NUNNERY OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW.
IN Monkchester, as before observed, the Christian religion flourished at a very early period; and it was famed for the number
of its sacred edifices. But this holy place was overwhelmed
with utter destruction during the disastrous era of the Danish
invasions, and the religious orders were extirpated in their favourite retreat. In 1073, three pious and resolute missionaries
from the south ventured to visit the venerable ruins of Monkchester, amidst which, in a very few years afterwards, a small
society of fair devotees were formed, of the Benedictine order,
and under the auspices of St. Bartholomew the Apostle. (fn. 1) This
is evidently the oldest of the monastic institutions in Newcastle of which any vestiges
are now to be found. Both David king of Scotland and king Henry I. were benefactors to this holy establishment, for which reason, perhaps, they have each been
reputed the original founders. But mention occurs of this nunnery so early as the
year 1086, whither Agar, the mother of Margaret queen of Scotland, and Christian,
her sister, after king Malcolm was killed at Alnwick, retired and took the sacred veil.
By a manuscript in the Bodleian library, it owed its origin to an ancient baron of
the name of Hilton. (fn. 2)
Numerous and valuable donations and grants poured into this receptacle of fair
recluses. From a charter of king John, it appears that they claimed from the
town fifty-one shillings and a halfpenny, for the land which they held by the
gift of king David. Some time before 1149, William de St. Barbara, bishop of
Durham, with the prior and convent there, granted Stellingley (Stella) to God and
St. Bartholomew and the nuns of Newcastle; and king Henry II. granted the nuns
a general charter of confirmation. Between 1153 and 1194, Hugh Pudsey, bishop
of Durham, gave them, in pure and perpetual alms, "Twille," in exchange for "Olworthe;" and about the same time, they received a grant, of Robert de Dyveltune,
of four shillings of rent in Milburn. (fn. 3) About 1190, Sir Roger Bertram, for the love
of God, for his health, and for the souls of his father and mother and all his ancestors,
gave to this nunnery two acres and a half of his pasture in Merdesfen, an acre and a
half next the road, with a toft in the town of Merdesfen, in pure and perpetual alms;
also pasture for their oxen, during the half year they drew in carts. Shortly after
this, Marmaduke de Tueng, and Margaret his wife, bequeathed a house and some
land in Hartlepool, for the purpose of purchasing smocks for the nuns of this priory.
The nuns here, before 1223, received a grant from Germanus, and the convent of
Tinmouth, of eight quarters of wheat yearly from the granary of Tinmouth; and
about 1230, Sir Robert Neuham granted and confirmed to this nunnery all the grants
and sales which William his father had made to them, or conferred upon them. In
1233, Christian, prioress of this house, demised twenty acres of land in the village of
Halliwell, with two tofts and houses therein standing, to Gilbert Claviger, of that
place, for twenty years, at the annual rent of 12s. 6d.
Milifond Godefray bequeathed his body to be buried in the church-yard of the
church of this nunnery, and to the nuns a booth, situated between the booth of the
West Spital and the street towards the Ghylde Hall in Newcastle. In a very old
deed, Roger de Halliwell granted six acres of arable land to God and St. Bartholomew of this town, to procure a light at the altar of St. Mary.
Some time in the reign of Henry III. Sir Roger de Merley confirmed to the nuns
of this house, an annual and perpetual rent of four quarters of London wheat, given
them by John Deaconson, and Isouda his wife, in frankalmoigne, out of land in
Great Benton, which they possessed by gift of the said Sir Roger.
On the vigil of St. Michael, 1257, Roger de Whytcester granted the nuns here, to
the support of a chaplain performing divine service in their conventual church at
Newcastle, five bovates of land, with their appurtenances, in Dunington. It appears
that they received, in 1286, at the stated terms, 18d. on land in the Market Street,
Newcastle; and in 1291, they enjoyed a pension of ten marks from the church of
Wesington, given by Richard, bishop of Durham, confirmed by the prior and convent there, and by a bull of Pope Gregory. The total year's revenue of this nunnery, in 1292, is stated in a MS. remaining in the Exchequer at £17, 10s. 7d.
It appears that during the devastating inroads of the Scots in 1321, the nuns of
Lambley and Halistan fled to Newcastle for safety. (fn. 4) On the arrival of king Edward
II. at this town, September 14, 1322, the sisters of this nunnery received 6s. 8d. their
pittance of one day, by the hand of the king's almoner. In 1331, the prioress, Sibilla
Gategang, granted for ever a booth in the Market-place, Newcastle, at the annual
rent of six shillings.
