Darley Abbey

lh_derbyshire_darleyabbey_fsWright’s Discovering Abbeys and Priories lists the principal monastic sites in England.  It’s alphabetical.  Devon follows Cumbria.  There are no significant monastic sites remaining in the county but in medieval England as with the rest of the country Derbyshire was home to more than one monastic foundation.

Darley Abbey, confusingly a priory rather than an abbey as it housed Augustinian canons, was founded by Robert Ferrers, who was the seond Earl of Derby. The Victoria County History for Derbyshire is quick to point out that there is no evidence for a claim that there was an earlier abbey closer to Derby. Perhaps this was because the abbey was founded during the reign of King Stephen – so the “Nineteen years when Christ and all his apostles slept.” In any event Robert Ferrers survived the demise of Stephen and continued his abbey building with the approval of King Henry II. Funds came in part from the church at Crich which was in Ferrers’ possession. The land itself came from a Rural Dean of Derby. So, Hugh is the abbey’s joint founder. It was populated as a daughter house to the Augustinian Canons of Calke Abbey.

The Victoria County History goes on to explain:

Other gifts speedily flowed into the new foundation, so that in a very short time the abbot and canons, in addition to lands at Crich, Wessington, Lea, Dethick, Tansley and Little Chester, and various mills, held the advowsons of the churches of Bolsover, Pentrich, Ripley, Ashover, South Wingfield, and the three Derby town churches of St. Peter, St. Michael, and St. Werburgh.

So, while there may not be many – okay none- great abbeys in Derbyshire remaining it is evident that their influence covered the religious needs of many villages in the region.

Over the next three hundred years the abbey gained more land and many more gifts including one man who was seeking to avoid giving all his possessions to a moneylender in return for his debts. Some of its abbots gained reputations as arbitrators amongst their fellow clergy but by 1538 the writing was on the wall. Thomas Cromwell needed to fill his master’s treasury.

Darley Abbey had escaped the cull of 1536 being worth considerably more than £200 per annum but in October 1538 Abbot Thomas Page and twelve other Augustinians signed the surrender document and handed the abbey nto the hands of Dr Leigh who sold off the granges, the harvest and the livestock that belonged to the outlying farms. In the abbey itself he calculated the worth of the paving and the glass in the windows. He even sold off the cooking utensils.

As was usual all the monks received a pension, in 1555 the prior and sub-prior were still receiving their pensions. What is more unusual was that a certain “Doctor Legh” who has featured elsewhere in this blog appeared on the list in receipt of £6 13s 4d per year. Cromwell spotted the addition and had stern words with his commissioner for his dodgy accounting.

In 1541 the site of the abbey was granted to Sir William West who built himself a rather nice house on the site of the priory. As is the way of these things the house passed through several hands and each owner and each new generation wished to place their own mark upon Abbey House so that in the end no evidence of the abbey which had once been so important to the economy and faith of the people of Derbyshire. Ultimately the house was demolished in 1962. The image at the start of this post comes from a website entitled England’s Lost Country Houses which not only lists all the demolished stately stacks in the country but provides photographs of many as well as an informative discussion about their demise. Click on the image to follow the link in a new window.

However, there are other remnants of the monastic foundation. The Abbey Pub is housed in a former abbey building – the abbey guest house as it happens.

4 thoughts on “Darley Abbey

  1. Interesting but what is meant by 19 years where Christ and his followers slept? The other thing is that a select sect of monks and nuns called Gilbertines built Ravenstonedale church and their cells are still there.Ravenstone is in Cumbria in fact it is Westmorland really. The site dates from the mid 12th century and it proves that this Order did move into England and so the historians are wrong.The church is in use even today.

  2. The nineteen years is a quote from the Peterborough Chronicle alluding to the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. It’s sometimes called the “nineteen long winters.” But you’re quite right I should have referenced it. Ravenstone is lovely, a real gem that you stumble upon – but I thought the Gilbertines were the only homegrown monastic order, so as to speak, in the country – Lincolnshire was where they originally came from. It’s a lovely little church at Ravenstonedale with the pews longways on rather than facing East. That reminds me, I really do need to continue to do my research on Cumbrian monasteries. Hey ho, its easy to get sidetracked.

    • Thank you dear Julia. Indeed the church in Ravenstone is lovely. I worked on that dig alongside Doctor Raven Frankland who owned even that old ruin of a castle in Mallerstang. No connection to Uther Pendragon as it is of Norman origin.Raven thought the river was altered as in legend to build what was washed away three times.I think poetic license is the thing here. We all have other things to occupy our minds and I am the greatest for not remembering to flag interesting information. Pity I never met you we could have had such a long chat on what we both seem to love and that is history. I am trying hard to research my family and back to 1212 now then a block that makes me think we came from Anjou around that time. Or we became Knight Temple fighters and fled to Malta and then England. Du Parre is not listed in the members book of that sect. My ancestor Queen Kateryn Parr was under the impression that we came over as gentleman merchants and married into the Earl of Derby family. It would account for William Parr being released by the hand of King Edward 111 when arrested for the murder of John Haigh, Burgermaster in Kendal. He called Parr his own cousin and made him Baron Parr of Kendal.He is buried in the old Parr Chapel in Kendal Parish Church which is next to the Strickland Chapel. Both ruined by Jacobite army in retreat. My great grandfather gave his castle and lands to the good people of Kendal on Queen Victoria Jubilee. It was then snatched by the Council.

  3. TODAY is the anniversary of RMS Lusitania sinking and according to the wrecks new owner ,an American, who says the ship went down so fast not just from the U boats torpedo but by arms and explosives in her hold. They seem to blame Churchill as First Lord for using a passenger ship as war duties. Now why the hell would the British Government send arms to USA who in 1915 had no intent of joining in against the German Prussian war we fought as World War one? If arms found in the hold had been the cause of explosion then how are they still there? Maybe finding a few rifle bullets are proof of lies by my Godfather then I take it up as fight with this man who suggests it. If arms and weapons reached America maybe the gangsters had planted them as not one once of use to our troops fighting the fronts in France and Belgium. Churchill still gets the blame for most things he had little to do with and his big sin was not to accuse that man who ordered the army to land in Norway and where slaughtered by German guns already expecting them. That man had just gone down at sea in a ship wreck and Churchill took the blame for something he had warned everyone about before it happened. I thought it something that might interest you.

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