Houses of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Farewell

Pages 222-225

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


A Religious house was founded at Farewell, 2½ miles north-west of Lichfield, by Bishop Roger de Clinton (1129-48) and endowed with several episcopal estates. Like Blithbury, which also dates from this period, it began as a foundation for monks or hermits but soon became a nunnery; (fn. 1) the bishop may have been patron. (fn. 2)

Bishop Roger's original grant gave to the church of St. Mary at Farewell and the canons and lay brothers there the site of the church, the land which they had assarted and as much woodland as they could assart, a holding called 'Chirstalleia' (probably Chestall on the Cannock-Longdon boundary), and pannage and pasture rights. About 1140 the bishop made a new grant, this time to the nuns of Farewell at the request of three hermits and brothers of Farewell, Roger, Geoffrey, and Robert, and with the consent of the chapter of Lichfield. By it he gave the nuns the church of St. Mary at Farewell, with a mill, a wood, pannage, the land between the stream of 'Chistalea' and 'Blachesiche', and six serfs (coloni), formerly his tenants, with their lands and services. In addition, at the request of Hugh, his chaplain, and of the canons of Lichfield, he granted all the land which Hugh had assarted de bosco and the land which Hugh held of the bishop at Pipe. Bishop Roger further granted the half hide held by Haminch (or possibly Hamon) de Hammerwich at Haminch's own request; half of this estate was to be held by the nuns in demesne and the other half by Haminch's heir as tenants of the nuns. Finally the bishop granted the alms given for the dedication of the church and urged the parishioners to make gifts to the house and generally love and support it. His charter was confirmed by his successor Walter Durdent (1149-59) with the addition of the lands and services of Alvrich de Quadraria and his sons, which were valued at 6s. annually. (fn. 3)

The nuns received a charter from Henry II, probably in 1155. (fn. 4) The king confirmed to God and St. Mary of Farewell and the nuns there the site of their house at Farewell in Cannock Forest, 3 carucates of land in demesne at Farewell with homage and mills, 8 acres there given by Robert the reeve and Thomas his son (fn. 5) and rendering 2s. a year, moorland there for conversion into meadow (moras ad facienda prata), a carucate at Pipe assarted from Cannock Forest, and a carucate at Hammerwich with villeins and a franklin named Hamon the fiddler (vielarius) and their lands and also a plot of pasture. In addition the king granted 40 acres of assarted waste in the forest at Lindhurst within the royal manor of Alrewas with all liberties and customs belonging to the manor. A confirmation was added of all legitimate gifts which the priory might receive in the future. The nuns were to hold their lands free of all secular service. The charter was confirmed in full in 1200 by King John, (fn. 6) who also included Farewell in the nunneries receiving a gift of £2 each in that year and 2 marks in 1204. (fn. 7) Another grant was made probably about 1170 by Geoffrey Peche who gave the nuns his land at 'Morhale', with his man there, as the dowry of his daughter Sara on her becoming a nun at Farewell. At this time there were chaplains at Farewell. (fn. 8)

In 1251 Henry III ordered the steward of Cannock Forest not to take pannage dues for the pigs of the priory as the nuns were exempted by their charters. (fn. 9) Chorley near Farewell was evidently held by the priory by about this time: before 1275 the prioress granted a nief named Henry Aylmond of Chorley with his heirs and chattels to Walkelin de Houton, canon of Lichfield, for 40s. (fn. 10) In 1279 the Prior of Llanthony (Glos.) was claiming that the nuns of Farewell had for some time held a house and land in Longdon of his priory for 2 marks a year and the duty of finding a priest to serve a chapel at Radmore (in Cannock); the prioress, however, denied the claim. (fn. 11) By 1283 the priory had also acquired a house in Lichfield and had apparently assigned the rent to the fabric fund of the cathedral. (fn. 12) In 1293 the prioress successfully sued a Thomas de Hulton for land in Curborough. (fn. 13) By the earlier 14th century the priory was in receipt of rents from a compact group of estates in the vicinity at Chorley, Hammerwich, Abnalls, Ashmore Brook, Elmhurst, Longdon, and 'Bourne', (fn. 14) while at Farewell, Curborough, and Hammerwich there was demesne farming. (fn. 15) The nuns were engaged in sheep-farming as well as arable farming by at least the 1370s. (fn. 16) Leet jurisdiction was exercised over Hammerwich, Chorley, 'Halsey', Ashmore Brook, and Bourne. (fn. 17) In 1321 Philip de Somerville, lord of Alrewas, had licence from the Crown to give the nuns 20 acres of waste there. (fn. 18) In 1367 the prioress sued Humphrey, son of Simon de Rugeley, for 10 acres of land and 2 acres of moor in Longdon, recovering them in 1370 from Humphrey's son Thomas. (fn. 19) The king confirmed the charter of Henry II in 1375, (fn. 20) and in 1398 the nuns received royal licence to acquire unspecified lands and rents, not held in chief, to the value of 10 marks a year. (fn. 21)

