A History of Halesowen Abbey
|Joseph Hunt accumulated a wealth of data about Halesowen Abbey, and developed a 60 minute lecture on the subject, which enjoyed a useful life on the West Midlands lecture circuit in the 1960s. The Revd. S.J. Wright, then Rector of St. Kenelm's Church, Romsley, suggested that he expand the story and serialise it in the Parish Magazine.
The expanded "History of Halesowen Abbey" attracted wider than village interest, and Mr. A.S. Hill, then Head of Dudley Teachers' Resource Centre, suggested that Joseph Hunt re-edit it for publication as an educational aid. It appeared first in book form in 1979 and was reprinted under the imprint of the Birmingham and Midland Institute some three years later.
In 1995, "A History of Halesowen Abbey" was prepared for publication by Mr. Eric Humphreys as Part XIV of Romsley and Hunnington History Society's "Some Papers Concerning the History of Romsley". This 1995 edition of "A History of Halesowen Abbey" is reprinted here with some minor alterations to suit the layout of a website.
THE BACKGROUND TO OUR STUDY
|One of the great attractions of the English countryside is that plentifully scattered over it are the remains of venerable buildings of other days. There are, of course, the ruins of castles to remind us of the troubled days of our island story when warfare was as much a part of life as football is today. But there are also ruins with a peaceful background and message -those of the abbeys. Perhaps it is easier for the visitor to a castle to understand its purpose than it is for a visitor to an abbey for, unfortunately, strife and battles are still with us, while monasticism as a concept has all but vanished from our midst.
In the 14th century, there were more than 2,000 abbeys and similar religious houses flourishing in this country and, while there had been some decline by the 16th century, it was Henry VIII's suppressions of 1535-1540 which brought monastic life in England virtually to an end. The sites of most of the 2,000 religious houses are known and charted and of some, notably Fountains, Rievaulx and Tintern, majestic shells remain. In other cases, such as that of Bordesley Abbey, near Redditch, virtually no stonework remains above ground. In the majority of cases, however, monastic sites have come under the care of English Heritage, stonework has been repointed, debris removed and returfing and paving has made these hallowed acres accessible to the modern pilgrim.
Most towns and villages possessing abbey sites take great pride in them and even exploit then commercially as tourist attractions but, for some unapparent reason, we in this area have almost totally neglected our abbey ruins at Halesowen. True, the site is under the protection of English Heritage, but the average resident in the town (particularly the newcomer) neither knows nor cares that within easy walking distance of the town centre are the remains of one of the country's greatest Premonstratensian abbeys.
It lies to the south-east of the town and is reached by walking in the Quinton direction along Manor Way until one reaches the farm drive on the right, just past the bridge over the infant Stour. At the end of the farm drive will be found a considerable range of farm buildings, overlooked by a substantial Victorian farm house, and incorporated in these barns and byres will be found the remains of the Abbey Church's Nave, Transept, Presbytery and Sacristy. Other farm buildings incorporate parts of the abbey's guest house, kitchen, frater (eating room) and dorter (dormitory). Separated from the main conventual buildings, the Infirmary building, formerly functioning as a barn, has survived. It has some unique features which will be dealt with later in our story.
Information about one aspect or another of Halesowen Abbey can be found in a variety of books. In one can be found details of its architecture, in another the bare facts of its history, but nowhere, so far as I know, has an attempt been made to gather the full story of the abbey into one cohesive story. That will be the aim of this work.
A great variety of religious orders made up England's monastic complement. Roughly in order of arrival in this country were the Benedictines or Black Monks, the Cluniac Monks - a reformed order of Benedictines, the Cistercians or White Monks, and the Carthusians. There followed the Augustinians or Black Canons, the Premonstratensian or White Canons and the Gilbertines, the last named being mixed communities of monks and nuns. It will be understood that the terms 'black' and 'white' refer to the colour of the habits worn by a particular order, and that only the larger religious orders have been mentioned.
The monks of Halesowen belonged to the Premonstratensian order and we shall be looking at the founding of the order, its rapid growth on the continent, its coming to England and its eventual appearance at Halesowen beside the old pilgrim route to the shrine of St. Kenelm at the foot of the Clents.
WHO WERE THE PREMONSTRATENSIANS?
Halesowen Abbey was a house of Premonstratensian Canons, but what were the origins of this order of monks? Who was its founder, what were its basic rules and how did it spread from the continent to England in the first place?
It is generally accepted that the founder of the Order was St. Norbert of Cloves, a man of aristocratic birth who lived in the 12th century. Indeed, the Premonstratensians or White Canons were sometimes called Norbertines. Brought up in the household of the Archbishop of Cologne, Norbert at first showed little aptitude for the religious life, and it was as a courtier rather than a churchman that he accompanied the Emperor Henry V on his expedition to Rome in 1111. His experiences in that city, then a scene of imperial triumph and papal humiliation, moved Norbert to a stricter, more austere way of life, and his full conversion came some three years later. In 1120, he took up his abode near a ruined chapel in the Forest of Coucy which was in the diocese of Laon. This place became known as Premontre and, while there are some arguments as to the origin of the name, majority opinion suggests that it represents the past participle of praemonstrare - in other words 'the place pointed out'. Pointed out, that is, in a dream which Norbert had of "white clad figures carrying lights and crosses and singing psalms".
By the end of 1121, Norbert's forest community numbered 40 clerks, plus a number of laymen, and the formal adoption of a Rule became necessary. That of St. Augustine was chosen, but with additional statutes, the way of life of the brethren was one of great austerity. These supplementary statutes owed much to the ideals of the Cistercians, for Norbert was a friend of one of the early fathers of that Order - St. Bernard of Clairvaux. A white woollen habit was prescribed for the monks, this consisting of a white cassock with a rochet over it, a long white cloak and a white cap, thus 'combining the wool of the monk's habit with the colour proper to canons'. There is, however, reason to believe that by 'white', Norbert meant no more than the dirty white of unbleached wool, so that it would only be after many washings of the habit that the first Premonstratensians would have justified the name of 'White Canons'.
The normal complement of a religious house was an Abbot and 12 monks (apart, of course, from lay brothers, labourers, etc.) representing Christ and his disciples. When an establishment exceeded that number, a band of monks would go forth to found a new community distant from the parent house, wherever land was available or had been donated. Thus it was that within 30 years of Norbert's arrival at Premontre, there were in existence nearly 100 Premonstratensian abbeys, and these could be found in almost every kingdom of Western Europe.
What train of events led to the founding of England's first Premonstratensian abbey is not fully known, but the sequence by which it happened is plain. From Premontre, the abbey of Laon was colonised. Laon colonised Licques and it was a band of monks from Licques which came to England and founded the abbey of Newhouse in Lincolnshire in or about 1143 on land given by Peter of Roxhill, a minor baron of that county. From Newhouse, beginning with Ainwick in Northumberland in 1147 and ending with Dale in Derbyshire in 1200, eleven houses were 'colonised'. Of these, Welbeck in Nottinghamshire, founded in 1153, was the most important, for it was the mother house of Halesowen, to which it sent a band of monks to take up residence in 1218. We will now examine in detail the events leading up to the arrival of the Premonstratensians in Hales Owen in that year.
THE FOUNDER OF THE HOUSE
Ask the average Halesonian who founded the town's abbey and the odds are that he will not know. Of the few who do know that Peter, Bishop of Winchester was the founder, having read his name in the only complete, but not always accurate, history of the town, Somers' 'Halas, Hales, Hales Owen', hardly anybody will know Peter's background or just why he should have made himself responsible for the building of this religious house. Let us, therefore, take a look at the prelate and find out just how it came about that he was associated with our locality.
Peter de Rupibus or Peter des Roches ('Peter of the Rocks') was not by any means a holy man in the real sense of the word. Rather could he be described as an opportunist career-priest, soldier, politician and diplomat, whose bishopric was given to him (to use the words of our modern Honours List) "for political and military service to the Sovereign". His family originated in the old French province of Poitou. By the close of the reign of Richard I, he had become Court Chamberlain and then, having thrown in his lot with King John, became the king's influential councillor who was rewarded in 1205 by being elevated to the See of Winchester.
Later, in 1213, he also became John's Justicar, in succession to Geoffrey Fitz Peter. In other words, he was now the king's chief political and judicial officer, who could even be called upon to act as regent were the king absent from England. We find him leading with very great valour a division of the royal army at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217. After some vicissitudes in his fortunes, he left England in 1227 to join the Crusade of Emperor Frederick II. Absent from this country until 1231, he had, during the interval, greatly enhanced his reputation as a soldier and a diplomat. But by 1235, he was out of favour and left England again. His services to Pope Gregory IX in the same year paved the way for a return, and coming back to his Winchester See in 1236, he ministered there until his death in 1238, when his remains were interred in the cathedral.
The Manor of Halesowen had reverted to the Crown in 1204, from Emma, wife of Prince David ap Owen on the Prince's death. (Note that the town owes its suffix 'Owen' to this Welsh prince and that therefore the town name should correctly be written 'Hales Owen' - two separate words! The earliest existent written authority for this usage was in a court roll dated 1270). The manor was, therefore, within the king's gift and what was more natural than that he should give it to de Rupibus who, although a Poitevin and a cleric with no roots in Midland England, has a tenuous connection with Halesowen? It was one of the benefices he had held in absentia and had perforce resigned on his elevation to the bishopric in 1205. There is doubt whether he had visited or indeed ever did visit the town, but it will be gathered that he had enjoyed some income from it as its absentee priest.
King John's gift of the Manor of Hales to Bishop Peter is dated 27 October 1214 and it instructs him "to build there a house of religion of whatever Order he chooses". To patronise the religious was the prerogative of the great and by founding his Premonstratensian Abbey (incidentally, one of three monasteries and a friary for the founding of which he was responsible) he was at once advertising his own importance and providing (or so he hoped) for the welfare of his soul in the hereafter.
The Hales0wen Abbey Cartulary (book of records) has been lost, but Royal Charters outline the story of the founding of the house. Peter's Deed of Foundation (a wordy and sanctimonious document) is contained in an inspeximus of Bishop Adam Orleton, Bishop of Worcester, and may be seen in Birmingham Reference Library. It can be dated 1215. On 8 August of the same year, John confirmed the Manor to the Canons of the Premonstratensian Order who were "to serve God in Hales and consider the Bishop as their founder."
It is a moot point whether the Abbey was built on previously virgin land or whether it superseded a small manor house already in existence on the site. At any rate the position was a fertile and sheltered one on the infant Stour, along which the monks eventually constructed a three quarter mile stretch of fishponds and a mill. It is perhaps not coincidental that the main pilgrim route to the shrine of St. Kenelm at the foot of the Clents passed through the Abbot's domain, for from the pilgrims was to come much of the Abbey's revenue, while the monkish community provided ospitality for travellers eager to drink at St. Kenelm's holy well.
Skilled masons would arrive at the abbey site soon after King John's confirmatory grant of 1215. They would be occupied for several years, assisted by locally recruited unskilled labour, building first of all the abbey's presbytery (that part of the church reserved for the clergy and containing the altar). Not until this was ready for use and, indeed, it was not until 26 April 1218 (not 6 May as stated in the Victoria County History of Worcestershire) that the White Canons came from Welbeck, led by their first Abbot, Roger de Joblinton. The canons would make do with their ' temporary and very austere lodgings until their permanent quarters, frater, dorter, infirmary, etc. were ready, but this must have meant some years of waiting. In fact, main building works (as distinct from repairs) were still going on as late as 1231/2, for then there is a record of 10 ½ d. being paid towards the expenses of the Abbot of Hales and Brother Richard, Master of the Works at Hales. At this point should be recorded an apocryphal story of King John and the abbey which was printed in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association, vol. 34, page 346:
|"Dr. Thomas informed Dr. Prattington that there is a tradition that King John ordered the Bishop of Winchester to found the abbey here in so retired a place that it might neither see nor be seen two miles away from it; and that the King, intending to visit it, spied it out from the top of Romsley Hill, near St. Kenelm's, near three miles distant from it, upon which he turned back, and so deprived the house of his company, and probably of many privileges."|
We have investigated the various monastic orders which proliferated in England in the 12th and 13th centuries, have looked at one of them, the Premonstratensian Order, because it was chosen by Peter de Rupibus to colonise the abbey he founded at Halesowen. Our band of White Canons had arrived at Lapal (or Lappole as it was called in those days, the French 'la' being added to the Anglo-Saxon 'pol' or 'middle english' 'pole' meaning 'pool'. There were existing large pools hereabouts adjacent to the Stour). What do they find there?
The monks must first of all have admired the choice of site, for the masons had built facing south-west towards the distant hills of Clent; the ground rising behind the monastic buildings to reach its peak at Ridgeacre ('the field on the ridge') thus providing shelter from the biting north-east winds. The building complex comprised, first, the church constructed in the form of a cross, to the south of which lay the domestic buildings of the canons. These were grouped round a square courtyard called the Cloister Garth, of which the Nave of the church formed the North side. The church's South Transept began the East side of the cloister. From the Transept there was access to the Sacristy, the room in which were kept vestments, sacred vessels and the valuable church plate. Next came the Chapter House, where the monks met for discussion of official business. Adjacent to the Chapter House was a range of two-storey domestic buildings, the upper storey of which was the Dorter or monks' dormitory.
Coming now to the South side of the Cloisters Garth, we find another two-storey range, the ground floor being devoted to storage space for food and drink. Above was the monks' eating room or refectory called in monastic parlance the Frater. Completing the square was the Western range of buildings. First was the strategically placed kitchen leading to the extensive Guest House, the North end of which abutted on to the East end of the church. To the South of the Frater and connected to it by a covered way, was the Abbot's Mansion, while the Infirmary, a completely detached building, lay about 200 feet to the East. Around the whole site lay a moat filled by diverting water from the nearby Stour. Much later in our story we shall be looking in detail at such fragments of these buildings as have survived 400 years of vandalism, weathering and neglect. For those who are interested in seeing just how this majestic group of buildings must have looked, there is a detailed plan in F.K.M. Somers' book 'Halas, Hales, Hales Owen' (available at the local library) while there are existent photographs of a model made by the boys of Hales Owen Technical School under the guidance of the then Principal, Dr. Johnson Ball.
