Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Sandwell

Pages 216-219

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

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Sandwell Priory in West Bromwich was evidently preceded by a hermitage associated with the spring, still in existence, from which the priory took its name. Nothing more, however, is known of this stage of religious life at Sandwell. The founder of the priory was William, son of Guy de Offeni, a principal tenant of Gervase Paynel, lord of Dudley. (fn. 1) The date usually given for the foundation is about 1190, (fn. 2) but there seems no reason why it could not have been at least ten years earlier. (fn. 3) Sandwell was a house of Benedictine monks dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen (fn. 4) with the successive lords of West Bromwich manor as patrons. (fn. 5)

No foundation charter is known to have survived, but a confirmation of William's foundation by Gervase Paynel gives details of the original endowment of the priory. (fn. 6) William gave the monks dwelling in the hermitage by the spring called Sandwell all the land round the spring, some of his tenants in West Bromwich, 'Wavera' (perhaps a weir or horse-pond) in Handsworth, the assart of 'Ruworth', 'Duddesrudding', land between 'Petulf Greene' and the king's highway as far as 'Waver' and the stream called 'le Burne', a well or pit (puteum) at 'Wich' (presumably West Bromwich), and a mill at 'Grete' (near Greets Green in West Bromwich). He also granted the monks tithes of his pannage, hunting, mills, bread, ale, and dishes (ferculorum) from the kitchen of his house, wood for fuel and timber, and pasture throughout his manor of West Bromwich at all times of the year for all animals. Finally he gave them the church of Ellesborough (Bucks.) and a dwelling there, 'as much as is of our fee of the barony of Dudley' — in fact a moiety of the church. (fn. 7)

In the 13th century the priory was involved in disputes with three generations of the Parles family. In 1211 William de Parles sued the prior for 10 acres in Sandwell and in 1212 for 10 acres in Handsworth. Richard, son of the founder and advocate of the priory, was called upon by the prior to warrant his title and duly did so. The result of the Handsworth dispute is not known, but in 1222 William de Parles remitted his claim to the 10 acres in Sandwell and Richard gave him £5. (fn. 8) In 1224 William de Parles sued Richard's brother and heir William for half the advowson of the priory and claimed to have presented Prior Reynold during the reign of King John. On the death of the defendant in the same year, with a minor as his heir, the case was adjourned sine die. (fn. 9) More serious for the monks themselves was the dispute between John de Parles and the Prior of Sandwell over the advowson of Handsworth, which Sandwell claimed to share with Lenton Priory (Notts.). Here John de Parles was successful, and in 1230 the Prior of Sandwell acknowledged his right to half the advowson. For abandoning his claim he was compensated by John de Parles with a messuage in Birmingham yielding 1 mark a year. (fn. 10) The climax of the priory's relations with the Parles family was reached in 1260 when William de Parles led an armed band of assailants against the prior, who was fortunate to escape. (fn. 11) An inquisition of 1280, however, taken after William had been hanged for felony, shows that he had enfeoffed the priory with 20s. rent from his mill at Hamstead (in Handsworth). (fn. 12)

The priory also had some difficulty during the 13th century in maintaining its rights in distant Ellesborough where by the 1220s Alan de Maidewelle was claiming half the advowson. In 1224, however, he renounced his claim. (fn. 13) In 1276 Richard de Seyton and his wife claimed the advowson of Ellesborough against the prior as the heirs of William Brito who had presented in the time of Henry II. They lost the case not because they had no right but because their moiety of the church was not then vacant. (fn. 14)

