Houses of Premonstratensian canons: Abbey of Otham

Page 86

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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16. THE ABBEY OF OTHAM (fn. 1)

The abbey of St. Mary and St. Laurence was founded about 1180 by Ralph de Dene, who granted his land and chapel of Otham in Hailsham parish with other lands and rents in the neighbourhood to establish a house of Premonstratensian canons. The endowment was augmented by his son Robert de Dene, who gave his manor of Tilton in Selmeston; and by Ela, the founder's daughter, who married first Jordan de Sackville and afterwards William de Marci; amongst other things she granted a yearly rent of 6d. for the bettering of the meals of the convent on St. Laurence's Day. The most considerable benefactors however were the family of Brade or Helling, who lived at 'the Broad' in Hellingly; various members of this family gave lands in the neighbourhood of Hellingly, and Rikeward Brade gave the advowson of the church, which had been founded and endowed by his father and uncle; in return for their liberality they had the privilege of presenting to one of the canonries, Wybert Brade being thus received as a canon on the presentation of Ralph Brade his nephew. The only other grant which need be mentioned here is that of Robert Falconer of Wooton, who gave 6 acres of land called Yeldelond on the Lewes road to provide lights on the day of St. Laurence for the souls of his father and mother and of Maud, his wife, who was buried at Otham.

The bleak and unhealthy situation of Otham, out in the marshes and even now hardly accessible in winter, and the poorness of their endowments soon rendered life so unbearable that the canons began to consider the desirability of removing; the first site offered was the church of Hellingly, suggested by Rikeward de Brade, whose brother Randolph put forward the alternative of 'Melgrave' in Hellingly. About 1207, however, Sir Robert de Turnham began to build an abbey at Bayham on the borders of Kent and Sussex, and Ela de Sackville, as patroness, gave leave for the transference of the canons from Otham thither. This cannot have taken place before 1208, as Jordan, the only known abbot of Otham and first abbot of Bayham, was still abbot of Otham in December, 1207. (fn. 2) After the removal Otham sank to the position of a grange, a canon no doubt being frequently resident there to act as bailiff of the farm and to serve the chapel, which was evidently kept up, as in 1404, when the abbot of Bayham let the manor of Otham to Henry Baker and John Drew, special reservation was made of all the offerings at the altar there, and of the image of St. Laurence in gold, silver, and wax, as well as of a room and stable with free access when required.

A cast of a seal is ascribed to this house in the British Museum Catalogue, (fn. 3) but the evidence for this ascription is unsatisfactory.


  • 1. This account is condensed from the detailed history of the house in Salzmann, Hist. of Hailsham, 173– 193.
  • 2. Cal. of Chart. of Abbey of Robertsbridge, No. 63.
  • 3. Vol. i, 588.