A house was founded at Langley near Breedon (Leics.) with nuns from Farewell about 1150. By 1209 a dispute had arisen between the two concerning Farewell's rights over Langley, and the Pope appointed arbitrators. It was agreed that in future the prioress of Farewell should be summoned to preside over elections at Langley but that if she failed to come or to send a representative the election should nonetheless be held. Langley was to retain a Farewell nun called Alice de Hely for five years and then return her to Farewell unless another agreement was made. Farewell renounced its other claims on Langley, but in 1246 the Pope found it necessary to appoint further arbitrators. Farewell then abandoned its claim to any rights over Langley apart from those of the earlier agreement in return for a payment of 4 marks, and the settlement was confirmed by the prioress and convent in 1248. (fn. 22)

The records of two 14th-century episcopal visitations afford evidence of conditions in the priory. The first was carried out by Roger Northburgh apparently in 1331, and the subsequent decree concerning corrections was written in French. This was usually done in the case of nunneries, but the bishop specifically stated that he was using French because the nuns had pleaded their difficulty in understanding Latin as their excuse for not fully obeying the decree after the previous visitation. The prioress was instructed to do her utmost to recall Alice de Kynynton, who had left the nunnery and put aside her habit; the bishop added that 'en eyde de vous nous userons la verge de discipline'. Cecily of Gretton, who had also forsaken the nunnery and her habit, was treated more gently; she was to be placed in the charge of a good and wise nun nominated by the prioress to instruct her in her duty and to be with her day and night. The officials of the house were to render accounts. The nuns were not to use girdles and 'burses' of silk but were to wear their habit; they were to elect a nun of experience to be in charge of provision of items of dress. The bishop found that the nuns were sleeping two in a bed in the dorter and with young girls in their beds; he forbade such practices as 'contre regulers constitutions et contre honeste de religion'. No secular women over 12 years of age were to live in the house unless they were going to become nuns there. Nor were secular persons to be received by the nuns in their rooms. Agnes of Lichfield and Margaret of Chorley, apparently servants, were ordered to be put out of the house, and henceforth only women of good fame and honest conversation were to be employed. Finally the door at the back of the garden leading to the fields was in future to be kept locked, several scandals having arisen. (fn. 23)

The next bishop, Robert Stretton, visited the priory in 1367. He gave orders that his decree should be read and explained to the nuns 'in the vulgar tongue' by a literate ecclesiastic on the day after it was received. He repeated Northburgh's injunction forbidding secular women, apart from servants, to live in the priory. The nuns were enjoined to observe their threefold vow. They were forbidden to keep more than one child each for education in the priory, and no boy over seven years of age was allowed. The prioress and obedientiaries were to account at least once a year to the whole community or to the senior nuns. All were to eat in common in the prioress's hall because the individual distribution of food had tended to impoverish the house. There was to be no fire except in the building assigned for the infirmary and called the 'gesthall.' No lands or rents were to be granted away until the bishop had been consulted. The nuns were not to go into Lichfield without leave of the prioress; each had to be accompanied by two other nuns and there was to be no 'vain or wanton' delay. The permission of the prioress in fact was necessary for all departures from the priory, but the bishop stressed that this order was not intended to interfere with 'the laudable custom' whereby the nuns went out walking together on certain days to take the air. (fn. 24)