In or shortly before 1230, however, the priory made an important acquisition when the church of West Bromwich was farmed to it in perpetuity by the monks of Worcester for an annual payment of 6 marks and responsibility for maintaining the church, providing books and ornaments, and paying dues to the bishop and archdeacon. This was confirmed in 1230 by the bishop, who also allowed the church to be served by a chaplain appointed by Sandwell, and in 1283 the Pope added his confirmation. (fn. 15) In 1291 the church was valued at £4, the exact equivalent of its farm. The priory's share of the church of Ellesborough was valued at £6 13s. 4d., and the monks also received £1 13s. 4d. from the other half. The priory's temporalities at Sandwell were assessed at £4 16s. 8d. (fn. 16) In the constitutional crisis of 1297 the priory's lay fees were confiscated by royal order, but they were restored on payment of the subsidy. (fn. 17) The prior contributed £1 9s. towards the tenth of 1306. (fn. 18)

A glimpse of the internal life of the priory is given by the provision made for an aged prior, evidently Richard de Eselberg in 1330. (fn. 19) After receiving the prior's resignation during a visitation, the bishop ordered that he was to have the newly built chamber next to the dormitory, attendance, and the food of two monks, the 'broken meat' being given to the poor; he was also to have 20s. a year for clothing. In addition he was to be assigned some land near the graveyard with a fishpond and dovecote; after his death these were to be used for the support of the brethren in the infirmary.

The history of the priory is undistinguished save perhaps for its turbulence. In the 14th century at least three of the elections of a prior were annulled by the bishop, (fn. 20) while the death of the prior in 1349 (presumably of the plague) and in 1361 left only one other in the community on each occasion and the bishop duly appointed him to the vacancy. (fn. 21) In a poll tax list of 1377 only the prior is mentioned. (fn. 22) In 1380, however, there was one other monk besides the prior, and when the prior resigned in that year the right of appointment was granted to the bishop who brought in a monk from Shrewsbury to fill the vacancy. In 1391 there was only one monk at Sandwell; he elected a monk of Shrewsbury as prior, but the bishop quashed the election and brought in a monk of Coventry. (fn. 23) After the resignation of the prior in 1487 the monks claimed to be unable to proceed to an election because of their 'simplicity' and the bishop once more appointed; with a new vacancy the following year the monks again appealed to the bishop to appoint. (fn. 24)

It is thus not surprising to find disorders within the priory. About 1324 the bishop addressed a stern letter to the monks admonishing them to show proper obedience to the prior. He also stated that one of the brethren was wandering about in secular garb under pretence of a visit to the papal Curia. (fn. 25) By 1355 the administration of the priory left much to be desired, and the bishop complained that the monks were committing waste of woods and hedges, granting long leases, and alienating their property. (fn. 26) By the 1370s Prior John de Kyngeston's position was being challenged by Richard Tudenham who claimed to be the rightful prior; it was probably in this connexion that John de Kyngeston was attacked by five men in 1370 and shot in the arm with an arrow. (fn. 27) This was followed by a dispute with the Abbot of Shrewsbury, against whom John de Kyngeston started legal proceedings. The nature of the dispute is not known, but it may be that an attempt was being made to subordinate the priory to the abbey. In 1379 the Abbot of Shrewsbury, two of his monks, the Rector of Handsworth, and others forcibly removed John de Kyngeston from Sandwell to Sleap (Salop.), a manor belonging to the abbot, and there compelled him to resign the priorate before a notary public and to abandon the proceedings which he had initiated against the abbot. (fn. 28) In 1380 Richard Westbury, one of the Shrewsbury monks involved in the attack on John de Kyngeston, was appointed prior by the bishop. (fn. 29) Tudenham, however, had not abandoned his hopes of the office and in the meanwhile had procured a papal provision to the priory. He therefore began an action against Westbury in the ecclesiastical courts, hoping to displace him. But the supplanter of John de Kyngeston proved more than a match for Tudenham. The little-applied Statute of Provisors of 1351 was invoked and Westbury's rival was arrested and brought before the Council. (fn. 30) What may be termed the Shrewsbury party suffered a reverse in 1391 when the election of a monk of that abbey, William Pontesbury, as Westbury's successor was annulled by the bishop, and a monk of Coventry, John of Tamworth, was appointed. (fn. 31) In 1397 Tamworth was ejected by Alexander Leddesham, described as an apostate monk and abetted by a warlike band; by the following year, however, Tamworth was back in office. (fn. 32) In 1401 John de Acton, a monk of Shrewsbury, was appointed as his successor by Archbishop Arundel during his visitation of the diocese. (fn. 33) In 1436 John Atton, also a monk of Shrewsbury, was elected. (fn. 34)

