Black Country Bugle

Ancient abbey records reveal life in the past

K.R. GREGORY delves through medieval manuscript­s to open a window on history


THERE are many references to abbey granges in the court rolls of Hales Manor, a great grange at Oldbury being mentioned in 1280 and again in 1295 when John Honeford dragged a boy named Philip to court and said that he had caught him breaking into a coffer from where he had stolen half a loaf.

It has often been assumed that the word grangia means grange or farmhouse, but sometimes it bears the ordinary meaning of a barn, as when a bushel of wheat and a sheet were seized from Thomas Green’s grangia, or when thieves entered Richard Shirlet’s grange at Hamstead and carried off some corn, and when a lock had been taken off the door at Owley Grange and some oats stolen. In 1297 Philip Wagstaff had a grange at Oldbury but in this case the probabilit­y is that the grange was also a barn, as it is mentioned in connection with the chief house on the tenement as something a new tenant was bound to repair himself.

The following persons of note appear to have been interred in Halesowen Abbey. John, Lord Botetourt, Baron of Weoleigh, who by his will dated June 27 in the seventh year of Richard II, bequeathed his body to be buried in the abbey of Hales, before the high altar and bequeathed jewels and plate for the adorning of certain altars in the abbey and a sum of money for the performing of his executor – Richard of Hampton, at that time abbot. Sir Hugh Burnell, also of Weoleigh, in right of his wife, the daughter and heir of Lord Botetourt, by his will dated October 2, in the fifth year of Henry V, bequeathed his body to the choir of Halesowen Abbey, to be buried in a tomb of alabaster near to the body of his wife Joyce.

Sir William Lyttelton of Frankley, by his will dated November 1507, ordered his burial to be within the abbey before the image of the Virgin Mary, near the place and grave where his first wife was buried. He also directed his executors to procure a marble stone with two images and sculptures to be laid over him and his first wife Ellyn.

In 1505, the 20th year of the reign of Henry VII, on the death of Abbot Brudge, an inventory of the contents of the abbey was made:

Bedding in the abbot’s chamber: II fedur beddys with a palet, coverlet tyke, a matrass with a peyr of blankets, IV stamels, II bolsters, IV tapets, II coverlets, a quiltyngs, VI burd cloths [table cloths], with VIII towels. In the new chamber: a fedur bedde, a quilt, covered with red sylke, I blanket, V coverlets II pyre of sheets and II bolsters. In the Ostre: III matress, I blanket, V coverlets. II pyre of sheets and II bolsters. In the steward chamber: a fedur bedde, a matrass, III bolsters, a pelow, a pyre of blankets, III coverlets, II tapets. In the midyl chamber: II coverlets, II bolsters, a pelow, a coverlet of green with garters and IV peyr sheets.

Plate in the Abbots Chamber: a garrynch of sylver vessel wth II great salts of sylver. I small ewer of sylver, II great salts of sylver, one small salt gyld, II bowls with a goblet of sylver, a standing cupp called Lacy, III sylver pots, IV small masirs [bowls], a goblet with a cover of sylver, III dozen and V sylver spoonys, III peces of sylver without covers.

In the Tresur House: procession cross of sylver, gyld and enameld, a dowbull cross of iron, closyed with sylver, a small standyng crosse of sylver gyld, a schryne of St Barbara’s hed of sylver and gyld, with crosses and beads upon it, II dozen of sylver and gylde, a pardon box sylver and gylde, with precious stonys, with a pax-brede sylver and gylt, II peyr of cruets fo sylver and gylt, II basyns of sylver with a parcel gyld, a holy-water fate [pot] and spryngall of sylver, a crosse staffe of sylver, and a schyppe of sylver for incense, a pixt of iron coverlet with copper and gylt, a pax-brede of iron coverlit with copper and gylt, II censers of sylver, and I gyld, a lytyll bell sylver and gylt.

The abbey expenses were not so much as one may suppose, for the granges, or demesne farms, were held by the abbot and convent and they supplied all that was needed. The inventory taken on the death of Abbot Brudge gives the number of animals that belonged to the abbey:

At Huffemore, III kye, VIII oxen that belonged to the cellarer and II fat beeves for the kechyn. CXXXX [400] shepe and LX [60] lambys. At the Laughton House, XII kye, a bull and a heifer. At Dodford, a bull, XVIII kye and VII heifers. At Harrys XXXIV young beasts and a barren cow. At the Homing XXXXIV [44] oxen [the abbey plough teams], a bull and XII heifers.

NB: a kye is a cow that has calfed more than once.

The canons lived in a little kingdom of their own. They had their own laws and rules and a government of their own. It was the custom fo each abbey to have its superior, an abbot from another abbey, and he was known as Pater Abbas. The abbot of Welbeck was the father abbot to Halesowen.

