19. THE PRIORY OF LITTLE DUNMOW (fn. 1)
A copy (fn. 2) is preserved of a short chronicle
begun by Nicholas de Bromfeld, canon of
Dunmow, who was born in 1259. By this
it appears that in 1104 Juga Baynard, lady of
Little Dunmow, caused Maurice, bishop of
London, to dedicate the church of the town
to the honour of St. Mary the Virgin. The
cure of souls was committed by the bishop to
a priest named Britric, and the said Lady Juga
granted to the church on the day of dedication
half a hide of land free of all service. In 1106
her son and heir, Geoffrey Baynard, placed
canons in the church with the assent of Anselm,
archbishop of Canterbury. In 1111 William
Baynard, of whom Lady Juga held the town of
Little Dunmow, lost his barony by misfortune
and felony; and Henry I granted the whole
barony to his sewer, Robert Fitz Richard, the
ancestor of the barons Fitz Walter, to whom
the advowson of the priory belonged until the
The endowments of the priory are set out in
detail in numerous charters in the register, (fn. 3)
preserved in the British Museum. Geoffrey
Baynard confirmed whatever his mother had
granted to the church, and added further lands
and tithes. Robert Fitz Richard and Maud
his wife confirmed the possessions of the canons
and granted lands and tithes in Henham, Norton,
Sturston, Passefeld, Barnston and Paglesham. His
son, Walter Fitz Robert, confirmed the grants
already made by his predecessors and others, and
granted the churches of Burnham, Hempnall
and Poslingworth. Robert Fitz Walter, the next
patron, granted a charter of confirmation. He
also, for the soul of Gunnora de Valoniis, his
wife, and with the assent of his son-in-law,
William de Mandeville, earl of Essex, granted
so far as he could as patron the hospital of St.
Mary Magdalen, Hertford. Richard I on 3 June,
1190, confirmed the possessions of the priory and
granted liberties; and charters of confirmation
were obtained from Gilbert, Richard, William
and Robert, bishops of London.
In the Taxation of 1291 the temporalities of
the priory were valued at £40 19s. 2½d. yearly,
the principal amounts being £11 2s. 8d. in Little
Dunmow, £5 9s. 3½d. in Burnham, £4 5s. 9½d.
in Rayne and £3 11s. 8d. in four parishes in
London. Property was also owned in Stebbing,
Roydon, Great Dunmow, Henham, Saling, Lambourne, Great Bardfield, Great Tey, Barnston,
Tolleshunt Major, Steeple Bumpstead and several
other parishes in Essex, and in Norfolk, Suffolk
and Hertfordshire. The spiritualities were considerable. The church of Little Dunmow was
appropriated to the priory, and served as a curacy
by one of the canons. The church of Burnham
was appropriated and a vicarage endowed, but to
this also a canon was presented. The churches
of Henham and Old Saling in Essex, Sturston
and Hempnall in Norfolk, and Poslingford in
Suffolk were also appropriated; and the priory
owned the advowsons of the rectories and portions
in the churches of Barton All Saints and Boughton
in Norfolk, and portions in the churches of
Finchingfield, Paglesham, High Ongar, Cold
Norton and Shimpling. Henry VI on 23 May,
1451, inquired about the appropriation of the
church of Burnham, and the bishop reported (fn. 4) on
10 June that the prior and convent had held it
appropriated since 1301, and that a vicarage
was endowed to £10 and more, and at
each tenth the convent paid 2 marks and the
Several licences for the further acquisition of
property are recorded on the Patent Rolls, the
most important being that of the manor of
Southall in Little Dunmow in 1389. (fn. 5) Licence
was granted (fn. 6) on 20 June, 1412, for Joan de
Bohun, countess of Hereford, and others to
found a chantry in the church of the priory for
the souls of Walter Fitz Walter, lord of Woodham, and Eleanor his wife, and to grant the
advowson of the church of Great Tey to the
prior and convent, and for these to appropriate
it. But this grant does not seem ever to have
The Chronicle tells that Walter Fitz Robert,
patron of the church, who died in 1198, was
buried in the middle of the choir; and his son,
Robert Fitz Walter, who died in 1234, before
the high altar. Walter, lord Fitz Walter, by
his will (fn. 7) proved on 10 November, 1432, left his
body to be buried in the priory, willing that his
executors make an arch in the wall near to the
grave of his mother, and that therein his body,
and the bodies of his wife and children, as likewise the bones of his mother, be deposited, for
the charges whereof he bequeathed 40 marks.
