and in 1283 a pittance of 13s. 4d. (probably for 2 days), which suggests the presence of 20 friars in the community. (fn. 32) Building was in progress in the 1290s; in 1292 the Bishop of Lichfield granted an indulgence to all contributing to the building and repair of their conventual church or houses, (fn. 33) and in 1298 Geoffrey Randolf gave them a plot of land outside the walls, near the postern of Rumboldsham (Barker Street), for building purposes. (fn. 34) The church had been finished by 1300, when they leased the chamber where they had formerly celebrated divine service, (fn. 35) and the precinct was steadily enlarged during the next forty years. In 1337 the friars obtained from the borough a grant of the 'New Work', a stone wall 120 ells long running from their convent to the river, on condition that they built a substantial embattled house there and allowed the 'New Work' to be garrisoned in time of war. The friars were also allowed to have a postern gate through the wall to Rumboldsham. (fn. 36) A further 18 acres were acquired in 1363. (fn. 37) At the Dissolution rents from various gardens and other lands amounted to 36s. 7d. and the convent site was valued at 12s. 1d. (fn. 38)
The house, which was in the limit of Lincoln, (fn. 39) was an important one in the late 14th century. At least three provincial chapters were held there, in 1383, 1389, and 1400, (fn. 40) and John Shipton, one of the twelve doctors who condemned Wycliffe in 1381, was for a time a member of the community. (fn. 41) Among its benefactors was Richard, Earl of Arundel (d. 1397), a lifelong friend of the order. (fn. 42) Standards declined in the later 15th century; in 1456 there were only six friars there (fn. 43) and the last century of its existence was continually disturbed by violence. In 1472 one of the friars killed a man in self-defence: he sought sanctuary in the church and during the scuffle while the angry burgesses attempted to drag him out another man was killed. The king intervened to punish the violation of sanctuary; the church was reconsecrated and the friars and citizens were reconciled by the mediation of the Bishop of Carlisle and Thomas Mynde, Abbot of Shrewsbury. (fn. 44) Between 1500 and 1538 the borough records show the friars involved in at least 13 cases of affray, sometimes fighting in taverns or amongst themselves, in 13 cases of trespass or unlawful detention of goods, and in 26 cases of debt; (fn. 45) the general picture is one of poverty and disorder. Richard Lyneal, who was called 'the great Sir Richard' and was regularly reelected as prior for many years before 1527, (fn. 46) appears in the records as a high-handed and passionate man who dominated the house and he may have been responsible for many of its troubles. In 1522 a Shrewsbury draper went surety for him on condition that he should not dissipate the goods of the house before the next visitation of the Provincial of the order. (fn. 47) The outbreak of plague in 1525, which reduced the alms on which the brethren depended, with their small rents, for their livelihood, was one cause of distress: nonetheless, the two other friaries in the town weathered these troubles. The borough made some modest provision for the needs of the Austin friars by granting them £5 in 1528 and a further £4 for the repair of their houses in 1536. (fn. 48) Discipline was evidently at a very low ebb in 1530, when the prior, William Man, came to blows with the former prior, John Towne, and was bound over to keep the peace. (fn. 49) In 1536 the burgesses found that John Skinner and others were carting away stones from the Austin friary and resolved that the prior, Richard Alate, who was selling the goods of the house, should be committed to prison. (fn. 50) John Towne returned to office as prior for a year of unsuccessful struggling against debt. (fn. 51) In August 1538 the commissioners found the house in a sorry state: the buildings ruinous, goods of a total value of 26s. 8d. at most, and no bedding, food, or drink. The prior was a man 'like to be in a frenzy' and there were only two friars, both Irishmen, with him. (fn. 52) The Bishop of Dover discharged the prior, who sued unsuccessfully for his house in London. He also ordered the Irishmen back to their own country, but they remained, and in September 1539 were granted their capacities with two other friars. (fn. 53) The house, after being leased to John Reynolds in 1540, (fn. 54) was sold in 1543 to Richard Andrews and Nicholas Temple. (fn. 55)
In the early 19th century some ruins of the house were still standing: Owen and Blakeway noted the lower part of a square building of red stone with two pointed doorways. (fn. 56) The upper floor had a range of handsome windows and may have been the refectory; another doorway with recessed mouldings was discovered during alterations to the house. All these have since been pulled down. Some foundations were uncovered during the building of the Priory School. (fn. 57)