Here, then, was the home of Abbot Roger and his small band (never more than about seventeen) of Canons. It was, in effect, a little self-contained kingdom, its laws the strict edicts of the Premonstratensian Order.
There was external authority in the person of Pater Abbas who, in the case of Halesowen, was the Abbot of the mother house of Welbeck. He it was who had to confirm the election of the house's Abbot and who exercised what were in many respects the functions of a visiting magistrate. The Abbey hierarchy consisted (in descending order of importance) of the Abbot, the Prior, the Sub-Prior, Sacrist, Cantor, Sub-Cantor, Cellarer and Custos-Infirmorum. The Cellarer was, of course, in charge of the Monastery's food supplies, and it is from some of his records that we shall be able later to see how the community fed and just how much provision had to be made for hospitality for travellers.
Having been unable to find anywhere a complete list of the Abbots of Hales Owen, I have had to compile my own (see Appendix), but records for the early years are so scanty that dates must be regarded with some reserve. We do not know how long Abbot Roger remained in office, but he is mentioned in the Obituary of Beauchief Abbey, which suggests that he was translated from Halesowen to that Derbyshire House. He was succeeded by Abbot William, who, according to Worcester Annals, was translated to Welbeck in 1232. Unfortunately the Welbeck records (themselves scanty) do not corroborate this. By the time of the election of Abbot Richard in 1232, we can be fairly certain that the Abbey buildings were approaching completion. It remains for us therefore to examine in some detail the 300 years of monastic life at Halesowen which unrolled before the Abbey's dissolution in 1538,
THE ABBEY IN THE 13TH CENTURY
Those of us who do research into genealogy and local history have reason to bless Thomas Cromwell for the edict, which in 1538, brought parish registers into existence. There was, unfortunately, no legal obligation on the English monasteries to maintain complete records and so much of what we glean about their activities comes from external sources. True, these religious houses did keep records of sorts, particularly the Cellarer's accounts and providentially some of these relating to Halesowen have been preserved and will be dealt with in some detail later in this narrative. The larger houses maintained a general register called a Cartulary, but many of these disappeared at the Dissolution. Halesowen's cartulary, strangely enough, survived this catastrophe and apparently came into the possession of the Lyttelton family, where it remained at least until the beginning of the 18th century. Tanner, in his "Notitia Monastica", first published in 1695, but re-issued with additions by his brother John Tanner in 1744, records that this register "was sometime ago in the possession of Henry Lyttelton".
We do know that in 1736 a kinsman of Henry, Charles Lyttelton, Bishop of Carlisle, was making strenuous efforts to recover the cartulary. The Society of Antiquaries has in its archives letters from the Bishop to William Mytton, the Shropshire historian, on this subject. In May 1736 we find him writing to Mytton, "Mr. Hodges, who was formerly Steward to my Grandfather, had it (the register) in his possession, and shewed it to Mr. Hall, our old chaplain now living". He went on to say that Hodges' papers had passed to his son-in-law, one Keeling, then Steward to Lord Dudley. As there was some enmity between the Dudleys and the Lytteltons, in which Keeling had some part, the Bishop felt he had little hope of recovering the precious record.
The second report of the Commission on Historical Manuscripts, which includes some account of the Hagley Muniments, does, however, mention the "cartulary of the Abbey in the shape of a roll three or four feet long". The Hagley manuscripts are now in the possession of the Birmingham Reference Library but, alas, the cartulary is not among them. It is intriguing to think that this invaluable link with the monastic past is probably gathering dust with sheaves of family papers in some musty attic. What would one give to be able to rediscover it and to reveal its story! The trouble is, of course, that so many precious documents of this sort are destroyed because the people who find them are seldom aware of their worth.
As we do not have the benefit of the details contained in the Halesowen Cartulary, we must proceed as best we can, picking up unconsidered trifles of history from a hundred and one sources and trying to piece them into a cohesive picture of monastic life. We have mentioned that building at the Abbey continued for many years after the monks arrived from Welbeck. We know from the Pipe Rolls (Exchequer Accounts) that from 1218 onwards the King was granting Peter de Rupibus £17. 6s. 8d. per annum towards the work involved. This payment did not even cease on Peter's death in 1238, but was still being paid to his successor in 1242. Royal generosity to Halesowen Abbey did not end here. In 1223, Peter had a grant of 60 tie beams (copulas) to be cut from the royal forest of Kinver "towards the work of the church at Hales" and in 1233 the King gave to the Abbot 15 oaks from which were to be cut and carved stalls for the abbey choir. From the Bishop of Winchester's own accounts we know that construction work was still going on in 1232, for it is recorded that in that year 10 ½ d. was paid "towards the expenses of the Abbot of Hales and Brother Richard, master of the works at Hales". Much later in the century, in 1293 to be precise, more building took place when the Abbot obtained a royal licence to fortify (crennelate) the monastic buildings. One supposes that this precaution was made necessary by the bitter disputes which erupted over the years between the Abbot and his tenantry. There is, for instance, an entry in Bishop Gifford of Worcester's register for 1279, bidding the Deans of Warwick, Pershore and Wick to excommunicate those "who laid violent hands on the Abbot of Halesowen and his brethren at Beoley". It is supposed that Abbey tenants with grievances, real or supposed, would be responsible for this assault.
It will be remembered that the Royal Manor of Hales with its Quarters of Romsley and Oldbury was the abbey's original endowment and this remained its principle source of wealth right up to the Dissolution, when it was contributing no less than £133 to the house's gross income of £338. Within the bounds of the Manor was the town of Halesowen, a prosperous place by 13th century standards. The Abbot and Convent soon began to take a hand in civic affairs and in 1220 they obtained royal licence for a weekly market and an annual fair at the feast of St. Denis. In 1223 this was changed and the fair was held on St. Kenelm's Day. Later in the century, representations to the Crown resulted in Halesowen being elevated to borough status. In seeking such a change, the Abbot would not be proceeding from purely altruistic motives. He would have in mind the additional income to be derived from borough courts, burgage rents, and the licences which would be necessary for the carrying on of certain trades.
The charter granting borough status is dated 1270 and it is somewhat ironic to note that while, without its abbey the town would have been unlikely to become a borough, its position vis-a-vis the abbey was not wholly an unmixed blessing. As time passed, most growing towns tried to buy themselves free of their feudal obligations to the owner of the manor. When the owner was the King (who was invariably in need of ready money) purchase was not difficult. It was a little more difficult to buy freedom for a borough when the owner of the manor was a local baron, but even he was sometimes impecunious and could be persuaded to surrender his rights for cash. When a town lay on a monastic estate (as Halesowen did) the situation was very different. A monastery was a self-perpetuating and undying entity, and successive Abbots regarded their feudal rights as sacred, to part with which would be a sin against the Holy Church. This seems to have been the root cause of the many disputes over the years between "town and gown" in Halesowen - burgesses anxious to be free of feudal obligations and abbots determined to exploit them to the full. It was not until 1327 that the abbey agreed to accept a sum of money from the town in lieu of services, and not until then was an uneasy peace established.
It seemed worthwhile to explain abbot/tenant relations in some detail, as otherwise some of the happenings in the abbey's history remain incomprehensible. Another mystery is highlighted by this story of how Halesowen became a borough. How was it that, having been granted borough status in 1270, it found itself having to seek re-election to that status some six hundred years later? One can only suppose that the town fell victim to the almost total apathy which overtook local government from the 17th century onwards. The cynic may well say that the town should have remained apathetic for, having regained borough status in 1936, and successfully fought to defend its independence a few years later, it has now disappeared under local government reorganisation into a vast amorphous impersonal enlarged Dudley. Abbot Nicholas who, one supposes, negotiated Halesowen's first charter, must have turned in his now unmarked grave under the ruins of the Abbey church.
Among the original endowments of Halesowen Abbey was the advowson (right to present a person to the living) of the town's church of St. John the Baptist. The rectory was appropriated around 1270, when a vicarage was ordained by the Bishop of Worcester (Bishop Gifford) and in 1291 it was taxed at £26. 13s. 4d. It will be seen, therefore, that it was one of the most valuable and, structurally, one of the largest parish churches in the patronage of an English Premonstratensian Abbey. Its subsidiary chapel of St. Kenelm was, because of its fame as a place of pilgrimage, a valuable source of income to the Abbot and convent. Also in its possession was the Chapel of St. Leonard at Frankley, and among the Lyttelton papers in the Birmingham Reference Library is a roll of deeds relating to the Abbey's properties in that vil.
One of the earliest, which is in Latin, and dated circa 1220, concerns a grant from Simon, the Lord of Frankley, to the Church and Canons of Hales ("for the souls of Rose his wife and Elicia his mother") of a rent of four shillings, "to be received by the hand of Robert de Mulnehurst or his heirs". Among the witnesses to this grant are William de Ramsleya (Romsley) and Ralph, chaplain of Frankley. I do not think Frankley has a complete list of its chaplains, curates and rectors, but Ralph of 1220 must have been one of the first appointed to that cure.
A document dated 1227 is still extant. This is the confirmatory charter of Henry III of the grant by his predecessor, King John, of the manor of Hales to the Abbot and Canons of Halesowen.
Signed by, among others, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Earl of Kent, and Osbert Gyffard, it is granted "by the hand of Ralph, Bishop of Chichester, our Chancellor" at Westminster, 5th April Anno 11 (1227).
The growing wealth of the Abbey allowed the numbers of its resident Canons to expand, so that by 1231 it was ready to play its part in the founding of another Premonstratensian House. On "the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross" (3rd May) 1231, Brother Richard, with other Canons of Hales, arrived at Titchfield in Hampshire to take up residence at the newly founded Abbey there. Titchfield, like Halesowen, owed its foundation to Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester.
One of the privileges most closely guarded by the Abbey was the right of sepulchre, a right which was denied to the outlying chapels of Frankley and St. Kenelm's. This is vividly illustrated by a deed dated 1236, which records the proceedings of a meeting of the Dean of Kidderminster and the Chapter, held in the church at Broome, to consider a dispute between the Abbot and Convent of Halesowen and Ralph, Chaplain of Frankley. The latter (whom we have met before as a witness to the deed of 1220) confessed that he had wrongly caused the dead body of a parishioner to be buried in the chapel of Frankley to the detriment of the mother church of Hales. He swore that nothing similar had happened before, and that he would not repeat the offence. He further deposed that he had restored to Richard the Cellarer, acting as Protector for the Abbey, the offerings which were made at the Chapel by the deceased's relatives on that occasion.
We have mentioned previously that relations between the Abbey and the townspeople of Halesowen left much to be desired. A series of disputes during the first quarter of the century of the Abbey's existence culminated in litigation which gave rise in 1242 to an uneasy settlement. By this time it was agreed that the Halesonians should give merchets (fines paid by bondmen to the Abbot to give their daughters in marriage) whether they were married within or without the Manor. They must grind their own corn at the Abbot's mill in Hales, unless that mill were out of repair. If they were fined in the Abbot's court, they should be fined according to the gravity of the offence. They must give relief for their lands at the Abbot's will, and were to be tallaged (taxed) according to the custom of the Manor, but only at the time when their lord's other manors were tallaged. Each must carry out six days ploughing and six days harrowing every Lent for each virgate (approximately 30 acres) of land held; those with less land to do proportionately less work. Finally, "they should render to the Abbot all other services which they ought to render and which lawfully they owe".
The settlement was not entirely one-sided. For his part, the Abbot made the following concessions: that neither he nor his successors would be able to exact money and services other than those set out in the agreement. That his tenants were under no obligation to attend his market at Hales. Should he obstruct any entrance or exit to his tenant's common pasture, he would be legally responsible for reparation. And, as a gesture of good faith, he remitted 12 ½ marks (£8 6s. 8d.) which his tenants had guaranteed by way of tallage.
Halesowen's Abbot Richard died in 1245 and he was succeeded by Henry de Branewyck, who was translated from the daughter house at Titchfield. It is perhaps opportune at this point, since we shall be recording many changes in this high office, to record the procedure by which Premonstratensian abbots were appointed. On the death of the Abbot, Halesowen's "Pater Abbas", the Abbot of Welbeck, together with the Abbot of another of the English houses of the Order, would visit Halesowen and immediately appoint a day for the election of a new abbot. On that day, the two Abbots, together with all the Canons of the House, would assemble in the Chapter House. If there were any brethren under excommunication or suffering any other punishment, these would be excluded. Then a hymn would be sung, followed by a reading of the rules of the Order and the commission under which the election was to be held. The election which then took place was determined, sometimes by the votes of the whole body of the Canons, and sometimes by a committee elected for that purpose. In due course, the chosen Canon was presented to the Pater Abbas, who enquired diligently into the past life of the Abbot-elect. If nothing was found against him, the election was confirmed. The visiting Abbots, accompanied by the Abbot-elect and the body of Canons, would then proceed in solemn procession to the Abbey church, sing Te Deums, following which the new Abbot was inducted into corporal possession of the church by having bell ropes given into his hands and being led to his proper stall in the choir.
There remained one further formality. The new Abbot had to receive the benediction of his Diocesan, the Bishop of Worcester, to whom he had to swear obedience. On this occasion it was the custom for the new Abbot to present to the Bishop his vestments or their value in money. He had also to provide hospitality for the Prior and Convent. Some record is preserved of the receipts and disbursements of the Abbey's Cellarer on such an occasion. There is recorded the gift of a penny apiece to 635 poor people on the day of the burial of the preceding Abbot. There are details of wax purchased at Kidderminster to make candles to burn around his body at its lying-in-state, together with particulars of wine and provisions bought to feed and entertain those coming to the burial. Details of the expenses of the visiting Abbots are given, of payments made to them and their attendants, and particulars of the journey to Worcester with 17 horses.
