Houses of Premonstratensian canons: Abbey of Dureford

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

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'Houses of Premonstratensian canons: Abbey of Dureford', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2, ed. William Page( London, 1973), British History Online [accessed 25 July 2024].

'Houses of Premonstratensian canons: Abbey of Dureford', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Edited by William Page( London, 1973), British History Online, accessed July 25, 2024,

"Houses of Premonstratensian canons: Abbey of Dureford". A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Ed. William Page(London, 1973), , British History Online. Web. 25 July 2024.

In this section


About the year 1160 Henry Hussey granted to Berengar, abbot of Welbeck, land at Dureford, part of his demesne of Harting, for the establishment of a house of Premonstratensian canons. The abbey of St. Mary and St. John the Baptist of Dureford was therefore founded as a daughter of Welbeck, with the consent of Henry II and Hilary, bishop of Chichester. (fn. 2) The founder and his son Henry made considerable grants of lands in the immediate neighbourhood, which were further added to by many local landowners, including William de Braose, who gave them certain salt-pans near Bramber and a tun of red wine yearly for use at mass. Gifts of provisions were also made by the younger Henry Hussey, who granted them the tithe of all the victuals used in his house at Harting—later converting this into a money rent of 15s. assigned to the refectory; he also gave them the tithe of cheese from his demesnes. (fn. 3) The same benefactor gave them leave to use any quarry on his lands for the building of their abbey, and William le Vesselir added a quarry at 'Wyhus.' (fn. 4) Henry Hussey further bestowed upon the canons his chapel of Standen, and the church of Rogate, reserving a pension of 25s. to the abbey of Séez. (fn. 5) He further endowed the church of Dureford on the day of its dedication with a grove adjoining the London road. (fn. 6)

Other lands were obtained by gift and purchase, and in 1248 the abbey acquired the site and property of the lazar-house of Harting from the master of the order of St. Lazarus for £80. (fn. 7) The Hampshire manor of Sonworth was given in 1267 by Gilbert, earl of Gloucester, (fn. 8) possibly in memory of his brother William de Clare, who had been buried here after his death from poison treacherously administered in 1258. (fn. 9) Consequently by 1291 the abbey's property in Sussex and elsewhere reached the value of £55. Gifts continued to be made, some being assigned for special purpose, as for masses or lights at the altars of the Blessed Virgin, Holy Cross, or St. Catherine. The younger Henry Hussey gave certain lands for the support of two canons to celebrate early masses at the altar of the Holy Trinity and of St. Eutropius. (fn. 10) The donors were sometimes rewarded by grants of corrodies, several instances of which occur apart from those compulsorily granted to royal nominees. (fn. 11) The only benefaction which need be noticed, however, is the advowson of the church of Compton in Surrey given by John de Bridford in 1330, (fn. 12) and appropriated by royal licence in 1346. (fn. 13)

The life of the abbey, though situated in a quiet and remote part of the country, seems not to have been uneventful. Thus in 1317 the abbot complained that his house had been broken into and robbed by thieves. (fn. 14) Other visitors, more honourable, but probably not much less expensive, came in September, 1324, when the king and his suite stayed here one day. (fn. 15) Walter Hussey came to the rescue in 1327 with a gift of 100 marks, in return for which one extra canon was to be supported to pray for the benefactor and his family; (fn. 16) but in spite of this, the bishop of Chichester, writing about 1335, said that the monastery was reduced to great poverty by thieves stealing their goods and burning their buildings. (fn. 17)

Fire again inflicted serious injury in 1417, when the tower of the church was struck by lightning and destroyed, with its eight bells, of which five were remade the next year by John Ultyng, 'abbot elect (provisus) and formerly canon professed of Bileigh.' (fn. 18) This abbot had been elected in 1404, but had resigned in 1411, when Nicholas Baldewyn, sub-prior of Bayham, succeeded him; he seems, however, to have temporarily recovered his abbacy, probably about 1417, as he addressed a petition (fn. 19) to the chancellor complaining that whereas he had been restored by authority of the court of Canterbury to his monastery, John Chetham, abbot of Bayham, with two of his canons, and three canons of Dureford, had ejected him by force, so that for fear of his life he dared not remain; they had further carried off a pastoral staff and other ornaments, vestments, relics, and muniments to the value of £400. The outcome of this action is not certain, but in 1418 John Ultyng, canon of Beeleigh was arrested for felony. (fn. 20)