Relations with laymen were also stormy. About 1324 the prior obtained letters of excommunication from the bishop against 'certain sons of iniquity' who had invaded the priory lands, taken fish, cut wood, and oppressed the tenants and were also detaining tithes and burial fees. (fn. 35) In 1341 the prior and his priest were among several people whose arrest was ordered by the Crown because of their attempted interference in the appointment of a prebendary of Codsall in the king's free chapel of Tettenhall. (fn. 36) Relations with the advocate of the priory had degenerated by 1387 when John Marnham sued Prior Richard Westbury to secure delivery of a bond. (fn. 37) In 1414 the prior was accused of sheltering murderers and robbers; together with others similarly accused he was admitted to bail and pardoned. (fn. 38)

On the credit side Sandwell was extending its property in the later 14th century. In 1365 it acquired a messuage and virgate in Padbury (Bucks.). (fn. 39) Between 1388 and 1390 Prior Westbury, with some help from William Pontesbury, the monk of Shrewsbury who nearly succeeded him as prior, attempted to obtain the farm of the alien priory of Alberbury (Salop.), which was in the royal custody. Although he achieved some temporary success, the original keeper, Geoffrey Stafford, a canon of Ranton, was restored in 1390. (fn. 40) In 1398 Prior Tamworth obtained papal sanction for the appropriation of the priory's share of Ellesborough church, which it was to be allowed to serve with one of its own monks or a secular priest on the death of the existing rector. Whatever the advantages to Sandwell of this appropriation it certainly did not redound to the benefit of the inhabitants of Ellesborough. By 1519 the church had fallen into decay and services were rarely held, there being no vicar, but the priory drew regularly 10 marks a year and 4 quarters of wheat. In the 15th and 16th centuries the advowson and half the rectory were leased out by the priory. (fn. 41) In the 1450s the priory owned a fulling-mill at Fazeley which it leased out. (fn. 42)

Sandwell was among the 21 religious houses scheduled for suppression in 1524 for the benefit of Cardinal Wolsey's Cardinal College at Oxford. (fn. 43) The suppression took place in February 1525; provision, however, was made for the continuance of religious services. The prior and one other monk only made up the community, and they were transferred to other Benedictine houses. (fn. 44) The possessions of the priory then consisted of buildings and lands in Sandwell, the advowson and tithes of West Bromwich, two water-mills at West Bromwich, the advowson and half the rectory of Ellesborough, and lands and rents in Sandwell, West Bromwich, Dudley, Tipton, Great Barr, Little Barr, Harborne, 'Wernell', 'Coston' (presumably Coston Hackett, Worcs.), Wombourn, Wednesbury, Handsworth, and 'Feccham'. The spiritualities were valued at £12 and the temporalities at £26 8s. 7d. (fn. 45) The priory and its property were conveyed by the king to Wolsey in January 1526 and by Wolsey to the Dean of Cardinal College in February; a further double transaction involving more property took place in 1528. In 1530 the college drew £31 7s. from the Sandwell property. After the fall of Wolsey the property reverted to the Crown. In 1530 Thomas Cromwell and William Burbank stayed five days at Sandwell and sold goods there for £21; the bells were valued at £33 6s. 8d. In 1531 the manor of Sandwell was granted to Lucy Clifford and the advowson of Ellesborough to the Carthusian priory of Sheen (Surr.). Another portion of the property seems to have been granted to St. George's Chapel, Windsor, by 1532.

