The History of Pentney Abbey

William of Normandy became King of England in 1066, having fought Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  Most people are familiar with the pictures portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry, which give us a graphic portrayal of the event.
When William took command, he was quick to reward the Norman Nobles who had supported him.  One of these was Robert Bigod, whose family later became the Earls of Norfolk.  Having thus been given immense areas of the Kingdom, he put Robert de Vaux in charge of the Manor of Pentney, and it was he who founded the Augustinian Priory there in the 12th Century.

St Augustine's life had long inspired men and women with a desire to dedicate themselves to God's service, in a life of prayer and self denial. Robert invited a small group of Augustinian Canons, to make their home in Pentney. 
Many of the rents for properties in the surrounding villages were given for the upkeep of the Priory.  In return, the Priests would promise to pray for the souls of  Robert and his family.
It was decided to dedicate the new Foundation to the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin and to St Mary Magdalen.  This saint is still commemorated in the  present Parish Church of Pentney.

St Augustine

From a small beginning the Priory grew and flourished, eventually establishing new groups.  One of these was at West Acre, but there were others, much further afield, such as at Lanercost in Cumbria.
In Pentney, the first wooden shelters were eventually replaced by handsome stone buildings, and the Canons became an integral part of the village. 
The Community grew to about 20, but during the Black Death, in 1381, several of them died and the number came down to 12.  Pentney Priory, however, continued to flourish, and at a Visitation in 1492, it was said to be the most efficient in the County, with buildings in good state of repair, a school which was well attended and Services, just as they should be.
The Canons continued to enjoy a good reputation, until, in the reign of King Henry VIII, in common with all the other Religious Houses of the land, the Priory was closed and all the Canons dispersed.

This is an illustration of a medieval Priory.  It may help us to imagine how Pentney Priory may have looked.  Hopefully, some time, excavations may show us what it was really like.

Letter from Richard Southwell and Robert Hagan to Thomas Cromwell, the King's Minister, in 1536

"We beseech your favour for the Priory of Pentney, assuring you that he relieves those quarters wonderously where he dwells and it would be a pity not to spare a house that feeds so many poor, which is in good state of repair, maintains good services and does so many charitable deeds"
(In later years, Richard's grandson, Robert Southwell was to become a martyr for the Catholic Faith)

The Estate was sold to the Earl of Rutland, who bought  contents of the Lady Chapel and Vestry for 136. 8d.  Plate was put into the custody of Richard Southwell,

It was left to the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, during the Civil War, to bring the Priory really to a ruin.  They came up the river Nar in flat bottomed boats and used the buildings for target practice!  The stone then became a convenient source of building material for local people, and can be seen in many old Pentney houses.

Much of the source material for this article came from  "Pentney Abbey, 1075 - 1534 ", a booklet by Michael de Bootman. 

Rita Sheridan,
Warwickshire, England

Email: rasheridan@lineone.net