Abbot Stephen Mersey was deposed about 1444 for running into debt, allowing the buildings to go to ruin, pledging the jewels, and other acts of misgovernance. Foreseeing his fate he secretly sealed a deed granting an annuity of £20 to one Thomas Browne to his own use for the term of his life. This deed was declared void by the Court of Chancery and also by the 'faders of the Ordre,' at their general chapter, when Stephen was 'assigned to abide in another place of that religion called Newe. Hous in the diocese of Lincolne under obedience upon the peyn of cursyng, the which he utterly disobeieth,' continuing to distrain, as Abbot Walter complained, 'to the infinall distruccion of sayd monasterie for evermore onlasse then ye of your gracious faderwhode sette your hand of supportacion,' as the house had barely 100 marks a year and was much in debt, 'also the reparacon of the chyrche of the sayd monasterie wyth all that longyth thereto wyth granges myllys byth soo rewnys that ys grate pyte to see and passyth your por bedmen power to repayre.' Moreover for fear of distraints many tenants had departed and even some of the brethren, 'and moo ben like withoute hasty remedi be had soo that devyn servyce their is like to ceisse.' (fn. 21)

The same Abbot Walter who uttered this piteous complaint had also to complain of the action of Sir Henry Hussey of South Harting, who in 1454 came with an armed mob, and threatened to burn the monastery, so that the canons had to watch all night, and divine service was neglected, and two years later he twice came and threatened to slay the abbot, and actually 'felonsly slough' one of his servants. (fn. 22)

In November, 1465, Abbot Walter died and the convent sent brother Robert Kyppyng to take the news and the late abbot's seal to the abbot of Welbeck. (fn. 23) At the same time Nicholas Hussey, who had succeeded the turbulent Sir Henry as patron, wrote to the same father abbot asking that the head of the neighbouring abbey of Titchfield might hold the election as soon as possible. (fn. 24) The abbot of Welbeck agreed to this and wrote to his brother of Titchfield to act for him. (fn. 25) It is probable that the bearer of the letter to the father abbot was himself chosen abbot, as in 1475, when Bishop Redman visited Dureford, Robert Kyppyng was head of the community, with five brethren and two novices not yet professed, as well as two other brethren, who are noted as 'apostate and fugitive.' (fn. 26) At his visitation in 1478 the bishop found the two apostates had returned, but were in disgrace, deprived of their stalls and of all voice in the affairs of the convent; at the abbot's request he restored them. He further enjoined that all should rise for mattins, and should do the work assigned them indoors or out. The debts of the house, which had stood at £80, had been reduced to £8, and the stores of grain, &c., are noted as sufficient. (fn. 27)

By 1482 the debt of £8 had been wiped out, but plague had visited the house and carried off most of the inmates, the abbot and three canons alone surviving, apparently. Bishop Redman, who held his visitation at the Grey Friars' church in Chichester, (fn. 28) possibly because the plague was still prevalent at Dureford, condoled with the abbot, but required him to repair his buildings and to fill up the number of brethren, assigning to his house Walter Speer, canon of Torre, then present, who had been temporarily banished to Dureford at the chapter in 1478. (fn. 29) Six years later, in 1488, the community still consisted of only the abbot, Robert Kyppyng, and four canons, a note being added that the others are dead. (fn. 30) Orders were again given for the increase of their number; and a newly contracted debt of 50 marks was attributed to the burning of certain buildings. This time the orders were obeyed, five novices being added before October, 1491, when Redman was again here and found practically nothing to correct. (fn. 31) In 1494 there were eight canons besides the abbot, but the bishop considered the number too small; he further gave strict orders for the rebuilding of the cloister, which was quite ruined. (fn. 32) At the visitation of 1497 the abbot is not mentioned, but the names of ten canons are given, and they are stated to be lax in the observance of silence and given to leaving their monastery; the cloister also had got into a still worse state, but the debts of the house were only £16 and its stock sufficient. (fn. 33) The debt had fallen to 10 marks in 1500, but the cloister had not been rebuilt, and the number of canons was only eight inclusive of the abbot and two novices; moreover the prior was acting as vicar of Rogate, but was ordered to give up his cure and reside amongst his brethren. Three of the canons had incurred punishment by going out of the precincts without licence, but nothing else was found amiss. (fn. 34) There was another visitation, by the abbot of Welbeck, in September, 1506, but no details have been preserved. (fn. 35)

