A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.
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HOUSE OF PREMONSTRATENSIAN CANONS
11. THE ABBEY OF HALESOWEN
The abbey of Halesowen was founded in the early thirteenth century when King John in 1214 gave the manor of Hales (Shropshire) to Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, to build there a religious house of 'whatever order he pleased.' (fn. 1) In the next year he confirmed the manor with appurtenances to the Premonstratensian canons of Hales. (fn. 2) The patronage was given to Bishop Peter who according to the visitation book of the Premonstratensian abbeys founded the monastery in 1218, dedicating it to the honour of the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist. (fn. 3) On 6 May of that year, according to the same authority, the abbey was furnished with monks from the abbey of Welbeck (Nottingham), and the abbot of Welbeck became the superior of the newly founded abbey. (fn. 4) Hence it seems that the buildings were not inhabitable until the year 1218, and probably to mark the installation of the monks in that year Henry III. granted the bishop of Winchester £17 3s. 4d. towards the building of the abbey, (fn. 5) while in 1223 he granted the bishop sixty ' copula de cablecio' from the forest of Kinver or Kinsare (Staffordshire), for the 'repair of his church of Hales,' (fn. 6) and in 1227 confirmed King John's foundation charter and grant of the manor of Hales. (fn. 7) Somewhere about this time William Ruff granted the advowson of the church of Walsall (Staffordshire), with the chapels belonging to the same, and the king confirmed the same in 1233 (fn. 8) and 1245. In 1245 Henry III. confirmed 'the church of Waleshale with its chapels and all appurtenances' to the abbey in a charter worded as though the grant were made by the king himself. (fn. 9) This suggests that the king had some claim to the advowson, and in 1293 he put forward the claim. A 'quo warranto' was brought against the abbot at the suit of the crown for the advowson of Walsall and Wednesbury. To this the abbot pleaded that Henry III. by his letters patent gave the convent the church of Walsall, and the chapel of Wednesbury was part of the same. The king conceded the advowson of Walsall, but denied that Wednesbury was part, and the jury found that the chapel of Wednesbury 'fuit matrix ecclesia ante donationem et concessionem quas predictus Henricus Rex fecit.' (fn. 10) In 1301, in consideration of a fine made by the abbot, the king granted him the advowson of the chapel of Wednesbury, 'which the king some time ago recovered as his right from Nicholas the predecessor of the present abbot.' (fn. 11) At the time of the taxation of Pope Nicholas the church of Walsall and the church of Hales were the only spiritualities belonging to the monastery. (fn. 12) But in 1340 the advowsons of the churches of Clent and Rowley (fn. 13) with the chapels attached were granted to the house by John Botetourt, lord of Warley (Worcester), and in 1343 the same churches were appropriated to Halesowen at the petition of the abbot. (fn. 14) He pleaded that the situation of the house on the high road obliged them to exercise great hospitality, while they had slender means to support the expenses since they had lately suffered great loss from the fire which had burnt many of their houses within the borough of Hales and from the coldness of devotion among the people to the head of St. Barbara which had formerly been one of the most precious relics belonging to the monastery. (fn. 15) By 1535 Halesowen had also acquired the advowsons of the churches of Ludley and Cradley (Stafford), and of Warley (now co. Worcester). (fn. 16)
The temporalities of the house kept pace with the spiritualities. The primary grant of the manor of Hales was followed by several minor grants, chiefly of outlying lands, during the reign of Henry III. and Edward I. (fn. 17) In 1331 John de Hampton granted the manor of Rowley (Stafford) to Halesowen, reserving to himself the right of nominating a canon who should pray daily for his soul and that of his wife Eleanor. (fn. 18) This grant is rather hard to reconcile with a charter of the same year given by Edward III. granting the manor of Rowley to the abbot and convent at an annual rent of £10 6s. 8d. (fn. 19) Probably the king as over-lord superseded John de Hampton's grant by his own and reserved the above rent. In 1337 Joan Botetourt, lady of Warley, granted the manor of Warley (Worcester) to Halesowen providing the abbot found three canons 'of sufficient knowledge of reading and chanting, of the age of twenty and upwards,' to burn six wax candles every year in the church on her annivesary, to give 1 mark to each member of the convent attending this yearly obit for their pittance, and to distribute 20s. yearly to the poor coming to the abbey on that day. (fn. 20) And in 1473 licence was given to the convent to acquire lands and rents not held in chief to the value of £10 for the sustenance of a chaplain celebrating divine service in the chapel of St. Kenelm, appertaining to the church of Clent, and for the repair of the same chapel. (fn. 21) Thanks to these and other grants the temporalities of the house which in 1291 were only worth £22 15s. 6d. (fn. 22) had reached the sum of £294 10s. 2½d. (fn. 23)