The priory did not survive until the general Dissolution. In 1526 Cardinal Wolsey carried out a visitation of Lichfield Cathedral and evidently discussed the suppression of the priory with Bishop Blythe. In March 1527 at the cardinal's instance a commission was issued to Richard Strete, Archdeacon of Salop, and Dr. William Clayborough, a canon of York, to disperse the nuns and dissolve the priory. The property was to go to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield for the support of their choristers, evidently in order to extinguish a payment due to the chapter from Wolsey's new college at Oxford. (fn. 25) By the end of April the prioress and the other four nuns then making up the community had been transferred to different Benedictine nunneries. The possessions of the priory were then listed as the manor of Farewell with its view of frankpledge and the advowson of the church and property at Chorley, Curborough Somerville, Elmhurst, Lindhurst, Alrewas, Hammerwich, Ashmore Brook, Lichfield, King's Bromley, Water Eaton (in Penkridge), Pipe, Abnalls, Cannock, Burntwood, Rugeley, Brereton, Handsacre, Oakley (in Croxall), Tipton and Longdon. The total annual value was £33 6s. 8d. (fn. 26)

In August 1527 the Crown granted the Chapter of Lichfield all the possessions of the dissolved priory, including the house and church, the capital messuage or grange of Curborough Somerville, and property at Frankley (Worcs.) which was not mentioned in the earlier survey. (fn. 27) The property was assigned to the twelve choristers of Lichfield, and in 1535 their endowments consisted largely of the possessions of the former priory; out of their total revenue of nearly £40, just under £25 came from rents of the priory estates, £3 5s. 10d. from the tithes and other spiritualities of Farewell, and 10s. from the profits of the court there. (fn. 29)

The only part of the priory buildings which remained in the 18th century appears to have been the parish church. This was largely rebuilt in the 1740s, and the only medieval portion now surviving is the east end. (fn. 30)


Serena, occurs 1248. (fn. 31)

Julia, occurs temp. Henry III. (fn. 32)

Maud, occurs before 1275, probably early 1270s. (fn. 33)

Margery, occurs 1293. (fn. 34)

Mabel, died 1313. (fn. 35)

Iseult of Pipe, elected 1313, resigned 1321. (fn. 36)

Margaret de Muneworth, appointed 1321 after a disputed election and occurs 1353. (fn. 37)

Sibyl, occurs 1357. (fn. 38)

Agnes Foljambe, occurs 1366 and 1368. (fn. 39)

Agnes Turville, resigned 1398. (fn. 40)

Agnes Kyngheley, elected 1398. (fn. 41)

Margaret Podmore, died 1425. (fn. 42)

Alice Wolaston, elected 1425, occurs 1462. (fn. 43)

Anne, occurs 1476. (fn. 44)

Elizabeth Kylshaw, occurs 1523, transferred to Nuneaton on suppression of Farewell 1527. (fn. 45)

No seal is known.


