I often refer to Bolton Priory, standing on the edge of the River Wharfe, as Bolton Abbey – it’s a fairly common mistake but the fact is that Bolton was home to a priory of Augustinian Canons. They had originally set up home at Embsay having travelled to Yorkshire from Huntingdon in 1120. The Augustinians were not only monks they were all also ordained priests.
It had a varied history which the History Jar has skirted in other posts. In 1154 Lady Alice de Romille, the owner of nearby Skipton Castle, gave the land where the priory now stands to the Augustinian order. The story goes that Lady Alice’s son Egremond had drowned in the the Strid, where the Wharfe narrows it heads downstream. The land near where Egremond drowned was given to the monks – Wordsworth waxed lyrical on the subject. A cynic might think that the real reason for the support of the Augustinians was that Henry I was keen to promote them and his aristocracy were keen to get in their monarch’s good books.
There was a Bishop’s Visitation in 1267 when Archbishop Gifford came to check the monastic accounts and to ensure that the inhabitants were following the Rule of St Benedict. The Victoria County History reveals that everything was not running smoothly Brother Hugh de Ebor’ rather than living in poverty and money which he had handed to a member of his family in York for safekeeping. There were also charges of incontinence. Generally speaking the visitation did not go well. the cellarer was not fit for office, the monks talked too much, a novice called John de Ottele wasn’t keen on some of the rules and had no desire to enter the monastic life and the sick weren’t looked after. Gifford was the broom that undertook a clean sweep, appointed a new prior and told the malefactors to buck up their ideas.
Unfortunately a later visitation, made in 1280, reveals that monks were buying clothes and shoes that failed to meet the monastic ideal. A number of them had private property. The monks also seem to have continued with unnecessary chatter. The Bishop told them to stop gossiping and start paying more attention to divine service.
The Augustinians got on with running their priory until the fourteenth century at which point the Anglo-Scottish Wars went rather badly for the English when Edward II took over from his father and demonstrated a singular lack of skill at the Battle of Bannockburn. Scottish raiders did some serious damage to the buildings. An existent priory account roll details the cost of repairing the vandalism. The site was temporarily abandoned in 1320 after a skirmish at Myton-on-Swale called the “White Battle”the previous year when some 12,000 Scots led by the Earl of Moray arrived on the scene.
The Black Death did not help matters. The hay day of Bolton Priory was over but this did not prevent the Augustinians from returning to their monastery and beginning building work.
Building work was still going on at the Dissolution funded from the extensive sheep farms that the monastery owned. The accounts also reveal that the monks owned a lead mine. A new tower was begun in 1520 which was not yet finished. The land was initially acquired by the Clifford family as their ancestors were interred there but it then passed into the hands of the Cavendishes – where it remains to this day.
Ultimately a wall was built across the east end of the nave in the monastery church so that it could function as a parish church.
The image from the start of the post was painted by Turner in 1825. It is in possession of the Tate.
Butler, Lionel & Given-Wilson, Chris. (1979) Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain. London: Michael Jospeh
‘Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Bolton’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 195-199. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp195-199 [accessed 9 June 2018].