Houses of Augustinian canons: The priory of Calwich

Pages 237-240

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

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The little priory of Calwich in Dovedale on the Derbyshire border of the county originated as a cell of Kenilworth Priory. The heremitorium de Calwich was given to Kenilworth by Nicholas de Gresley alias fitzNiel and his wife Margery, the latter having been the ward of Geoffrey de Clinton, founder of Kenilworth. The founders, who held Longford (Derb.), also gave the church of Longford. (fn. 1) The date of the foundation of the priory lies after c. 1125 when the mother-house of Kenilworth was founded; about 1130 'the brethren of Calwich' are mentioned in a confirmation of the gift of Longford church. (fn. 2) The list of Kenilworth properties confirmed by the king in 1163 mentions Ellastone church as having been given by Nicholas and Margery but makes no mention of Longford, Kenilworth having relinquished its claim in return for a pension of 40s. (fn. 3) Ellastone was so near Calwich that it could, if necessary, be served by one of the canons, and this factor may have inspired an exchange. In 1391 the dedication of the priory is mentioned as to St. Margaret. (fn. 4)

Later evidence shows that the priory was planned to be dependent on Kenilworth, whose prior had power to appoint and remove four canons there, presenting one of them as canon-in-charge on the nomination of the lord of Longford. (fn. 5) According to the usual practice a canon was seldom resident at a cell of this nature for more than a few years at a time. This close dependence of Calwich on Kenilworth meant that the former had no separate legal identity. Consequently the growth of its property at this time cannot be traced, but Calwich was certainly never even moderately wealthy, partly perhaps because of its proximity to the abbeys of Croxden and Rocester.

For the aid of 1235-6 Calwich was assessed at 10s., the same amount as Rocester but considerably less than Stone and Trentham. (fn. 6) In 1274 the house received one of its larger benefactions when Nicholas le Chamberleyng and his wife Elizabeth gave it a messuage in Ellastone with 2 bovates, 4 acres of land, and the services of two tenants there in return for 'the benefits and prayers of the house'. (fn. 7) In 1291 the custos domus de Calewich was holding temporalities valued at £2 10s. while the appropriated church of Ellastone was worth £9 6s. 8d. (fn. 8) At the quo warranto inquiry of 1293 Calwich disclaimed all right to pleas of the Crown and other franchises in its manor of Ellastone. (fn. 9) The house appears as one of many given royal protection in 1297. (fn. 10)

As often happened in such cases the dependent status of Calwich engendered friction. In 1293, in the course of a lawsuit over pasture rights in Wootton (in Ellastone), it was stated that the 'prior' of Calwich was removable at the will of the Prior of Kenilworth; the 'prior' denied this, but a local jury decided against him on this point. (fn. 11) In 1334, perhaps because of some further disagreement over status, the keeper of Calwich was recalled by the Prior of Kenilworth, and the bishop upheld the prior's right to do this. (fn. 12) In 1349, however, Calwich acquired its independence, (fn. 13) and a long document in a Kenilworth cartulary has preserved details of the settlement. (fn. 14) After reciting the original constitution of the cell, the document goes on to relate that the right of the Prior of Kenilworth to transfer brethren whenever he found it desirable had led to complaints that stability was being thereby disturbed. In response to frequent requests and to terminate frequent dissensions with the patron, the bishop now ordained that the cell of Calwich was henceforth to be known as a priory and was to be completely free from Kenilworth; it was to have the right to elect its own prior, subject to confirmation by the ordinary, and was to have the status of a conventual church. In return for this independence it was to pay Kenilworth priory an annual pension of 60s. When a vacancy occurred, the brethren of Calwich were to obtain licence to elect from their patron, the lord of the manor of Longford, if he was in residence, otherwise from the custodian of the manor. The next deed in the cartulary is an inspeximus by Sir Nicholas de Longford of an elaborate and stringent agreement between the two priories to ensure the payment of this pension which was charged on property in Calwich, Stanton, and Ramshorn (all in Ellastone). (fn. 15)