Thomas Hatfield, bishop of Durham, in 1355, confirmed by special favour to the
nuns of this house their election of Alice Davill to be their prioress, their former
election being irregular and invalid. In 1360, Dame Isabella Russell occurs as
prioress, agreeing respecting the arrears of rent due to the convent from a burgage in
the city of Durham; and in 1363, Amisia is mentioned as prioress, releasing to
Thomas de Lokside part of rent due for a burgage which he held in fee, then lying
waste in the city of Durham, and from which the nuns had an annual rent of eight
Notwithstanding the many possessions and pensions enjoyed by this convent, it
fell into a state of miserable poverty, which seems to have been accompanied by a relaxation of discipline; for, in 1363, Hatfield bishop of Durham appointed a commission
to visit this nunnery, in order to punish and reform such crimes as should be discovered in this visitation; and in the following year, the same prelate, dreading the
immediate ruin of the house, committed it to the care of Hugh de Arnecliffe, priest
in the church of St. Nicholas in Newcastle, strictly enjoining the prioress and nuns
to be obedient to him, and trusting to his prudence to find relief for "the poor servants of Christ" here, in their poverty and distress.
The same bishop, in 1367, granted a second commission to the said priest, to proceed
against Amisia de Belford in a cause moved against her concerning intrusion, dilapidation, incontinence, and other crimes. It does not appear that she was convicted of
the several crimes laid to her charge; but by an order of the above bishop, dated at
Aucland, May 21st following, this Amisia, who affirmed that she was prioress, was
warned to permit two nuns, Emma del Hill (fn. 5) and Joan de Farneleye, whom she had
expelled from this house, to return to it, and was commanded at the same time to
treat them in future with becoming affection.
In 1377, this bishop granted a license for one year to Margaret York, a sister of
this house, to choose herself a confessor, from whose hands she might receive absolution and salutary penance. In the same year, the bishop issued a monition to the
prioress and nuns of this convent, in behalf of Idoma de Staunford their sister, who
after having been some time absent, though on just and reasonable cause and in good
company, had, against the express request of the bishop, been refused admittance at
the said nunnery on her return: This monition threatened them with the sentence
of the greater excommunication if they persisted to exact punishment for such absence, or continued obstinate in their refusal to reinstate her.
In 1379, Raymund, master-general of the friars preachers, generously granted to
the prioress and nuns of this convent a special participation of all the masses, sermons, preachings, vigils, fastings, &c. of his order. Notwithstanding this friendly
donation, the nuns, in 1448, were obliged to petition Robert Nevill, bishop of Durham, for relief, having suffered severely by fire, and the non-payment of their pensions. The bishop immediately appropriated the chapel of St. Edmund, in Gateshead,
to this house, on condition that the nuns found two chaplains for the hospital, repaired the chapel, paid to himself 6s. 8d. annually, and 3s. 4d. per annum to the
prior and chapter of Durham. In the following year, William Hilderskelfe granted
St. Edmund's Hospital, of which he was master, with all the possessions thereof, to
Margaret Hawkswell, prioress, and the nuns of this house, on condition of their
finding for ever a chaplain to perform divine service at that hospital, and another to
attend the church of St. Bartholomew, either at the death or on the promotion of
the said William to any benefice of the clear value of ten pounds per annum; and
also of their paying him the sum of ten marks yearly. This donation was confirmed
by the bishop of Durham, and ratified by the bull of Pope Pius, dated at Rome,
November 16, 1458.
In 1470, the prioress, with the assent of the nuns, granted for six years, to Robert
Schyplaw Smith, a tenement of theirs, bounded by a waste of theirs on the north,
and a tenement of theirs on the south, stretching from the Nolt Market to the Convent Orchard, at the rent of eight shillings per annum. From an original deed, it
appears that some property in Durham was, in 1471, granted to Dame Anne or
Agnes Danby, prioress of this convent. In the same year, John Hilton, chaplain,
released an annuity of forty shillings out of the hospital of St. Edmund's, in Gateshead, to this nunnery; and which appears to have been granted to him by Margaret
Mitford, the late prioress.
In 1486, Joan Baxter, prioress of this house, granted in fee-farm to Thomas Lokwood, merchant, a parcel of waste ground, with a croft in Gateshead, at the yearly
rent of 6s. 8d.; and in 1500, Percival Lambton acquired from the prioress a grant of
some property in Hartlepool. In the following year, Richard Dinsforth was admitted into holy orders, as priest of this nunnery.
