First things first – it should actually be Newstead Priory rather than Newstead Abbey given that it was the home to Austin Canons or Augustine Canons. They are also described as Black Canons because of their robes. All Austin Canons were priests as well as monks. They were not an enclosed order they believed that they should serve within the wider community.
The priory of St. Mary of Newstead in Sherwood was founded by Henry II in about 1170. The charter granted the manor of Papplewick, it’s church and mill to the new priory as well as meadowland at Bestwood and 100s. of rent in Shapwick and Walkeringham.
The charter was confirmed by King John and added to by other Plantagenet monarchs including Henry III, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III. Queen Joan of Scotland left many of her goods to the priory.
Despite this the priory faced a variety of financial difficulties across the decades. So it wa probably just as well that the Austin Canons who had a reputation or being good hosts entertained Edward I when he was hunting in Sherwood Forest and also Edward II. The royal hunting lodge at Clipstone isn’t that far away but the relationship between the Plantagenets and the priory protected the canons from the problems of financial constraint.
The Plantagenet desire to ensure that the canons of Newstead Priory could meet their financial obligations meant that they gained more church livings, mortmain lands, tenements, and rents. They were also excused many of the fees that were liable to the Crown due to the priory’s status as Lord of the Manor.
Richard II continued the Plantagenet patronage of the Austin Canons at Newstead by granting them an annual allowance of a tun of wine in the port of Hull in aid of the maintenance of divine service.
Both Henry VI and Edward IV continued the tradition of granting lands to the priory. The rent that Henry VI charged for eight acres within Sherwood Forest was one midsummer rose to be delivered to the exchequer.
There were various visitations across the centuries. Archbishop Ludham of York visited personal in 1259 and whilst he approved the rule of the prior he added a note that the canons shouldn’t drink after compline and they shouldn’t wander around the cloister. In 1280 Archbishop Wickwane required the prior to be more earnest about divine service, canons shouldn’t keep private property and they were still drinking after compline. Later a visitation said that the canons should maintain silence and that when anyone took a new set of clothes they had to return the old ones to the common store.
By 1535 and the Valor Ecclesiasticus that gave a value to the wealth of the monasteries, Newstead was worth £167 16s 11 1/2d of which 20s was given on a Maundy Thursday to the poor in commemoration of Henry II who founded the priory. It was clearly worth less than £200, making it a lesser monastery. The act for their suppression was passed in 1536.
The canons managed to avoid this by paying a fine of £233 6s 8d but on the 21st July 1539 they succumbed to the inevitable. Cromwell’s commissioner – London- took the surrender. The prior received £26 pension, the sub prior £6 and the ten canons who also signed the surrender document received a pension ranging between £3 and £5.
In 1540 the property passed into the possession of the Byron family – as in mad, bad and dangerous to know.
In later years, the eighteenth century, whilst the monk’s fish pond was dredged a medieval lectern was discovered. It appears to have been thrown there by the canons hoping to save it from Henry VIII’s commissioners. It can now be seen in Southwell Minster.
In 1817 the property was sold to Colonel Thomas Wildman and from him into the Webb family. It was finally bequeathed together with its gardens to the City of Nottingham in 1931.
‘Houses of Austin canons: The priory of Newstead’, in A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1910), pp. 112-117. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/notts/vol2/pp112-117 [accessed 27 December 2020].