Small monastic establishments like Calwich were always a difficult problem for those in authority over them, and it is doubtful whether the new arrangement at Calwich was advantageous, as it solved some problems only by creating others. The time had gone past when the priory was likely to augment appreciably either its numbers or its possessions, and the large pension to Kenilworth must have been a heavy charge on its limited resources. The later history of the house was clearly precarious, and there were never more than a handful of brethren. The community numbered four (including the prior) in 1377 and 1381. (fn. 16) A petition of 1385 shows the poor estate of the house. In this the prior sought to be relieved from collecting a royal tax on the ground that there were then in the priory only himself and two canons; he claimed that this was the number required by the terms of the foundation but that they were too feeble through age to labour and too poor to hire others to labour for them, except for their necessities. (fn. 17) The success of the petition suggests its substantial accuracy. A similar sign of need is given by the papal indulgence granted in 1391 to those visiting the priory of St. Margaret, Calwich, on certain days and giving alms to its fabric. (fn. 18) There are few signs of any acquisitions at this time though in 1386 the priory was pardoned for acquiring in mortmain without licence two cottages and some land in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. (fn. 19) In 1449 two canons, John Stone and John Leder, sought the appointment of a prior from the bishop; Stone and Leder were the only canons of the house at the time. John Stone was nominated. His resignation in 1461 left only one other canon in the house, and the new prior was again appointed by the bishop. (fn. 20)

By the early 16th century the house was clearly in a tottering condition. A visitation of 1518 reveals a community of two, the prior and a canon named John Deane. (fn. 21) At the General Chapter of the order in 1518 the prior was cited to appear with Deane, who was said to have been professed at Trentham; he had probably been lured to Calwich in a desperate attempt to maintain a convent there. The prior promised to regularize the situation, Deane being either returned to Trentham or made a member of Calwich. (fn. 22) In fact he was still at Calwich in 1524. (fn. 23)

The death of the prior in 1530, left but a single canon at the priory. (fn. 24) The patron, Sir Ralph Longford, who had a technical right to be consulted over elections, claimed the right of presentation, but the ordinary's 'accustomed provision' was also urged. (fn. 25) By 1531 the suppression of the house had been decided upon, (fn. 26) not a surprising decision in view of the temper of the time and the lack of a community. What is, however, worthy of note is the complete secularization of the priory's property which followed. In April 1532 an agreement was made between the king and the patron for the suppression of St. Margaret's Priory; Longford was to have the lands of the monastery in tail male, subject to 'a rent agreed by indifferent persons'. (fn. 27) In the inquest that followed local interests threatened the royal pleasure, (fn. 28) but by October the king's agent, Richard Strete, could write that all was well. (fn. 29) A sale followed and Cromwell's accounts for March 1533 included £30 'for goods of Calwyche'. (fn. 30) The next month Strete wrote that 'the priory of Calwich, now void, rests in the king's pleasure'. (fn. 31) Arrangements were made to dispose of the cattle and corn, and Strete was informed that he might translate the surviving canon of Calwich to 'some good house of that religion' nearby, giving him 'something after your discretion such as may stand with the king's honour and also to his honest contentation'. (fn. 32) By mid-May Strete had made an inventory of the goods of the house and had committed the custody of the priory to the Abbot of Rocester, the nearest Augustinian house. A canon was sent from Rocester 'to overse them who hath kept the sequestre syns the departur of the late prior'. (fn. 33) The inventory values the household goods, 'very course', at £15 13s. 2d., livestock at £79 15s. 4d., growing corn at £11 6s. 8d., 'stuff for the church, as chales and vestments etc.' at £10 9s. 8d., making a total of £117 4s. 10d. The desmesne lands around the priory were assessed at £23 12s. yearly, tithes at £17 8s. 1½d., and the appropriated church of Ellastone, 'besyde the vicar indoment', at £13 6s. 8d. 'In these is no harde peneworth,' commented Strete; 'the house and other byldinges be in mean good state of reparacion. I have dischargyd and put forth such persons as were not mete to be ther and laft such as be husbaundes, and I have made sure the convent saill [seal] and the evidence.' (fn. 34) The suppression of Calwich is of some interest as a gross example of secularization, anticipating the general suppression of small monasteries in 1536 and evidently effected without the careful ecclesiastical supervision hitherto normal in such cases.

The site was leased to Sir Ralph Longford but was granted by the Crown to Merton Priory in Surrey in 1535-6 in exchange for the manor of East Molesey (Surr.); Merton renewed Longford's lease. On the dissolution of Merton in 1538 Calwich passed back to the Crown which then renewed Longford's lease once more. He was, however, already in debt; in 1541 the escheators distrained on the property, and in 1543 he was in the Fleet prison. (fn. 35) In that year the property was granted to John Fleetwood. (fn. 36) Erdeswick, about the end of the century, stated that he had heard that the Fleetwoods had converted the priory church into a dwelling, making 'a parlour of the chancel, a hall of the church, and a kitchen of the steeple'. (fn. 37) Remains of buildings on the site appear to belong to a later period.

