Houses of Augustinian canons: The abbey of Keynsham

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Houses of Augustinian canons: The abbey of Keynsham', A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, (London, 1911), pp. 129-132. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

. "Houses of Augustinian canons: The abbey of Keynsham", in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, (London, 1911) 129-132. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

. "Houses of Augustinian canons: The abbey of Keynsham", A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, (London, 1911). 129-132. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,

In this section



William Earl of Gloucester founded at Keynsham, on the south side of the River Avon, a house of Austin Canons soon after 1166, the year in which his son Robert died, and traditionally at his son's dying request. At its foundation the canons seem to have adopted the then popular monastic discipline of St. Victor, so that the head of this house is always called the abbot, and the house known as the house of the Canons of the Order of St. Austin and St. Victor.

The whole of the manor and hundred of Keynsham was conferred on these canons, together with the church (fn. 1) of St. Mary and St. Peter and St. Paul, and its dependent chapels of Brislington, Charlton, Felton (or Whitchurch), Publow and Pensford. All however of these chapels may not be coeval with the date of the foundation.

The first summary of endowments is that of the Taxatio of 1291, (fn. 2) when the spiritualia consisted of the churches of Keynsham, and its dependent chapels, Backwell, Burford (in Oxfordshire) and a portion of the church of St. Lawrence, Bristol.

The chief authority for its foundation is an inspeximus of 1318 of Edward II (fn. 3) who confirmed a charter of confirmation granted by the hereditary patron, Gilbert de Clare, 1291–1314, tenth Earl of Hertford, and ninth Earl of Gloucester, On 13 March 1336 Edward III (fn. 4) confirmed this inspeximus and confirmation of his father.

On 26 October 1276 (fn. 5) the claim of the Abbot of Keynsham to fell trees in his wood at Fillwood within the royal chase of Kingswood without view of the forester was allowed in an order to the Constable of Bristol Castle, and in 1280 (fn. 6) the abbot was given licence to inclose a pasture called 'Wynterleye' with a wall and make of it a rabbit warren.

On 15 July 1310 (fn. 7) the advowson of the church at High Littleton was given to the abbey by Gilbert Aumery, and Bishop Drokensford sanctioned its appropriation by the abbey in 1322, but the royal licence is dated 1328. (fn. 8)

In 1386 (fn. 9) owing to the inclosure made in the parish of Eltham by Edward III, which impoverished the church there, the Abbot and convent of Keynsham, to which that church was appropriated, obtained licence to acquire lands up to a rental of 10 marks yearly, and on May 1387 (fn. 10) definite sanction was given for the purchase of land in Bitton, West Hanham in the parish of Bitton, Upton (Gloucestershire) and Littleton (Somerset).

On 21 July 1395 (fn. 11) Pope Boniface IX granted permission to the abbot and convent on the death or resignation of the perpetual vicar of Keynsham to appropriate the vicarage, and to serve the church through one of the canons, or by a secular priest removable at pleasure. The vicarage was valued at 40 marks, and the convent at 250 marks. Apparently the appropriation was never brought into effect, as in 1404 there was an elaborate reordination of the vicarage by agreement between Abbot Thomas and John Jenyns the vicar. (fn. 12)

On 15 June 1423, (fn. 13) the abbot received licence to provide a proctor to look after the estates of the convent in Ireland. The proctor, after paying all dues for the sustenance of the war against the Irish rebels, was to forward all rents and profits from the lands in Ireland to the abbot and convent at Keynsham.

On 29 November 1461 (fn. 14) Edward IV confirmed a charter of the first year of Edward II (1307), granting a weekly market at Keynsham on Tuesdays, and a yearly fair on the festival of the Assumption; and in 1463 (fn. 15) he confirmed also a charter of 1265 granting a weekly market at Marshfield on Tuesdays, and a yearly fair on the festival of St. Oswald (5 August).

The Valor of 1535 (fn. 16) gives the endowments of the abbey as worth £419 10s. 4¼d.

The spiritualia consisted of the churches of Brislington, Publow, Newton St. Loe, Cloford, High Littleton, and a pension out of the church of Norton Maireward, the church of West Harptree, a pension out of the church of St. Mary le port, and the church of 'Warborowse' (St. Werburgh) in Bristol, and the church of Burford in Oxfordshire. The gross total income came to £450 13s. 6d., out of which there had to be paid dues, pensions, etc., £30 13s. 1¾d., leaving the clear yearly value of £419 10s. 4¼d.

In 1242 (fn. 17) it seems as if the efficiency of the monastery was generally recognized, for the canons of St. Augustine, Bristol, elected as their abbot the chamberlain of Keynsham.

In 1276 (fn. 18) Edward I stayed here on 17 and 18 September on his way from Bath to Bristol.

