Seven members of the Gloucester branch of the Richard III Society visited Little Malvern Priory on
Tuesday 13 March 2018 on what turned out to be a warm sunny day, so we were blessed with good weather. On arrival we enjoyed a lovely cup of tea/coffee with biscuits prepared by the Archivist who then recounted the history of the Priory to us, while we sat and enjoyed our much needed refreshments. She kindly pointed out several items of interest, including the misericords, one which related to a previous monk who obviously had his snout in the trough as it were, (see picture), the medieval floor tiles, the window glass of Edward V, some of Elizabeth Woodville and four of her daughters. We were advised about some of the masonry items which are dotted around the Priory as well, some of which are encased in a cabinet at the entrance. Also evident were several references to Coats of Arms relating to families associated or connected with Little Malvern Priory, these included the Woodville’s, the Clare’s, and the Giffords to name but three. After answering many of our questions, we thanked the Archivist and then gathered in the car park across the road from the Priory before departing and making our way to Ledbury for lunch.
The story of Little Malvern Priory may be said to have started with St. Benedict (A.D. 480-543) from which sprang the Benedictine Order, this spread all over Western Europe, the rule of St. Benedict
was brought to England by St. Augustine in A.D. 597 and proof of its influence is to be found in many of our abbeys, cathedrals and monasteries.
Of the monasteries, Little Malvern was one of the smallest, never having more than ten or twelve
monks at any one time, its formation date is now generally accepted as 1125.
It was, however, in 1171, that the Foundation was firmly established, the fact being proved by the
fragment of the late Norman work of the nave arcade on the left-hand side of the entrance door.
This dependence of Little Malvern upon the Mother-House of Worcester continued uninterrupted
until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century. In 1282, Bishop Giffard visited the
Priory and re-dedicated the Church to St. Mary, St. Giles and St. John the Evangelist, and the
discipline of the house seems to have been good until 1323 when Bishop Cobham found it necessary to send the monks a letter condemning various abuses which had crept into the life of the Priory.
But the most famous of the Episcopal Visitations was that undertaken by Bishop Alcock in 1480,
when he found 'the great ruin of the Church and place', and when he discharged the Prior and
monks 'by reasons of their demerits'. According to his own account the 'builded their Church and put their place of lodging' into a sufficient state of repair so that the monks were able to return to there Priory in 1482, having spent two years under correction at Gloucester Abbey.
Thereafter so far as is known, life at the restored Priory went on normally until, like other lesser
Monasteries, it was dissolved on August 31st, 1534, when the Prior John Bristowe and six monks
subscribed to the King's supremacy. The Priory and its lands were subsequently leased to John Russell of Strensham, near Pershore and later sold to his son, Henry Russell, the stipulations being made that the Choir of the Church should remain for the use of the parishioners. The only part of the Monastic buildings to survive the Dissolution was the eastern portion of the medieval house
including The Prior's Hall, which forms part of Little Malvern Court. The Court still belongs to the
Berington family, descendants of Henry Russell by inter-marriage in the eighteenth century who
have lived here continually since that time.
After a very nice lunch at the Prince of Wales pub we made our way to Ledbury Parish Church where we met our guide Ian. Ian is the diocese architect and has an in-depth knowledge of the church. He began with conducting us on an external tour of the building, pointing out some interesting aspects, musket marks in the walls as a result of a skirmish during the English civil war. Also differences in the brickwork where repairs had been made at different times. The church has an attached chapter house and a very long chancel indicating that there was a previous structure, perhaps a separate chantry. There is no documentary evidence for this. Inside there are some beautiful stained glass windows and a splendid pulpit. Our visited concluded with a welcome cup of tea before heading home.
David Judd and Bronwyn Fraley
Notes from a Small Traveller
The Priory Church of St Michael and St Mary, Cartmel
I have visited the above, possibly on more than one occasion but like all good Historical sites, there is always more to discover. Notably the strong connections with William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke for whom I have acquired a deep respect and considerable knowledge over the years. I bought a DVD from the Church shop with what I hoped to be all the information but have been unable to get the wretched thing to work! So I have had to google for it, but it has turned out to be a ‘good’ thing for I have found a brilliant site written by William Marshal expert Elizabeth Chadwick, and the Priory’s own website which has a simple and remarkable format and presentation. (I shall give references at the end.)
