Alien houses: Priory of Wilmington

Pages 122-123

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

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Robert, count of Mortain, proved himself a munificent benefactor to the abbey founded by his father at Grestein in Normandy, and not the least important of his donations was the grant of the manors of Wilmington and Frog Firle in Alfriston, which, with two hides in Beddingham given by his wife the Countess Maud, constituted the abbey's holding in Sussex at the time of the Domesday Survey. To this he added a burgage in Pevensey and forest rights in Ashdown Forest; his son William gave other lands in Pevensey, Jevington, Tilton, Heighton, Milton and elsewhere, fishing rights at Langney, and the churches of Firle, East Dean, and West Dean. Amongst other benefactors may be noticed Alvred the count's butler, a Domesday tenant of importance in several counties and apparently founder of the house of Montague, who gave tithes at Charlston in West Dean; Richard son of Haming, who gave tithes at Exceit, Sherrington, and elsewhere, as did Roger Marmion at Berwick, and Roger de Fraxineto at Sutton. Alvred's son William gave four acres near the church of St. Mary of Pevensey (i.e. Westham), and Hugh de Cahaignes another four acres in Pevensey, and Richer of Laigle gave lands and tithes in his lordship of Pevensey. All these gifts were confirmed to the abbey by Richard I in 1189. (fn. 2)

There can be little doubt that by the end of the twelfth century the abbey of Grestein had some kind of establishment at Wilmington, where at least one of their monks could reside as bailiff of their English estates, but there is no evidence of the existence of a priory here earlier than 1243.

Meanwhile the abbey's possessions in Sussex continued to increase, and between 1189 and 1315, (fn. 3) when they were again confirmed by the king, lands and tithes had been obtained in Westham, Willingdon, Natwood, Hailsham, Jevington, and the neighbouring parishes. The abbot's temporalities in this diocese in 1291 were worth £24 15s. (fn. 4) The frequent seizures of the priory as an alien house during the French wars afford a certain amount of information as to its value; the prior of Wilmington, being the proctor of the abbey in England, was in charge of lands in seven counties, valued in 1370 at nearly £200, though at this date almost all the manors outside Sussex had been granted to 'Tideman de Lynberg' by the king's licence, and half the manor of Jevington, as well as tithes in many places, had also passed out of the prior's possession. (fn. 5) In 1337 the prior was ordered to pay the king £50 in addition to the £20 which he had already paid to be allowed to have the custody of the priory's lands at a yearly farm of £170, (fn. 6) and these extra payments proved so vexatious that in 1342 he offered to pay £200 yearly instead of £170 if he might thereby be quit of all other exactions. (fn. 7)

Mention has already been made of the gift of the churches of Firle, East Dean, and West Dean. The latter was granted to Richard de Cumbe and Sybil his wife in 1200 in exchange for the church of Friston by Robert abbot of Grestein, (fn. 8) who at about the same time gave the church of Firle to the bishop of Chichester on condition that the abbots in future should be canons holding a prebend in the church of Chichester. This prebend was constituted by Bishop Seffrid II out of the churches of Wilmington, Willingdon, and East Dean, (fn. 9) to which was added Westham, bringing the value up to 55 marks. (fn. 10) The advowson of Hartfield rectory was obtained from William Filliol in 1318, (fn. 11) and completed the prior's spiritualities in the diocese of Sussex.

The history of this alien house previous to its suppression in 1414 is practically a blank. The grant of the honour of Pevensey to John of Gaunt in 1372 included the advowson or patronage of the priory of Wilmington. (fn. 12) When it was seized by Richard II in 1380 the prior of the neighbouring convent of Michelham obtained the custody of it and its possessions, agreeing to pay a rent of £100 to the king, another 20 marks to the prior during his lifetime and afterwards to the king, and to discharge the services, alms, and works of charity customary. (fn. 13) In 1385, however, the king bestowed the priory upon Sir James Berners in discharge of a promised annuity of £100, and in spite of the prior of Michelham's protest, he was put in possession, and probably so remained until 1389, when custody was granted to Sir Edward Dalingregge and Thomas Wysebech, chaplain—the latter possibly undertaking the spiritual affairs of the priory— at a rent of 110 marks, of which 100 marks was regranted to Sir Edward.

In 1414 Wilmington was suppressed with the other alien houses, and its possessions granted by Henry V to the dean and chapter of Chichester to found a chantry for two priests for the good of the souls of the king's parents and his servant Nicholas Mortimer.

Priors of Wilmington

John, occurs 1243 (fn. 14)

Reynold, occurs 1270 (fn. 15)

William, occurs 1299 (fn. 16)

William, occurs 1320 (fn. 17)

William de Blainville, occurs 1338 (fn. 18)

Peter Crispyn, occurs 1341, (fn. 19) 1344 (fn. 20)

William de Banvilla, occurs 1343, (fn. 21) 1345 (fn. 22)

John Pykot, occurs 1352 (fn. 23)

John de Valle, occurs 1371 (fn. 24)

Walter Bristowe, occurs 1400 (fn. 25) -1403 (fn. 26)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1091; Suss. Arch. Coll. iv, 37-57.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 141.
  • 5. Add. MSS. 6164, fol. 417.
  • 6. Close, 11 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 37.
  • 7. Ibid. 16 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 21.
  • 8. Feet of F. Suss. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), No. 47.
  • 9. Swainson, Hist. of Chich. Cath. 26.
  • 10. Add. MSS. 6164, fol. 417.
  • 11. Inq. a. q. d. 132, No. 21.
  • 12. Dep. Keeper's Rep. xxvi, 37.
  • 13. Anct. Pet. 6229, printed in Salzmann, Hist. of Hailsham, 222.
  • 14. Feet of F. Suss. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), No. 416.
  • 15. Assize R. 913, m. 1 d.
  • 16. Pat. 27 Edw. I, m. 35.
  • 17. Pat. 14 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 2 d. This appears to be W. de Blanville; Anct. Correspondence, xxxvii, 55.
  • 18. Pipe R. 12 Edw. III.
  • 19. Ibid. 15 Edw. III.
  • 20. Close, 18 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 19.
  • 21. Pat. 17 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 9, 10.
  • 22. Summoned before the Council at London with other alien priors. Close, 19 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 22 d.
  • 23. Assize R. 941, m. 56 d.
  • 24. Charter in library of Chichester Cathedral; Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. 1901, p. 203.
  • 25. Coram Rege R. Hil. 2 Hen. IV, m. 51.
  • 26. Acts of P. C. i, 195. He had custody of the priory until 4 Hen. IV, when it was granted to Ric. Leyntwardyn, clerk, and Hen. Pountfreyt; Pipe R. 6 Hen. IV. He is in this place called a Cluniac monk, and appears to have belonged to the priory of Lewes.