The abbots of Halesowen seem to have taken little part in affairs outside their monastery, except as visitors of their daughter house at Titchfield (Hants). (fn. 24) Neither do they seem to have been involved in many local land suits, the last recorded land suit in which the abbot was involved being in 1279 when the king claimed the manor of Hales by writ of 'quo warranto.' The abbot quoted King John's charter and secured his right. (fn. 25) From several records that have survived it seems probable that at least in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the abbots were not on very good terms with their manorial tenants. Nash has recorded, without any further reference, that the abbots exercised a peculiar jurisdiction over their tenants with regard to proving the wills of the deceased. (fn. 26) However, the quarrel that arose in the thirteenth century was concerned with the ordinary manorial customs of the manor of Hales. In 1278 the abbot and convent pleaded that their tenants of Hales claimed to be 'de antiquo dominico Domini Regis,' and in spite of the witness of Domesday Book to the contrary refused in virtue of this claim to pay their due services and customs to the abbot, who now begged that his rights in the manor might be thoroughly secured. (fn. 27) Evidently the result was the lawsuit brought against the abbot by the king in 1279. (fn. 28) In the same year as the petition against the tenants there is an entry in the episcopal register bidding the deans of Warwick, Pershore, and Wick to excommunicate those who laid violent hands on the abbot of Halesowen and his brethren at Beoley. (fn. 29) Possibly, although there is nothing except the identical date to prove the suggestion, this may refer to an attack made by the tenants on the abbot. The unquiet years of the period of the Peasants' Revolt gave the tenants of the abbey an opportunity to renew their old protests against services due to the abbot, and in 1387 a commission of oyer and terminer was issued 'on information that divers bondmen and bondtenants of the abbot at Romsley had refused their customs and services for their holdings and confederated by oath to resist the abbot and his ministers.' (fn. 30) There is no evidence to prove that the struggle lasted on into the fifteenth century, and in all probability in Halesowen as elsewhere much of the difficulty was smoothed away by the growth of commutation and the new class of labourers.
One of the most noteworthy events in the history of Halesowen was the incorporation with itself of the priory of Augustine canons at Dodford in 1332. (fn. 31) By the confirmation charter of Henry III. it appears that Dodford was of royal foundation, being founded by Henry II., probably between the years 1184 and 1191, and endowed with lands lying in Bromsgrove and the adjoining parishes. (fn. 32) In 1291 the priory was entered in the taxation roll as holding lands and rents in Dodford worth £4 17s. (fn. 33) In 1464 Edward IV. 'in consideration of the decrease of the fruits and profits' of the house which had come ' so near dissolution that for a long time only one canon has remained there' appropriated the house and its possessions to Halesowen. (fn. 34) From this time one of the canons of Halesowen was to be prior of Dodford and the abbot was to keep in repair the church, refectory, and other buildings of Dodford. Also the abbot and convent were to pay a yearly pension of 6s. 8d. to the bishop and his successors, 3s. 4d. to the prior and convent of Worcester, and 2s. to the archdeacon. (fn. 35) Under the protection of Halesowen the revenues of Dodford increased, and in the Valor of 1535 its demesne lands alone, entered as part of the possessions of Halesowen, were worth £7; while rents and woodland in Dodford which had been part of its possessions were valued at £17 13s. 1d. (fn. 36)
The various rent rolls belonging to Halesowen that still exist bear valuable witness to the material prosperity of the abbey. Among the Littleton manuscripts at Hagley are two rolls of the cellarer of Halesowen for the years 1369 and 1370. In the first the receipts for the sale of corn and oats and other commodities reached the sum of £84 15s. 6d.; while the expenses for the year, including 19s. paid to the vicar of Hales, repairs made on the estates of the abbey, the provisioning of the house and the payment of servants, amounted to £83 19s. 4d. In the roll for 1360 there is an interesting entry of provisions bought for the abbot of Welbeck and the abbot of Croxton, probably on the occasion of their visit to the house to superintend the election of the new Abbot Richard de