In 1268 Prior John was suspended (fn. 8) and the
conventual church interdicted, on account of
unpaid tithes, for four days by Master Godfrey de
Sancto Dunstano and Fulk Lovel; but on appeal
they reversed the suspension. On 10 August,
1510, the five bells in the belfry of the church
were consecrated (fn. 8) in honour respectively of
St. Michael, St. John the Evangelist, St. John the
Baptist, the Assumption of St. Mary, and Holy
Trinity and All Saints.
On 29 August, 1369, a writ (fn. 9) was issued for
the arrest of William de Stoke, a canon of
Dunmow, on a charge of counterfeiting the
king's money, both gold and silver. Probably
he cleared himself, for he appears to have been
presented (fn. 10) to the vicarage of Burnham on
14 October, 1371.
The register contains, besides the charters, a
considerable quantity of miscellaneous matter
added at various times. At the beginning is
the appointment (fn. 11) by John Orwell, prior, and
the convent on 7 November (the year not given)
of Walter Wirtyll as steward of their lordships
and manors in Essex for life, receiving from the
manor of Clopton Hall 20s. yearly during the
life of John Sandon, and afterwards 40s. yearly.
Apparently this proved unsatisfactory, for above
is written, in bold letters, Caveatis ne decetero
fiant alique littere consimiles. On Sunday before
St. Valentine, 11 Edward I, the conventual
loaf called 'miche' was weighed (fn. 12) before Prior
Richard and the brethren, and the weight was
found to be 63s. 4d. sterling, and when baked it
should weigh 62s. 8d. The weight was sealed
in the treasury with the prior's seal. The white
loaf of the same quality weighed 42s. 3d. and
41s. 7d. in like manner.
Robert de Winchelsey, archbishop of Canterbury, visited (fn. 13) the priory on Saturday before St.
Botolph the Abbot, 1303, and stayed for five days.
A note is made of several charters which were
produced for his inspection, and of the expenses
of the priory on the occasion, amounting to
£21 8s. 10½d.
John, prior, and the convent undertook (fn. 14) on
Wednesday after St. Luke the Evangelist, 1265,
to appoint a canon to celebrate divine service
daily for the souls of Master Roger de Salinges
and others in the chapel of St. Mary, specially
constructed for this in the court of the priory,
Roger having granted lands to them.
Richard, prior, and the convent granted (fn. 15)
allowances to Master William de Standon,
clerk, on 6 May, 1289; as also (fn. 16) did Prior
Stephen to Master Richard de Neuport, archdeacon of Middlesex, on the Translation of
St. Erkenwald, 1305. William de Chikewelle
was sent (fn. 16) by Edward I to the priory on
29 August, 1304, with a request for maintenance; but the prior asked to be excused,
alleging losses through inundations of the sea
and difficulty in paying tenths and other charges.
Other subjects mentioned in the register are
the indebtedness (fn. 17) of the priory to Sir Ralph de
Hengham in the times of Priors Richard de
Witham, Stephen de Notele and Robert de
Feryng; the vesture (fn. 18) of the canons and the
articles allowed for their use at table and bed
in the year 1288; a list (fn. 19) of tenants in Little
and Great Dunmow and Barnston, to whom
dishes of meat were to be given at Shrove Tuesday,
1302, according to old custom, and also of eggs
received; a list (fn. 20) of utensils of the kitchen on
Monday after Michaelmas, 1303, on the death
of Geoffrey, the cook; requests for ordination; (fn. 21)
an extent (fn. 22) of the manor of Henham on Tuesday
before Midsummer, 1275; and the order (fn. 23) for
consecrating a church.