  • 1. It is described as Benedictine in the bp.'s reg. in 1398 (Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/6, f. 50v.) and as 'of the Benedictine order or another' at its dissolution in 1527 when the nuns were all transferred to Benedictine houses: see below p. 224. It is given as Cistercian in the bp.'s reg. in 1425: B/A/1/9, f. 52. In the 12th century its daughterhouse at Langley (Leics.) claimed to be exempt from tithe in accordance with the privileges of the Cistercians but was unable to maintain its claim: V.C.H. Leics. ii. 3.
  • 2. The bishop evidently played a special part in the dissolution and the subsequent disposal of the property: see below p. 224. In 1398 the Crown stated that it held the patronage (Cal. Pat. 1396–9, 293), but no other evidence for this is known.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 111. For Chestall see V.C.H. Staffs. v. 57.
  • 4. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 111; Cal. Pat. 1374-7, 182. The charter is dated at Radmore (in Cannock) which Hen. II visited in 1155: V.C.H. Staffs. v. 57. It was issued in a longer and a shorter version.
  • 5. Given as his brother in the confirmation of 1200 (see below) but as his son in the confirmation of 1375 (see below).
  • 6. Rot. Chart. (Rec. Com.), 42.
  • 7. S.H.C. ii(1), 91, 96, 119, 123.
  • 8. B.M., Cott. Ch. xxviii. 56. The land had been given to Geoff. by Bp. Ric. Peche (1161-82), and Geoff.'s son Ric. was associated in the grant. The chaplains witnessed the charter.
  • 9. Close R. 1251-3, 12-13.
  • 10. S.H.C. 1924, p. 264. The canon set him free and gave his services to the dean and chapter. In 1366 the Prioress of Farewell made a grant of the goods, chattels and services of her villein Thomas son of John Aylmond of Chorley: ibid. 1939, 82.
  • 11. S.H.C. vi(1), 94.
  • 12. S.H.C. 1924, p. 267.
  • 13. J.I. 1/805, m. 12.
  • 14. S.R.O., D.(W.) 1734/2/3/52 (extent of Farewell property 1318). In 1353 the prioress claimed that the West family of Elmhurst held of her by military service: S.H.C. xii(1), 118.
  • 15. S.R.O., D.(W.)1734/J. 2035 (acct. of bailiff of Farewell 1335-6).
  • 16. D.(W.)1734/3/3/34 (bailiff's acct. 1377-8); D.(W.) 1734/J. 2037 (bailiff's acct. 1378-9). The acct. of the bailiff 1335–6 includes the sale of wool but the cash figure has been erased: ibid./J. 2035.
  • 17. D. & C. Lich., C.4, Farewell Ct. Roll 7 Oct. 1367.
  • 18. Cal. Pat. 1317-21, 565.
  • 19. S.H.C. xiii. 62, 65. Simon de Rugeley of Hawkesyard (in Armitage) evidently held Chestall (probably the 'Chirstalleia' of Bp. Roger's endowment: see above) in 1333 and Jas. de Rugeley in 1370: V.C.H. Staffs. v. 57.
  • 20. Cal. Pat. 1374-7, 182.
  • 21. Ibid. 1396–9, 293.
  • 22. V.C.H. Leics. ii. 3; Dugdale, Mon. iv. 112; E 135/2/28. The first papal commission included the Dean of Lichfield, the precentor, and one of the canons; the 1246 arbitrators were the Treasurer of Lichfield and the Archdeacon of Stafford.
  • 23. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/3, f. 29.
  • 24. S.H.C. N.S. viii. 118-19.
  • 25. D. & C. Lich., Chapter Acts iv, ff. 43, 47; ibid., uncatalogued 17th-cent. misc. bk., f. 74; Hibbert, Dissolution, 27-28; see above pp. 164-5.
  • 26. S.R.O., D.(W.)1734/J. 1601. One of the nuns, Felicia Bagshawe, was sent to Brewood nunnery where she remained until its dissolution in 1538. She was probably a member of the Bagshawe family of Farewell: S.H.C. 1939, 83, 104, 155.
  • 27. Hibbert, Dissolution, 28.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 135.
  • 30. Shaw, Staffs. i. 229, 229*; see above plate facing p. 213.
  • 31. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 112.
  • 32. S.H.C. vi(1), 94.
  • 33. S.H.C. 1924, p. 264. There may have been a prioress named Sibyl at some time between the 1260s and 1280s (ibid. xiii. 13; V.C.H. Glos. ii. 91), but the evidence, which dates from 1357 when the prioress was named Sibyl, is confused and may well be referring to the 14th-century Sibyl.
  • 34. J.I. 1/805, m. 12.
  • 35. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/1, f. 46.
  • 36. Ibid.; /2, f. 1.
  • 37. Ibid. /2, f.1; S.R.O., D.(W.)1734/2/3/53; S.H.C. xii(1), 118. She was provided by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the see of Coventry and Lichfield being vacant. She was subprioress.
  • 38. S.H.C. xiii. 13.
  • 39. Ibid. 62; ibid. 1939, 82.
  • 40. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/6, f. 50v.
  • 41. Ibid. She was a nun of Farewell.
  • 42. Ibid. /9, f. 52.
  • 43. Ibid.; S.H.C. N.S. iv. 120. She was a nun of Farewell.
  • 44. She was admitted to the guild of Lichfield that year: Harwood, Lichfield, 406.
  • 45. Ibid. 413; S.H.C. 1939, 82. She too was admitted to the guild in 1523.