A survey of Sandwell's possessions in 1526 included the priory buildings which by then were largely ruinous. (fn. 46) The chancel was 41 feet long and 18 feet wide, while the nave was 57 × 18 feet with a south aisle 9 feet wide. Between chancel and nave was a 'bellframe', presumably a tower, 18 × 16 feet, on the north side of which were two chapels. (fn. 47) The cloister and priory buildings lay north of the church. These included a house adjoining one of the side chapels and measuring 80 × 20 feet; it had three 'low' parlours, three upper chambers, and a chimney. There was a hall adjoining the cloister; 'buylded chaumber wise', it was 57 × 21 feet. A building at the west end of the hall, 60 × 21 feet, included the kitchen and two upper chambers with various outhouses. Other buildings included a gatehouse and chamber, a barn 72 × 24 feet, an adjoining hayhouse 64 × 21 feet, a kilnhouse, a stable, and a water-mill built of timber and thatched. To the west of the priory was a dried-up moat with an overgrown orchard inside it. (fn. 48)


John, occurs some time between 1194 and 1218 (fn. 49) and is probably the Prior John who occurs in 1218. (fn. 50)

Reynold, admitted temp. King John. (fn. 51)

William, occurs 1230 and is probably the Prior W. who was appointed a judge delegate by Archbishop Langton (1206-28). (fn. 52)

Richard, predecessor of Thomas. (fn. 53)

Thomas, occurs 1293 and is probably the Prior

Thomas who resigned 1316. (fn. 54)

John de Duckebroc, appointed by the bishop 1316, resigned by March 1323. (fn. 55)

Richard de Eselberg, appointed 1323, resigned 1330. (fn. 56)

William de la Lee, appointed 1330. (fn. 57)

William Harell, appointed 1333. (fn. 58)

Richard le Warde, occurs 1341, died 1349. (fn. 59)

Nicholas de Cumpton, appointed 1349. (fn. 60)

William del Ree, died 1361. (fn. 61)

Henry of Kidderminster, appointed 1361. (fn. 62)

John de Kyngeston, occurs 1370, resigned 1379. (fn. 63)

Richard Westbury, appointed 1380, occurs to 1390. (fn. 64)

John of Tamworth, appointed 1391, resigned 1400. (fn. 65)

John de Acton, appointed 1401. (fn. 66)

Richard Dudley, occurs 1413 and 1416. (fn. 67)

William Pruyne, resigned 1436. (fn. 68)

John Atton, elected 1436, occurs 1461. (fn. 69)

John Newport, occurs 1484, resigned 1487. (fn. 70)

Thomas Wynnysbury, appointed 1488, resigned same year. (fn. 71)

John Sawer, appointed 1488. (fn. 72)

William, occurs 1518. (fn. 73)

John Baylye, surrendered the priory in 1525. (fn. 74)

A 15th-century copy of a 12th-century matrix belonging to Sandwell Priory has survived. (fn. 75) It is of bronze, pointed oval about 3 by 2 in., and depicts Our Lord with cruciferous nimbus, seated with His right hand raised in benediction and holding an open book in His left hand. Legend, lombardic:



  • 1. For Wm. see S.H.C. i. 198.
  • 2. Shaw, Staffs. ii. 128; Dugdale, Mon. iv. 189; D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: Eng. and Wales, 76.
  • 3. The founder occurs in 1166 (see ref. in n. 1) while Payne de Parles, who occurs as 'dapifer de Parles' among the witnesses of Gervase Paynel's confirmation of the foundation, occurs in 1166 and 1179-80: S.H.C. i. 96, 168. Wrottesley gives the date of foundation as c. 1180: ibid. 198.
  • 4. S.H.C. xvii. 56; Cal. Inq. p.m. (Rec. Com.), iv. 177, 234; Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/12, ff. 56, 59; C 142/60/62; see below p. 219. A document of 1218 describes it simply as the priory of St. Mary: Cal. Feet of Fines for Bucks. (Bucks. Rec. Soc. iv), 37. In 1436 it is called the priory of Holy Trinity and St. Mary: B.M., Harl. MS. 2179, ff. 137v.-139.
  • 5. Mary Willett, Hist. of West Bromwich (West Bromwich, 1882), 4 sqq.; Cal. Inq. p.m. (Rec. Com.), iv. 177, 234; L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv, pp. 1594, 1711; Hibbert, Dissolution, 25; and see below p. 217.
  • 6. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 190. The original of this confirmation too seems not to have survived, and Dugdale's text is evidently corrupt.
  • 7. V.C.H. Bucks. ii. 338. By 1218 the priory had 2 messuages and land in Ellesborough which it then leased out: Cal. Feet of Fines for Bucks. 37.
  • 8. S.H.C. iii(1), 150 sqq., 156; iv(1), 11, 15, 218. In 1222 a jury was ordered to investigate an accusation by Ralph Tyrell that the prior had enclosed part of the common pasture of Handsworth: ibid. 23.
  • 9. Ibid. iv(1), 28, 30, 31.
  • 10. Ibid. 77, 222-3; ibid. i. 195.
  • 11. Ibid. iv(1), 143.
  • 12. Ibid. 1911, 174.
  • 13. Bodl. MS. Staffs. Charters 41; Rot. Hugonis de Welles, (Cant. & York Soc.), ii. 65, 67.
  • 14. V.C.H. Bucks. ii. 338.
  • 15. B.M., Harl. MS. 3868, ff. 2–3; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 226.
  • 16. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 33, 243, 251.
  • 17. S.H.C. 1913, 308; Cal. Chanc. R. Var. 51.
  • 18. Cal. Pat. 1301-7, 451.
  • 19. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/3, f. 39. The entry is undated and refers to Prior R. de H.; he is almost certainly to be identified as Ric. de Eselberg.
  • 20. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/1, f. 55v.; /2, f. 147; /6, f. 38v.
  • 21. Ibid. /2, f. 181; S.H.C. N.S. x(2), 108. In 1341 there is mention of Edmund, the prior's priest, of Sandwell: S.H.C. xi. 122.
  • 22. E 179/20/595.
  • 23. S.H.C. N.S. x(2), 147-8; Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/6, f. 38v.; see below.
  • 24. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/12, ff. 56, 59.
  • 25. Ibid. /3, f. 17v. In 1339 Rob. Ingheram, an apostate monk of Sandwell, was seeking to be reconciled: Cal. Papal Regs. ii. 545.
  • 26. B/A/1/3, f. 137v. Timber was evidently of some importance in the economy of Sandwell; in 1466 the prior supplied wood to the church of All Saints, Walsall: S.H.C. 1928, 201.
  • 27. S.H.C. xiv(1), 130, 132.
  • 28. Cal. Pat. 1377-81, 423; Cal. Close, 1377-81, 343.
  • 29. S.H.C. N.S. x(2), 148.
  • 30. Cal. Pat. 1377-81, 567.
  • 31. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/6, f. 38v.
  • 32. S.H.C. N.S. vii. 288; see below.
  • 33. Lambeth Palace Libr., Reg. Arundel, i, f. 487.
  • 34. See below p. 219.
  • 35. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/2, f. 17.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. 1340-3, 147, 183-4, 320; S.H.C. xi. 122. They alleged papal provision.
  • 37. S.H.C. xv. 5.
  • 38. Ibid. xvii. 24.
  • 39. Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, p. 235.