Hampton. There was also a gift of 40s. to the abbot of Welbeck, and other gifts to his chaplains, his chancellor, his penitentiary, palfreyman, and groom, and further gifts to the abbot of Croxton and his suite. Evidently the year of an election was one of many expenses. Besides entertaining the abbots of Welbeck and Croxton the abbey seemingly had to pay the expenses of the journey to Worcester to gain the confirmation of the new election by the prior and convent. (fn. 37) The prior and convent of Worcester also claimed a pittance of 20s. and the new abbot's vestments. (fn. 38) Apart from the extraordinary expenses that came with an election there is abundant evidence that the ordinary expenses of the house, considering the smallness of its numbers, were very heavy, chiefly owing, as the abbot himself complained in 1343, to the necessary hospitality they extended to strangers and wayfarers. At a visitation of the convent held in 1489, when the canons of the house only numbered seventeen, four of whom were resident on the vicarages belonging to the monastery, 20 bushels of wheat and rye were weekly consumed in bread, and 1110 quarters of barley, 60 oxen and 40 sheep, 30 swine and 24 calves were consumed yearly. (fn. 39) Besides indiscriminate hospitality the abbey was called upon to grant several corrodies, the usual grant being 18s. 8d. 'pro coquina.' (fn. 40) Moreover a pension of two marks was due every year to the prior and convent of Worcester, (fn. 41) and one of two marks also to the bishop. (fn. 42) Besides this 'Walter sometime abbot of Halesowen' (fn. 43) had bound the convent ' for divers considerations and causes' to pay the dean and chapter of Lichfield a yearly pension of 40s. out of the profits and fruits of the churches of Walsall and Wednesbury for the support of two choristers to serve in the cathedral church of Lichfield. Also Abbot John Derby ' by reason of great sums of money granted to the convent by one Thomas Hayward, dean of Lichfield,' granted the said Thomas £6 a year for the maintenance of one priest perpetually to minister in the said cathedral church. (fn. 44) In spite, however, of all outward drains on the revenues of the monastery an inventory taken in 1505 on the death of Abbot Bruges gives a picture suggestive of internal prosperity. It carefully enumerates the cattle belonging to the monastery and notes how eight oxen from 'Hasmore' were apportioned to the cellarer and four fat beeves from the same place to the kitchen. It describes the abbot's chamber with its two feather beds, and its 'quylte of white wroght with nedyll worke.' In the new chamber was 'a feather bed, a quylte covered with red sylke, a red coverlit with dolphins.' After enumeration of the furniture in the other principal chambers and of the goodly array of plate in the abbot's chamber, the shrine of St. Kenelm bearing the head of the saint 'silver and gilt' with a crown silver and gilt, a sceptre of silver and ornaments, and the shrine of St. Barbara's head also 'of silver and gilt,' are described as being the most precious possessions of the monastery. (fn. 45)
As a Premonstratensian house Halesowen until 1512 (fn. 46) was under the jurisdiction of the abbot of Prémontré, and the abbot of Hales often attended the meetings of the chaptergeneral at Prémontré, (fn. 47) where the decrees were passed which were enjoined on the houses of the order in England at the visitation of the conservator-general. The abbot of Welbeck, from the first foundation of Halesowen, had been styled ' pater abbatie de Hales,' (fn. 48) and as such superintended every election (fn. 49) and took the abbey wholly under his protection. On one occasion he wrote to the abbot of Halesowen, probably John Derby, (fn. 50) begging him to receive back into the abbey a certain brother Thomas Bromsgrove, who had left the convent without leave but now desired to return. (fn. 51) The abbot of Hales wrote back that he would obey the wise counsel of the abbot of Welbeck, and admit the penitent once more into the house. (fn. 52) The careful visitations of the house that were held by the bishop of St. Asaph, the conservator-general of the order, give much light on the internal state of the monastery in the fifteenth century. At these visitations punishments were inflicted on those who had broken the rules of the order or were guilty of misconduct. Thus in 1478 John Saunders was found guilty of immorality and was banished from Halesowen to the monastery of Dale (Derbyshire) for eighty days. Brother Thomas Cooksey was accused of the same crime, but denying the same was allowed to purge himself. (fn. 53) In a second visitation made in that year the bishop reported that all was well, except that one brother had broken the rule of silence and was to be put on bread and water for one day. (fn. 54) In 1481 the bishop discovered ' many enormities' in the performance of divine ceremonies and services, and in the observance of the rules of the order. The brethren were