Croxden Abbey, Staffordshire

DSC_0016In 1176 the Cistercians arrived in Cotton but three years later relocated to nearby Croxden.  The land was given by Bertram de Verdun, the lord of nearby Alton.  He was concerned not only for his own soul but also for those of his predecessors and also his descendants. Bits of Alton Castle (not open to the public) date to the twelfth century so are also part of Bertram’s building schemes.   Croxden is the oldest of Staffordshire’s Cistercian houses.  There were twelve monks and their abbot, an English man known as Thomas of Woodstock. They acquired endowments in Staffordshire, Leicestershire and in Hartshorne in Derbyshire amongst other locations from Bertram.  The land at Hartshorne was known as Lees and measured as a carucate. A carucate is of Norse origin and it signifies the amount of land that can be ploughed by one plough team of eight oxen in a season. Carucate is my word of the day! The monks also held Riston and Trusley in Derbyshire.

DSC_0015The choice of Croxden fits with the site selection that is almost uniform to Cistercian monasteries:

  1. by a river – River Churnet.  Usually the monks looked for a bend in the river where they had been granted land.  This method of siting the monastery meant that on most occasions the land was level and that there was agricultural land nearby as well as the opportunity for fish and the creation of fish ponds.
  2. in a valley (aren’t most rivers in a valley or on a plain?)
  3. remote – Staffordshire moorlands.

The Cistercians arrived in England in 1128 in Waverley.  Their foundations demonstrate a simplicity of design in harmony with the idea of obedience to their conformity to the Rule of St Benedict.  Most Cistercian churches for example have a “square” end of the kind that most medieval parish churches exemplify.  However, Croxden doesn’t.  It has an apse- not that much remains aside from the footprint and it has been separated from the main body of the church by the road that was driven through the village after the suppression of the monasteries.  I don’t think that any Cistercian Church survives in tact – possibly because of their habit of building in the middle of nowhere, thus there benign population in need of a parish church at the time of the dissolution – but I could be wrong.

DSC_0017The other feature of Croxden’s architecture to often appear in commentaries is the abbot’s lodging.  The first lodging appears between 1270 and 1290 but the following century Abbot Richard rebuilt a much more splendid dwelling – demonstrating the inevitable shift from poverty and simplicity.

 

In 1199 they  received lands in Ireland from King John  – the following year the abbot persuaded him to swap the lands for an annual annuity of £5.  In 1205 this was swapped again for land in Shropshire and in 1287 it was swapped for Caldon Grange near Leek.

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The thirteenth century saw Croxden at its most prosperous.  There may have been as many as forty monks at one time.  Revenues came from sheep and charcoal burning.  As a result there was extenisve building work as well as other purchases in William of Over purchased a house in London for £20.00.  However, the fourteenth century saw significant changes. As well as the Hundred Years War, Edward II and the Scottish levy there was also the fact that the abbey lost their key patrons.  The de Verdun family had supported them from the time of their foundation but in 1316 the last male of the family died so the title and estates were inherited by Joan de Verdun and her husband Thomas de Furnivalle.  He didn’t appear to understand the role of a patron and instead insisted on stabling his hoses and hounds at the abbey – not to mention the necessity of the abbey feeding seven of his bailiffs every Friday.  He also confiscated livestock and a cart.  Alton became a no go area resulting in the monks barricading themselves into Croxden for sixteen weeks beginning in March 1319. Eventually matters settled down – in 1334 Joan was buried at Croxden when she died in childbirth.  Stone coffins remain in the apse of the ruins.

 

In 1349 the plague arrived in Croxden.  It is recorded in the abbey’s chronicle but not how many of the monks succumbed.  Let us not forget famine and sheep moraine to add to the general joy of the fourteenth century.