We have mentioned that part of the original endowment of Halesowen Abbey was the advowson of the town's church. By the gift of Sir William Rufus, circa 1224, the Abbey received the advowson of the church of Walsall with its dependent chapelries. This gift, presumably because of some real or assumed invalidity of title, was confirmed to the Abbey by Henry III in 1247.
A word now about this matter of acquiring advowsons of parish churches, since this is something which will recur in our story. One of the earliest ways in which the Abbey was enriched was by the appropriation of tithes. These, as a general rule, belonged to the parson or rector of the parish. It follows, then, that when the Abbey received the gift of an advowson, it merely became the patron of the living and the nominator of its parson. It received no benefit from the tithes. A way was found whereby this state of affairs was altered. In theory tithes were for the support of the minister, and for the repair of the church fabric. It was plausible to contend therefore that so long as these objects were covered, surplus tithes could be channelled to the enrichment of the Abbey. So it was that the licence of the Crown and the Diocesan having been obtained, the appropriation of tithes took place shortly after the gift of an advowson. Sometimes this was accompanied by an undertaking, expressed or implied, by the Abbot, to provide for the services of the church and the upkeep of its fabric. Frequently, however, at the time of the appropriation, an endowment, consisting of a portion of the tithes (usually, it must be recorded, those most difficult to collect) was provided for a regular minister, called the Vicar, who would be appointed by the Abbot, from among the serving brethren of the house.
During the thirteenth century the Abbey was enriching itself and adding to its possessions in many ways. Property came to it by gift, by bequest, by purchase and, one suspects, by other means, some of which were more than a little dubious. One gift which was more than ordinarily interesting is that of Roger, described as "son of Roger, Clerk of Hales". It cannot be positively dated but certainly was made between 1218 and 1272, and it throws some light on the topography of part of the Manor of Hales.
Roger granted to the Abbot and Canons several parcels of land, including that held by Robert Textor (Robert the Weaver) "lying under Birimore": the plot which Thomas Capellanus (chaplain) held "near the lake": the plot rented by Harold Textor (another weaver, brother to Robert?) adjoining Caluescroft Wood and Edward Bedellus's plot together with "his close of Cumbes" (c.f. Coombs Wood). Roger granted to the Abbot permission to dam a stream (presumably the infant Stour) to form a mill-pool, and to build a corn-mill; reserving to himself the right to fish in the overflow water and to have his own corn ground at the new mill without charge. The document covering this important accession to the Abbey property was witnessed by ten important local landowners including one whose name occurs frequently about this time in the deeds and charters relating to the Abbey, Simon de Frankele (Frankley). There seems to be little doubt that the transaction here described was in respect of land in the vicinity of what is now the foot of Mucklow Hill and that the projected mill-pool was, in fact, the one which, until comparatively recently, stretched from the rear of the Woodman Inn right down to the South side of the Shenstone crossroads where, even in recent years, the water power which had ground corn was used for various metal manipulating processes.
We have mentioned previously that one of the major successes of the Abbey's wealth was offerings from pilgrims to the nearby shrine of St. Kenelm. Evidently the village of Kenelmstowe, which had sprung up around the shrine, was becoming a place of some importance. You may protest that a hamlet of some thirty rude dwellings, a tiny chapel and an inn was insignificant, but it must be remembered that, at this point of history, Chester, the largest city in the North-West, consisted of only five hundred houses, while Exeter, Warwick and Canterbury boasted of only some three hundred dwellings each. Certainly Kenelmstowe was sizeable enough for Henry III in 1254 to approve the holding there of an annual four-day fair beginning on 17th July (St Kenelm's Day). The fair was held in the yard or field surrounding the chapel and the occasional discovery of medieval coins hereabouts testifies to this usage of the area.
It is difficult to assess exactly the relationship between Premonstratensian Abbots and their Diocesan. Certainly the Abbots had to swear canonical obedience to their Bishop and we find the latter visiting from time to time the abbeys in his diocese. Thus, in 1261, Walter de Cantelupe (Bishop of Worcester 1237-1266) paid a visit to Hales Owen Abbey. A study of the register of a succeeding bishop, Bishop Giffard, shows that he was assiduous in his visits to the house. Writing from Wyk (Wick) in July 1275 he declares his intention of visiting the monastery and he enjoins the Canons to prepare for his reception. On the Feast of St. Valentine the Martyr in 1281 the Bishop and his retinue stayed at Hales Owen two days at the cost of the Abbots and Canons. On 16th July 1284 he was at the Abbey again and further visits are recorded in 1289 and 1292. On the last occasion he did not stay but accepted a money offering from the Abbot in lieu of entertainment. These bald statements of fact cloak what must have been colourful and important occasions in the Abbey's history. It is not difficult to imagine the splendour and the spectacle of such visits, the vivid hues of the vestments of Bishop and retinue contrasting with the newly-laundered white vestments of the Canons, while the Abbey bells would be ringing a welcome.
Other entries in Giffard's register deserve mention in our chronicle. He writes from Bredon to the Abbot in April 1275 asking that provision be made for maintenance of a Vicar at Hales. In 1281 he records the Bull of Pope Martin granting the Abbot and Convent of Hales licence to impropriate the churches of Halesowen and Walsall. The incumbents of Hales were of course chosen from the Abbey's serving brothers. Gifford records in 1282 the death of Richard Tinctor, one such brother who had been presented to the living, and the induction in his place of Robert de Croule (Crowle). He was succeeded in turn in 1286 by another of the Canons of Hales, Brother William Russel.
It is strange that we can provide fairly exact dates when a monk of Hales assumed parochial duties while of the dates when most of the Abbots were elected we have no record. We know that Abbot Henry of Branewyk was succeeded by Abbot Martin, and that he was followed by Abbot Nicholas who died on 1st January 1299.
Nicholas seems to have been one of the most outstanding of Halesowen's Abbots, combining the role of strict disciplinarian with that of administrator, at the same time spending a great deal of time in superintending the enlarging and beautifying of the Abbey buildings. He is remembered as the man who secured for the town of Halesowen its first elevation to Borough status, and it was during his tenure of office that the wonderful encaustic tiles with which the abbey was floored were designed, made, fired and laid.
From fragments of tile excavated on the abbey site it is possible to illustrate one striking set, which consisted of five tiles, four so shaped as when placed together they formed a square with sides of approximately seventeen inches. There was an aperture in the centre to receive a circular tile. The border tiles were richly ornamented while the centre piece had a representation of Nicholas in his vestments holding his pastoral staff. Round Nicholas's effigy is a Latin inscription in Lombardic capitals. As this is in rhyming hexameters we will attempt as near an English rendering as possible:
|"Nicholas Abbot these tiles to Christ's mother lay on the ground did. Long, 0 Mother, may Nicholas flourish and not be confounded."|
Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries will remain for ever one of the most controversial events in English history, for there will always be those who romantically regard the great abbeys as centres of holy living, while others see them as hot-beds of vice, gluttony and easy living. (Our local poet, William Shenstone, was one of the latter, as a reading of his poem "The Ruined Abbey". Halesowen's famous novelist Francis Brett Young quoted relevant lines from this same poem in his unfinished novel "Wistanslow".)
The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes, but one thing is certain, there were irregularities in the conduct of some of the Premonstratensian houses during the few hundred years of their existence, and we may perhaps notice just now two, one where Halesowen was the purveyor of justice and the other where our local abbey was the scene of apparent misdemeanour. Talley, the Carmarthenshire house of the White Canons, was a daughter house of Halesowen, and it fell to the lot of the Abbot of Halesowen as Father-Abbot of Talley to visit the Welsh establishment several times to correct the excesses which were reported from there.
Halesowen itself was in trouble in 1310 for, in that year, a mandate from the Abbot of Premontre was issued to the Abbots of the English Abbeys of Langdon (Kent) and Dale (Derbyshire) instructing them to proceed to Halesowen and to receive there, or compel the resignation of Abbot Walter de la Flagge. They found him guilty of excessive harshness; of incontinence and disobedience. He was said to be incapable of rule because he participated in divine service while under sentence of excommunication, and had apparently attempted to escape correction by appealing to the secular power against the visiting abbots. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case may have been, Flagge succeeded in evicting his reverend judges from the precincts of Halesowen Abbey by force, an outrage which brought upon his head a renewed sentence of excommunication. This sentence he appears to have disregarded for he continued in office until 1314 when only death robbed him for ever of his abbot's stall.
It is appropriate here to comment on the manner of a Premonstratensian Abbot's burial. The funeral rites were strictly laid down in the Premonstratensian Ordinal. It was usual for Abbots to be buried within the abbey walls, unlike humble canons for whom a cemetery was provided outside. Either the church, chapter house or, more rarely, the cloister walks were the usual places for an Abbot's interment and it was customary for an effigy or inscribed stone to be placed over the grave.
Completing the obligation of the convent towards the departed prelate was the celebration of a certain number of masses, an entry in the martyrology on the anniversary of his death and the preparation of a mortuary bill requesting other religious houses to pray for his soul.
Excavations at Halesowen have failed to reveal any grave slabs marking the last resting place of its abbots, but it is certain that somewhere within the majestic church which measured some 189 feet by 105 feet there rest the bones of some sixteen of those prelates who, after living in some state and being buried with pomp, now have unmarked and unhallowed resting places.
In writing the history of a religious house such as Halesowen, it is of little use providing a learned catalogue of architectural details coupled with a list of dates unless one can contrive at the same time to capture the flavour of the place - to recapture its real spirit. It is necessary to paint in the rich old monkish look of beauty and fertility, to conjure up a picture of low-lying meadows with cattle knee-deep in luxuriant grass, to envisage the clear young Stour losing itself in the string of fish ponds well stocked with trout. One must imagine Brother Richard hooking out a fine trout for the Abbot's supper, with Brother Thomas standing by, breaking the tenth Commandment, as he ponders gloomily on the lentils and coarse pottage which will make up his evening meal. One must think beyond the abbey itself to those scattered granges at Illey and Farley and Hasbury, where originally the conversi (lay brethren) laboured in the fields, later to be replaced, as the accounts of Halesowen's grangiarius (farm bailiff) for 1360-1364 show, by paid labour.
Such is the backcloth to our story as the 13th century nears its end, and as our Abbey (the trials and tribulations of construction virtually over) approaches a century of existence. One is tempted to note among the minutia of events that in 1281 Brother William Hunte was a serving brother of the house and to hope that one's own roots are thus deep in this beloved corner of Worcestershire!
There were other religious houses within easy riding distance of Halesowen. At Dudley was a flourishing priory, but relations between Abbot and Prior were not always sweetness and light. In 1296, for instance, there was a dispute and litigation between them as to who had jurisdiction over the tiny chapel at Frankley. Halesowen's Abbot won the day. Over at Dodford was a small priory of Augustinian Canons, founded by Henry II as long ago as the 1180's. It never seems to have achieved prosperity and, indeed, because of its poverty it was, in 1292, exempted from taxation. It is mentioned here because much later, its Augustinian connection was severed and it became a cell of Halesowen Abbey, whose Abbot was required to keep one brother in residence there to minister to the spiritual needs of the local inhabitants.
Nicholas's long and fruitful ministry as Abbot at Hales ended in 1298. He was succeeded by John, one of the Canons of the house, who had his consecration on the 8th of the Kalends of February 1298 at Bosbury at the hands of the Bishop of Hereford.
John appears to have held office for a comparatively short time, for he was succeeded in 1305 by Walter de la Flagge who seems to have been something of a political cleric. He was summoned to Parliament several times as were Abbots of about 48 other Premonstratensian houses. He was also present at a meeting of Abbots of the Order in 1310 when they decided to resist the efforts of the Abbot of Premontre to collect taxes from individual abbeys, said to be for the good of the Order as a whole. These clerics found themselves in a very delicate position for, if they resisted the edicts of Premontre, they laid themselves open to excommunication, while if they attempted to send money (or sometimes wool in lieu) overseas they were contravening a royal veto of 1298 and were in danger of having their property seized by the King's officers. In the event they submitted their dilemma to the Pope and by 1316 their obligation to submit both to royal and overseas ecclesiastical exactions was virtually at an end.
Since the fortunes of Romsley church of St Kenelm were so bound up with those of the Abbey, it is interesting to note that at about this time (early 14th century) the now almost totally obscured wall paintings, which depicted the death of the boy saint, were executed.
Abbot Walter died in 1314 and was succeeded by Bartholomew, who had to preside over a manor hit in 1315 and 1316 by crop failure and famine. One day of glorious pageantry and ceremony shines out, however, from the gloom of the times. On a day of high summer in 1322 (27th June) a Bishop was consecrated within the Abbey church. He was Roger de Norbury (or Northburgh) who was created Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry by Thomas Cobham, then Bishop of Worcester.
In that year Bartholomew died and Thomas de Lech was elected to the vacant stall. His ministry is noteworthy for the uneasy and temporary peace which he established in the relations between Abbey and tenantry.
In this long history of dissension between the Abbot who was also, of course. Lord of the Manor and the local peasantry, an incident of 1279 may be recalled. There is an entry in the episcopal register of that year instructing the Deans of Warwick, Pershore and Wick to excommunicate those who laid violent hands on the Abbot of Halesowen and his brethren at Beoley. This may well refer to an actual physical attack made on the Abbot by belligerent tenants. We shall find ourselves returning to this theme at intervals in our survey of the Abbey's history.
