Houses of Augustinian canons
The priory of Ulverscroft


Victoria County History



W.G. Hoskins (editor) assisted by R.A. McKinley

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'Houses of Augustinian canons: The priory of Ulverscroft', A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2 (1954), pp. 19-21. URL: Date accessed: 28 November 2014.


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The priory of St. Mary at Ulverscroft was founded by Robert, Earl of Leicester, (fn. 1) who gave the site on which the house was built. (fn. 2) A papal document of 1174, in which the first mention of the monastery occurs, states that Ranulph, Earl of Chester, gave 30 acres in Charnwood Forest to the priory, and it must therefore have been founded before the death of Earl Ranulph de Gernon in 1153. (fn. 3) The house was described as a hermitage about 1220, (fn. 4) but as early as 1174 the Pope ordered the Augustinian rule to be observed there. (fn. 5) Before 1174 the priory obtained the church of Stanford on Soar (Notts.). (fn. 6) The advowson of Stanford was a source of dispute in the 13th century, (fn. 7) and the priory had lost it by 1280. (fn. 8) In 1323 William de Ferrers had licence to alienate in mortmain to Ulverscroft 70 acres of waste land at Groby, and the advowson of the church of Syston (Leics.). (fn. 9) Licence was granted in 1361 for the appropriation of Syston. (fn. 10) The advowson of Bunny (Notts.) was granted to the priory in 1345 by Thomas de Ferrers. (fn. 11)

About 1220 the priory contained only three brothers, all priests, (fn. 12) but this number was later exceeded. There were eight canons in the house in 1438, when a visitation by Bishop Alnwick revealed an unsatisfactory state of affairs. There were many complaints about the prior's bad management of the monastery's concerns, and it was also said that he was lax in the maintenance of religious discipline. The sub-prior was said to have once been absent from the house for twenty years, and to have been readmitted without the knowledge of the convent. The prior accused the canons of wandering outside the priory, and of possessing private property. Bishop Alnwick provided that the prior should retain control of the priory until the next Michaelmas, when it would be decided whether he should resign, or be assisted by a coadjutor. In fact the prior resigned in 1439. (fn. 13)

The small priory of Charley was united with Ulverscroft in, or shortly after, 1465. (fn. 14) In 1518 another visitation of Ulverscroft took place, and it was found that one canon had apostatized. (fn. 15) The prior and nine canons of the priory acknowledged the royal supremacy over the Church in 1534. (fn. 16) In the following year the clear annual income of Ulverscroft was assessed at little more than £83, (fn. 17) and the house was therefore listed amongst the smaller monasteries for early dissolution. (fn. 18) A report of 1536 gives a favourable picture of the priory. It then contained, besides the prior, 8 canons, of whom 6 were priests; the canons were virtuous and discreet, all desirous of continuing in religion, and skilled at writing, embroidery, and painting. There were 2 old people living in the priory, besides a corrodiary. As servants there were 20 yeomen, 14 children for the chapel, and 3 women for the dairy. The house was in good repair, and much building had been done in the past three years. The priory stood in a wilderness, (fn. 19) and refreshed many poor folk and travellers. (fn. 20)

Thomas Cromwell was asked to intercede with the king on behalf of the house, which was stated to enjoy a good reputation locally. (fn. 21) In 1536 the prior received a grant of continuance, on payment of £ 166. 13s. 4d., (fn. 22) and it was not until September 1539 that the surrender of Ulverscroft was taken by Dr. London. The priory then contained the prior, six canons, and a novice. The prior was granted a pension of £20 a year, while the canons received pensions of from £6 to £5. 6s. 8d, each, and the novice one of £2. (fn. 23) The First Minister's Account shows a total net revenue of £60. 13s. 5½. (fn. 24) The property of the house at the Dissolution included the churches of Syston and Bunny. (fn. 25)

Priors of Ulverscroft

William, occurs 1174. (fn. 26)
Walter, occurs about 1230. (fn. 27)
Thomas, resigned 1268. (fn. 28)
William of Spondon, admitted 1268, (fn. 29) became a Franciscan 1276. (fn. 30)
Robert of Gaddesby, admitted 1276, (fn. 31) occurs 1288. (fn. 32)
John of Normanton, elected and resigned 1304. (fn. 33)
Walter of Evesham, elected 1304, (fn. 34) resigned 1315. (fn. 35)
Roger of Glen, elected 1315, (fn. 36) died 1338. (fn. 37)
Roger of Shepshed, elected 1338, (fn. 38) occurs to 1367. (fn. 39)
Thomas of Lockington, died 1387. (fn. 40)
John Ruydyngton, elected 1387, (fn. 41) occurs 1395. (fn. 42)
John Annesley, occurs 1433, (fn. 43) resigned 1439. (fn. 44)
John Pollesworth, admitted 1439, (fn. 45) occurs 1450. (fn. 46)
John Whatton, occurs from 1466 to 1492. (fn. 47)
Robert Whaton, occurs 1492 or 1493. (fn. 48)
William Shepeston, occurs, from 1502 to 1511. (fn. 49)
Geoffrey Whalley, occurs 1524. (fn. 50)
William Bradebern, occurs 1525. (fn. 51)
Edward Dalby, occurs 1534, (fn. 52) surrendered the priory, 1539. (fn. 53)

