Yorkshire is knee deep in monastic houses from the great foundations such as Fountains and Rievaulx to the smaller but no less fascinating Kirklees Priory with its links to Robin Hood. Part of the reason for the great number of monastic foundations in Yorkshire is the fact that the early monks wanted to live like the Desert Fathers – on their own in the wild. It was also excellent land for sheep once it had been cleared, although the monks of Jervaulx made their reputation as breeders of fine horses. The Yorkshire Moors must have seemed very wild a thousand years ago. Then there were the monastic patrons and benefactors. So far so good – but what about Derbyshire surely it was no less wild and surely to goodness there were plenty of patrons eager to save their souls? It’s not as if its a million miles from Yorkshire either (though clearly the traffic restrictions currently in operation on the M1 are doing a very good job of creating that impression). In actual fact the large monasteries did have extensive links with Derbyshire but rather than establishing monastic houses they established granges – or farms. Roche Abbey had a number of granges in the White Peak.
The abbey that most immediately springs to mind is Calke Abbey which now bears no resemblance to an abbey and which is in the hands of the National Trust. A bit of research revealed that it wasn’t an abbey, it was a priory in the hands of Augustinian Canons – so that’s me told. The priory at Repton is its daughter house. Now I’ve always known Repton for its links to Vikings so clearly I’m not doing very well thus far.
Gresley Priory became a parish church and Darley Priory – another Augustinian stronghold turned into an eighteenth century stately stack whilst its guest house became an inn rejoining in the name “Old Abbey Inn” just in case a passing historian should miss the obvious. Then there’s Dale Abbey in Deepdale. Then there’s Bradbourne Priory and Breadsall Priory. Each and every one of these was run by the Augustinians. As might be expected, Derby boasted more than one monastic foundation including the Augustinians.
The Benedictines were the first monks to settle in Post-Conquest England. Their robes were black. The Cluniacs were aliens – all under the control of the mother house in France and the Augustinians were priests who went outside the precincts of their monastic houses to minister to their flocks. The later additions to the monastic fold were the twelfth century Cistercians who looked to a life of poverty and hard work – which brings us back to the Cistercians of Rievaulx and Fountains.
Now, all I need to do is reach for my copy of Derbyshire King’s England by Arthur Mee and a road atlas and plan my route.