The edict which prevented the English Premonstratensian Abbeys from sending money to the mother house at Premontre did not prohibit visits to that place by English Abbots. This is shown by an intriguing entry in the Calendar of Close Rolls for Edward III (1327). Under the dateline 1st September the following appears:-
|"To Bartholomew de Burgerssh, Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports, or to him who supplies his place in the port of Dover. Order to permit the Abbot of Westerham, who is going by the King's licence to his Chapter-General at Premontre, to cross from that port with 20 marks for the expenses of himself and his household. The like in favour of the Abbot of Hales Owayn, who is going to the same parts with four horses and 20 marks."|
A mark, incidentally, was a silver coin, the value of which expressed in pre-decimalisation terms was approximately thirteen shillings and fourpence.
6. ABBEY HOSPITALITY
A glance at the ground plan of Halesowen Abbey will show that there was an extensive guest house occupying the whole of the west side of the cloister. There the successive Abbots of Hales carried out the injunction of the founder, Peter de Roches, in dispensing hospitality. This they did in common with other Premonstratensian houses, for one of the Order's rules was that a cella hospitum or guest chamber must be in existence before a new house was colonised.
Here, then, at Halesowen was accommodation for visiting abbots and priors of other houses of the Order, for the Bishop of Worcester claiming hospitality on the occasions of his visitations, for nobles and gentry having business with the convent, for royal messengers carrying letters under privy seal, and even for the monarch himself, should he find himself more than a days journey from the manor he proposed to visit. Halesowen was once thus honoured, for Edward III was entertained there on the occasion of one of his forays into Wales.
Admission of guests to the Abbey was the responsibility of the canon who held the office of porter. On a guest's arrival, his task was to open the great gate, ask the visitor his name, take him into the Abbey church for prayer and then hand him over to the Hospitaller. The latter would show the guest his accommodation, offer him refreshment and make all other necessary provisions for his comfort. This important member of the staff had, of course, such assistants and servants as were necessary for the efficient discharge of his duties. To return for a moment to the porter, another of his responsibilities was to dispense alms to poor and needy persons at the Abbey gates. He also had to collect scraps from the abbey kitchens after meals and distribute them to indigent callers.
While there is no doubt that in a somewhat primitive society, England's abbeys provided the rudiments of a welfare system, it is also abundantly clear that their hospitality was primarily extended to members of the upper classes. The heavy expenditure incurred in this way was frequently cited as evidence of the poverty of a house when exemption was sought from taxation, or when the appropriation of yet another parish church was sought.
Halesowen's records contain examples of somewhat lavish entertainment of the nobility. Early in 1366, the kitchen accounts record the expenditure of 3s. 7d. on luxuries (specialia) for the visit of Sir Richard and Lady Fitton. Later that year my Lord of Dudley and his lady stayed at the abbey. They seem to have been welcome guests, for what was a large sum in those days - twelve pence - was given to the boy who heralded the party's approach. During the week of the stay, the kitchen used the carcase of a cow (6s.), a calf (2s. ld), pork (4s.), a sheep (2s. 2d), three sucking pigs (4s. 6d.), ten geese (1s. l0 ½ d.), herrings (5d.) and the astonishing total of 750 eggs (3s. 4d.). Wine, too, was provided to the tune of 6s. 8d. The staple drink of the canons was, of course, beer, and ten shillings was spent on the provision of this beverage during the period 6th May - 30th September 1366.
It can be imagined that, at a time when 750 eggs could be purchased for 3s. 4d., ten shillings would procure quite a gallonage of ale!
We find that in 1343 the Abbot of Hales was complaining of the heavy expenses the house incurred in providing for the needs of strangers and wayfarers. Some evidence in support of this can be gleaned from the record of a much later visitation in 1489 when the following figures for food consumption are recorded (and it should be borne in mind that the Abbey's regular inmates never numbered more than about 17):
|20 bushels of wheat and rye for bread used weekly.
1,110 quarterns of barley used anually
60 oxen used anually
40 sheep used anually
30 swine used anually
24 calves used anually
A bushel was a measure of capacity equalling eight gallons. A quartern equalled four pounds.
There would appear to be no lack of protein in the monastic diet of those times! Much, if not all, of this food would come from the Abbey's farms at Home Grange (now Goodrest Farm), Warley Grange, Hill Grange, Owley Grange, Farley Grange, Witley Grange, Uffmore Grange, Rudhall Grange and Blakeley Grange.
It is clear from monastic records in general that, among the country's nobility, a short stay at a monastery was a recognised form of holiday, and those who were liberal to the house were sometimes given an open invitation to come and stay whenever they chose. From this it was only a small step to the state of affairs where a religious house would grant permanent accommodation to a benefactor (or to a benefactor's nominee) where suitable payment had been made in cash or in land. Such grants of food and lodging for life were known as corrodies and during its history, Halesowen was burdened by a number of such "paying guests".
What is perhaps significant in summing up this aspect of the place of monastic houses in mediaeval society is that when dissolution was imminent, very few protesting voices were raised, and of these the majority did so on grounds of the value of the institutions as places of hospitality.
7. THE ABBEY IN THE 14TH AND 15TH CENTURIES
We left the main stream of our story at the point where the rebellious and recalcitrant Abbot, Walter de Flagge, was laid to rest in the Abbey church in 1314. He was succeeded by Bartholomew, who was elected in that year and continued in a somewhat uneventful period of office until 1322. That year saw the abbacy pass to Thomas of Lech who, we may suppose, was an old man when he reached the Abbot's stall for he resigned the office in 1331. He was the only Abbot in the entire history of Halesowen to resign (if we except the forced resignation of William Taylor at the Dissolution) so that it may be of interest to investigate the occurrence and its consequences.
The Premonstratensians were almost alone among the monastic orders in allowing an Abbot to resign although from the 13th century onwards it was necessary to receive the consent of the Abbot-General. Statutes adopted in 1290 stipulated that a resigning Abbot might for the rest of his life enjoy an annual income of not less than £100 from the possessions which had been acquired during the period of his rule. This benevolent dispensation no doubt accounts for the relatively large number of Premonstratensian Abbots who gave up their stalls and chose to spend the rest of their days in comfortable retirement before being buried with their predecessors in cloister or chapter house. The rule had its benefits for a monastic house, for it allowed the putting aside of an aged and possibly decrepit superior who was no longer able to maintain discipline within the abbey or was vigorous enough to safeguard its outside interests.
Thomas's pension would have been fixed by his successor Thomas de Birmingham, probably in the presence of the prelate who supervised his election. Its terms would be set out in a carefully worded document. This has not survived, so that we can only surmise its provisions in the light of similar occurrences elsewhere. He might, for instance, have received the entire income of one of the abbey's manors, or possibly the rents from one of the estates belonging to it. It would be usual for food, clothing, fuel and a servant to be included in the settlement. Board and lodging could very well be provided for the deposed prelate within the confines of the abbey itself. He would be excused from the performance of the usual offices, and would have complete freedom to come and go as he pleased. He was, however, to be treated by the monastic brethren with all the reverence due to the office he had vacated. Whatever amount Thomas succeeded in obtaining, it would be paid for his lifetime only, so that he was unable to bequeath benefits to a third person.
The rule which related an Abbot's pension to the wealth which the house had acquired during his abbacy was a shrewd one, for it provided an incentive to the efficient running of his house. Another possibility was that Thomas was provided for by his being appointed to a living within the gift of the monastery. As his resignation appears to have been due to age, however, this seems unlikely, and a search through the list of incumbents of churches whose advowsons were under the abbey's control fails to find his name. (The incumbent of Halesowen church at this time, for instance, was Phillip de Bromwich.)
Thomas de Birmingham seems to have added considerably to the Abbey's wealth during his term of office. In 1340, the churches of Clent and Rowley, with chapels attached, were granted to the house by John Botetourt, Lord of Warley Wigorn and three years later these churches were appropriated to Halesowen on the petition of Abbot Thomas. (It may be recalled that the procedure by which appropriation was made and the benefits which thereby accrued to the Abbey were discussed earlier in our story.)
In his petition Thomas pleaded that the position of Halesowen Abbey on the high road (and remember that it straddled the pilgrims way to St. Kenelm's Well) obliged the house to provide much hospitality. He pointed out that the abbey's means were somewhat diminished by reason of a great fire which had recently swept through the town of Halesowen. Apparently too, the people of Hales, once superstitious and over-credulous, were not now so devoted to the head of St. Barbara, which, at that time, was one of the Abbey's most prized possessions. Their offerings to what the Abbot describes as "a schryne of Seynt Barbar's hede" had very much decreased, hence his need for further finance for the house.
A word here about this St. Barbara's head relic. There is no evidence in Abbey records as to the origin of this, but presumably it would have come from Rome at the time the Abbey was founded. Whether or not it was true, the ignorant laity would be told that the shrine contained the actual saint's head. Students of hagiology will know that St. Barbara was said to have been beheaded by her own father, a heathen, because she confessed to him that she had become a Christian. She is supposed to have died at Heliopolis in the year 235. There is, I believe, still within the Vatican, a huge repository of saints' relics, and it was (and probably still is) a custom of the Roman Church for a saint's relic to be presented to a newly built and consecrated church. Thus it was that this rather gruesome relic was among the Abbey's possessions. Probably the shrine would be of wood and precious metal, but whether or not it did actually contain a shrunken human head is open to doubt. A later inventory of the abbey's possessions included, incidentally, "a hede of Seynte Kenelme, sylver and gylde". Here, at least, there was no pretence of having the actual head of St. Kenelm! (Also beheaded, according to legend.)
One early morning of superlative June weather, I had occasion to call at a factory in Manor Way, Halesowen. Because of the warmth and sunshine, the doors of its loading deck were open wide, and the aperture provided a perfect frame for the mellow stonework of the Abbey ruins, two fields away beyond the expressway. The trees surrounding the soaring arches were vivid green, and the animals of the adjoining farm were grazing peacefully in the home meadow. It was not difficult, under such circumstances, to envisage the Abbey as it would have been in its heyday, and to imagine that one could hear faintly, over the roar of traffic, the plainsong of the monks and the booming of the great bell. Inevitably one wondered just where, along the way, man had taken the wrong turning, and found himself in the midst of squalor, pollution, ugliness and frenzied activity, when he might still have been on an uncrowded island, living in communities of manageable size, under the benevolent shadow of ancient fanes, such as Halesowen's Abbey of St. Mary.
But we must ration our escapism, merely reminding ourselves that our 14th century forebears tried to ensure by enactment and benefaction that posterity enjoyed what to them was a comparatively modern creation. So, in 1331, we find John of Hampton arranging for the presentation of a Canon at the Abbey to celebrate divine services for the benefit of himself, his wife, Eleanor, and his heirs. Similarily, in 1337 Joan Botetourt, Lady of Warley, granted the Manor or Warley Wigorn to the Abbey, provided its Abbot found three Canons "of sufficient knowledge of reading and chanting, of the age of twenty and upwards" to burn six wax candles in the church on her anniversary; to give one mark to every member of the convent attending this yearly obit for their pittance, and to distribute twenty shillings yearly to the poor coming to the Abbey on that day.
Thomas of Birmingham, who had become Abbot in 1331, appears to have remained in office until 1366 when he was succeeded by William of Bromsgrove. William's election was supervised by the Abbots of Welbeck, Dale, and Croxton and we learn from a compotus roll of the abbey (now in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries) that their expenses cost the house the considerable sum of £20 4s. 4d. Abbot William's tenure of office was short. He died in 1369, and was succeeded by Richard of Hampton. This time only their Eminences of Welbeck and Croxton came to oversee the election and their expenses were somewhat more modest at £6 13s. This figure included the purchase of an ox, a pig, several sheep, four sucking pigs, herrings, eels, small fry for their dinner and twenty pence spent on having their horses shod. (Remember these clerics had to ride considerable distances to reach Halesowen. Welbeck was in Nottinghamshire and Croxton in Leicestershire.) Additionally, each Abbot received a gift of forty shillings and their attendants were given smaller sums according to their standing. The Abbot of Welbeck's chaplain received 6s. 8d., his chamberlain the same, his penitentiary (priest dealing with penitents) 2s., his palfreyman (groom) 12d. and his boy 8d. This information is contained in two account rolls of the cellarer of Halesowen Abbey which are in the Lyttelton muniments, now in the possession of the Birmingham Reference Library. Also indicative of the scale of purchasing practised by the Abbey is an entry in the 1366 compotus roll, recording the expenditure of 33s. 4d. on 60 ells (a measure of cloth about 45 inches) of cloth "for the office of hospitaller".
I have mentioned previously that when the Abbey appropriated the living of a church within one of its manors, it was the practice to appoint one of the Canons of the house as Vicar of the church. Under whatever circumstances a serving brother became a parish priest, he was expected to maintain a regular connection with the Abbey. He still had a voice in the Chapter and was obliged to attend visitations and participate in elections. His obligations were two-fold, first to the Abbot and second to his Diocesan, for by the latter he had to be ordained, and was presented to him for institution to the living. The Bishop was not, however, able to prevent an erring Canon being recalled to the cloister for the administration of discipline. Thus, in 1371, Abbot Richard recalled Richard de Bruge (a brother of the house who had been instituted to the vicarage of Walsall) to the Abbey on account of a misdemeanour, and presented William of Stoke in his place. He used as his authority the papal licence of 1220, a copy of which was entered in the Bishop's Register and William of Stoke was duly appointed.
There appears to be some doubt as to the year of the death of one of the Abbey's benefactors, John Botetourt, Lord of Warley, but in his will, dated 1383, he appointed Abbot Richard Hampton as his executor. He elected to be buried before the high altar in the abbey church, bequeathed £20 and his "green bed" to the abbey, £4 and his shield called "Welcome" to the Abbot; 13s. 4d. to each canon, and 10s. to each novice.
