Houses of Benedictine monks: Priory of Middlesbrough

Pages 105-106

A History of the County of York: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1974.

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Robert de Brus, (fn. 1) founder of the priory of Guisborough, granted the church of St Hilda of Middlesbrough, with consent of his wife Agnes and Adam his son, to the abbey of Whitby, with land in Newham, on condition that there should be monks serving God and St. Hilda in the church of Middlesbrough, who might be sufficiently maintained by the revenues of that church, the surplus being received by the mother church of Whitby.

Dr. Atkinson argues (fn. 2) that this grant was in the nature of a confirmation of a previous gift to Whitby, made by Hugh, Earl of Chester, whose lands had passed to Robert de Brus, as in the convention between the abbey of Whitby and the priory of Guisborough, made in the presence of Robert de Brus, Whitby laid its claim. to the ecclesiastical dues of Middlesbrough propter donum Hugonis Cestrensis comitis.

Various local grantors made a number of gifts of land in the neighbourhood either to the church of Middlesbrough alone, or to the church of Middlesbrough and the monks' of Whitby jointly. (fn. 3)

A dispute, already mentioned, (fn. 4) between the Augustinian canons of Guisborough and the Benedictines of Whitby ended in the church of Middlesbrough being made a mother church, independent of Stainton. The gift of Middlesbrough Church to Whitby was confirmed by Henry I, and in 1130 by Archbishop Thurstan. (fn. 5)

From some unknown cause the cell became very much impoverished, and at any rate in the middle of the 15th century, if not much earlier, was only occupied by a prior and an associate monk. In 1452 (fn. 6) Archbishop W. Booth granted leave to Robert Godale, monk of Whitby and prior of the cell of Middlesbrough, that, owing to its poverty, the prior or his monk-associate might serve the parish church and minister to the parishioners in place of a secular chaplain, thus saving the expenses of the latter. This leave the archbishop repeated, in 1459 (fn. 7) to William Colson, who had then become prior.

In November 1521 Thomas (York), (fn. 8) Abbot of the monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul (sic), of Whitby, informed William Clarkson, Prior of the cell of St. Hilda the virgin of ' Myddilburge juxta Teyse,' and Thomas Braben, monk of the said cell, that he had commissioned William Johnson prior, and John Topcliffe, (fn. 9) bursar of Whitby, to visit the cell, and make canonical corrections.

According to a return made in 1527 the clear annual value of the priory of ' Middilburgh' was £12. (fn. 10) The return in 1535 (fn. 11) of the receipts refers only to the early gifts to the cell already alluded to, and it appears from this record that the cell had received no additional gifts afterward. It also appears that 12d. in money was spent weekly in alms to the poor folk of Middlesbrough, according to the ordinance of Robert Brus, the founder, (fn. 12) for his soul.

John Hexham the late Abbot of Whitby (1527-37), who as John Topcliffe, bursar, visited the cell in 1521, obtained from the convent of Whitby a lease of their property at Middlesbrough (then worth £25 18s. 5d.), and of this he was in possession at the Dissolution. He continued at Middlesbrough as 'occupier' of the property there, and died in 1557, when he left 10s. to the poor of Middlesbrough, and 15s. 4d. to the township. (fn. 13)

Priors of Middlesbrough

Thomas de Hawkesgarth, occurs 1386, (fn. 14) 1393 (fn. 15)

Stephen de Ormesby, occurs 1397-8 (fn. 16)

Robert Godale, occurs 1438, (fn. 17) 1452 (fn. 18)

William Coulson, occurs 1459, (fn. 19) 1471 (fn. 20)

William Clarkson, occurs 1521, (fn. 21) resigned before 1527 (fn. 22)

John Hexham, occurs 1527 (fn. 23) (in April of which year he was elected Abbot of Whitby)


  • 1. Whitby Chartul. 95 (no. 91).
  • 2. Ibid. intrdd. chap. p. xlvi.
  • 3. The Middlesbrough charters mostly occur in ibid. pp. 95-116. Burton, Mon. Ebor. 83, 84, has a list of them in alphabetical order. They are again set out with identifications, &c., in Ancient Middlesbrough, by R. L. Kirby (Woolston), 1900.
  • 4. Whitby Chartul. 214 (no. 271).
  • 5. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 631.
  • 6. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xviii, 71, quoting York Archiepis. Reg. W. Booth, fol. 147b.
  • 7. York Archiepis. Reg. W. Booth, fol. 64b.
  • 8. Conventual Leases (P.R.O.), Yorks. no. 994.
  • 9. Alias John Hexham, Abbot of Whitby 1527-37.
  • 10. Subs. R. 64, no. 303.
  • 11. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. v, 632.
  • 12. Evidently he and not the Earl of Chester was reckoned the original founder, in spite of the statement in the Conventio.
  • 13. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xviii, 72.
  • 14. Whitby Chartul. 504.
  • 15. Ibid. 316; Young, Hist. Whitby, 391 n.
  • 16. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xviii, 68, citing York Archiepis. Reg. Newark, fol. 214b.
  • 17. Baildon, Mon. Notes, i, 138.
  • 18. Yorks. Arch. Journ. xviii, 71.
  • 19. York Archiepis. Reg. W. Booth, fol. 64b.
  • 20. York Reg. of Wills, iv, fol. 30.
  • 21. Conventual Leases (P.R.O.), Yorks. no. 994.
  • 22. L. and P. Hen. VIII, v, 907 (1532), quoted Whitby Chartul. 719, where a proposal is cited as made 19 Hen. VIII (1527-8) that John Hexham, Prior of Middlesbrough, should be made Abbot of Whitby, and William Clarkson made ' Prior of Medilsburgh and Newham.' This would mean for a second time, and he must have resigned between 1521 and 1527.
  • 23. Ibid.