Dunmow is probably more widely known to
fame than any other of the smaller English
houses on account of the custom of the bacon.
The exact origin of this is not known, but it is
popularly ascribed to Robert Fitz Walter. Anyone who had not repented of his marriage, sleeping
or waking, for a year and a day, might go to
Dunmow and claim a gammon or a flitch of
bacon. The applicant had to take oath before
the prior and convent and the whole town,
humbly kneeling in the churchyard upon two
hard pointed stones, and he was then paraded
with ceremony through the priory and town.
Three instances are recorded of successful claims
before the dissolution. Richard Wryght, (fn. 24) of
Badeburgh by Norwich, yeoman, came to Dunmow and sought the bacon on 17 April,
23 Henry VI, and was sworn according to
the form of the charter before John Canon,
prior, and the convent and many neighbours,
and presented with a flitch. Stephen Samuel,
of Little Ayston, husbandman, on Lady Day in
Lent, 7 Edward IV, came to the priory and
demanded a gammon. He was sworn before
Roger Bulcott, prior, and the convent and a
multitude of neighbours, and it was delivered
to him. In 1510 John Ley, (fn. 25) fuller, of Coggeshall, came to the priory and sought a gammon
on Sunday, 8 September, and was sworn before
John Tyler, prior, and the convent and many
neighbours. A form in rhyme of the oath is
preserved, but it is probably spurious. The
ceremony was revived later on several occasions,
and at the present day it forms a regular Bank
An interesting book of accounts is preserved (fn. 26)
of miscellaneous expenditure by Prior Geoffrey,
beginning at the week before Palm Sunday, 23
Henry VIII, and ending the third Sunday after
Trinity, 27 Henry VIII. The total amounts
to £45 4s. 7d., of which the following are
Christmas, 25 Henry VIII, a bottle of red
wine 5d., alms 5½d., to my lord of Misrule 12d.
First Sunday after Epiphany, my cost to my
lord Fywater 3s. 10d., reparations at Henham
'jauncell' 4s. 4d.
Sexagesima Sunday, reward to two scholars of
Cambridge 2s. 4d.
First Sunday in Lent, to Skoryer, for making
of a buttress at the Dorter wall, 16s. 8d.
Dominica in Albis, reward to three minstrels
16d., to the bayley of the hundred 3s. 4d., to
the King's players 20d., the escheator's fee 5s.,
repairs at Styrstun for a 'jemny' 20s.
Fourth Sunday: convent's wages £3 6s. 8d.,
my costs to London 12s. 5d.
First Sunday: the Novys when they went to
orders 3s. 8d.
Second Sunday: repairs at Mangap 7s. 11d.
Fifth Sunday: costs of my lord of Canterbury's visitation £4 11s. 2½d., wine 16d., rewards among his servants 7s.
Twelfth Sunday: wine I bought when lord
Fywater was here 20d.
Sixteenth Sunday: to a man of law for
seeking of evidence 3s. 4d., reward to the King's
Eighteenth Sunday: Bensun for making of
9½ feet of the steeple £11 0s. 7d.
Twenty-third Sunday: to the prior of
Lyys [Leighs] 2s.
Advent: for my lady Gate's 'deryge' 6s. 8d.
There is also preserved (fn. 27) a book of household
expenses kept by the same prior. The dates
range from 25 December, 1528, to 11 July,
1536, and the average expenses are somewhat
over £1 a month.
The oath of acknowledgement of the royal
supremacy was taken (fn. 28) on 4 July, 1534, by
Geoffrey Schether, prior, William Gray, Ralph
More, Humphrey Mertyn, Hugh Yonge, John
Ram, Robert Stok, William Wyseman, William
Daynguet, Henry Fynche and Edward Braynewode. Humphrey Martyn appears afterwards as
a canon of Waltham, having probably been
transferred there after the dissolution of Dunmow.