A recurrence of trouble between the Abbot and his Romsley tenants occurred in 1387 resulting in the issue of a Commission of Oyer and Terminer (literally to hear and decide) "on information that divers bondsmen and bond tenants of the Abbot at Romsley had refused their customs and services for their holdings and confederated by oath to resist the Abbot and his ministers". Thus did an echo of the unquiet years of the Peasants' Revolt disturb the peace of that village as the 14th century came to its close.
Richard of Hampton died in 1391 and was succeeded as Abbot by John of Hampton. Readers who have followed my story carefully so far will recall that it was a John of Hampton who arranged for the presentation of a Canon to the Abbey to celebrate divine service for the benefit of himself and his family. Obviously the new Abbot was not the person who had to make this bequest and one can only surmise that (John being a much-used name) he came from the same village as the Abbey's benefactor. Like his predecessor, Richard, he appears to have hailed from the small village of Hampton near Evesham. It is natural that the John of 1331 who was Lord of the Manor of Hampton would arrange for promising lads from his domain to enter the religious house he had endowed. (The village of Hampton provided Halesowen with yet another serving brother much later, for we find the name of Richard of Hampton appearing in the records of the Visitations of 1497 and 1500.)
John of Hampton was Abbot for only four years and was succeeded in 1395 by John Poole or Powle. Poole remained in office for the relatively long term of 27 years, being followed in 1433 by Henry of Kidderminster. At this point the records become obscure. According to the "Monasticon", William Hemele was Abbot in 1443 but Colvin's authorative "White Canons in England" does not mention him. However long Hemele occupied the Abbot's stall, it is certain that by 1446, John Derby was installed.
The Premonstratensian Order was not rich in men of learning. Its traditions were ascetic rather than intellectual, but Darby was certainly the most learned Abbot ever to be head of the Halesowen house. Although his name does not appear in the Oxford Register, it is clear from the records that he had attended one of the major universities. During his abbacy, increasing emphasis was placed on higher education for his canons, and in 1458 we find John Comber, one of the monks of Halesowen, at Oxford, supplicating for the degree of Bachelor of Common Law. Comber eventually became Vicar of Walsall (a living within the Abbey's gift) and he held this cure from 1462 until 1480. Bishop Redman, too, Premonstre's representative in England, was anxious that members of the Order who showed mental ability above average should profit by university education, and so we find him in 1482, during a Visitation of Halesowen (and with Abbot Derby's enthusiastic consent) decreeing that a Canon of Hales should be sent to Oxford for a year or more of higher education.
In matters temporal, probably the most important event of Derby's tenure of office was the grant to the Abbey in 1464 of the land, buildings and possessions of the small Augustinian Priory of Dodford, near to Bromsgrove.
Those of my readers who may have read the "Victorian County History of Worcestershire" on this subject may recall that it gives the date of this acquisition as 1332. This is totally incorrect, as Winifred Bond has underlined in her book on the history of Dodford. Dodford Priory was an older house than Halesowen, having been founded in 1186 by Henry II. In 1291, its lands and rents at Dodford were assessed for taxation at only £4 17s. and it never seems to have attained prosperity under Augustinian rule. Indeed by 1464, the negligence of its priors and other misfortunes had brought it so near to dissolution that only a single Canon, one Thomas Typeton (or Tipton) remained in residence. He had been made prior in 1435. According to Bishop Carpenter's register the priory had suffered from "rebellions, wars and pestilences" (an echo this, perhaps, of the long drawn-out Wars of the Roses?) It had endured "carelessness, remissness and negligence of certain Priors" and was handicapped by the barrenness of its lands (is not Dodford clay still notorious?); a paucity of inhabitants and workers and "the immodest and excess stipends of the latter" (a reflection, here, of the high wages commanded by a working population decimated by the Black Death).
The Bishop of Worcester, who brought about the annexation of Dodford to Halesowen, stipulated that henceforth a Canon from the latter house should be Prior of Dodford. (At Bishop Redman's visitations of Halesowen in 1497 and 1500, his register shows Thomas Koksey (or Cooksey) as "custos de Dodforde). The Abbot of Halesowen is enjoined to keep in good repair the church, refectory and other buildings of the priory. He had also to pay the Bishop and his successors an annual pension of 6s. 8d.; 3s. 4d. to the prior and convent of Worcester and, 2s. to the Archdeacon by way of compensation for their loss of jurisdiction over what henceforth was to be merely a cell of an exempt house. Nash has it that Derby paid for the annexation out of the surplus money which had been granted to him by Dean Haywood of Lichfield to buy lands for the maintenance of a chantry in Lichfield Cathedral. Be that as it may, Halesowen brought its undoubted expertise in agriculture and estate management to bear on Dodford's seemingly intractable problems with good purpose for, what in 1464 had seemed a semi-derelict property assessed at only £4 17s. had, by 1535, become worth £24 13s.
It was during John Derby's abbacy that something of great importance to Romsley took place. In 1473 licence was given to the Abbey to acquire "lands and rents not held in chief to the value of £10 for the sustenance of a chaplain celebrating divine service in the chapel of St. Kenelm appertaining to the Church of Clent and for the repair of the same chapel". For the first time definite and separate provision was made for a resident priest at Kenelmstowe, and the 500th anniversary of that event was one facet of the village's festival celebrations of 1973.
Halesowen throughout its existence was under the supervision of its "Father Abbot" of Welbeck, and there seems to have been little or no friction arising from this arrangement. Thus, circa 1468, we find Abbot John of Welbeck writing to Abbot John Derby begging him to receive back into the abbey a certain brother named Thomas Bromsgrove who had left the house without permission, but now wished to return. Derby replied that he would obey the wise counsel of his brother of Welbeck and allow the penitent monk once more into the cloisters. It would appear that Abbot Derby was assiduous in bringing to the notice of Bishop Redman, the Conservator-General of the Order, on the occasions of his visitations, any wrongdoings of the monks under his jurisdiction. So it was that in 1478, Brother John Saunders was found guilty of immorality and banished from Halesowen to the remote monastery at Dale (Derbyshire) for eighty days. On the same occasion, Thomas Cokesey was accused of the same crime, but he vehemently denied the offence and was allowed to purge himself. He apparently achieved respectability later for, as previously mentioned, he was some years afterwards put in charge of the daughter house at Dodford. Visiting Halesowen again later in 1478, Bishop Redman seems to have been satisfied with the state of the abbey, except it was reported that one brother had broken the rule of silence and he was sentenced to one day on bread and water.
8. THE END IN SIGHT
Much of our knowledge of the last half century of Halesowen Abbey's existence comes from the Register of Bishop Redman, who was Conservator-General of the Premonstratensian Order from 1466 to 1505. His visitations of the English Premonstratensian houses seem to have taken place at about four-yearly intervals, and his account of those relating to Halesowen threw a great deal of light on the internal conditions of the monastery.
The Bishop was at Halesowen in 1481 when he commented on many irregularities in the performance of divine ceremonies and services, and on poor observance of the rules of the Order. The Canons were told that they must not eat or drink in any layman's house which was within three miles radius of the abbey. Furthermore, in the abbey itself, they must confine their eating to the place specifically provided for that purpose. The Abbot (presumably John Derby) was ordered to remove from the abbey precincts "certain evil women" and to forbid them entry henceforward. The temporal affairs of the house came under review too, and the Abbot was told to preserve his woodland and groves so far as possible, and not to sell or waste them. After approximately 40 years as Abbot, John Derby died in 1486. He held the office longer than anyone else in the 300 years of the Abbey's existence. Thomas Bruges, the sub-prior, succeeded him, and appears to have succeeded in re-establishing discipline for, in 1488, Bishop Redman found nothing needing correction. He commented that the state of the monastery, both temporal and spiritual, bore witness to Thomas's firm rule. True, there was one black sheep. Brother Roger Walsall who, as we shall see, had a very chequered monastic career, but the Bishop absolved him from his fault, and restored him to his former rank. Redman's 1488 visitation is particularly interesting for its glimpses of the Abbey's domestic affairs. There were, in that year, only 17 canons on the rolls, of which number four were residing in vicarages belonging to the Abbey (presumably those of Halesowen, Walsall, Wednesbury and Clent). 20 bushels of wheat and rye were used weekly for the baking of bread, and over the year 1,110 quarterns of barley, 60 oxen, 40 sheep, 30 swine and 14 calves were consumed. By 1494 discipline had deteriorated again. Redman noted that the tonsures of the monks were not in accordance with the rules of the Order, and that the Abbot had allowed the felling of too much timber. Worse was to follow. In 1497 five of the younger brethren, led by the same Roger Walsall who had been in trouble in 1488, conspired against the Abbot. Besides Walsall, the conspirators were Richard Hampton, Roger Wednesbury, Thomas Dudley and Richard Bakyne, the last-named being also accused of immorality. August brought Bishop Redman, who pronounced sentence on the wrong-doers. Walsall was to be banished to the monastery at Croxton in Leicestershire, where he was to undergo ten years imprisonment. Bakyne was to suffer 60 days severe punishment, and be despatched for a term to St. Agatha's Abbey at Easby in Yorkshire. The other three conspirators were sentenced to prison for 40 days, followed by banishment for a term, Hampton to Barlings (Lincolnshire), Wednesbury to Newhouse (Lincolnshire) and Dudley to West Dereham in Norfolk. Touched, however, by the tearful entreaties of the culprits; to which were added pleas for mercy from Abbot Bruges himself; from the Abbot of Tally who was helping in the visitation, and from the rest of the canons of the house, the Bishop agreed to suspend the sentences and refer "both the crime and the penalties" to the next Chapter-General of the Order. We have no record as to what action the Chapter-General took, but subsequent events prove that if the sentences were not quashed entirely they must have been considerably modified.
When Redman made his next visitation in 1500, Richard Bakyne had become the Abbey's Sub-Prior, while his companions in crime were described as "worthy canons". Certainly a case of the stones rejected by the builder becoming the cornerstones of the temple! As a footnote to these happenings the records show that Roger Walsall (presumably by now a totally reformed character) became in 1501 Vicar of Halesowen, a post he held until succeeded by John Legh in 1542. There is a reference to him (as Sir Roger Walsall) in the Halesowen Church Wardens accounts for 1502.
An intriguing little mystery is thrown up by Redman's record of his 1500 visitation. His list of the Abbey's inmates includes "John Hay - Former Abbot". There is, however, no record whatsoever of Hay having occupied the Abbot's stall at Halesowen. Indeed, when Redman was at the Abbey in 1497, Hay was recorded as being Vicar of Clent at that date, and Amphlett shows him as occupying that post from 1468 to 1485 and then, after a four year interval from 1489 to 1502. Could he, one wonders, have been Abbot of some other Premonstratensian house during his four years absence from the Clent vicarage? Be that as it may, he had evidently come back to Halesowen to spend his declining years. A word of warning here against using printed history sources at their face value. A. A. Lock, the writer of the article on Halesowen Abbey in the Victoria County History of Worcestershire, gives the date of this visitation as 1517. Unpardonable, when he could easily have found out that Bishop Redman died in 1506. He had taken his information without questioning it from Nash, who in turn had relied upon the researches of Bishop Lyttelton. Thus has an error of 17 years been compounded and given wide acceptance.
Another instance of an erring Halesowen Canon repenting and eventually achieving a position of authority and respect in the church is that of John Sanders. At the Visitation of 1478 he was convicted of incontinence and apostasy, and sentenced to a term of three years imprisonment at the Premonstratensian Abbey of Cockersand in Lancashire. The usual intercession followed with the result that Saunders' sentence was reduced to 80 days at the Derbyshire monastery of Dale. He went there immediately in the entourage of Bishop Redman, the Visitor, or Circator, as he was known in Premonstratensian parlance. In 1482, his name appears in the Halesowen records, and six years later he was' promoted to the office of Sub-Prior. From 1491 to 1494 he was Prior, and in 1497 he became Vicar of Halesowen, a position he held until 1501 when he was succeeded by Roger Walsall, whose career we have previously noticed.
Books were scarce and precious in mediaeval times. This fact is brought home to us by a benefaction made to the Abbey by Sir Thomas Lyttelton. In his will, dated 22nd August 1481, he bequeathes "to the Abbot and Convent of Hales my book called 'Catholicon' to their use for ever, and another book wherein is contained the Constitution Provincial and 'De Gestis Romanorum' and other treatises". He made the condition that the books "be laid and bounded with an iron chain in some convenient part of the said church, so that all priests and others may see and read them when it pleaseth them". How sad that in little more than 50 years after his gift, the Abbey was dissolved, its church desecrated and robbed, and these precious volumes either destroyed or spirited away into somebody's private collection.
While books were not universally available in the 15th century, it must not be supposed that the Premonstratensian Abbeys were devoid of learned tomes. Indeed some of the houses of the Order had considerable libraries. At Titchfield, in Hampshire, for instance, the Abbey's library contained 224 volumes, and the library catalogue for this house as well as for St. Ranegunds and Welbeck survives. Halesowen's book list, alas, has disappeared, but on the basis of the records of sister houses, it is fair to assume that its library would have consisted of at least 100 volumes, all hand-written and many beautifully illuminated. None of these books survive. Indeed, from the libraries of the 30-odd English Premonstratensian Abbeys no more than 30 volumes are still in existence, so that the extent of the pillage and destruction which attended the Dissolution can to some extent be assessed.
One thing which has remained to us of Halesowen's records is a Rent Roll dated 1500. It provides some interesting facts about the Abbey's possessions in Romsley and district. Hugh Westwood was paying a rent of £5 per annum for the Red Cow Inn at Kenelmstowe and for certain fields around it. John Underhill was charged 16s. 8d. a year for the tenement near Shutt Mill, while William Hill paid 20s. yearly for the mill itself. Underhill also rented "The Banyards" which were roughly where Holt Farm now stands. George Addenbrooke was at the Westley's, Roger Brettell was living at "The Orchard and the Hall" (Pen Orchard?). Other names appearing on the Romsley rent roll were Humphrey Lyndon, William Westwood, Thomas Penn, William Smart, William Hall, Thomas Locock, and Richard Stampys. At Hunnington Robert Offley, John Harris and Roger Wilks were named as the Abbot's tenants, while at Illey the names of William Bristow, John Stampys, Elizabeth Knight, William Coley and John Stampys are recorded. Some families bearing these names are still to be found in this area and since Parish Registers came into being not very long afterwards, it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility for the keen researcher to trace his ancestry back to these manorial tenants.
