(i). From The Foundation To The Beginning Of The Reign Of Edward I.

During this period, Lenton Priory seems to have prospered and to have increased in influence and importance. As far as may be judged, relations between Lenton and Cluny were normal.

It is not possible to give the exact date of the foundation of Lenton Priory. The Calendar of Documents preserved in France illustrative of the History of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. I, A.D. 918 to 1206, records the existence in the Bibliotheque Nationale Paris, of a charter of Henry I confirming Lenton Priory to the Abbey of Cluny. The editor of the Calendar puts the date of the charter between 1107 and 1115. Whether the document is the original or not is uncertain, and the authenticity of the names of the witnesses is also in doubt. In Godfrey’s History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton is printed an inspeximus charter of the reign of Edward II.3 Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is mentioned in the charter, and Gerard, Archbishop of York, is given as one of the witnesses. As Matilda was born in 1103 and Gerard died in 1108, Godfrey inferred that the foundation of Lenton Priory took place between these two dates. The author of the section on “The Religious Houses of Nottinghamshire” in the Victoria County History of Nottinghamshire4 has pointed out that Pontius, the Abbot of Cluny mentioned in the charter, did not become abbot until the year after the death of Gerard, thus showing the charter to be unreliable as evidence of the date of the foundation. The writer offered the alternative suggestion that, as Pontius was Abbot of Cluny from 1109 to 1125, Lenton Priory may have been founded between these two dates. Another factor to be considered in deciding the date of the foundation is the date of Peverel's death, which according to one authority,1 took place on 28th January, 1113-4. If this is correct, it seems reasonable to suggest that the priory was founded between 1109 and 1114.

The prior of a Cluniac house was nominated by the head of the mother house from which the first monks had been sent. As the first monks at Lenton had come from Cluny, the abbot had the right of nomination to Lenton. On the death of the prior of Lenton the abbot of Cluny was entitled to receive as spolia his palfrey, cope and breviary. In addition to this, a yearly payment called the census or apport was due from Lenton to Cluny. From Lewes, Thetford, Lenton and Montacute, Cluny had a right to a total sum of £16 6s. 8d. At the foundation of Lenton Priory, William Peverel agreed to pay one marc a year to Cluny.4

There is no need to give more than an outline of the endowments of Lenton Priory. Full accounts have already been given in Godfrey’s History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton and the Victoria County History of Nottinghamshire. William Peverel, the founder, was generous in his endowments, and as the years went by other benefactors increased the revenues of the monastery. According to the Valor Ecclesiasticus 1534, Lenton had a gross income of £387 10s. 10½d. and a clear annual value of £329 15s. 10½d. How far this sum exceeded the clear annual value of other monasteries of the county may be shown by reference to figures given in the Valor. Thurgaton had a clear income of £259, Welbeck of £249, Worksop of £239, Beauvale of £196, Rufford of £176, and Newstead of £167. The profits which the prior and convent of Lenton enjoyed came from seven counties—Cheshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire—the greatest contribution coming from the home county.6

There were two cells dependent on Lenton. One was the cell of Kersall in Lancashire. The remains of the other are to be found, in all probability, in the caves in the grounds of the Hermitage on Castle Boulevard, Nottingham. For centuries the history of these caves has been the happy hunting-ground of local antiquaries. Many theories have been put forward regarding their origin.7 It is almost certain that at one time the caves formed a cell appendant to Lenton Priory. Its name occurs in various forms—“St. Mary called Le Roche,” “St. Mary of Roche,” or simply “Roche.” In 1255 Henry III issued a mandate to the sheriffs of Nottingham and Derby to let two monks of Lenton celebrating divine services daily for the souls of the king's ancestors “at the rock without the castle of Nottingham,” have 4d. a day from the issues of the two counties for their main­tenance, as they had been used to receive from previous sheriffs.8 There is little doubt that the place mentioned was the chapel of St. Mary. An entry in the Great Roll of the Pipe of the reign of Henry III records a payment to the monks and refers to the chapel by name.9 The existence of this cell is confirmed by a visitation report sent to Cluny in 1405 which records that the cell of Roche, subordinate to Lenton Priory, consisted of a prior and one monk.10 In the Middle Ages, the River Leen flowed in front of the caves. To the south of the Leen the monks had two closes and two parcels of meadow. When, in the reign of Edward IV, the prior of Lenton gave up this chapel of St. Mary, he undertook to keep a monk to say mass in the chapel. At the same time, he promised to maintain a small boat on the Leen water and to take care of a garden nearby.11

(1) J. T. Godfrey: History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton, 1884, pp. 61-66.
(2) Vol. II, p.91.
(3) The Complete Peerage, by G.E.C., edited by Vicary Gibbs, Vol. IV, Appendix I by G. W. Watson, p. 761. The idea that Peverel was an illegitimate son of the Conqueror is dismissed here as being “worth little or nothing.” It cannot be traced further back than to the time of the Tudors. Tanner gives the date of Peverel's death as 1112. See also Old Notts., ed. J. P. Briscoe, p. 20.
(4) “The English Province of the Order of Cluny in the Fifteenth Century,” Transactions of the Royal Hist. Soc., 1924.
(5) Calendar of Documents Preserved in France;  and Duckett: Visitations of English Cluniac Foundations, p. 38.
(6) Valor Ecclesiasticus, Vol. V.
(7) Godfrey: p. 162 et seq.
(8) Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry III, Vol. 1247-58.
(9) Godfrey: p.167.
(10) Victoria County History,  Notts., Vol. II,  p. 98; Duckett : Visitations of English Cluniac Houses, pp. 38, 43.
(11) Godfrey:  p. 169. Cal. of Patent Rolls, 1486.