Keepers (fn. 38)

Henry, occurs about 1200. (fn. 39)

Nicholas, resigned 1259. (fn. 40)

Hugh, occurs 1274. (fn. 41)

Thomas de Boweles, appointed 1305. (fn. 42)

William of Sheldon, probably appointed 1309. (fn. 43)

John of Leicester, appointed 1311. (fn. 44)

Richard de Keten, appointed March 1312. (fn. 45)

John of Leicester, appointed May 1312. (fn. 46)

Geoffrey de Whitewell, appointed 1318. (fn. 47)

Nicholas de Blacgreve, appointed 1323. (fn. 48)

William Boydyn, appointed 1333. (fn. 49)

Thomas de Helyden, appointed 1337. (fn. 50)

Robert de Sakerston, appointed 1340. (fn. 51)

Geoffrey de Hampton, appointed 1346. (fn. 52)

Roger of Birmingham, appointed August 1349. (fn. 53)

Henry de Bradewey, appointed September 1349. (fn. 54)


Richard Mayel, elected November 1349. (fn. 55)

Thomas de Farnecote, occurs 1386, died by January 1392. (fn. 56)

Thomas Aleyn alias of Trentham, elected 1391 or 1392, resigned 1402. (fn. 57)

Robert Holynton, elected 1402, died 1449. (fn. 58)

John Stone alias Hardy, appointed 1449, resigned 1461. (fn. 59)

Lawrence Whalley, appointed 1461. (fn. 60)

John, occurs 1463. (fn. 61)

Robert Ellerbeke, died 1500. (fn. 62)

Thomas Dakyn alias Dawson, appointed 1500, resigned 1507. (fn. 63)

Ralph Snelston, elected 1507, still prior 1524; he was probably the prior who died 1530. (fn. 64)