  • 40. Cal. Pat. 1385-9, 438-9; 1388-92, 352; Cal. Fine R. 1383-91, 136, 206, 214, 340, 351. On Geoffrey's temporary restitution in 1388 he was stated to have been removed on the false suggestion of the priors of Alberbury and Sandwell who had then secured the custody.
  • 41. Cal. Papal Regs. v. 263; V.C.H. Bucks. i. 300; ii. 338; C 142/76/10.
  • 42. C 1/26/446.
  • 43. For this para. see Hibbert, Dissolution, 22-26 (where the date of suppression is given as Feb. 1524 instead of Feb. 1524/5); E 21/3; E 36/165, ff. 127-40; C 142/76/10 and 35; L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv, pp. 971, 987, 1777, 1778, 2245; v, p. 735; vi, p. 101; Stat. Realm, iii. 352-4; S.H.C. xi. 266; xii(1), 183; V.C.H. Bucks. ii. 338; V.C.H. Surr. ii. 96.
  • 44. For Cromwell's attempt in 1528 to oust the curate of West Bromwich in favour of 'Sir William, the prior's monk that was', see L. & P. Hen. VIII, Addenda, i(1), pp. 202, 215-16.
  • 45. It was stated in 1526 that the income had included 'much offerings' to St. Mary Magdalen: E 36/165, f. 130v.
  • 46. Ibid. ff. 127v.-128v. (transcribed in Dugdale, Mon. iv. 191). The date is given in L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv, p. 987. Little now (1968) remains of the priory. Shaw, in his account of Sandwell Hall (Staffs. ii. 130), states that 'some of the foundation etc. [of the priory] is still traceable in the back part and offices'. For a photograph of 1928 showing a wall with windows on 2 stages see W.S.L., F. A. Homer, 'Collections for the History of the Priory of Sandwell'.
  • 47. It has been suggested that the reference to the two north chapels is an error and that one of the chapels was in fact on the south: inf. from Mr. J. W. Whiston, citing West Bromwich and Oldbury Chronicle, 16 Aug. 1901.
  • 48. E 36/165, f. 129v.
  • 49. He witnessed a charter also witnessed by Hen., Abbot of Merevale, Warws. (elected 1194), and Rob. Marmion (d. by 1218): Dugdale, Mon. iv. 107; V.C.H. Warws. ii. 78; C.F.R. Palmer, Hist. of the Baronial Family of Marmion (Tamworth, 1875), 118.
  • 50. Cal. Feet of Fines for Bucks. 37.
  • 51. S.H.C. iv(1), 28.
  • 52. S.H.C. iv(1), 77; xvi. 271; B.M., Harl. MS. 3868, f. 2.
  • 53. S.H.C. vi(1), 220.
  • 54. Ibid. 220, 224, 236; Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/1, f. 55v.
  • 55. B/A/1/1, f. 55v.; ibid. /2, f. 137. He was a Cluniac of Wenlock (Salop.); his election by the monks of Sandwell earlier in 1316 had been annulled by the bishop.
  • 56. Ibid. /2, ff. 137, 147. He was a monk of Sandwell.
  • 57. Ibid. f. 147. He was a monk of Sandwell; his election by the monks earlier in 1330 had been annulled by the bishop.
  • 58. Ibid. f. 153. He was a monk of Thorney (Cambs.).
  • 59. Ibid. f. 181; Cal. Pat. 1340-3, 320; S.H.C. xi. 122.
  • 60. B/A/1/2, f. 181. He was a monk of Sandwell.
  • 61. Ibid. /4, f. 51v.
  • 62. Ibid. He was a monk of Sandwell.
  • 63. See above p. 218. He occurs as Prior of Canwell 1355-69: see above p. 216.
  • 64. See above p. 218.
  • 65. See above p. 218; Lambeth Palace Libr., Reg. Arundel, i, f. 487.
  • 66. See above p. 218. He was a monk of Shrewsbury.
  • 67. S.H.C. xvii. 24, 56.
  • 68. B.M., Harl. MS. 2179, f. 137v.
  • 69. Ibid. ff. 137v.-139v.; E 36/165, f. 133. He was a monk of Shrewsbury.
  • 70. C 142/76/10; Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/12, f. 56. On resignation he was granted a pension of £8 by the bishop: ibid. ff. 56, 59.
  • 71. B/A/1/12, ff. 56, 59. He was a monk of Evesham (Worcs.).
  • 72. Ibid. 59. He was a Cluniac of Lenton (Notts.).
  • 73. He was admitted to the guild of Lichfield that year: Harwood, Lichfield, 412.
  • 74. C 142/76/35; see above p. 218.
  • 75. A. B. Tonnochy, Cat. of Brit. Seal-Dies in B.M. 182.