Among items in the abbey treasure house was “a schryne of St Barbara’s hed of sylver and gyld with crosses and beads upon it”

He had to confirm the elections of abbots and he exercised certain branches of jurisdicti­on. All the government of the abbey was carried out by the abbot, the prior, the sub-prior, sacrist, sub-canter, cellarer and custos-infirmorum, in the chapter house. When the Pater Abbas paid them a visit punishment­s were inflicted on those who had transgress­ed the rules, or were guilty of immorality. Banishment was one form of punishment; those delinquent­s from Halesowen would be sent to Croxton and Shap in Westmorlan­d. On the death of an abbot, the canons would meet in the chapter house and elect a new abbot from among themselves. This new abbot would the be confirmed by the Pater Abbas.

A succession of abbots followed the principle of impoverish­ing the community and turning the monastery into a treasure house. The monks operated demesne farms and the rents paid to the abbey by their tenants in 1499 amounted £136.9s.10d. but with increased rents and a new benefactio­n in Henry VIII’S reign, the income rose to £280.13s per annum.

The Halesowen rolls show that important guests were not ill fed. In 1366, “the Lord of Dudley and his Lady” came to stay at the abbey. They seem to have been welcome guests, for 12d was given to the boy who brought news of their approach. They were certainly well fed, for the kitchen accounts tell us exactly what was bought “during the week in which the lord and lady of Dudley were with us”, namely, “the carcass of a cow (6s), a calf (2s 1d), four shillings worth of pork, a sheep costing 2s 2d, three sucking pigs (4s 6d), ten geese (1s 10d), some fish (5½d), and 750 eggs (3s 4d).”

Some weeks earlier, when another gentleman and his wife were expected, the accounts record the expenditur­e of 3s 7d on “specialia”, luxuries, bought against the arrival of Sir Richard Fitton and his wife, and for the lord abbot of Welbeck and others. 10s was also spent on beer bought at Hales, for the period of this account dated May 6 – September 30, 1366.

For more than 300 years the abbots were the lords of the manor of Hales, and through that time they held their manorial courts. These courts were held every three to four weeks to deal with a whole variety of matters, which give us some idea of the life in Halesowen in those early times. At these courts the local offices were appointed each year, such as:

The Constables for the manor and the deputy constables. These constables had to report to the next meeting of the manorial court any infringeme­nt of the law or custom of their district and if they failed to do so, they were liable to be punished themselves.

Two overseers of swine, and towards the end of the Middle Ages, two searchers and sealers of leather. Like the constables and the tasters, these too were unpaid officers.

The victual tasters and the ale tasters, Two assizes of ale were held for the manor of Halesowen, one for each side of the Stour. Each assize of ale had its own ale tasters. Anyone in the manor who brewed ale was supposed to send for, or take some ale to, the tasters who, when satisfied that the ale was saleable, gave them the right to sell it.

Many rules were made but few were kept. Lewis Taylor twice shot at Thomas Melley with his bow and arrows. John Androus and Walter Kenelmstow­e kept ducks and geese on the Whitepool and the Laconstoon. The vicar had a dung heap outside his house and Ralph Hyll had one in the high street. The abbey buildings were protected by a moat but even this was not sufficient to keep out marauders and in 1293 the abbot was granted licence to fortify parts of the abbey.

It appears, from records of different returns, that there were never more than 20 regular inmates of the abbey. A list, dated 1478, runs as follows:

Abbot, cellarer and sacrist, subprior, Vicar Walshale, Vicar of Hales, Vicar Clent, six professed brothers, curator of the infirmary, canter, sub-canter, and three noviciates.

Although the number of regular inmates was small, the situation of the abbey near a public highway brought many visitors to its doors and the abbot and convent were noted for their hospitalit­y.

William Taylor, the last abbot, surrendere­d St Mary’s Abbey in June 1538 when the agent acting on behalf of Thomas Cromwell, arrived at the abbey. It was a matter of days to dissolve the ancient monastery. Thomas Leigh arrived at Halesowen on June 8 with documents of surrender to the use of the king’s majesty. William Taylor resigned and received a pension of £66.13s.4d. The dismantled abbey gradually became a ruin, and years later a farmhouse was built among the ruins. The cloister garth is now a farmyard and the ancient court house is still standing and used for a barn.

 ?? ?? The court building at Halesowen Abbey is now a barn
The court building at Halesowen Abbey is now a barn
 ?? ?? The ruins of Halesowen Abbey
The ruins of Halesowen Abbey
 ?? ?? Halesowen Abbey
Halesowen Abbey

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