Layton, in a letter to Cromwell, (fn. 36) dated 26 September, 1535, writes contemptuously of the poverty of Dureford:
which might better be called Dirtforde—the poorest abbey I have seen, as this bearer, the abbot, can tell you—far in debt and in great decay. This young man, for his time, has done well, and I have licensed him to repair to you for the liberty of himself and his brethren.

The income of the house being only £108 13s. 9d. the abbey was suppressed in 1536. The abbot, John Sympson, was appointed to the abbacy of Titchfield in Hampshire, (fn. 37) and on resigning that house was offered the Sussex living of Horsted Keynes. (fn. 38) In 1541 he was called to account for having fraudulently sold various cattle between the time that the abbey was taken into the king's hands and its actual dissolution. (fn. 39)

Abbots of Dureford

Robert, occurs 1173-1180 (fn. 40)

W., occurs 1198 (fn. 41)

Robert, occurs 1204 (fn. 42)

Jordan, occurs 1219 (fn. 43)

Robert, occurs 1229 (fn. 44)

William, occurs 1231-1244 (fn. 45)

Valentine, occurs 1248-1252 (fn. 46)

Nicholas, occurs temp. Henry III (fn. 47)

John, occurs 1258 (fn. 48) -1286 (fn. 49)

Osbert, occurs 1310 (fn. 50) -1315 (fn. 51)

John, occurs 1321 (fn. 52)

Thomas, occurs 1323 (fn. 53) -1329 (fn. 54)

Henry, occurs 1334 (fn. 55)

John atte Re, occurs 1364 (fn. 56)

John Heuerwyk, occurs 1380 (fn. 57)

John, occurs 1400 (fn. 58)

John Chelchester, elected 1401 (fn. 59)

John Ultyng, elected 1404, (fn. 60) resigned 1411

Nicholas Baldewyn, elected 1411 (fn. 61)

John Ultyng, re-elected 1418 (fn. 62)

Thomas Dollyng, occurs 1424 to 1432 (fn. 63)

Stephen Mersey, occurs 1440, (fn. 64) deposed c. 1444 (fn. 65)

Walter Mene, occurs c. 1454, (fn. 66) died 1465 (fn. 67)

Robert Kyppyng, elected c. 1465, (fn. 68) resigned 1501

Robert York, elected 1501 (fn. 69)

Henry Skynner, occurs 1528, (fn. 70) 1529 (fn. 71)

John Sympson, occurs 1533, (fn. 72) surrendered 1536 (fn. 73)

The oval thirteenth-century seal shows the Virgin and Child and St. John the Baptist standing under a double canopy; in base, the abbot kneeling. (fn. 74) Legend:—


A round seal of the fourteenth century has the Virgin seated under a triple canopy between two saints; in base, between a hart (in reference to Harting) and a hind, a shield of arms— a pastoral staff palewise, over all a griffin passant. (fn. 75) Legend:—