Abbot Bruges died in 1505 after 19 years in office. As was usual when a new Abbot was elected, an inventory of his predecessor's possessions was prepared. Edmund Green, Prior of Hornby in Lancashire, succeeded Bruges, and he found himself possessed of large numbers of cattle. The inventory states that eight oxen from "Hasmore" were allocated to the cellarer, and "four fat beeves" from the same place to the kitchen. The abbot's chamber had two feather beds and a "quylte of white wroght with nedyll worke". In what was described as the "new chamber" was a feather bed, "a quylte covered with red sylke", and "a red coverlit with dolphins". The furniture in other principal rooms is listed, as is the plate in the Abbot's chamber. Included in the list and probably the house's most precious possessions are "the shrine of St. Kenelm bearing the head of the saint and a crown in silver and gilt, and the shrine of St. Barbara's head also of silver and gilt".
In 1507 Sir William Lyttelton was buried in the Abbey. By his will, dated November of that year, he directed that his body be interred within the monastery before the image of the Virgin Mary "near the place and grave where my first wife lies buried, Moreover, I direct my executors to procure a marble stone with two images and sculptures according, to be laid over me and Ellyn my first wife, when God shall do his mind with them". (I found, accidentally, in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1808 a note by the Halesowen born antiquary and artist, David Parkes, stating that the effigy of Ellyn [or Eleanora] "in a cumbent position" was removed from the abbey ruins in 1753 and placed in the churchyard at Hagley on the orders of George, Lord Lyttelton. A recent search has failed to find it there.)
I have mentioned previously that Bishop Redman, the Procurator of the Premonstratensian Order, died in 1505 and it was at about the same time that the Abbot of Premontre made another attempt to secure contributions from his English houses. The English abbots, not unexpectedly, fell back on the royal prohibition against payments to foreign superiors. Much legal activity followed at Rome, the details of which would be tedious to the non-specialist reader, the upshot of which was that in 1512 the representative of the English Premonstratensian Abbots returned home with a Papal Bull granting complete exemption from the exactions of Premontre.
Coming from the general to the particular, there exists comparatively little documentary evidence about activities at Halesowen in the years immediately prior to the Dissolution. There is, however, in the journals of Prior More, who was Prior of Worcester from 1518 to 1536, an enigmatic entry early in 1522 which reads "In rewards 2d. for expenses to St. Kenelm's and Hales Owen". Presumably the Prior would be exercising some diocesan function, but this is the only reference I have found in the whole of records of Halesowen Abbey of a Visitation of St. Kenelm's, Romsley.
It is not known for certain how long the abbacy of Edmund Green lasted, but it seems to have been a lengthy one, for not until 1529 does the name of his successor, William Taylor, Halesowen's last abbot, occur. It is likely that Taylor was promoted from within the Abbey itself, since his name does not figure elsewhere in Premonstratensian records.
Many and varied are the sources of information about our Abbey, but I hardly expected to find fresh facts in Lawley's "History of Bilston", which was published in 1893. Yet, surprisingly, I learned from it that in 1531, there was an acolyte at Halesowen named Clement Perry, who was the son of William Perry, a man of some substance in Bilston. Perry eventually became priest-in-charge there, an office which he held until his death in 1559. The Perry family, however, has another claim on Romsley's attention. Clement's brother, Edward, married in 1535 Elizabeth Kempson, a member of another well-known Bilston family. It was a descendant of this same Kempson family, Edmund Kempson, who became Romsley's first rector in 1866.
We have seen already how Canons of Halesowen were appointed vicars of churches whose advowsons had been acquired by the Abbey. Perry's is an instance of an appointment to a cure outside the Abbot's jurisdiction, which shows what a useful research exercise it would be, given time and patience, to examine the incumbents lists of Midland churches and compare them with the Abbey records so as to establish to what benefices the monks of Halesowen were instituted.
To return to William Taylor. His term of office was to be a troubled one. 1535 saw the appointment of Thomas Cromwell (or Crumwell) as Henry VIII's Vicar-General. It was his boast that he would make his master "more wealthy than all the princes of Christendom". The obvious source of this wealth were the English monasteries, the internal conditions of which he, as former agent of Cardinal Wolsey, had intimate knowledge. His first task, therefore, was to prove to his sovereign something which he himself already knew - just how rich in land, money, furnishings and valuables the religious houses were. So was undertaken and brought to a successful conclusion in an astonishingly short time, that latter-day ecclesiastical Domesday survey, the Valor Ecclesiasticus, the details of which, fortunately, are still available for our study.
The Valor was compiled from facts gleaned by Cromwell's agents who visited all the religious houses. In the case of Halesowen, the visitor was a certain Dr. Legh (sometimes called Leigh or Lee - the scribes of the time were not sticklers for accuracy) a conceited, opinionated, ill-mannered young university don. He, like other of Cromwell's agents, was not averse to taking bribes, given by the heads of houses in the mistaken belief that further punitive action could be prevented or at least postponed. It is no surprise, therefore, to find hidden away in Cromwell's private account books, a note of payment of £4 by the Abbot of Halesowen to Dr. Legh on 31st December 1536, and a similar sum in the following year. And before you, dear reader, dismiss these amounts as trivial, please bear in mind that at today's values they would each represent several thousand pounds.
Let us now take a look at the Valor Ecclesiasticus insofar as it relates to the possessions of Halesowen Abbey. There are three very detailed pages of the annual value of the abbey's lands which included Romsley, Halesburg, Horbune, Smethwyke, Wombourne, Rowley, Weddesbury, Westbromwyche, Lychefeld, Walsall, Pessall, Warley, Churchlenche, Cradley, Dodforde, Frankley, Northfeld, Pyrcote Graunge, Dudley and Clent. (I have kept to the original spelling of the Valor.) Income from benefactions to St. Kenelm's Chapel is recorded as £10 per annum while the stipend of its capellanus or priest-in-charge is shown as £5 per annum. The total annual income of the abbey worked out at £337 15s. 6d. which in terms of today's values would be of the order of £100,000. Outgoings were calculated at £57 2s. 4d (£17,000 in 1973) so that a taxable sum of £83,000 remained which, on the basis of Henry VIII's "First Fruits" legislation, would produce for the Exchequer the tidy sum of £8,300 annually. History has shown, of course, that the Visitations of Cromwell's henchmen and the compiling of the Valor merely provided the impetus and the excuse for the impending Dissolution.
9. THE DISSOLUTION AND AFTER
Since we cannot study the Dissolution of the Monasteries as it affects Halesowen in isolation, perhaps we should look at this whole operation dispassionately. We know that in the late Middle Ages some aspects of monastic life had provoked a good deal of criticism. The enormous wealth of the religious houses, the increase in them of moral laxity, and the supposed laziness of the inmates, were increasingly frowned upon. Several attempts at reform had been made and failed, and a handful of small suppressions had taken place early in the 16th century. Then in 1536 came the Act for the Dissolution of the Smaller Monasteries (27 Henry VIII, c. 28). These were houses with an income of less than £200, and nearly 300 were involved. Halesowen, of course, was not caught by this legislation since its income was very much larger, amounting, as I have previously recorded, to approximately £337 per annum.
Even with the suppression of these lesser monasteries completed, Cromwell's visitations of the larger houses continued. At these visitations, which continued throughout 1537, 1538 and 1539 (although in 1539 they had no legal validity) many Abbots were persuaded (perhaps 'coerced' would be the better word) voluntarily to surrender their houses to the Crown. The bait which was dangled before them was the promise of a liberal pension, while the overhanging threat was a charge of treason. It may well be, therefore, that when the arrogant Dr. Legh rode up to Halesowen Abbey on 8th June 1538 with his considerable retinue of liveried retainers, William Taylor had already decided to take the course of least resistance. Refreshed by the Abbot's hospitality and a good night's sleep, Legh wasted no time on June 9th in going through the formalities. The Deed of Surrender was drawn up, signed by Abbot Taylor, and sealed with the huge abbey seal, which had a representation of the Virgin Mary seated, with the Christ Child on her left knee and a sceptre in her right hand. Around the edge were the words "SIGILL: CONVENTUS; ECCLIE: SCE:
MARIE: DE: HALES", a rough translation of which would be "Seal of the Convent Church of the Holy Mary at Hales". With this document afe in Legh's possession, the practical work of pillage and destruction could proceed. The visitors worked so expeditiously that Legh and his colleague John Freman were able to write to Cromwell on 12th June a letter headed "The late monastery of Hales Owen" which read as follows: "According to the commission and indenture, we have dissolved the monastery of Hales Owen. The surrender, sealed with the convent seal, we send by the bearer to be enrolled. Today we set forth towards Thurgaton". (Thurgaton is three miles south of Southwell and ten miles north-east of Nottingham).
Number seven of the "Instructions to the Commissioners for the Suppression" read, "They shall appoint pensions to the governors and notify them to the Chancellor and Council of the Court of Augmentation', with the total values of the possessions, then despatch the governor and other religious persons with convenient rewards". How did Legh and Freman discharge this obligation? Taking first the 'governor', by which is meant the Abbot, William Taylor was awarded a sum of no less than £66 13s. 4d. which, if my calculations are correct, would provide him with an income which today would render him liable to the highest rate of income tax. A list survives of the inmates of the abbey at the time of the suppression, and I am giving this below with against each name the amount of the pension awarded. What will immediately strike the reader is the enormous discrepancy between the amount awarded to the Abbot and those provided for the lower orders.
Inmates of Halesowen Abbey at the dissolution
|Nicholas Grooves £10|
|Robert Shyngfells 6|
|Thomas Robinson 6|
|William Bolton 4|
|Alexander Whytehead 5|
|Will Boroden 5|
|Joseph Rogers 3 6s. 8d.|
|William Glasgar 4|
|Richard Gregory 3 6s. 8d.|
|Thomas Blunt 2 13s. 4d.|
|Henry Cooke 7 5s. 8d.|
|- Hawkesworth 2|
|Albert Stacey 2 13s. 4d.|
|Thomas Singulton 2 6s. 8d.|
|Thomas Blount 2 6s. 8d.|
In general a large number of the dispossessed obtained benefices as secular clergy, at which time their pensions were discontinued. It would, as I have mentioned previously, be an interesting exercise to find out which of the Halesowen brethren continued with a religious calling. Certainly the Halesowen incumbent at the date of the Dissolution was Roger Walsall whose chequered career at the Abbey we have already noticed.
As Doctor Legh mounted his horse on 12th June 1538 and followed by his retinue, clattered through the abbey gates to take the road northward to Thurgarton, what scene of desolation did he leave behind? I cannot do better than quote from a letter which another of Cromwell's agents, Rev. John Portinari wrote to his master following the sack of Lewes Priory.
|"My Lord, I humbly commend myself unto your Lordship, the last I wrote unto your Lordship was the twentieth day of this present month.....by the which I advertised your Lordship of the length and greatness of this church, and how we began to pull the whole to the ground … I told your Lordship of a vault on the right side of the high altar, that was borne up with four great pillars, having about it five chapels which be compassed in with the walls seventy steps of length, that is two hundred feet. All this is down Thursday and Friday last. Now we are plucking down an higher vault, borne up by four thick and gross pillars, thirteen feet from side to side, about in circumference forty-five feet. That your Lordship may know with how many men we have done this, we brought from London seventeen persons, three carpenters, two smiths, two plumbers and one that keepeth the furnace. Ten of them hewed the walls about, the carpenters made props to underset where the others had cut away, and others brake and cut the walls. On Tuesday they began to cast the lead, and it shall be done with such diligence and saving as may be ..."|
Much of the Halesowen edifice would be left standing. Why so little remains is due to the use of stones by a later Lord of the Manor for his sham castle at Hagley, by William Shenstone for his 'ruinated priory' and by the townsfolk for domestic buildings.
Some of the Halesowen Abbey's furnishings were bought for use in the parish church. The churchwardens' accounts for 1539 record the following payments:
|£. s. d.|
|Fetching the rood from the abbey and setting it up||2 10|
|Paid for the organs||2 13 4.|
|For mending and setting them up||2 0 0|
|For fetching the table or picture of St. Kenelm|
|from the abbey and setting it up||6|
|For carriage of three loads of stuff from the abbey||6|
So we write 'Ichabod' - the glory is departed! It remains now for us to trace the history of the ruined abbey from 1538 down to the present day.
It should not be supposed, in spite of what I have written previously, that the visitor to the site of the former monastery at Halesowen immediately following the departure of the Commissioners for the Suppression would come upon a scene of total destruction and devastation. After all, the intention behind the Commissioners' actions was not wanton spoliation of property, but the commercial exploitation of materials, furnishings and valuables, coupled with the intention that the area should be left in a state which would not allow of its being used for monastic purposes in the foreseeable future. So it was that the purely ecclesiastical buildings had been de-roofed, primarily for the recovery of the lead covering. This valuable metal had been melted down into transportable ingots, as was the bronze from the great bells in the abbey's tower. Jewels and plate had either been sold locally or transferred to the royal coffers, while furnishing and vestments had also been disposed of in the immediate neighbourhood. The serious student who cares to peruse the Augmentation Accounts for 1539 will find under the certificate of John Freman "late Commissioner" very full details of receipts from the sale of "moveables, plate, lead, bells and buildings of the late monastery of Halesowen".