Three seals of Ulverscroft Priory are known. The earliest (fn. 54) is a circular seal of the 12th century, 2 in. in diameter, showing the Virgin Mary crowned and seated on a canopied throne, holding the infant Jesus on her left knee, and a sceptre in her right hand. On each side of the throne is an angel, and in the base of the design, under an arch, is an ecclesiastic kneeling. The legend reads:


A 13th-century seal (fn. 55) of the priory is of a very similar design, but without angels. This seal is an oval, 1¾ by 1 in. The legend has been broken away.

Another oval seal, (fn. 56) measuring 1⅝ by 1⅛ in., of the 15th century is of like design. All that remains of the legend is:



1 Almost certainly Robert le Bossu.
2 B.M. Harl. Chart. 111, A6.
3 B.M. Harl. Chart. 111, A6. This document has been printed, not quite accurately, in Nichols, Leics. iii, 1085. It implies that Ulverscroft had existed for 40 years before 1174, but this is no doubt a round number.
4 Rot. Hugonis de Welles, ed. W. P. W. Phillimore, i, 255.
5 B.M. Harl. Chart, 111, A6; Nichols, Leics. iii, 1085.
6 Ibid.
7 Cur. Reg. R., 1207-9, 158; Reg. of Walter Giffard (Surtees Soc. cix), ed. Wm. Brown, 262.
8 Reg. of Wm. Wickwane (Surtees Soc. cxiv), ed. Wm. Brown, 70.
9 Cal. Pat., 1321-4, 351.
10 Ibid. 1358-61, 572. In,1337 licence was granted to Hen. de Ferrers to alienate the advowson of Rothley ('Rothele'), Leics., to the priory, which was licensed to appropriate the ch.: Cal. Pat., 1334-8, 427. Rothley ch., however, was appropriated to the Tempkrs in 1240, and by 1341 was in possession of their successors, the Hospitallers. Ulverscroft can never have obtained the advowson: A. Hamilton Thompson, 'The Vicars of Rothley', T.L.A.S. xii, 122-5.
11 Cal. Pat., 1343-5, 475, G. F. Farnham, Chamwood Forest and its Historians, 120.
12 Rot. Hugonis de Welles, i, 255.
13 Visitations of Religious Houses in the Dioc. of Linc. [1420-49], ed. A. Hamilton Thompson, iii, 385-9.
14 See the account of Charley, p. 23.
15 Visitations in Dioc. Line. 1517-31, ed. A. Hamilton Thompson, iii, 116.
16 L. & P. Hen. VIII, vii, p. 473.
17 Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 175.
18 L. & P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 515.
19 Charnwood Forest.
20 L. W P. Hen. VIII, x, p. 496.
21 Nichols, Leics. iii, 1087.
22 Ibid.; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), p. 144; xiii (2), p. 177.
23 Ibid, xiv (1), p. 51.
24 S.C. 6/Hen. VIII/7311, mm. 19-24.
25 Ibid.; Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv, 174.
26 B.M. Harl. Chart. 111, A6.
27 Ibid. 112, C27; Nichols, Leics. iii, 1085.
28 Rot. Ric. Gravesend, ed. F. N. Davis, 148.
29 Ibid.
30 Ibid. 159.
31 Ibid.
32 Farnham, Charnwood Forest, 120.
33 Line. Reg. Dalderby, Inst., ff. 202a, 210a.
34 Ibid., f. 210a; Reg. Dalderby, Memo., f. 289a.
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid.
37 Linc. Reg. Burghersh, Inst., f. 154b.
38 Ibid.
39 Farnham, Charnwood Forest, 120.
40 Line. Reg. Buckingham, Inst. ii, f. 207b.
41 Ibid.
42 Farnham, Charnwood Forest, 120.
43 Ibid. 106.
44 Visitations in Dioc. Linc. [1420-49], i, 165; iii, 389.
45 Ibid.
46 Cal. Close, 1447-54, 244.
47 Nichols, Leics. iii, 122; Farnham, Charnwood Forest, 121.
48 Leic. Boro. Rec., 1327-1509, 337-9.
49 Farnham, Charnwood Forest, 121-2.
50 L. & P. Hen. VIII, iv (1), p. 195.
51 G. F. Farnham, 'Rothley; the Descent of the Manor', T.L.A.S. xii, 92.
52 L. & P. Hen. VIII, vii, p. 473.
53 Ibid, xiv (2), p. 51.
54 B.M. Seals, lxvi, 77.
55 Ibid. 79.
56 Ibid. 78.