No seal of the priory has been traced, though it is known that one existed in the early 16th century. (fn. 65)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi(1), 224; S.H.C. N.S. i. 21. The site may have been a hermitage or merely a secluded spot; it is not mentioned in Domesday Bk.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. vi(1), 224. The document mentions the consent of Geoffrey de Clinton and of the bishop, Roger de Clinton (1129-48), Geoffrey's nephew. It may be a year or two later than the gift. V.C.H. Warws. ii. 86, wrongly gives the founder of Kenilworth as Godfrey de Clinton.
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. vi(1), 223-4; B.M. Add. MS. 47677, ff. 101, 124v.–125.
  • 4. See below.
  • 5. The details are recorded in a deed in a Kenilworth cartulary: B.M. Add. MS. 47677, f. 116v.; see also f. 100v.
  • 6. See below p. 248.
  • 7. S.H.C. 1911, 28-29.
  • 8. Ibid. vi(1), 226.
  • 9. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 243, 251.
  • 10. Cal. Pat. 1292-1301, 278.
  • 11. S.H.C. vi(1), 226.
  • 12. Ibid. i. 266.
  • 13. For this date see list of custodians and priors below.
  • 14. B.M. Add. MS. 47677, ff. 116-117v.
  • 15. Ibid. ff. 117v.–118v. It is followed by a shorter deed providing for security in case of nonpayment: ibid. ff. 118v.-119. See also S.H.C. 1913, 178; Cal. Pat. 1364-7, 252.
  • 16. J. C. Russell, 'The Clerical Population of Medieval Eng.' Traditio, ii. 200 (which, however, omits the prior in 1381 and wrongly gives the date as 1383: see E 179/15/8b).
  • 17. S.H.C. N.S. viii. 152.
  • 18. Cal. Papal Regs. iv. 356.
  • 19. Cal. Pat. 1385-9, 152.
  • 20. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/10, f. 17; /12, f. 41v.
  • 21. Ibid., B/V/1/1, p. 12.
  • 22. Chapters of the Augustinian Canons (Oxford Hist. Soc. lxxiv), 136–7. By will of 1517 Sir John Fitzherbert of nearby Norbury (Derb.) left 12d. to the Prior of Calwich, 4d. to every chantry there, and 6d. to the ringers: J. C. Cox, 'Norbury Manor House and the Troubles of the Fitzherberts', Jnl. Derb. Arch. Soc. vii. 227. As Sir John did not die until 1531 Calwich presumably did not in fact benefit.
  • 23. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/V/1/1, p. 51 (2nd nos.).
  • 24. L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv(3), p. 2836.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid. v, p. 126, where arrangements for the sale of the priory's cattle are mentioned.
  • 27. Ibid. p. 453.
  • 28. Ibid. pp. 537-8.
  • 29. Ibid. p. 615.
  • 30. Ibid. vi, p. 101.
  • 31. Ibid. p. 178.
  • 32. Ibid. p. 294.
  • 33. Ibid. x, p. 354; Hibbert, Dissolution, 34.
  • 34. Hibbert, Dissolution, 34. The visitations of 1518 and 1524 show that most of the livestock were sheep: Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/V/1/1, p. 12 and p. 51 (2nd nos.).
  • 35. Hibbert, Dissolution, 39–41; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xviii(1), p. 205.
  • 36. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xviii(1), p. 66.
  • 37. Erdeswick, Staffs. 489-90.
  • 38. Most of the keepers from 1305 are recorded in the bishops' regs. as 'instituted' or 'admitted', sometimes to the cell of Calwich, sometimes to its custody. Houses of the order often had the right to instal 3 or 4 brethren in any of their churches, one of whom was to be presented to the bishop for institution. Henry is described as prior in the list of witnesses to a deed c. 1200 (see n. 39 below), and some of the keepers are loosely called priors, and the cell a priory, in documents of the later 13th and earlier 14th centuries (S.H.C. i. 266; vi(1), 226, 246; 1911, 28-29; Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/1, f. 32v.).
  • 39. F. Taylor, 'Hand-list of the Crutchley MSS. in the John Rylands Library', Bull. of the John Rylands Libr. xxxiii. 155. He witnessed a document also witnessed by Wal., Abbot of Darley (c. 1197-1210): Cartulary of Darley Abbey, ed. R. R. Darlington, i, p. lxxx.
  • 40. He became Prior of Kenilworth in this year: Cal. Pat. 1258-61, 21, 27.
  • 41. S.H.C. 1911, 28–29.
  • 42. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/1, f. 16.
  • 43. The patron's approval of his nomination was asked in a letter of 20 July of this year: S.H.C. 1939, 125–6.
  • 44. Lich. Dioc. Regy., B/A/1/1, f. 44v.
  • 45. Ibid. f. 45v.
  • 46. Ibid. f. 32v.
  • 47. Ibid. f. 89.
  • 48. B/A/1/2, f. 138.
  • 49. Ibid. f. 154v.
  • 50. Ibid. f. 160.
  • 51. Ibid. f. 166.
  • 52. Ibid. f. 178.
  • 53. Ibid. f. 184.
  • 54. Ibid. ff. 184v.–185.
  • 55. Ibid. f. 186; B.M. Add. MS. 47677, f. 118v. He was a canon of Calwich. He is mentioned in C 142/81/292 as prior at the time of the agreement with Kenilworth.
  • 56. Cal. Pat. 1385-9, 152; B/A/1/6, f. 39v.
  • 57. B/A/1/6, f. 39v., conf. of his election Jan. 1391/2 (so that his election may have taken place late in 1391). Aleyn was a canon of Trentham. Thos. of Trentham, described as late Prior of Calwich, became Prior of Trentham in 1402: see below p. 260. As no intervening prior is known and medieval religious are sometimes known by their surname and sometimes by their place of origin, he is probably to be identified with Thos. Aleyn.
  • 58. B/A/1/7, f. 54; /10, f. 17. He was a canon of Calwich.
  • 59. Ibid./10, f. 17; /12, f. 41v.; S.H.C. N.S. iv. 109.
  • 60. B/A/1/12, f. 41v.
  • 61. S.H.C. N.S. iv. 126.
  • 62. B/A/1/13, f. 212.
  • 63. The former name is given in 1500 (ibid.) and both in 1507 (ibid. /14, f. 21v.). He was a canon of Trentham.
  • 64. Ibid. /14, f. 21v.; B/V/1/1, p. 12 and p. 51 (2nd nos.). The death of the last prior occurred in 1530 (see above p. 239), but his name is not known.
  • 65. B/V/1/1, p. 64 and p. 51 (2nd nos.); see above p. 239.