One of the buildings left intact was the abbot's dwelling or (as Bennett's conjectural plan describes it) Mansion House. This occupied the area now covered by the substantial Victorian farmhouse and is, in fact, the only one of the immense range of monastic buildings of which we have an authentic illustration. That famous artist son of Halesowen, Benjamin Green (1739-1798) completed and published in 1781 four engravings of the abbey, as it then appeared, three showing ruined buildings and the fourth the abbot's mansion. Copies of these engravings should still be in the possession of the Earl's High School (late Halesowen Grammar School) and that of the mansion shows a massive gabled building of stone with a tiled roof, obviously connected with the kitchens, cellars and frater of the former monastery. The solid and spacious property overlooked a placid stretch of water which it is now assumed provided the water power for a mill.
To be able to dispose of the remains of the abbey and its lands advantageously it was necessary that within the curtilage there should be a manor house suitable for the residence of a person of quality. This accounts for the preservation of the abbot's lodging, the first occupant of which was one George Tuckey, trusted steward of Sir John Dudley, who had obtained of King Henry VIII the grant of Manor Abbey (as it came to be known) and its lands.
Here it is necessary, briefly, to move from local to national affairs. Henry VIII died in 1547 to be succeeded by the sickly boy King Edward VI, who created Dudley Earl of Warwick. Eventually the new Earl replaced the more moderate Duke of Somerset in the King's Councils. A man of overweening ambition, Dudley now had himself created Duke of Northumberland, but, becoming over-confident, quarrelled with the heir-presumptive, the Princess Mary. When the young king became mortally ill, Dudley, fearing for his future and indeed his life under Mary, plotted to replace her by her cousin. Lady Jane Grey, who was married to one of his sons. The plot failed, he and the hapless Jane were executed, and his estates (including the abbey lands at Halesowen) were confiscated. A merciful monarch restored the Manor to Dudley's widow, Joan. She died in 1554, leaving the manor in trust for her three sons. The eldest son gave up his share in the same year to his youngest brother, Sir Robert Dudley who, in turn, settled it on his wife, the tragic Amy Robsart. She, with him, then sold the manor to the sitting tenant, George Tuckey, and his partner Thomas Blount (could this be the man who featured in the Dissolution pensions list?) who might be described as prototypes for today's property speculators. After stripping the estate of outlying farms and other assets, they sold the manor to Sir John Lyttelton. So began in the 16th century the ownership of Manor Abbey by the Lyttelton family, in whose possession it remained until 1993.
When possession of the manor was granted to Sir John Dudley, an annual rent of £28 1s.3d. was reserved to the Crown, but this was reduced to £20 in 1611 on the petition of the Lytteltons because of decline in the area of the property consequent on Blount and Tuckey's disposals. The Lytteltons continued to pay this rent to the Crown until 1650 when it was sold by order of Parliament. At the Restoration this rent was again settled on the King who passed it on to his Queen, Katherine, in 1663. By an Act of Parliament passed some years later the King was allowed to alienate fee-farm rents and the purchaser of the Halesowen impost was a forbear of Sir Matthew Decker (1679-1749) to whose widow the rent was still being paid in the time of Bishop Lyttelton (1714-1768). It was finally extinguished by a later Lord Lyttelton in the 19th century.
But there is more to the cessation of monastic life at Halesowen than the mere sale of lands and buildings. What was the impact of the departure of the monks (with their reputed widespread charities and hospitality) on the life of the common people of the neighbourhood? Who were the yeomen farmers who followed George Tuckey as tenants of these fertile lands? What happened over the years to these substantial monastic remains so that only pitiful fragments remain today? Where would you look now (other than among the barns and byres of Manor Farm) for fragments of that once proud and massive Premonstratensian foundation? All these are questions we must try to answer before we finally bring down the curtain on a mode of life which, but for the frailty of man and the greed of kings, might still be pointing the way heavenwards to a nation badly in need of the monastic ideals of abstinence, charity and frugality.
Although hundreds of books have been written about the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it is still difficult to obtain an accurate assessment of the effect of this drastic curtailment of religious and social activity on the lives of the ordinary people in the second half of the 16th century. Writers of the various histories of Halesowen (including Somers) have tended to shy away from the problems posed for the historian by this cataclysm in the life of the town. Yet its effects were significant and widespread, and must be noticed here if our story is to be in any way complete.
It must be admitted that, in the 14th and 15th centuries, there had been a progressive decline in monastic ideals. Alms and hospitality were still being dispensed at Halesowen Abbey, but not on the scale which had operated in the house's heyday. So when, at the Dissolution, the daily doles of bread and meat, hitherto passed to the poor and needy at the abbey gatehouse, temporarily ceased, there were some who had to seek sustenance elsewhere, but only a comparative few of Halesowen's citizens would be actually affected. There is some evidence of a growth of lawlessness (particularly of petty thieving) at this time and (partly because of the large numbers of abbey servants and retainers who were thrown out of work) an increase in vagrancy.
Eventually this was recognised as a national problem and enactments of 1572, 1576 and 1598 represented attempts by the central government to grapple with it. These were followed by the Poor Law Act of 1601, but the continued increase in vagrancy led to the Act of Settlement of 1662. In 1723 came legislation empowering Town Overseers to establish workhouses. Halesowen's workhouse was built in 1730. Adjoining it was the town's lock-up which, demolished some years ago, had its stones numbered and transported to the abbey site, in the vain hope it could be re-erected there as an historic building. Alas, these stones, which may well have been taken from the abbey ruins in the first place, are now scattered, their identifying marks long obliterated and never likely now to be used as intended. This is no place to discuss in detail the many acts passed over the next 200 years aimed at ameliorating the lot of the poor, but it may perhaps be noted that the Act of 1948 which established our present social security system and removed (we hope for ever) the remaining stigma of pauperism, stemmed directly from the Dissolution of the Monasteries which forced the state to assume responsibility for what had previously been a function of the religious houses.
Henry VIII's ministers had, of course, foreseen that the end of the somewhat haphazard dispensing of aid by the monasteries would cause widespread hardship, and the Act of Dissolution required, under penalty, that the new owners of the ex-monastic properties should maintain previous traditions of hospitality. Not unnaturally, this was honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and contemporary writers have remarked on "the decay of hospitality" as frequently as they noticed the decay of tillage. Certainly, one cannot imagine those hard-headed property speculators, Blount and Tuckey, being particularly anxious that victuals from the old abbey kitchens should find their way into the bellies of Halesowen's paupers.
It has been said that the Dissolution of the monasteries deprived the youth of the times of its only chance of free education, but this does not stand up to the historian's scrutiny. In the case of our own abbey in particular, it is extremely doubtful whether there was any attempt on the part of the religious to act as schoolmasters for the neighbourhood. The only young men taken into the community of monks would be those intended for the religious life and, in view of the small size of the fraternity (never more than about 20 religious) the numbers involved would be pitifully small. Possibly one of the enduring effects of the Dissolution was that rich men could no longer leave money for the saying of masses for the salvation of their souls and so they left money to help the poor or to provide education of the needy. In the case of Halesowen an Inquest held in 1652 consolidated sundry such charities and ordained that the resulting funds should be used for the erection and maintenance of a Free School. This eventually became Halesowen Grammar School which, after 300 years of useful life (approximately the same life span as that of the abbey, the demise of which led, indirectly, to its founding) lost its identity.
Once Henry VIII's commissioners had secured the lead from the roof of the abbey church, the metal from its bells, the silver and gold plate from its altars, and had sold locally its furnishings, fabrics and other moveables, they could depart feeling reasonably certain that there was no fear of the building again being put to conventual use. They had left the abbot's mansion for the use of the new owner of the manor, and were not particularly concerned what happened to the church's pillared and roofless aisles.
Thus, the ruins of the great church became a quarry and, over the next two centuries, countless tons of stone were carted away to become part of all sorts of secular buildings in the neighbourhood. (So long is folk memory that I can remember my own grandmother telling me how, as a child, she heard her grandfather describe the then Lord Lyttelton having stones from the abbey carted to Hagley for the erection there of one or other of the 'Follies' which now grace Hagley Park.) That mock 'Ruin' in the park, known as Hagley Castle, was built almost entirely of stone from the abbey, as was the "ruinated priory" erected by his contemporary, William Shenstone, in the grounds of the Leasowes. The 'priory', alas, has disappeared, but the 'castle' stands, a monument to man's vanity. Visitors to Walsall's interesting parish church can see there choir stalls with fine misericordes which once graced the chancel of our abbey church. We have previously noticed that several 'lodys of stuffe', including the Rood, the organs, 'St Kenelmys tabull' and various images were carted from the abbey to Halesowen church. Some articles were set up in the church, but others, including the Rood, were resold. The unique encaustic tiles with which the abbey church was floored were widely disseminated. Some may be seen in a show case in Halesowen church, others fulfilled their original function as part of the floor of the Victorian farmhouse adjacent to the abbey ruins, while not a few are in private hands. Virtually all Halesowen's old houses have now been demolished and with them have gone the abbey stones which formed the foundations of many of them. Only in the farmyard at Manor Abbey Farm may be seen lying in profusion, curiously and lovingly carved stones which were once part of the monastic buildings. In the days when hay and corn were stored in ricks, even the humble staddle stones would once have been part of those soaring arches, which for centuries echoed to the plainsong of the monks.
Several hundred years of change and decay have flowed over the abbey buildings, but all that time the fertile abbey lands have seen seed-time and harvest. First the monks themselves cultivated these well-watered acres. Later they left the work to the lay brothers and, later still, hired labour was used on the Home Farm and on the distant granges. After the Dissolution and the sale of the manor to Blount and Tuckey, it passed eventually to the Lytteltons who let it to tenant farmers. The first tenants seem to have been the Mucklow family whose name is perpetuated in Halesowen's once hazardous Mucklow Hill. The Mucklows lived at and worked Manor Abbey Farm for well over a hundred years, the last tenant of that name leaving around 1708.
Then began the long association of the Green family with the abbey farm. It was singularly appropriate that the Greens should be farming this land for they had long been connected with the manor. We learn from the Lyttelton archives in the Birmingham Reference Library that as long ago as 1274, lands in 'Rugeaker' (Ridgeacre) were granted to 'John de la Grene' and Alice, his wife, while in 1522 is recorded a 'Lease of 60 years from the Abbot and Convent of Our Lady of Hales Owen to William Grene and his wife … of Radwalle Grange … and other lands with a pasture in Horborne (Harborne)'. And you, dear reader, will not have forgotten that Edmond Greene occupied the Abbot's stall at Halesowen from 1505 to 1529....
George Green (1679-1716) followed the Mucklows. He was succeeded by his son, John (1708-1790) who passed on the tenancy to his son James (1746-1792). On James' death, his brother, Richard (1749-1836), took over. His demise brought a nephew, Thomas Green (1780-1862) to Manor Abbey and later Greens brought this long family saga well into the present century. Next came the Shalers who were tenants until 1957 when Mr. H.A. Hodgetts, who was to be the last of the tenant farmers, took over in 1957.
Manor Abbey Farm was virtually the last of the Lyttelton outlying properties, and for a few years it was farmed from Hagley before being sold to Mr. Chris Tudor in 1993.
If I were given to envy, I could envy Mr. Tudor his ownership of this historic site, but it would never do for an historian to be a farmer in such circumstances. The archaeologists would be searching for the Abbots' graves to the exclusion of agricultural pursuits.
10. ASPICE … PROSPICE
This history of Halesowen Abbey arose from research conducted during the years 1960-1969 and was written in 1970, primarily for serialisation in the Romsley St. Kenelm's Parish magazine, where it appeared for 31 consecutive months commencing with the December 1971 issue. Much water has flowed down the infant River Stour past the Abbey ruins since that date, so that the relationship of this ancient monument to the community in which it exists has changed considerably.
Halesowen has now been absorbed into the Metropolitan District of Dudley, and as it is the smallest of the constituent former boroughs, it does not tend to receive priority for its needs, particularly where its historic monuments are concerned. When the Abbey site ceased to be a tenanted farm, its future became a subject of controversy between the owners, the Lyttelton family, and the local authority, with the result that an imaginative plan for the stabilising of the ruins in the centre of a cultural and leisure complex was not pursued.
Meanwhile, English Heritage, conscious of its responsibilities, but hampered by continuing agricultural exploitation of the site, did proceed with the rehabilitation of the isolated Abbey Infirmary building. The corrugated iron roof was removed; the magnificent original roof timbers with their carved king posts were repaired and treated with preservative prior to being covered by oak shingles. Years of rubbish accumulation were cleared; the flooring between the building's two levels was reinstated, and stairway access restored. Those two unique relics, the diminutive carving (possibly of a crusader) and the coffin lid (possibly once covering the remains of one of the Abbots) were stabilised in their wall niches. The whole edifice was weather-proofed, and stout doors now protect the interior from unauthorised access.
No longer can Halesonians plead ignorance of the evidence of the Abbey ruins, for, under the auspices of English Heritage the public is allowed access during Summer weekends to the Infirmary and its immediate surroundings. From this vantage point other remains of the Abbey complex can be seen, but alas, not visited. The entire area has ceased to be Lyttelton property, but, unfortunately from the point of view of historian and archaeologist, has passed into private ownership which, while demolition or alteration to existing ruins is prohibited, is not sympathetic to extended access or archaeological research.
So it is that while limited progress has been made, a unique mediaeval memorial to Monasticism remains very much in limbo, and unless very large financial resources become available to cover site purchase, ruin stabilisation and venue development, the outlook is bleak. It is, one supposes, beyond the bounds of possibility that, with the Millenium approaching, an imaginative combination of citizen support and civic commitment could submit an unassailable case for aid from the appropriate arm of the National Lottery Commission.