On 25 October 1277 (fn. 19) in an action brought by Simon de Whyte of Bristol, Robert the Abbot of Keynsham is said to be too infirm to appear before the justices in eyre, and his depositions are ordered to be recorded before the local justices. Five of his fellow-canons are mentioned by name.

In September 1300 (fn. 20) Edward I called upon the house to receive an old and faithful servant, Gilbert le Braconer, and find him for life necessaries according to the requirements of his estate.

Bishop Drokensford made provision in January 1309 for the ordination of two of the canons of Keynsham, and in April 1310 (fn. 21) sanctioned three more who were then acolytes to receive two steps further in Holy Orders.

In 1314 (fn. 22) reference is made to the new Lady chapel at Keynsham, and Sir John Bitton in his will left large bequests to it, and £20 for his funeral, expressing his desire to be buried there.

In 1315 (fn. 23) the bishop ordered the house at Keynsham to receive from Taunton a canon, Andrew de Sowy, who had been found guilty of immorality. He was assigned to Keynsham for penance, and the abbot and canons were desired to treat him wisely according to his contrition. The cost of his keep was to be defrayed by a payment from Taunton.

In 1322 (fn. 24) the bishop approved the appropriation of the church of High Littleton to Keynsham, because of the losses which the abbey had sustained in the floods, rain, and murrain in its lands in Ireland and Wales, and in its loss of the tithes of Chewstoke.

In November 1336 (fn. 25) Sir Walter de Rodney gave West Harptree Church for the support of the abbey. The Irish estates of the convent seem at this time to have been a source of constant anxiety and of very little profit, and their lands in Wales had been injured by floods, on which account the bishop and the king allowed the grant. (fn. 26) Proper provision at the same time was to be made for a vicar.

On 1 September 1333 (fn. 27) Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury visited the house, and from Blackford he wrote soon after to the abbot to say that he considered the canons were insufficiently clothed.

On 14 February 1350 (fn. 28) the bishop drew the attention of the abbot and canons to the neglect they displayed in reference to their keeping of the abbey gates. They were not shut at the fixed hours of the day. The ornaments of the church and the treasures of the house could easily be stolen, so carelessly were they guarded. At the hour of refection the lay folk were allowed to enter the refectory instead of being rigidly excluded. There were too many servants for the work, and the bishop laid down certain rules for the order and the work of the kitchen, the cellars, and the infirmary, the cook being ordered to send in a more regular account of expenditure to the abbot. The canons were not to keep dogs, particularly sporting dogs, and when they went forth to work they were not to eat and drink abroad, but wait till they returned to the monastery.

The lands and tenements of the monastery were not to be let out in perpetual copyhold. The nightly devotions were to be said more regularly, and with due intervals, and greater devotion. John de Wamberge, chamberlain of the monastery, was at once to be removed from his office, and a fit canon to be chosen in his place. In his visitation the bishop had already removed him, but had allowed him to continue for the time.

In January 1353 (fn. 29) the bishop again wrote in reference to what he had seen amiss at Keynsham 'during his late visitation.' Since the year of the pestilence, there had been a general neglect on the part of the abbot and other obedientiaries, and of the conversi who had the management of the tannery, the smithy, the barton and the vineyards, to draw up and present to the convent, as they should do, a proper account of receipts and expenditure.

Again the keepers of the outer doors were neglectful of their duty, and laymen and women were allowed to enter the monastery at unlawful hours. The canons did not observe at the proper times the rule of silence, and by the ensuing Easter the bishop commands all those in authority in the house to produce accounts of their administration.

The charities for the poor which were bequeathed by Gilbert, late Earl of Gloucester, (fn. 30) seem to have been, during the interval of the Great Pestilence, altogether lost.

Not one-third of the convent seems to have been in the habit of assembling in the refectory at the hours of meals, and two-thirds of the convent had their meals at other times and in other places. The chamberlain did not pay his debt to the convent, the bread was inferior in quality, and there was an irregular distinction made between the food given to the old and that given to the young. The canons were not to associate with those enjoying corrodies in the house, nor to play games with them. John Tankard, Robert Grindere and John Twynere, shepherds to the convent, were accused of stealing bread in large quantities, and selling some of it outside. Edmund, the chamberlain's servant, was very inefficient and the convent suffered from it. John Golynge was to be removed from being the servant in the infirmary, and the chantry of John Seymour was to be kept up. The deeds and charters of the abbey were to be kept in a chest secured by three keys, one to be held by the abbot, another by the subprior, and the third by the canon, John Wamberge.

