THE RELIGIOUS HOUSES OF KENT
Kent had the distinction of being the only English county with two
mediaeval sees and cathedrals, and in St. Augustine's at Canterbury it possessed
an abbey of the first rank; but the remaining monasteries proper were hardly as
numerous or as important as might have been expected in consideration of its
size and the fact that it was practically the birthplace of Christianity in
England. The Danish raids may have had something to do with this, and
they are probably the principal cause of the fall of three abbeys, Reculver,
Lyminge, and Minster in Thanet, before the Conquest.
These houses all belonged to the Benedictine order, as also did the abbey
of Faversham, founded in 1147. Dover was founded in the seventh century
as a house of secular canons, but was changed into a Benedictine priory after
the Conquest. The nunnery of Minster in Sheppey, also founded in the
seventh century, was of the same order; and so were those of St. Sepulchre
at Canterbury and Mailing, founded about the end of the eleventh century,
and Davington and Higham, half a century later.
The Cluniac and Cistercian orders, branches of the Benedictine, had each
a single house in the county, dating from the middle of the twelfth century,
at Horton and Boxley respectively. There were six houses of Austin canons;
the priory of St. Gregory at Canterbury appearing first as a house of seculars
at the end of the eleventh century, Leeds, Comb well, Lesnes, and Tonbridge
belonging to the twelfth, while Bilsington was not founded until 1253. The
Premonstratensian canons, a reformed branch of the Austins, corresponding to
the Cistercians among monks, had abbeys at Langdon and St. Radegund's,
founded towards the close of the twelfth century. Several foreign houses also
owned possessions in the county, and though some of them appear merely as
absentee landlords, others had dependent priories at Folkestone, Lewisham,
Patrixbourne, Romney, and Throwley. Of these Folkestone obtained a
grant of denization, but the other four came to an end early in the fifteenth
century, and passed into the possession of religious houses in other counties.
The Knights Templars were settled at Ewell, and the Knights Hospitallers at West Peckham, Sutton at Hone, and Swingfield.
There were colleges of secular canons at Bredgar, Cobham, Maidstone,
Wingham, and Wye.
The most noteworthy point about the religious houses of the county was
certainly the great number of friaries and hospitals. The Grey Friars had
houses at Canterbury, Maidstone, and Romney; the Carmelites at Aylesford,
Lossenham, and Sandwich; The Austin Friars, Black Friars, and Friars of the
Sack at Canterbury; the Observants at Greenwich; the Trinitarian Friars at
Mottenden; and the Dominican Nuns at Dartford; making a total of
twelve in all. There were not less than twenty-five hospitals, several of
which survive to the present day, though a few vanished before the general
The Kentish monasteries do not appear to advantage near their end.
The reports on the two Premonstratensian abbeys made by visitors of their
own order were distinctly unfavourable. Archbishop Warham's visitations in
1511 do not reveal any great immorality, but they certainly show that the
early high monastic ideal had completely vanished; and Warham was no
enemy of monasticism, nor was Bishop Fisher, who suppressed Higham with
good reason in 1522. No more glaring imposture was exposed at the
Reformation than that of the Rood of Boxley; and no worse instance of
superstition and fraud than that of the Nun of Kent, backed by monks of
After Higham the next houses to fall were Lesnes and Tonbridge,
suppressed by Wolsey in 1525, by authority from the king and pope, for the
foundation of his college at Oxford. Davington came to a very uncommon
end, being deserted in 1535. Not much is known of the visitation made by
Layton and others in that year, but the reports appear to have been unfavourable, and it was probably on this account that Langdon, Folkestone, and
Dover were surrendered in November. Bilsington was surrendered on 28
February, 1536, just before the Act of Dissolution came into effect; and under
this the remaining smaller monasteries fell.
St. Augustine's, Faversham, Mailing, Boxley, and Leeds had net incomes
of over £200, and so survived as 'greater monasteries,' but yielded to pressure
and fell in the next two or three years; and the two cathedrals were likewise
surrendered, but were reconstituted as secular establishments. Under a later
act, the colleges and most of the hospitals came to an end.