The Church itself was founded on landed bequeathed to St Cuthbert by King Eagfrith of Northumbria back in 674 and was a fairly obscure place in the South Lakelands area until the 12thc when:
“William was granted the land on which Cartmel is built by Henry II in approximately 1186, and the plans for founding a priory probably got off the ground around that time. At this period, William was newly returned from the Holy Land and had been granted lands in the north of England. He was also granted the wardship of an heiress - Heloise of Kendal, and it may even be that Henry II expected William to marry her. However, William had grander prospects in mind and in 1189, following Henry's death, Richard Coeur de Lion rewarded William's service with the hand of Isabelle de Clare, one of the greatest heiresses in the land.” Elizabeth Chadwick
Elizabeth continues to describe how the foundation charter was signed in the presence of Prince John as Lord of Lancaster, along with most of William’s family, and many of his Knights and the King (Richard’s) right hand man Geoffrey FitzPeter. She quotes that he, William, put a curse on anyone who ‘messed with Cartmel or intended it harm’. Is this unusual?
By the late 13thc the estate passed into the hands of the Harrington family, in the 14th c the Jesse Window was added, and in the 15thc- choir stalls with 26 exquisite misericords. Transitional Norman arches abound, see left(sorry my photo has clipped the top). .
Dissolution – 1537. The Priory was certainly scheduled to go the way of the rest i.e total demolition and all assets sold and profits forfeit to the Crown. The villagers petitioned the King to save their ‘Priory’ and argued successfully that, as William Marshal had given an altar within the Church and funded a priest, it was indeed a parish church and their only place of worship. It saved the building but not the lives of the four Monks and 10 laymen who were hung drawn and quartered at Lancaster for treason. The curse may have had some efficacy?
The Harrington Tomb- much mystery/research into exactly which Harringtons, and there are six possible candidates. They are narrowed down and lead to the most likely being that of the first Baron John Harrington who died c1363 and his wife Joan. The dates fit and it is known that he had closer ties to Cartmel than his forebears.
Cartmel Priory Gatehouse dates from the 14thC and was built as a defensive/ceremonial entrance, used later as a guardroom but also Courtroom – it was this that saved it in 1537 and its use over the centuries include as ‘lock up’, school, part shop and long time school until 1946 when acquired by the National Trust. It was closed on the day we were there and only opens on a few chosen days in the year so can’t speak for what is inside!
The 21stC village of Cartmel is indeed a highly desirable place to be,a thriving community and a real tourist hub There are shops galore, and it has earned quite a foodie reputation with local pubs such as Pig and Whistle and the Cavendish Arms, plus the 5 star internationally renowned L’Enclume restaurant. Reminded me very much of home!
The North West and Cumbria are rich with historical treasures – I hope to recount more from my visits.
A tricky place to find, especially at the end of a fascinating tour of North Norfolk. Only a few miles outside of the popular town of Holt yet with no signs to the village of Baconsthorpe and very few clues from our standard Collins road atlas as to what direction to take, we very nearly abandoned the quest! Incidentally we don’t do Sat Nav and we wouldn’t have had a post code anyway. I strongly recommend a detailed OS map when visiting North Norfolk! We are so glad we persevered, after a long drive down farm lanes with no hint of a ruin in site, it appeared like a distant mirage. Under the care of English Heritage, entry is free and the parking abundant.
“Visit the extensive ruins of Baconsthorpe Castle, a moated and fortified 15th century manor house, that are a testament to the rise and fall of a prominent Norfolk family, the Heydons. Over 200 years, successive generations of this ambitious family built, then enlarged, and finally abandoned this castle.
Sir John Heydon probably built the strong inner gatehouse during the turbulent Wars of the Roses period, and his son, Sir Henry, completed the fortified house. In more peaceful times, their descendants converted part of the property into a textile factory, and then added the turreted Elizabethan outer gateway, inhabited until 1920.”
It has some connections of interest to Ricardians – the English Heritage website has this to say:
“Baconsthorpe Castle is intimately linked to the dramatic rise and fall of the Heydon family, who lived there for 200 years. The Heydons first made their fortunes as lawyers, but the main source of their wealth came from the wool industry. Baconsthorpe Castle was built as their main residence in about 1450, and became larger and more elaborate as the family’s wealth grew. The accumulation of large debts, however, forced them to demolish much of the castle in 1650.”
“The site of Baconsthorpe was acquired from the Bacon family in the early 15th century by William Baxter, a free yeoman.