A hundred years afterwards the same lack of discipline compelled Bishop Beckington to look into the affairs of the abbey. In 1451 he ordered a commission of inquiry which was followed almost immediately by a mandate to the abbey to obey and to cause to be obeyed the bishop's injunctions. (fn. 31) The abbot Walter Bekynsfield was aged and incapable. In 1455 another commission was issued to compel action on the Comperta of the previous inquiry and the abbot offering resistance was compelled to resign. In his place Thomas Tyler was elected, and in 1456 Bekynsfield was granted a pension. (fn. 32) Another canon, John Ledbury, probably a leader of resistance to the bishop's orders, was sent in 1458 to Worspring for discipline, and the abbey of Keynsham received in exchange John Blake, a canon of Worspring. (fn. 33) Matters were settling down, but in 1458, and again in 1459 commissions of inquiry were issued as to the obedience of the canons. (fn. 34)

During the 15th century the canons received some benefit from legacies by way of payment for masses for the souls of the dead.

In 1448 (fn. 35) Henry Warleigh of Keynsham desired to be buried in the conventual church of the Blessed Mary of Keynsham, and left 3s. 4d. to every canon regular to pray for his soul. His executor was Richard Whitewade, vicar of the parish church of St. John the Baptist, Keynsham. These two dedications show that there were two distinct churches in Keynsham, one the parish church of St. John the Baptist, and the other the conventual church of St. Mary, and not as at Bruton two distinct churches under one roof.

In 1489 (fn. 36) John Chaunceler, leaving certain benefactions to the canons, desired to be buried in the conventual church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1493 again John Daysshell desired to be buried in the conventual church.

In 1495 (fn. 37) so great a person as Jasper, Duke of Bedford, Earl of Pembroke, and uncle to Henry VII desired to be buried in the monastery of our Lady at Keynsham, and in his will he hoped he should be laid in a place convenient, where 'I will that my tomb be honourably made after the state that it has pleased God to call me to.' His monument was to cost 100 marks, and his lands were to be burdened for the payment of four priests to sing perpetually in the said church for his soul and for the souls of others, his relations and friends.

In 1501 (fn. 38) John Sturrage of Keynsham bequeathed to the church of the Holy Trinity of Keynsham a whole piece of cloth. This refers to the parish church, and indicates that the parish church had a double dedication in honour of the Holy Trinity and St. John the Baptist.

In 1534 (fn. 39) John Staunton, the last abbot, with William Herne, the prior, John Given, the subprior, John Arnold, and twelve other canons subscribed to the Act of Supremacy.

Richard Layton visited the house in August 1535 (fn. 40) and on 23 January 1539 (fn. 41) the abbot and ten monks surrendered the abbey to the king through the visitors, Tregonwell and Petre.

The conventual church was not left standing very long. Within two years of the surrender of the house, £12 was paid to Richard Walker for melting the lead on the church, (fn. 42) the cloister, and the steeple at Keynsham. Francis Edwards bought the seven bells of the monastery, and various useless buildings attached to it. (fn. 43)

Among the canons who were pensioned, John Fowler was granted £5 6s. 8d. out of his £6 13s. 4d. on condition that he acted as parish priest of the church of St. Margaret at Charlton, and a similar reduction was made in the pension of Canon Thomas Parker, should he, in after years, be promoted to any benefice. (fn. 44)

Robert Smart, one of the canons, was given an annuity of £6 which was certainly paid him as late as 1541. (fn. 45)

In Cardinal Pole's pension list, 1553, (fn. 46) nine canons received pensions, and eight others received annuities, among whom appear Canon Smart and Canon Parker.

Abbots of Keynsham

William, occurs 1175, (fn. 47) 1205 (fn. 48)

George de Eston (fn. 49)

Richard, occurs 1225 (fn. 50) and 1230

John, occurs 1233 (fn. 51)

Peter, occurs 1253, (fn. 52) 1259 (fn. 53)

Gilbert, 1274 (fn. 54)

Robert, occurs 1272, (fn. 55) 1277 (fn. 56)

Adam, 1308 (fn. 57)

Nicholas de Taunton, occurs 1308, (fn. 58) 1343 (fn. 59)

John Bradford, elected 1348 (fn. 60)

William Peschon, 1377 (fn. 61)

Thomas, occurs 1396 (fn. 62) 1427

Walter Bekynsfield, occurs 1438, 1455 (fn. 63)

Thomas or John Tyler, elected 1456 (fn. 64)

John Gybruyn, 1486 (fn. 65)

John Graunt, elected 1496 (fn. 66)

Philip Keynsham, 1499, (fn. 67) died 1505

William Rolfe, elected 1506, occurs (fn. 68) 1514

John Staunton or Sturton, 1528–1539 (fn. 69)

The first seal of the Austin Canons' House of St. Mary at Keynsham (fn. 70) is 13th-century work, and shows Our Lady seated, with a bridge or arcade below. The legend is lost. The counterseal, also much damaged, has a representation of the Annunciation. Below is a canon in prayer.

