Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Ixworth

A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Ixworth', in A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2, (London, 1975) pp. 105-107. British History Online [accessed 19 April 2024]

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The priory of St. Mary, Ixworth, was first founded for Austin canons about the year 1100, by Gilbert Blundus or Blunt. The buildings and chapel, which were erected near the parish church, were ere long destroyed during an outburst of civil war; whereupon William, the son of the founder, rebuilt the priory on a different site. (fn. 1)

The exact endowment bestowed on the priory by the founder is not known. In 1228 Ralph de Montchesny gave the advowson of the Norfolk church of Melton Parva to this priory; (fn. 2) the advowson of Hunston was given in 1235, (fn. 3) and that of Sapiston in 1272. (fn. 4)

The taxation roll of 1291 shows that the priory was by that date well supplied with appropriated churches. The rectories of Ixworth, Thorp, Walsham, 'Lynterton,' Badwell, 'Bykynhall,' and 'Aysforth' belonged to the priory, and they also held portions of two other churches; the total income from spiritualities was £70 16s. The temporalities in twelve different parishes brought in £11 1s. 11½d., (fn. 5) so that the total annual income was £81 17s. 11½d.

There was a further accession of endowment in 1362, when half the manor of Ixworth was bestowed on the canons, as well as three messuages and 360 acres in Hunston, Langham, &c. (fn. 6) In 1377 the convent obtained the alienation to them, by Richard de Pakenham and others, of a moiety of the manor of Ixworth, for finding two canons, in addition to the established number, to perform divine service in the priory church for the good estate of the king and of his soul after death, and for the soul of the late king, of William Crikecot, and of others. (fn. 7) Richard II, in 1384, granted the priory a market and two fairs at Ixworth. (fn. 8)

The Valor of 1535 shows that the gross income was £204 9s. 5¼d.; but there were large deductions, including £20 15s. definitely assigned to the poor, so that the net value was brought down to £168 19s. 7¾d. The temporalities produced £152 7s. 3¾d. a year. The spiritualities at that time consisted of the rectories of Ixworth, Badwell with Ashfield, Sapiston, Denham, and Melton Parva, with the altarage of Walsham (£6 8s. 5d.) and portions from three other churches; the total amounted to £52 2s. 1½d. (fn. 9)

A commission was issued in October, 1283, to two justices to inquire into the charge preferred against William, prior of Ixworth, John, the cellarer of Ixworth, and a large number of persons of Ipswich and the district, of assaulting Ralph de Bonevill, the serjeant of Otto de Grandison and Peter de Chaumpvent at Ixworth, and committing depredations on their goods whilst Otto and Peter were with the king in Wales. (fn. 10)

Nicholas Goldwell, as commissary for his brother the bishop, visited Ixworth in February, 1492-3, when Prior Godwin Bury and fourteen canons (of whom four were not yet professed) were privately and separately examined, with the result that no reform was needed. (fn. 11)

Bishop Nykke visited in June, 1514, when John Gerves, the prior, stated that all the brethren were obedient and maintained a religious life; that divine worship and the essentials of religion were laudably observed; that there was no debt on the house; that the various manorial buildings were in good repair, save those of Saxton, which had been entirely destroyed by fire in 1510.

He also stated that many buildings within the priory were in ruinous condition, through the fault of his predecessors, being prostrate at the time of his institution. The only complaints of Nicholas Wallington, the sub-prior, were a deficiency in lights and lamps in the church through the fault of the sacrist, and that the clock neither went nor struck. Simon Hirt said that the office of chamberlain was filled by John Bache, a layman, contrary to religion, and that the brethren had no common tailor to make their garments. Adam Ponde also objected to a lay chamberlain, and that the door of the buttery was so placed that the brethren had to stand in the rain when they wished to drink. William Reynberd said that four lights which ought to burn before the image of the Blessed Virgin and four other lights before the image of St. John Baptist were not found. In all twelve canons were examined in addition to the prior, five of whom testified omnia bene. The bishop ordered the prior to find the accustomed lights at the proper season, so soon as the repairs of the church and the glazing of the windows were finished; to have the clock repaired; and to supply a tailor as in times past. (fn. 12)

Ixworth priory was visited by the suffragan Bishop of Chalcedon and Robert Dikar, as commissaries of the diocesan, in June, 1520. Prior John Gerves and fourteen canons unanimously reported omnia bene, and the bishop could find nothing worthy of reformation. (fn. 13) The next recorded visitation was held in July, 1526, when sixteen canons were examined, in addition to Prior Gerves. Six said omnia bene and the rest had comparatively small complaints to make, such as the absence of a convent tailor, the insolence of the butler, and the letting of farms without the consent of the chapter. The injunctions consequent on this visitation ordered that particular inventories of the goods belonging to each office should be prepared; that no letting of farms or manors should be undertaken without the consent of the majority of the chapter; and that a suitable infirmary should be speedily provided. (fn. 14)

At the last visitation, in July, 1532, Prior Gerves and fifteen canons were unanimous in replying omnia bene, save that Simon Fisher, master of the novices, said that no convent tailor was provided as was customary. The bishop could find nothing worthy of reformation. (fn. 15)

On 22 October, 1534, Prior John Gerves, Sub-prior William Reynberd, and fifteen other canons, signed their acknowledgement of the royal supremacy. (fn. 16)

Prior Gerves died a few months before the overthrow of the house. Sir Edward Chamberlain, writing to Cromwell on 13 January, 1535-6, told him of the death, adding that he was founder (i.e. patron) of the priory, and that it appeared from his ancestor's grants that the convent ought to proceed to an election immediately with his consent. He begged Cromwell, as visitor-general of monasteries, to sanction this precedure. (fn. 17) The result was the election of William Blome.