One hopes one's readership extends beyond the boundaries of the township of which the Abbey site is a part. It is perhaps opportune, therefore, to detail just what exists for preservation and exploration. For, having negotiated the long and rough farm track leading to the ruins, what is there to see? There was once a gatehouse, the foundations of which were preserved and suitably marked when the original Manor Lane was widened to accommodate increasing traffic. It can be seen in a 1933 photograph, with its old sandstone wall showing above the grass top of the retaining wall. The white patch showing behind the foundation wall is the cobbled pavement. The iconoclastic creators of the later duel carriageway now called Manor Way swept these remains aside without regard to their antiquity.
Arrived at the site itself, there are still standing parts of the great abbey church, which measured 189 feet in length, 105 feet across the transepts and 59 feet 6 inches across the nave and aisles. There remain of this a part of the north wall of the Presbytery, parts of the south and west walls of the south transept and (incorporated in a farm building) part of the wall of the south aisle.
The monkish domestic buildings were grouped round the cloister to the south of the church and considerable remains of those to the south-west of the cloister remain. We assume these to have been part of the Prater or dining accommodation and the Kitchens, since the latter are strategically situated between the supposed site of the Guest House, the cellars below the Prater, and the abbot's dwelling. The wall with its two rows of window apertures which was part of the Frater now provides a pictureque screen for the Victorian farmhouse which replaced the abbot's mansion and which, in the words of the author of "The Halesowen Story" has "the dignity and air of a country vicarage in a Trollope novel". That distinguished antiquarian and architect J.R. Holliday, writing in 1871, mentioned that the architect for the farmhouse was a Mr. Yeovile Thomason who had stated that the building it replaced "was formerly part of a mill". This accords with the drawing made by Benjamin Green (1736-1798) which I have noted previously, and with the description given by Nancy Burns in her book about the Green family called "Family Tree".
Some of the encaustic tiles with which the floor of the church was paved survive in exhibition cases in Halesowen Church. Others were at one time serving a diminished but useful purpose in the farmhouse porch. As the house is presently undergoing restoration, their continuing presence there cannot be confirmed.
Can we now dispose of another well-loved old wives tale? Halesowen, like almost every other place with an ancient house or abbey has its stories of a subterranean passage. In the case of Halesowen it was supposed to run from the abbey to the parish church. People who should know better have asked me if such a passage existed. The answer is definitely "No". In the first place, a tunnel of such a length, with the necessity for air circulation and ventilation outlets, was beyond the engineering competence of the times while secondly, with free and quick surface access from abbey to church and vice versa, what necessity was there for so costly an undertaking? Was there not incidentally, that fairly straight and well-worn route between the two ecclesiastical centres of the town which still bears the name "Priest's Innage"? Excavators on abbey sites almost invariably come upon large culverts which could be mistaken for tunnels, but most of these ran from upstream of the abbey, below the monks' domestic quarters, rejoined the watercourse downstream of the Abbey and carryied away the house's sewage.
We approach at last the end of our gentle meander through the history of Halesowen Abbey. The story of this monastic foundation from its beginning in 1218 to its dissolution in 1538 followed by the sorry tale of destruction and pillage (some undertaken by 18th century people of quality who should have known better) which resulted in the complex's downgrading from Manor to farm, has, viewed purely from an historical standpoint, been a fascinating if sad one. It will have achieved its purpose if it promotes a heightened awareness of this jewel of history in our midst, and persuades even more people than are reached by English Heritage publicity, to take advantage of the limited but rewarding access to the site now available. In view of the weatherproof (and hopefully vandal-proof) accommodation now available in the restored Infirmary, it would be good if the model of the Abbey as it would have appeared in its heyday and is, one supposes, still in the possession of a local school, could be renovated and put on show when that building is open.
Before the curtain finally falls, however, there are two considerations arising from our story, one practical and one ethical. The practical one poses the question "What is to happen in the future to the Abbey ruins?". Admittedly they are in the care of English Heritage and theoretically inviolable. Practically, however, in spite of recent partial restoration, the overall alien use of the surrounding land, and the vandalism inevitable on an unguarded site, make their deterioration and eventual downgrading to mounds in the turf unavoidable. Can nothing be done to ensure complete preservation? Only by a combination of personal, municipal and national resources resulting in the removal of the ruins from private ownership, can a complex worthy of the history of the Abbey be created.
If it were possible for the Infirmary to be open and stewarded throughout the year, then there would be the possibility of that building being used as a museum for the many Abbey artefacts, illustrations and publications which are now scattered around the area. That at least would positively link past and present. But when all is said and done there remains the terrible indifference of a prosperous community (that indifference exacerbated by the 1972 loss of identity) to the possibility of the loss of Halesowen's one remaining group of mediaeval buildings.
Given that miracles are rare these days, it is inconceivable that new monastic buildings will ever again border Manor Way. But is there a place for monasticism in modern society? We have seen in the case of Halesowen and other Premonstratensian houses that the original purity of aim was sullied, how the community became complacent, lazy, dissolute and inward looking. For these sins was paid the extreme penalty of dissolution. Yet, in secret and in exile the monastic ideal persisted and there are in this country a considerable number of monasteries (both Catholic and Protestant) which are flourishing centres of the contemplative life and of service to the community. One could perhaps mention Buckfast, Prinknash, Quarr, Nashdom and Iona as shining examples of the ideal combination of work, prayer and contemplation. More and more, amid the complexities of modern living it becomes essential to step aside from the daily round for a period of quiet and rest.
Many of these religious houses provide opportunities for the ordinary layman to spend a few days "the world forgetting, by the world forgot" and those who have gone into retreat in this way speak of coming back to their daily work infinitely better able to tackle it. So it would seem that, purged of its ancient evils, monasticism can serve as an island of sanity in an otherwise crazy world.
Perhaps we should leave the final word with the Pope's decree of 1955 "De Accommodata Vitae Religiosae":
|"The monastic way of life must be observed faithfully. It should shine out ever more brightly in all its original purity. Over the centuries it has won for itself high esteem in the Church and among men. A monk's main duty is the service, at once lowly and noble, of the divine Majesty. Within the walls of his monastery, he may live in seclusion and devote himself completely to the worship of God, or he may legitimately have undertaken works of the apostolate or of Christian charity. Therefore, without changing the character of an Order, those ancient traditions must be brought up to date, and brought into line with the needs of souls today. In this way the monasteries will contain the seeds for the building up of the Christian people."|
For those readers who have remained with me so far, and as a result of their reading intend to visit the abbey ruins, the plan reproduced from that indispensable book on Halesowen history, P. and K.M. Somers "Halas, Hales, Halesowen" should prove helpful.
A number of people who obviously want to study in a little more depth the subject of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in general and the history of Halesowen Abbey in particular, have asked me what have been my principal sources of information. In spite of certain inaccuracies, those parts of Treadway Russell Nash's "Collections for the History of Worcestershire" and of the Victoria County History of Worcestershire which relate to Halesowen and its abbey, are useful starting points. An essential book for background information on the Premonstratensian Order, its origins and the history of its English houses is H.M. Colvin's "The White Canons in England". Somewhat more esoteric but useful for details of monastic life at Hales is "Collectanea Anglo-Premonstratensia", published by the Camden Society. Unfortunately out of print, but possibly available for study at Birmingham Reference Library, is J. R. Holliday's "Halesowen Abbey" (reprinted from the proceedings of the Birmingham and Midland Institute Archaeological Society for 1871). Since Holliday was an architect, this slim volume is particularly rich in detail of the abbey's buildings.
In the Birmingham Reference Library too may be found a copy of Henry VIII's Valor Ecclesiasticus where, in Volume III, on pages 206-8, will be found some account of the abbey's finances. A chatty, and of necessity, brief history of the abbey is contained in the Somers book from which our abbey plan is taken, while some account of what happened to the house and its lands after the Dissolution is contained in Nancy Burns detective story-like genealogical study of the Green family called "Family Tree". If you are prepared to spend many hours reading through the index of the bound volumes of the British Archaeological Association, there is gold about Halesowen Abbey to be found among the dross of material about more distant historic sites. Professor G.G. Coulton's painstakingly researched, but somewhat anti-monastic work, "The Mediaeval Village" contains, in addition to information about our abbey, curious and fascinating facts about the village of Romsley and goings-on there in the 13th century. For the compulsive visitor to abbey sites wherever they may be, can be recommended F. H. Crossley's "The English Abbey". Cardinal Gasquet's various books on the Dissolution of the Monasteries (attacked so devastatingly by Coulton) nevertheless contain information available otherwise only from original documents. For the less dedicated reader G.W.0. Woodward's somewhat more superficial account of Henry VIII's depredations entitled (appropriately enough) "Dissolution of the Monasteries" and now obtainable in paper-back, can be recommended. Much that has appeared in this history has been gleaned from original documents, a complete list of which would make tedious reading. Most, if not all, however, have been found from references in the books I have mentioned. The Registers of the mediaeval Bishops of Worcester, some published in recent years by the Worcestershire Historical Society, are useful for the light they throw on the relationship between various Diocesans and Abbots of Halesowen.
Though little may have been done by way of preservation, recent years have seen the publication of the results of additional research into the Abbey's history. The Halesowen History Society has published (1984) Kathleen Crew's "Life at Halesowen Abbey", while, via Cambridge University Press, has come from Tel Aviv University, Zvi Razi's "Life, Marriage and Death in a Mediaeval Parish", sub-titled as "Economy, Society, and Demography in Halesowen 1270-1400".
Finally, for any brave soul who contemplates research into a subject on which literally hundreds of books have been written and which it would take more than one lifetime to read, there are two major works, the one of which will act as a corrective to the other. I refer to Dom Bernard Knowles "The Monastic Orders in England" and Professor G.G. Coulton's "Five Centuries of Religion". Good hunting and good reading!
LIST OF ABBOTS OF HALESOWEN
|Roger de Joblinton 1218 First Abbot. Transferred to Beauchief|
|William - Translated to Welbeck 1232|
|Richard 1232 Named in records 1245 & 1251|
|Henry de Branewyck 1245 Translated from Titchfield|
|Nicholas - Died Jan 1st 1298|
|John 1298 Consecrated Jan 25th 1298|
|Walter de la Flagge 1305|
|Thomas de Lech 1322 Resigned 1331|
|Thomas de Birmingham 1331|
|William de Bromsgrove 1366 Died 1369|
|Richard de Hampton 1369 Named in records 1391|
|John de Hampton 1391|
|John Poole 1395|
|Henry de Kidderminster 1422|
|William Hemele 1443|
|John Derby 1446 Died 1486|
|Thomas Bruges 1486 Died 1505|
|Edmund Greene 1505 Translated from Hornby|
|William Taylor 1529 Resigned at Dissolution 1538|
Amphlett, J. Short History of Clent, 1890
Amphlett, J. (ed) Court Rolls of the Manor of Hales, 1270-1307, Worcs. History Society, 1912
Beresford, M. Lost Villages of England, 1954
Burns, Nancie Family Tree, 1962
British Archaeological Association Journal, Vol. 29, p. 348-351
Coulton, G.C. Mediaeval Village, 1925, pp.98-9
Collectanea Anglo-Premonstratensia, 3 vols, Camden Society, 3rd Series, vols. vi, x, xii, 1904-6
Colvin, H.M. The White Canons in England, 1951
Crewe, K. Life at Halesowen Abbey, Halesowen Historical Society, 1984
Davis-Winstone, Red. W.E. Halesowen Abbey at the end of the 15th C. Birmingham Archaeological Society, 1909
Grundy, G.B. Saxon Charters of Worcestershire, Birmingham Archaeological Society 1936
Grazebrook, H.S. Heraldry of Worcestershire, 1873
Habington, Thomas Collections for Worcestershire, 4 Vols. Mss. Society of Antiquaries
Harris, Wm. The History and Antiquities of the Borough and Parish of Halesowen, 1831
Hartland, E Sydney, P.S.A. The Legend of St. Kenelm, Bristol & Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. Vol. 38/39, 1915-16
Hilton, R.H. A Mediaeval Society: the West Midlands at the end of the 13th Century, 1966
Hobday, E. (ed) The Registers of Halesowen 1558-1643, Parish Register Society, 1910
Holliday, J.R. Halesowen Abbey, B.M.I. Archeological Soc. Report 1871, pp. 49-72
Hunt, J. Papers on Romsley History (4) Halesowen: a View from Romsley Hill, 1969
Jeayes, I.H. Descriptive Catalogue of the Charters and Muniments of the Lyttelton family, 1893
Lyttelton, Charles The Parochial Antiquities of Hagley, Frankley, Churchill, Clent, Arley and Halesowen in the Counties Worcester, Stafford and Salop. Mss. Society of Antiquaries
Lyttelton, Charles The Genealogical and Historical Account of the Lytteltons of Frankley and Hagley. Mss. Society of Antiquaries
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Nash, Treadway Russell Collections for the History of Worcs. 2 Vols, 1781-2
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Pevsner, Nikolaus The Buildings of England - Worcestershire, 1968
Ravi, Zvi Life, Marriage & Death in a Mediaeval Parish, 1980
Roth, H. Ling Bibliography and Chronology of Halesowen, 1887
Report of Commission of Oyer and Terminer, 1386, Birmingham Reference Library Ms. 347156
Somers, F. and K.M. Halas, Hales, Halesowen, 1932
Somers, F. Halesowen Churchwardens Accounts 1487-1582, Worcs. Historical Society, 1957
Schwarz, Lena The Halesowen Story, 1955
Tanner, Thomas Notitia Monastica, 1695; re-issued with additions by his brother John Tanner, 1744; reprinted 1787.
Valor Ecclesiasticus Temp. Henry VIII, Record Commission, 6 Vols.1810-34. (Halesowen Abbey Vol. III, pp. 206-208)
Victoria History of the County of Worcester, 4 vols., 1901-24
Walcot, M.E.C. The Abbeys of Winchcombe, Hayles, Cirencester and Halesowen, Journal British Archaeological Assn. Vol. XXXIV, pp. 337-47, 1879
West, John Village Records, 1962