  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 936–9; Suss. Arch. Coll. viii, 41–96; Chartul. Cott. MS. Vesp. E. xxiii.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Vesp. E. xxiii, fol. 30.
  • 3. Ibid. fols. 10, 19.
  • 4. Ibid. fol. 65.
  • 5. Ibid. fol. 17.
  • 6. Ibid. fol. 14.
  • 7. Ibid. fol. 106.
  • 8. Ibid. fol. 166.
  • 9. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), i, 165.
  • 10. Cott. MS. Vesp. E. xxiii, fol. 24.
  • 11. Close, 11 Edw. II, m. 10 d.
  • 12. Pat. 4 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 33.
  • 13. Pat. 20 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 23.
  • 14. Pat. 10 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 4 d.
  • 15. Suss. Arch. Coll. vi, 50.
  • 16. Ibid. viii, 77.
  • 17. Cott. MS. Vesp. E. xxiii, fol. 201.
  • 18. Ibid. fol. 83.
  • 19. Early Chanc. Proc. bdle. 6, No. 350.
  • 20. Pat. 6 Hen. V. pt. ii, m. 13 d.
  • 21. Early Chanc. Proc. bdle. 15, Nos. 27–8; bdle. 27, No. 178.
  • 22. Ibid. bdle. 26, No. 615.
  • 23. Gasquet, Coll. Angl. Premons. ii, 187.
  • 24. Ibid. 188.
  • 25. Ibid. 190.
  • 26. Ibid. 191.
  • 27. Ibid. 192.
  • 28. Ibid. 194.
  • 29. Gasquet, Coll. Angl. Premons. i, 84.
  • 30. Ibid. ii, 195.
  • 31. Ibid. 196.
  • 32. Ibid. 197.
  • 33. Ibid. 199.
  • 34. Ibid. 200.
  • 35. Ibid. i, 102.
  • 36. L. and P. Hen. VIII, ix, 444.
  • 37. Suss. Arch. Coll. vii, 225.
  • 38. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (1), 728.
  • 39. Suss. Arch. Coll. vii, 224–6.
  • 40. Chartul. fol. 30.
  • 41. Cal. Papal Let. i, 5.
  • 42. Chartul. fol. 4.
  • 43. Sarum Charters (Rolls Ser.), 91.
  • 44. Chartul. fol. 35.
  • 45. Feet of F. (Suss. Rec. Soc.), Nos. 267, 419. He resigned before 1248, when he was impleaded as 'quondam' abbot: Assize R. 909, m. 21.
  • 46. Ibid. No. 447; Feet of F. Sussex, File 18, No. 11.
  • 47. Assize R. 929, m. 12 d.
  • 48. Feet of F. Sussex, File 21, No. 18.
  • 49. Chartul. fol.95.
  • 50. Gasquet, op. cit. i, No. 3.
  • 51. Close, 8 Edw. IV, m. 9d.
  • 52. Chartul. fol. 198.
  • 53. Chartul. fol. 196.
  • 54. Close, 3 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 11 d.
  • 55. Ibid. 7 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 2 d.
  • 56. Chartul. fol. 143.
  • 57. Cler. Subs. 1 / 19. There were then six canons besides the abbot.
  • 58. Cal. Papal Let. v, 327. Probably resigned this year, as he had indult to retain the grange of Weston for life, even if he resign.
  • 59. Chich. Epis. Reg. Reade, fol. 83.
  • 60. Ibid. fol. 87, 111.
  • 61. Ibid. fol. 147. He was sub-prior of Bayham.
  • 62. See above.
  • 63. Court R. bdle. 126, Nos. 1871–2.
  • 64. Early Chanc. Proc. bdle. 11, No. 138.
  • 65. Ibid. bdle. 15, Nos. 27, 28.
  • 66. Ibid. bdle. 26, No. 615; Exch. of Pleas, 4 Edw. IV, m. 75d.
  • 67. Gasquet, op. cit. ii, No. 373.
  • 68. See above.
  • 69. Chich. Epis. Reg. Story, fol. 92.
  • 70. Magd. Coll. Oxon. muniments, Misc. 231.
  • 71. L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv, p. 2701.
  • 72. Harl. Chart. 3 C. 62.
  • 73. Valor Eccl. (Rolls Ser.), i, 321.
  • 74. Magd. Coll. Oxon. D.
  • 75. Ibid.