Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Radmore

Page 225

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1970.

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The first Cistercian foundation in Staffordshire grew out of a hermitage at Radmore in Cannock Forest near the present hamlet of Cannock Wood, some 3 miles east of Cannock. (fn. 1) King Stephen granted Radmore, probably between 1135 and 1139, to Clement, Hervey, and their companions as the site for a hermitage; he also gave them land at 'Melesho' for tillage and pasture. Bishop Roger de Clinton confirmed this grant and gave the hermits permission to follow any rule they wished and to receive and instruct any holy women who came to them after adopting a rule. (fn. 2) At some time between 1143 and 1147 the hermits secured a charter similar to Stephen's from the Empress Maud, presumably as a precaution in view of the civil war. (fn. 3)

About the same time Maud, who had a great love for the Cistercian rule, persuaded the hermits to join the Cistercian order, and St. Mary's hermitage at Radmore thus became the abbey of St. Mary. New grants followed. Several of these were in Warwickshire, notably at Radway, where a grange was established. (fn. 4) William Croc, the steward of Cannock Forest, gave all his rights in Great Wyrley (in Cannock) to the monks on condition that he should be received 'into their fraternity and into the society of the benefactors of the Cistercian order' and his body buried in the abbey. (fn. 5) In 1153 Henry, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, the son of Maud, became a benefactor of the monks at his mother's instigation. He confirmed them in their possession of Radmore as 'the site and foundation of the abbey' with Melesho and Wyrley 'for cultivation and pasture' and Hednesford (in Cannock) as pasture free from pannage dues. In the same year he granted most of the royal property in Staffordshire to Ranulph, Earl of Chester, who then gave the monks the vill of Cannock; Duke Henry confirmed this, mentioning also the mill of Wyrley and stating that the grant was to enable the monks to erect a church and domestic buildings. (fn. 6)

The monks, however, were finding Radmore an unsuitable site as a result of the oppressions of the foresters who rode there every week. (fn. 7) With Maud's support the brethren approached Henry on his coronation day in December 1154 and secured the exchange of Radmore for the royal manor of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire. They arrived there the following June. A royal hunting-lodge was established at Radmore soon after the monks' departure.


William, described as prior of the hermits, became first abbot of Radmore and then of Stoneleigh, dying in 1159. (fn. 8)


  • 1. The whole chronology of Radmore is obscure. For a discussion of it see Stoneleigh Leger Bk. ed. R. H. Hilton (Dugdale Soc. xxiv), pp. xii-xvi. The dating given there is in the main followed in this account, which supersedes that in V.C.H. Staffs. v. 57, and V.C.H. Warws. ii. 78-79.
  • 2. Stoneleigh Leger Bk. 10–11.
  • 3. Ibid. 10. The terminal date given ibid. p. xiv, is 1148, but since Bp. Roger mentioned the monks in a charter witnessed by the Abbot of Buildwas and left on the Crusade in 1147 never to return (ibid. p. xv), 1147 must be the terminal date. Maud's grant stipulated that there was not to be excessive assarting of woodland.
  • 4. Ibid. 13, 14, 17; V.C.H. Warws. v. 142. The land at Radway was given by Bp. Clinton and his tenant, Geoffrey de Clinton; the bishop also confirmed the monks in their possession of Radmore. While travelling from Radmore to Radway Grange the monks were often entertained by the Cistercians of Bordesley Abbey (Worcs.), and a strong friendship developed between the two houses; it was therefore to Bordesley that the new Cistercians turned for instruction in the rule, probably after the move to Stoneleigh in 1155: Leger Bk. 15; V.C.H. Worcs. ii. 154.
  • 5. Leger Bk. 13; V.C.H. Staffs. v. 79.
  • 6. Leger Bk. 12-13; S.H.C. ii(1), 221; V.C.H. Staffs. v. 53.
  • 7. For this para. see Leger Bk. pp. xv-xvi, 15-16, 249-50, and map facing p. liv; V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 341–2; W. H. Duignan, 'On the King's House and the Priory at Radmore, on Cannock Chase', Midland Antiquary, iii. 58 sqq., 141-2. The monks surrendered all their Staffs. property to the Crown: V.C.H. Staffs. v. 53, 57, 59. Hen. II was at Radmore in 1155: R. W. Eyton, Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II, 6. For a chapel at Radmore in 1279 see above p. 223.
  • 8. Leger Bk. 12–16, 17, 249–51.