The second seal (fn. 71) is late 14th-century work. It is a vesica, 2¾ in. by 15/8 in., with Our Lady, crowned and standing in a niche, holding the Child on her right arm and a sceptre in her left hand. On either side are smaller niches with figures of St. Peter and St. Paul. Below is a shield of the arms attributed to the founder. (Gules), six clarions (or). The legend is:—SIGILLUM COMMUNE MONASTERII SANCTE MARIE DE KEYNESHAM.

The seal of Abbot Adam (fn. 72) (c. 1269) is a vesica, about 2 in. by 1¼ in., with a figure of the abbot holding book and crozier. The legend is much defaced.


  • 1. Rymer, Foedera xiv, 629.
  • 2. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.) 199, 200.
  • 3. Cal. Pat. 1317–21, p. 68; Mon. vi, 452, 453.
  • 4. Cal. Pat. 1334–8, p. 227.
  • 5. Cal. Close, 1272–9, p. 314.
  • 6. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, p. 371.
  • 7. Ibid. 1307–13, p. 268; Somers Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 178.
  • 8. Cal. Pat. 1327–30, p. 397.
  • 9. Ibid. 1385–9, p. 187.
  • 10. Cal. Pat. 1385–9, p. 300.
  • 11. Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 524.
  • 12. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. xiii, 46.
  • 13. Cal. Pat. 1422–9, p. 104.
  • 14. Ibid. 1461–7, p. 59.
  • 15. Ibid. p. 307.
  • 16. Val. Eccl. (Rec. Com.) i, 181.
  • 17. Cal. Pat. 1232–47, p. 299.
  • 18. Gough, Itin. Edw. I, i, 63.
  • 19. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, p. 245.
  • 20. Cal. Close, 1296–1302, p. 406.
  • 21. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 14, 32.
  • 22. Ibid. 71.
  • 23. Ibid. 90, 103.
  • 24. Ibid. 178, 211.
  • 25. Ibid. ix, 298.
  • 26. Cal. Pat. 1334–8, pp. 270, 387.
  • 27. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. ix, 153, 154.
  • 28. Ibid. x, 603–5.
  • 29. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. x, 708.
  • 30. Cal. Pat. 1334–8, p. 227
  • 31. Wells Epis. Reg. Beckington, fol. 92, 149.
  • 32. Ibid. fol. 200, 207.
  • 33. Ibid. fol. 227.
  • 34. Ibid. fol. 229, 244.
  • 35. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. xvi, 161.
  • 36. Ibid. 282.
  • 37. Ibid. 327.
  • 38. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. xix, 27.
  • 39. Dep. Keeper's Rep. viii.
  • 40. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 42.
  • 41. Rymer, Foedera xiv, 629.
  • 42. Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the Monasteries, ii, 426.
  • 43. Min. Accts. Exch. and Aug. 30–31, Hen. VIII, no. 224.
  • 44. P.R.O. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. vol. 233, fol. 117.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 120.
  • 46. P.R.O. Exch. K. R. Misc. Bks. 32, fol. 30.
  • 47. Tanner, Notitia, p. xlvi. Ann. Monas. (Rolls Ser.) i, 57.
  • 48. Feet of F. (Somers Rec. Soc. vi) 23.
  • 49. Collinson gives this name but not his authority.
  • 50. Feet of F. (Somers. Rec. Soc. vi) 48.
  • 51. Cal. Close, 1231–4, p. 265. Cal. Pat. 1232–47, p. 24.
  • 52. Somers. Pleas (Somers. Rec. Soc. xi), 414.
  • 53. Feet of F. (Somers. Rec. Soc. vi), 160 182.
  • 54. Collinson gives this name but no authority.
  • 55. Feet of F. (Somers. Rec. Soc. vi) 234.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. 1272–81, p. 245.
  • 57. Cat. of Seals in B.M. i, 599.
  • 58. Cal. Pat. 1307–13, 140.
  • 59. Ibid. 1343–5, p. 26.
  • 60. R. of Shrewsbury's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. ix), 581.
  • 61. Clerical Subsidy, bdle. 4, no. 2.
  • 62. Cal. Pat. 1422–9, p. 373; Bowett's Reg. (Somers. Rec. Soc. xiii) 46.
  • 63. Tanner, loc. cit.
  • 64. Wells Epis. Reg. Beckington, unnumbered folios at end. Inq. p.m. 1–2, Hen. vol. 889, no. 9.
  • 65. Cant. Epis. Reg. Morton, fol. 137.
  • 66. Wells Epis. Reg. King, fol. 6.
  • 67. Ibid. fol. 139.
  • 68. Ibid. Hadrian, unnumbered folios at end.
  • 69. Aug. Off. Misc. Bks. 233, fol. 120.
  • 70. Cat. of Seals B.M. 3345; Add. Chart. 15205.
  • 71. Ibid. 3346, lxxi, 66.
  • 72. Ibid. 3347; Add. Chart. 15205.