Garendon Abbey, granges and a spot of drunkenness

lh_leicestershire_garendonhall_fs.jpgGarendon Abbey in Leicestershire near Loughborough was a Cistercian abbey founded in 1133 by Robert, Earl of Leicester. The first monks at Garendon probably came from Waverley Abbey which was the first Cistercian monastery in England. As it happens Garendon is the only Cistercian abbey in Leicestershire.

 

Don’t get carried away with the notion that the earl of Leicester was a particularly spiritual or generous man. Survey of his endowments and bequests to the Church by Postles reveals that he gave land which he regarded as of little value to him to a range of monastic orders. Postles describes his actions as “spiritual insurance.” Given he was also alive and kicking during the reign of King Stephen his actions undoubtedly held a political dimension.

 

images-101Over time the monastery at Garendon acquired more generous land bequests in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire making them agriculturally viable. The monks could do what the Cistercians were very good at, sheep farming, through the grange system. We know exactly what the monks of Garendon owned because of the existence of a cartulary in the British Library. A cartulary is a list, or file, of charters, privileges and legal rights which is how we know that the monks  at Garendon owned granges at Roystone near Ashbourne, Biggin and Heathcote – all in Derbyshire and described by Mick Aston in Monasteries in the Landscape.

 

Essentially a grange was a monastic farm, stud or industrial unit. It was a way of managing monastic landholdings effectively. The system was developed in the twelfth century by the Cistercians or white monks as they were known on account of their undyed woollen tunics. The system was then utilized by the other monastic orders. Each unit could be managed by a few lay brothers who reported directly to the cellerar of the abbey.   It all went swimmingly well until the Black Death of 1349 and then labour became something of an issue. Some granges effectively became monastic holiday homes or were required to take on labourers according to the seasons. Those granges that farmed sheep remained the most efficient ones because very few people were required to tend the flocks. At Roystone Grange the monks stopped farming and leased the grange to tenants reflecting the changing economy of the period.

 

In 1225, however, according to the Cistercian  History the abbey was exporting wool to Flanders and they had a chapel in Cripplegate, London. The problem for the Cistercians who were initially an austere order and who sought to live in isolation away from the temptations that had beset the Benedictines was that sheep farming made them wealthy which led to backsliding. In addition, it appears that the monks at Garendon weren’t without their personal foibles. One of their abbots is recorded as having been married, which rather goes against the vows of chastity whilst another of the brethren was purported to have converted to Judaism. There was also a small problem at the end of the twelfth century with drunkenness and brawling amongst the abbey’s inhabitants. They got themselves into debt and hid robbers. In short Garendon, if accounts are to be believed, was the kind of abbey that encouraged anti-clericalism and drove the demand for reform.

 

The Valor Ecclesiasticus reveals that in 1535 the abbey was worth £160 per annum so was defined as one of the lesser monasteries. Over the centuries, if Cromwell’s visitors are to be believed, the monks hadn’t really changed their unfortunate habits either. Five of them were guilty of “unnatural vices” whilst a further three were fed up with being monks. It was however found that five children were maintained by the monks’ charity along with five “impotent persons.” Twelve of the monks were described as being of good character.

 

Unsurprisingly the abbey was suppressed in 1536 with the abbot receiving £30 pension. The abbey and the land upon which it stood ended up in the paws of Thomas Manners, earl of Rutland.  He paid just over two thousand pounds for it. The abbey was partially demolished whilst the cellars and drains were incorporated into a manor house which remained in the Manners family until it passed into the ownership of the dukes of Buckingham when it formed part of a dowry.

Garendon House, as it was known, was in its own turn demolished in the middle of the twentieth century. The lost country houses website puts its disappearance down to general neglect and death duties in 1964.  According to Wikipeadia the rubble from the house is somewhere under the M1.

 

 

‘House of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Garendon’, in A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2, ed. W G Hoskins and R A McKinley (London, 1954), pp. 5-7. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/leics/vol2/pp5-7 [accessed 8 November 2016].

Aston, Mick.(2012) Monasteries in the Landscape. Stroud: Amberley Publishing

Postles, David. The Garendon Cartularies in BL Lansdowne 415 (http://www.bl.uk/eblj/1996articles/pdf/article7.pdf) accessed 14 November 2016

http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_leicestershire_garendonhall_info_gallery.html (accessed 14 November 2016)

3 Comments

Filed under Monasteries

3 responses to “Garendon Abbey, granges and a spot of drunkenness

  1. Sir Kevin Parr, Baronet

    as it states in the words of the TASK.For man,like the mole,labours long in the dark to raise piles of earth as monument to the damage he can do. Old properties of such history I have witnessed in the passage of my youth ending their days of glory under the ball and chain of modern destruction. Sad to me even then for one thing I would have treasured to see would be the six marble fountains with crystal tops that stood between the mighty curtain wall of Roman occupation and that of the inn.Carlise Cumbria plac de concord that was destroyed by the Railway company builders. To build engine sheds that lay now redundant of use as brick abortions. Yet bits of those fountains protrude from mortar here and there. The mansion hunting lodge of King John,in a part of Liverpool, that was used for a public library fell under the excavators claws and vanished in 1956. Robbed us all of history. I could go on but we are talking of monks and their loss but it all relates as stolen from the British people by morons suffering vast amounts of greed.

    • There certainly doesn’t seem much in the way of a plan – and we’re supposed to be a nation of History lovers. Carlisle has never been kind to its history. The Lanes were indeed a Victorian slum but having said that they could have been incorporated more effectively into the modern townscape – but no, down they came and what do you end up with? A town centre completely devoid of individuality. It certainly doesn’t look as though its about to start caring for its heritage any time soon if the historic railway station on Harraby Hill is anything to go by – but the good burghers’re not that unusual. I can think of a Roman fort that was buried under a tourist information centre elsewhere in the country. I think it may be called “progress” but wouldn’t bank on it. It seems odd to me, as at times it feels as though England is some sort of historic theme park – and not in a good way -but then elsewhere the people in charge turn their noses up at genuine places of historic interest which with a bit of investment, in turn would have generated interest, jobs and revenue – but what would I know. I’ll get off my high horse now.

  2. steve borland

    Very interesting story the black sheep’s of the house’s of God perhaps

Leave a Reply