 

Aside from the local bigwigs there was also the issue of dodgy royalty and the Scottish wars of independence. In 1310 the Crown required loans for a Scottish expedition and the abbey also had duties with respect to its landholdings.   In 1322 for example the abbot was taken to court for refusing to pay his share for the maintenance of  foot soldiers. By 1368 the abbey owed £165.  Nor did it help that the church roof had been releaded and the abbot’s house rebuilt (nice to know he got his priorities right.)  The following year the section of the abbey adjoining the church collapsed.  The list of problems facing the abbey continued to be chronicles.  There were also floods and storms.  By 1381 the abbot was in charge of six monks.

 

Somewhere along the line – the abbey was able to acquire more land on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border. Hulton Abbey sold  90 acres of waste ground at Bradnop in the middle of the fourteenth century.  They also managed to acquire Sedsall. In 1402 they gained a house in Ashbourne from Henry Blore.  All these transactions are recorded in the form of royal licences.  Despite these new land acquisitions Croxden struggled to maintain its former wealth and it probably didn’t help that there were a series of law suits.

 

The visitation of 1535/36 valued them at less than £200 a year so they should have been suppressed with the smaller monasteries but the abbot paid a fine of £100 for a licence to continue.  Their income placed them as 67thout of  75 Cistercian houses according to Knowles and Hadcock cited in Klemperer. None the less in August 1538 Archbishop Cranmer wrote to Cromwell asking for a commission to be sent to Croxden, and on 17 September Dr. Thomas Legh and William Cavendish received the surrender of the abbey from the abbot and twelve other monks. One of the reasons that Cranmer was so interested in the fate of Croxden was because the much of the site of Croxden including the watermill was leased to his servant Francis Bassett (who assisted with the destruction of St Anne’s Well in Buxton.) In 1545 the estate was sold to the Foljambe family.

 

As for the monks, they all received their pensions. One of them became the vicar of Alton and he was still in receipt of his pension during the reign of Queen Mary.

 

Cromwell was always on the look out for tales of naughty monks but it seems that for much of Croxden’s history aside from the land deals and court cases that the abbots ran a tight ship. Tompkinson records that when in 1274 a lodger called Thomas Hoby was killed in a fight between grooms the entire household of the abbot’s servants were dismissed.

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The Victoria County history details its landholdings:  the manor and grange of Oaken, Lee Grange in Crakemarsh, and granges at Musden, Caldon, and Trusley; lands and rents in Croxden, Combridge, Great Gate, Ellastone, Alton, ‘Whytley’ in Leek, Onecote, Cotton, Dog Cheadle, Uttoxeter, Denstone, Calton, Caldon, Stafford, Orberton (in St. Mary’s, Stafford), Walton (Staffs.), Ashbourne, Doveridge, Derby, Hartshorne, Thurvaston (in Longford), Langley (Derb.), Burton Overy, Tugby, Mountsorrel (in Barrow-upon-Soar and Rothley, Leics.), Casterton, Stamford, Misterton (? Leics.), London, and ‘Sutton Maney’; the appropriated churches of Croxden, Alton, and Tugby and the tithes of Oaken, Lee, Musden, Caldon, and Trusley Granges; and a ‘wichehouse’ in Middlewich and Hungarwall smithy in Dog Cheadle.   The list doesn’t include the mills and fish ponds nor the saltpan in Cheshire by which method the monks added to their self sufficiency.

 

G C Baugh, W L Cowie, J C Dickinson, Duggan A P, A K B Evans, R H Evans, Una C Hannam, P Heath, D A Johnston, Hilda Johnstone, Ann J Kettle, J L Kirby, R Mansfield and A Saltman, ‘Houses of Cistercian monks: The abbey of Croxden’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 3, ed. M W Greenslade and R B Pugh (London, 1970), pp. 226-230. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol3/pp226-230 [accessed 30 July 2018].