William Witham, occurs 1403. (fn. 58)
Thomas Wharton, occurs 1456. (fn. 59)
John Wall, occurs 1473. (fn. 60)
Thomas, occurs 1481. (fn. 61)
Thomas Lyneal, occurs 1497. (fn. 62)
Richard, occurs from 1505 to 1510. (fn. 63)
Richard Lyneal, occurs from 1519 to 1527. (fn. 64)
John Townsend alias Towne, occurs 1529. (fn. 65)
William Man, occurs 1530-1. (fn. 66)
John Halybred alias Stokes, occurs 1532-5. (fn. 67)
Richard Alate, occurs 1536. (fn. 68)
John Towne, recurs 1537-8. (fn. 69)
A copy of a seal attached to a deed of 1300 has been printed from an 18th-century drawing. It shows the seated figure of a friar, teaching; in the upper right background a star. Legend, lombardic:
SIGILLUM COMMUNE ORDINIS SANCTI AUGUSTINI SALOP. . . (fn. 70)
22. THE AUSTIN FRIARS OF WOODHOUSE
The hermitage of Woodhouse was one of the two earliest English foundations of the friars hermits of St. Augustine. Capgrave's confused account of the beginning of the order in England at least makes plain that Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, was a friend to the hermits and that the first two houses were built at Clare and Woodhouse. (fn. 71) There is corroborating evidence of the appearance of a group of Augustinian hermits of Tuscany in England in September 1249, when they were welcomed by Henry III. (fn. 72) Some of these may have provided the first two communities; by 1250 certainly there was a settlement at Woodhouse, about two miles northwest of Cleobury Mortimer. (fn. 73) This remote spot, uncultivated and extra-parochial, was perfectly suited to the early ideals of the order, which aimed at retreat from the world to attain full union with God. If there was a founder, his identity is uncertain. Dugdale derived from Tanner an unsubstantiated statement that the land was originally given to the hermits by members of the Turberville family; (fn. 74) this is not impossible since the Turbervilles were under-tenants of the Earls of Gloucester and were connected by marriage with the Bramptons of Kinlet, (fn. 75) known to have been benefactors of the Austin friars of Ludlow. (fn. 76) Later the house received gifts from local families in Hopton Wafers, Woodhouse itself, and Cleobury Mortimer. (fn. 77) Like the other two Austin friaries in Shropshire, it was founded before the union in 1256 of the most important groups of friars following the rule of St. Augustine. After that date the organization of the order more closely resembled that of other friars. Houses were normally established in towns or moved there (fn. 78) but Woodhouse was one of the few to remain in its original solitude. Since the Tuscan hermits had never aimed at absolute poverty it held communal property from the beginning (fn. 79) and its rural situation made some lands necessary to supplement the scanty alms available in the neighbourhood. By the Dissolution the estate comprised some 50 acres, principally pasture and woodland. (fn. 80)
The community was always small, with an estimated number of seven friars in the late 13th century. (fn. 81) The friary belonged to the limit of Lincoln. (fn. 82) Nothing has survived from the library to indicate the state of learning there but there is some circumstantial evidence to support a local tradition that William Langland, author of Piers Plowman, was either a member of this community or received his early education there. (fn. 83) If he was born at Kinlet, as some of the evidence indicates, and had wished to enter the order he would presumably have done so at Woodhouse, the friary nearest to his place of birth. In the early 15th century the house had a good reputation for observance. (fn. 84)
After the dissolution of the smaller religious houses in 1536 a number of the Shropshire priors hid or sold the goods of their houses, probably in an effort to save them from the impending confiscation. In January 1537 Bishop Rowland Lee complained to Cromwell that the prior of Woodhouse had sold the goods of the house and changed his habit. (fn. 85) Lee had him imprisoned and urged Cromwell to send him to his provincial and either appoint another prior or authorize Lee to do so. (fn. 86) When Woodhouse was finally suppressed in August 1538 it was governed by one Ridley, who seems to have been acting as prior, but by what title is not clear. Three other friars received their capacities in 1540. (fn. 87) The site and estate were first leased to the bailiff, John Neveth, and were sold in 1554 to Thomas Reeve and George Cotton, (fn. 88) who sold them to Thomas Harvard later in the same year. (fn. 89) In the early 19th century an old moated house with the remains of a chapel was used as a farm-house. (fn. 90) The house was evidently rebuilt in the mid 19th century and no medieval features were visible externally in 1969. A considerable part of the large rectangular moat survives. (fn. 91)
Thomas, occurs 1481. (fn. 92)
. . . Ridley, occurs 1538. (fn. 93)
No seal known.