The priory is returned in the Valor as being
of the net value of £150 3s. 4d., the gross value
being given by Speed as £173 2s. 4d. yearly.
It thus came under the operation of the Act of
1536 and was dissolved accordingly, a pension (fn. 29) of
£20 yearly being assigned to the prior. An
inventory (fn. 30) of the goods in the various chambers
and buildings was taken on 3 June, 1536.
These were valued at £83 10s. 8d., besides
cattle worth £19 16s. 2d., and corn worth
£62 1s. 4d. There were 206¼ ounces of plate,
valued at £38 4s. 11d. The debts of the house
amounted to £34 4s. 3d. On 20 July in the
same year the king granted (fn. 31) to Robert, earl of
Sussex, the late patron, in tail, the site and
church of the priory, the manors of Little
Dunmow and Clopton Hall, the rectories and
advowsons of Little Dunmow, Henham, Old
Saling, Burnham, Sturston, Hempnall and Poslingford, annuities from the rectories of Boughton
and Barton Bendish and other possessions of the
priory in London, Little and Great Dunmow,
Tolleshunt Major, Lambourne, Henham, Old
Saling and Burnham in Essex, Sturston, Hempnall, Boughton and Barton Bendish in Norfolk
and Poslingford in Suffolk; with the exception
of the manors of Westwikhall and Estwik and a
marsh in Burnham; the whole being of the
yearly value of £121 14s. The manors of
Westwykehall and Estwyke and lands called
Westwyke and Estwyke in Burnham were
granted (fn. 32) to Robert Riche of London and Elizabeth his wife and his heirs on 25 November,
Priors (fn. 33) of Dunmow
Britric, the first prior, died 1127.
Augustine succeeded, died 1163.
Robert succeeded, died 1179.
Ralph succeeded, died 1208.
Durand succeeded, died 1217.
William succeeded, died 1221.
Thomas (fn. 34) succeeded.
Thomas de Tanton, died 1238.
John Pateforde (fn. 35) succeeded, died 1245.
Hugh de Stebenhethe succeeded, died
Edmund succeeded, died 1247.
Geoffrey succeeded, died 1248.
John de Codham (fn. 35) succeeded, died 1270.
Hugh de Poslington succeeded, ceased
Richard de Witham succeeded, occurs
1296. (fn. 36)
Stephen de Notele, succeeded in or before
1301, (fn. 37) died 1312.
Robert Feryng, (fn. 38) succeeded 1312, died
1329. (fn. 39)
John de Gelham, elected 1329. (fn. 40)
Robert de Wodehouse. (fn. 41)
Richard de Plescys, resigned 1365. (fn. 42)
Nicholas de Helmenden, elected 1365, (fn. 43)
resigned 1370. (fn. 44)
John de Swafham, elected 1370, (fn. 45) died
1390. (fn. 46)
John de Burnham, elected 1391. (fn. 47)
Robert Fordham, occurs 1418. (fn. 48)
Richard Gloucestre, (fn. 49) died 1437. (fn. 50)
John Newport, elected 1437, (fn. 51) resigned
1440. (fn. 52)
John Sutton, elected 1440, (fn. 53) died 1444. (fn. 54)
John Canon, elected 1445. (fn. 55)
William. (fn. 56)
John Orwell, (fn. 57) occurs 1458. (fn. 58)
Roger Bulcott, occurs 1467. (fn. 59)
John, occurs 1490. (fn. 60)
John Tyler or Blakemore, occurs 1510, (fn. 61)
died 1518. (fn. 62)
Geoffrey Shether, elected 1518, (fn. 63) the last
prior. (fn. 64)
The seal of the priory attached to the acknowledgement of supremacy (fn. 65) is a pointed oval
of red wax measuring about 23/8 in. by 13/8 in. It
represents the coronation of the Virgin in a
canopied niche with tabernacle work at the
sides. In the base under a round-headed arch is
a monk kneeling in prayer between two shields
of arms — a cross between four mullets.
SIGILLU COE ECCLIE SCE MARIE DE DUNMOW.