 

William D. Klemperer  Excavations at Hulton Abbey, Staffordshire 1987-1994

Tomlinson, John L. (2000). Monastic Staffordshire. Leek: Churnet Books

 

 

Roche Abbey

roche abbeyRoche Abbey near Maltby was founded in 1147 by Richard de Bully of Tickhill and Richard Fitz Turgis.  The valley where the monastery stands is narrow and split by the fast flowing Maltby Dyke- rather thoughtfully the patrons did not specify which side of the dyke the abbey would be built on which is why there are two funders because the valley was owned by both men with the dyke as the boundary of their lands.

Initially monks from Newminster in Northumbria settled the site on behalf of the so-called white monks, the Cistercians, who sought remote locations so that they could better adhere to the rule of St Benedict.  Newminster was itself the daughter house of   Fountains Abbey. Initially there would have been twelve monks and an abbot as well as a larger group of lay brothers.  The numbers have a direct correlation to the number of apostles.  The monastic population at Roche peaked in 1175 (ish) with fifty or so monks and twice as many lay brothers.  Unfortunately the economic wellbeing of the monks dwindled the following century when their sheep flocks became contaminated with a murrain and this was followed up at the turn of the fourteenth century with the Black Death which carried off the monks and the lay brothers.  In between times they had to contend with Scottish raiders during the reign of Edward II.  By 1350 the monks had returned to virtually the same as they had been at their founding with only fifteen brothers. In 1380 we know that the abbot of Roche – a certain Hugh Bastard – was taxed 45 shillings by Pope Nicholas.

 

It would have to be said that the early monks must have felt they had chosen their spot well when one of them found a cross carved into the rocks near their new home – hence the name de rupa.  The cross remained a source of holy inspiration and pilgrimage until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.  Cromwell’s visitors to Roche noted the self-same cross under their list of superstitions.

 

Over time various other patrons bequeathed land or entitlement to the monks.  John de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey – and holder of nearby Conisbrough Castle gave the monks the advowson of Hatfield church meaning that they had the right to appoint the incumbent and levy the appropriate ecclesiastical taxes in that location.   Unusually for most monastic foundations Hatfield Church was Roche’s only ecclesiastical living.

 

However Roche did acquire other lands and gifts. Armethorp is described as “A knight’s fee held by the abbot of Roche (de Rupa)” in Inquistions Post Mortem of Edward III.  They also held land at Hallaby in the West Riding, territory in Nottinghamshire and Linconshire, Rossington in East Sussex, Derbyshire, Lincoln and York.  In Derbyshire the monks held granges at Oneash and Moneyash.  Monks who had committed sins in Roche were sometimes sent to Derbyshire as part of their punishment. For a complete list of Roche’s lands and granges click here https://www.dhi.ac.uk/cistercians/roche/lands/appendix.php

 

Realistically not much more is known about Roche, possibly because Cromwell\s commissioners sold manuscripts and parchment by the cartload for kindling, until the Dissolution.

Cromwell’s visitors were the dreaded  Thomas Layton and Legh.  In addition to noting the cross carved in the rock they charged five monks with the usual kind of immoralities and carted another off to York Castle on charges of treason.  He must have been allowed to return from York after the Pilgrimage of Grace because his signature is on the deed of surrender along with the rest of his bretheren.  It was signed in the chapter-house on 23 June 1538. (fn. 9)

Come to think of it the sinning can’t have been that terrible because all the monks were in receipt of their pensions.  The abbot was given  £33 6s. 8d. a year.  He wasl also allowed his books, the fourth part of the plate, the cattle and household stuff, a chalice and vestment and £30 in money at his departure. He may well have regretted having to say farewell to his house, his own personal cloister and  his kitchen.

The sub-prior (Thomas Twell) received £6 14s. 8d. and the bursar (John Dodesworth), one of the monks charged with gross misconduct in the notoriouscomperta, £6. Eleven other monks who were priests received £5 each; and four novices 66s. 8d. each.