The earliest castle building, the inner gatehouse, was begun by William’s son, John (d.1479), a lawyer who had risen to prominence as a supporter and agent of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk. He changed the family name to Heydon to disguise his comparatively lowly origins. During the turbulent Wars of the Roses (1455–85), John often switched political allegiances to serve his own means. John’s son, Sir Henry Heydon (d.1504), completed and extended the castle, adding the garden court in the early 16th century. He was knighted at Henry VII’s coronation in 1485 and held several highly responsible positions, which gave the family new status and stability, and allowed his successors to be peaceful and prosperous landlords.”
However the family were not good managers, and despite the wealth they had accrued from the Wool Trade, by the late 16thC their lavish lifestyle and extravagant spending on both the house and maintaining a grand status led to huge debts. They were forced to sell off parts of the land and, as mentioned above, had to demolish large parts of the Castle.
The setting is just gloriously peaceful and atmospheric, the lakeside makes a perfect picnic spot. When I mentioned our visit to Baconsthorpe at the Ricardian meeting they asked if I had visited Heydon village, a few miles south on the way back to Norwich. We had seen the brown signs to this historic village but had not enough time and felt we should leave a good excuse to return to the area! Looking on the web sites it doesn’t mention any link to Baconsthorpe, nor the Heydon family but surely there must be a link? William Baxter, the 15thc yeoman who acquired the Castle from the Bacon family, may well have come from there?
I’ll leave you to take your own trip there, through virtual or real reality.
You can read and see much more on the following web sites
Visiting St. Mary de Crypt in Gloucester during last year’s Heritage Week, I came across this little piece of information about Thomas Bell – 1486-1566. He was described as a “capper”, a manufacturer of woollen caps. He bought Blackfriars and most of Llanthony Priory at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s and moved his manufacturing to Blackfriars (his “draping house”). Thomas built his home, “Bell’s Place” in the Priory Chapel next door to the works. Joan, his wife, gave her name to the street which runs parallel to Southgate Street –Ladybellgate Street.
Thomas was an Alderman (1543-44 and 1554), was M.P. (1547-53) and was knighted in 1549. He was an original trustee for the Crypt School and in 1538 obtained a Coat of Arms for Gloucester (the present Coat of Arms was obtained in the 1600s). Thomas and Joan are both buried in St. Mary’s.
Did you know that in 1571 a statute was passed that everyone over 6 years was to wear a woollen cap on Sundays and holidays in order to help England’s wool trade. The upper classes were excused obeying this law. Is this when people had to be buried in woollen shrouds? What might be made compulsory to help our ailing trades?
I don’t know if this is widely known fact but I spotted this in the Radio Times a couple of months ago. The film Richard III was being shown on television and in the write-up it said that during the scene when Olivier’s horse was shot from underneath him, the horse had been padded up but Olivier had not. A bowman unfortunately shot him through the calf of his left leg whereby he sustained an injury which caused a limp. Consequently he did not have to pretend to limp in the film!
SATURDAY 5 MAY
FIELD VISIT : ST PETER AND ST PAUL’S CHURCH, NORTHLEACH
A whole day visit to Northleach. In the morning we will have an illustrated talk on the history of planned medieval market towns – of which, of course, Northleach is an excellent example. Lunch will be in the Cotswold Discovery Centre which we will have an opportunity to look around. In the afternoon there will be a tour of St Peter and St Paul’s in the company of a local architectural historian.
The visit will be supported by Northleach Historical Society.
More details will be available shortly.
SATURDAY 2 JUNE
THE MORTIMERS – ANCESTORS OF THE HOUSE OF YORK AND THE ORIGINS OF THE WARS OF THE ROSES.
Edward IV and Richard III were grandsons of the Mortimers and their father, Richard Duke of York, based his claim to the throne on his Mortimer ancestry. The talk will trace the rise of the Mortimers, subsequent rivalry with the House of Lancaster and how, when the vast Mortimer inheritance passed to Richard Duke of York, this led to the Wars of the Roses
Illustrated talk by Philip Hume
SATURDAY 7 JULY
FIELD VISIT : ASHPERTON , HEREFORDSHIRE.
An afternoon visit to St Bartholomew’s Church where Posy Hill will be giving her talk on “The Traitor’s Arms” followed by a tour/history of the church. For “travellers” we will include an optional lunch at a nearby pub and a possible nearby late morning optional visit. More details will be available shortly.