The mayor and corporation of Newcastle, in 1513, obtained from the prioress and
nuns of this house a lease of the Nun Moor for an hundred years, at the annual rent of
3s. 4d.; and in 1520, there was an award between this convent and William Bennett,
Esq. proprietor of Kenton, respecting the boundaries of this moor. (fn. 6) In 1521, John
Brandling, of Newcastle, merchant, let to Dame Johan Baxter and the nuns of this
house, for 99 years, certain ground called the Magdalen Deen, at the yearly rent of
About the year 1523, an abbess or prioress for this nunnery was appointed by the
abbot of Newminster; which election, notwithstanding the remonstrances of Lord
Dacre, Warden of the Marches, was declared invalid by Welsey, bishop of Durham,
it being an infringement of his episcopal privileges. But the lady, in consequence
of her personal worth, was reinstated by a new and proper election, though she was
then not quite thirty years of age. On the feast of St. Martin, 1529, Dame Agnes
Lawson, prioress, and the nuns of this house, let to farm to James Lawson, merchant,
of Newcastle, at the yearly rent of 33s. 6d. a parcel of ground, containing five acres,
beside the town of Gateshead; bounded on the south by the "Tame Brig," on the
north by the "common lonying called the Swardes," on the west by "BenchamMedows," and on the east by "Bencham Pasture within the two Lee Closes."
This ancient nunnery was one of those religious houses which, by letters patent of
king Henry VIII. was re-founded and preserved from the dissolution of lesser monastries, March 30, 1537. Being afterwards induced to resign, it was fully suppressed,
January 3, 1540, at which time the establishment consisted of a prioress, a prioress
that had resigned probably on account of her age and infirmities, and nine other nuns. (fn. 7)
The annual revenue of this convent, 26 Henry VIII. was, according to Dugdale,
£36, 10s.; but Speed makes it £37, 4s. 9d. It is supposed that the surrender of the
property of this house included the lands and revenues of St. Edmund's Hospital in
Gateshead. (fn. 8)
By letters patent, dated at Hampton Court, 36 Henry VIII. the house of the nuns
of Newcastle was granted to William Barantyne, Kenelme Throgmorton, Gen. and
Henry Annetson. It became afterwards the property of Lady Gaveere, who sold it
to Robert Anderson, "who," says Bourne, "pulled down all the houses therein; it
being a receptacle for Scots and Unfreemen, and he bought it on purpose to dislodge
them. He also bought the garden; and, after having raised the Dean that went
thro' it, he made a very pleasant place: it was," he continues, on the authority of the
Milbank MS. "from corner to corner eleven score yards."
It is now difficult to ascertain the exact scite of this nunnery. Brand conjectures,
with great probability, that it stood near the spot where a play-house was erected in
1748. Indeed, this building, which belongs to the Turk's Head inn, seems supported
by part of the north wall of St. Bartholomew's church, in which the door-way, built
up with stone, is still observable; so that where once these daughters of celibacy and
retirement heard their masses, Thalia and Melpomene in after times laughed and
wept by turns. Hereabouts, two great houses are marked in Speed's plan of Newcastle, 1610:—one is called "King's Lodgings;" the other, "The Manor." (fn. 9) Bourne
thinks that the passage still called Nun Gate was not the grand entrance to it; but
Brand objects to this opinion, and says, "Here very lately remained part of a great
arch, that once formed a gateway very unlike that of a back passage; especially
when we consider the general poverty of style in building that prevailed at the time
when this was erected."
Leland says, "The Nunnes Dene, having two bridges, resortyth towards Pilgrime
Gate, and so downewarde to Tine." The water, both of this dean and of Pandon
Dean, "cometh from the cole-pits at Cow Hill, or Cow More, half a mile out of
Newcastell." When this hollow was filled up, part appears to have been left in its
original state, in order to preserve a very fine spring, still called the Nun's Well.
Here are also the issues of the great conduits where Lamburn and Lorkburn unite.
One of them points northward towards where Fickett Tower stood, and the other
westward towards Execution Dock. Near this fine little vale there is a large vaulted
drain, which, according to a popular tradition, ended at the house of the Black Friars.
But this calumny, and many similar ones, invented by the plundering and devastating agents of king Henry VIII. and perpetuated by the malignity of religious party,
is now very generally exploded. This subterraneous passage was, a few years ago,
entered by Major Anderson's gardener; but, after proceeding a little way, his courage
failed, and he returned.