Michael Sherbrook, rector of nearby Wickersley recorded the suppression of Roche recalling the words of his father and uncle, “as the Visitors were entred within the gates, they called the Abbot and other officers of the House, and caused them to deliver up to them all their keys and took an inventory of all their goods both within doors and without; for all such beasts, horses, sheep, and such cattle as were abroad in pastures or grange places, the Visitors caused to be brought into their presence: and when they had done so, turned the Abbot with all his convent and household forth out of doors.”

He continues to describe the destruction of centuries of craftsmanship – the Roche Limestone being a prized form of masonry in many ecclesiastical buildings. “It would have pitied any heart to see what tearing up of lead there was, and plucking up of boards, and throwing down of the sparres: when the lead was torn off and cast down into the Church, and the tombs in the Church all broken… and all things of price either spoiled, caryed away, or defaced to the uttermost.”

Sherbrook notes that his father was sympathetic to the plight of the monks but like many other men still took part in the destruction. His response was an honest one. “Well, said I, then how came it to pass that you was so ready to destroy and spoil the, thing that you thought well of? What should I do? said he. Might I not as well as others have some profit of the spoil of the Abbey? for I did see all would away; and therefore I did as others did.”

Another source for Roche’s state in 1536 comes from the inventory taken by the commissioners. It included everything from crucifixes to carthorses.

By 1627 the land upon which Roche stood had passed into the hands of the ancestor of the Earls of Scarborough.  By the eighteenth century the picturesque and ruined site was described by Horace Walpole as a “venerable chasm,” the fourth earl was so suitably impressed with this gem of information that he hired Capability Brown to make the place even more picturesque – this involved some further levelling of the stonework on the grounds that  not all ruins are picturesque.  Scarborough then built the so-called Banqueting Lodge so that he and his guests could admire the view whilst partaking of a fine dining experience and discussing suitably intellectual matters having been driven a mile and a half from the earl’s residence.

The remains of Roche, despite the remedial work of Lancelot Brown, adhere to the standard Cistercian plan beginning with the gatehouse to the west of the site.It was designed to impress visitors as they made their way down the valley to the abbey. The quarries from which the Roche Limestone come make for a rather splendid backdrop.  The area between the gatehouse and the church has been levelled so that the earl of Scarborough and his guests could enjoy the view but this is the area that visitors would have been made welcome.  Hospitality was an essential part of the monastic ethos.  Visitors would have been able to access the church which dated from the abbey’s foundation but which was remodelled and extended during the wealthiest times of the abbey’s existence.  Today the nave is an open vista punctuated by masonry stumps.  There is no sign of the night stairs that would have allowed the monks to access the church from their dormitory other than a handily placed sign.

The grandest part of the ruins are the remnants of the three storey transepts.  Each of the transepts contains two chapels of which rib vaulting and ruined piscinas remain as do the altar platforms.  The presbytery between the precepts has been largely robbed away.  As Lawrence explains the plans of Cistercian abbeys are standard and would have been inspected to ensure that there was no deviation.  The buildings to the south side of the abbey church contained the library and the cloister.  Buildings to the west of the cloister were for the lay brothers whilst on the other side of the cloister the library, chapter house and parlour could be found – the “engine” end of the abbey.  The southern side of the cloister housed the choir monks.  Like the lay brothers their refectory was on the ground floor with the dormitory running above it.  Next to the refectory was a warming room with a hearth for the elderly and infirm to warm themselves.  The latrines, hanging over the dyke, provided a ready made flush  – quite what the abbot would have made of that is another matter as his own dwelling lay directly opposite the latrines on the other side of the dyke.  He had his own house, cloister and hall in which to entertain important guests.  There was also a second kitchen and bakehouse situated nearby.

 

Lawrence, C.H. (2000) Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages.

 

‘Houses of Cistercian monks: Roche’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 153-156. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp153-156 [accessed 22 June 2018].

J E E S Sharp and A E Stamp, ‘Inquisitions Post Mortem, Edward III, File 5’, in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: Volume 7, Edward III (London, 1909), pp. 41-56. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol7/pp41-56 [accessed 22 June 2018].