The notorious comperta of Leyton and Legh, drawn up in this year, state that one of the Ixworth canons acknowledged to a form of incontinence. But the commissioners could wring out very little from these canons, and coolly add: 'there is also suspicion of confederation, for though eighteen in number, they have confessed nothing.' (fn. 18)

The net income of this house being under £200 it came within the meshes of the first Suppression Act. On 28 August, 1536, the Suffolk commissioners visited the priory for the purpose of drawing up an inventory. The church and vestry were well furnished with ornaments, plate, and vestments. The most valuable item at the high altar was 'a lectern of latten praysed at xs.' There were tables of alabaster at the various altars, and two pairs of organs, one little and the other great. The plate in the vestry, including three pairs of chalices, a cross, and two cruets, all of silver, was valued at £27 19s. 10d. The furniture of the conventual buildings was simple and of little worth. The cattle were valued at £33 16s. 8d., and the corn growing on the demesnes at £44 5s. The hay was another important item, so that the total came to £117 9s. 8d. The inventory is signed by William Blome, the new prior. (fn. 19)

The actual suppression did not take place until February, 1536-7, (fn. 20) when Prior Blome obtained a pension of £20 a year, (fn. 21) but the rest of the canons had to betake themselves to the larger houses of the order or to go out penniless.

The site of the priory and most of its possessions were granted on 20 July, 1538, to Richard Codington and Elizabeth his wife. (fn. 22)

Priors of Ixworth

William de Ixworth, (fn. 23) died 1338

Roger de Kyrkested, (fn. 24) 1338

Nicholas de Monesle, (fn. 25) 1362

John de Hereford, (fn. 26) 1389

John de Welles, (fn. 27) 1395

Thomas Lakynghithe, (fn. 28) 1430

Reginald Tylney, (fn. 29) 1439

William Dense, (fn. 30) 1467

John Ive, (fn. 31) 1484

Godwin Bury, (fn. 32) occurs 1493

Richard Gotts, (fn. 33) 1504

John Gerves, (fn. 34) occurs 1514, died 1536 (fn. 35)

William Blome, (fn. 36) elected 1536, surrendered same year

The first seal of this priory is a small pointed oval bearing the Blessed Virgin seated on a throne with the Holy Child on the left knee and a sceptre in the right hand. There is hardly any of the lettering remaining in either of the two impressions at the British Museum. (fn. 37)

The second (fifteenth-century seal) is very elaborate. It bears the Assumption of the Virgin in a vesica of clouds uplifted by four angels. Above is the Trinity (three halflength crowned persons side by side) in the clouds. On the left of the Virgin is a bishop with mitre and staff, and on the right a saint with nimbus and a long cross. Below are the arms of Montchesny, benefactor, and of Blount, founder. Legend:—



  • 1. De Fundatione et progenie fundatoris. Kniveton MSS. cited in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 311.
  • 2. Feet of F. Norf. 12 Hen. III, 56.
  • 3. Ibid. Suff. 19 Hen. III, 56.
  • 4. Ibid. 1 Edw. I, 39.
  • 5. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 96, 97, 101, 108b, 120b, 121, 127, 127b, 130, 131, 132, 132b, 133.
  • 6. Pat. 25 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 18; Inq. p.m. 25 Edw. III.
  • 7. Pat. 1 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 5.
  • 8. Chart. R. 7 and 8 Ric. II, No. 14.
  • 9. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 482-3.
  • 10. Pat. 2 Edw. I, m. 2.
  • 11. Jessopp. Visit. 44-5.
  • 12. Jessopp, Visit. 83-5.
  • 13. Ibid. 149-50.
  • 14. Ibid. 240-1.
  • 15. Ibid. 302.
  • 16. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. ii, 289.
  • 17. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 89.
  • 18. Ibid. 364.
  • 19. Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. viii, 109-12.
  • 20. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xiii, pt. i, 510.
  • 21. Misc. Bks. (Aug. Off.), ccxxxii, fol. 31.
  • 22. Pat. 30 Hen. VIII, pt. iii, m. 21.
  • 23. Norw. Epis. Reg. iii, p. 2.
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Norw. Epis. Reg. vi, 86.
  • 26. Ibid. 40.
  • 27. Ibid. 198.
  • 28. Ibid. ix, 43.
  • 29. Ibid. x, 23.
  • 30. Ibid. xi, 166.
  • 31. Ibid. xii, 109.
  • 32. Jessopp, Visit. 44.
  • 33. Norw. Epis. Reg. xiii, 33.
  • 34. Jessopp, Visit. 84.
  • 35. L. and P. Hen. VIII, x, 89.
  • 36. Misc. Bks. (Aug. Off.), ccxxxii, fol. 31.
  • 37. Harl. Chart. 44 E. 50 and 51.
  • 38. Engraved, Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. i, p. 86; B. Mus. Cast, lxxii, 3.