ordered not to eat and drink in the houses of laymen within one league from the monastery, and only to eat in the places appointed for refreshment in the monastery itself. The abbot was ordered to remove from the monastery certain evil women, and forbid them access to the monastery in the future. Further the visitor inquired strictly into the temporal affairs of the house, and bade the abbot preserve his woods and groves as far as possible, and not sell or waste them, but guard them carefully as his predecessor John Derby had done. (fn. 55) At the next recorded visitation in 1488 the bishop found ' nothing worthy of correction,' but the state of the monastery both spiritual and temporal bore witness to the good rule of the abbot Thomas Bruges (fn. 56) and the zeal of the brethren. (fn. 57) In 1494 the visitor reported that the tonsures of the brethren were not cut as the rule of the order directed, and that the abbot had felled much timber, though this was forgiven since it was proved to have been necessary. (fn. 58) In 1496, however, we read that five of the younger brothers, Roger Walsall the ringleader, (fn. 59) Richard Bakyn, Richard Hampton, Roger Wednesbury, and Thomas Dudley, entered into a conspiracy against the abbot, and at least in the case of Richard Bakyn added immorality to the crime of conspiracy. The month of August brought the visitor and the punishment. Roger Walsall was to be banished to the monastery of Croxton (Leicestershire), where he was to be imprisoned for ten years. Richard Bakyn was sentenced to undergo severe punishment for sixty days, and to be sent for a term to the monastery of St. Agatha (Yorkshire). The other three were sentenced to punishment for forty days and then banishment for a term, Richard Hampton to the monastery of Barling (Lincolnshire), Roger Wednesbury to Newhouse (Lincolnshire), Thomas Dudley to West Deorham (Norfolk). However, at the earnest entreaty not only of the culprits themselves (lacrymabiliter misericordiam implorantes) but of the abbot himself and other brethren, and of the abbot of Talley (fn. 60) who was helping in the visitation, the bishop referred 'both the crime and the penalty' to the next chaptergeneral. (fn. 61) By the time of the next recorded visitation in 1517, Richard Bakyn had become subprior and the other four were 'worthy canons.' (fn. 62) While the existence of irregularities is evidenced by these records, it is probable that the Premonstratensian visitations were far more exhaustive and strict than those of the ordinary diocesan, and the bishop of Worcester's visits to Halesowen do not seem to have been followed by any censure on the government of the house. Any idea of excessive laxness is contradicted by the unwillingness of Abbot John Derby to receive back a penitent apostate until recommended to do so by the abbot of Welbeck, and by the punishment in 1478 of the brother who had broken the rule of silence, and by the fact that in 1494 the only correction needful in the house was in the way that the tonsures of the brethren were cut. (fn. 63)
There is no report on the visitation of Halesowen previous to suppression, though some such visitation probably took place in 1536, and was evidently followed by the payment of £4 in January, 1536, and in March, 1537, by the abbot of Halesowen to Cromwell. (fn. 64) On 9 June, 1538, William Taylor, the last abbot, surrendered the house and all its possessions to the crown. (fn. 65) On 12 June Legh wrote to Cromwell that according to the commission and indenture he had dissolved the monastery of Halesowen, and the surrender having been sealed with the convent seal he was sending it to Cromwell to be enrolled. (fn. 66) Either in that year or early in 1539 the moveables, plate, lead, bells, and buildings of the monastery were sold, and the receipts were entered in the Augmentation accounts of September, 1539, under the name of the 'late commissioner, John Freman.' (fn. 67)
Abbots of Halesowen
Abbot of Hales, translated to Welbeck 1232. (fn. 68)
R. elected on this translation, 1232. (fn. 69)
Martin, temp. Edward I. (fn. 70)
Nicholas, temp. Edward I. (fn. 71)
N. died 1298. (fn. 72)
John, elected 1298. (fn. 73)
Walter de la Flagge, elected 1305. (fn. 74)
Bartholomew, elected 1314. (fn. 75)
Thomas de Lech, elected 1322. (fn. 76)
Thomas de Birmingham, elected 1331. (fn. 77)
William de Bromsgrove, elected 1369. (fn. 78)
Richard de Hampton, elected 1369. (fn. 79)
John de Hampton, elected 1391. (fn. 80)
John Poole, elected 1395. (fn. 81)
Henry de Kidderminster, elected 1422. (fn. 82)
John Derby, elected 1446. (fn. 83)
Thomas Bruges, sub-prior, elected 1485. (fn. 84)
Edmund Greyne, prior of Horn by, elected 1505. (fn. 85)
William Taylor, last abbot, surrendered 1538. (fn. 86)
The common seal of Halesowen represents the Virgin seated on a throne with a crown on her head, the Child on her left knee, a sceptre in her right hand, and with her feet on a carved corbel.
..... VĒTUS: ECCTIE: SBE: MARIE: D ..... (fn. 87)