The Priory: its foundation and Dissolution

The Priory Church.

THE most prominent feature connected with the early history of Worksop was its Priory, which, however, shared the fate of all similar institutions. The precise date of its foundation appears to be involved in some little obscurity, but 1103 is most probably the correct date. It was founded by William de Lovetot, and dedicated to St. Cuthbert,a with whom St. Mary was afterwards associated for the use of canons of the order of St. Augustine.

The canons of this house, agreeably to the Augustine rule, had to live in common, "having nothing proper to themselves," to be chaste, and to keep their cloisters, though not so strictly as the monks proper; close study was also enjoined and preaching. The dress of this order was a long black cassock, with a white rochet over it, and above that a black cloak and hood. The monks shaved, but the regular canons wore their beards, and had caps on their heads.

With the kind permission of the venerable Archdeacon Trollope, in our account of the Priory we shall largely avail ourselves of an able paper prepared and read by him at the meeting of the Lincoln Diocesian Architectural Society at Worksop, in 1860.

In one of the Cotton manuscripts is a project in Henry VIII’s own hand-writing for erecting new episcopal sees, entitled "Byshopprykys to be new made;" and therein three places in Nottinghamshire are bracketed together as being worthy of that honour, viz., Welbeck, Thurgarton, and Worksop. This selection was no doubt made from the size and character of the monastic churches then extant in each of these places; but judgment was never actually given in favour of any of them. The existing church of Worksop is only a portion of a former one, constituting scarcely more than half of the original structure, while even this is of more recent date than the church first erected on its site; and yet this fragment is so beautiful that it is hoped a further notice of the principal personages connected with its history, as well as of its architectural features, will be acceptable. As, however, it would perhaps be confusing to intermingle these two subjects in the real order of their succession, it is proposed to give, first, an outline of that noble series of Lords of Worksop as the chief benefactors of the Priory; and then to treat of the Architecture of its Church.

As we have seen from an extract from Domesday, Elsi, son of Caschin, was the chief Saxon proprietor at Worksop before the Conquest. His estates were given by the Conqueror to that enormous participator in the spoil of England, Roger de Busli, whose chief seats were at Blyth and Tickhill, and who was lord of 174 manors in Nottinghamshire alone. Early in the reign of Henry I., William de Lovetot had become possessed of a portion of De Bush’s estates ;— viz., those of Hallam, Attercliffe, Sheffield, Grimesthorpe, Grasborough, &c., in Yorkshire; and also that of Worksop and others in Notts. In addition to these he had acquired some of the lands of the fee of Robert, earl of Morton, after its division between Nigel Fossard and Richard de Surdeval. Previously, William de Lovetot was possessed of a barony in Huntingdonshire, which he eventually left to his second son Nigel; but how he acquired his vast estates in Notts. and in Yorkshire is uncertain.

The house of Lovetot proved itself worthy of the great power and wealth it enjoyed. Sheffield was indebted to them for its church, and its first hospital for the sick, dedicated to St. Leonard, that stood on Spital-hill until it was swept away by the ravagers of Henry the Eighth. Ecclesfield and Bradfield also saw churches arise, it is probable under their jurisdiction and with their assistance. The church of Sheffield, with one third of its tythes, was given by them to the Priory of Worksop, the other two-thirds of the tythes, with the church of Ecclesfield and also, it seems, that of Bradfield to the alien abbey of St. Wandrille.

William de Lovetot the elder also made a grant of land in a remote portion of Ecclesfield parish, for the benefit of a recluse, whose hermitage was dedicated to St. John. This grant was amplified by Richard de Lovetot; but on the death of the above-named recluse, the hermitage was given to Kirkstead abbey in Lincolnshire, by Richard de Lovetot, for the benefit of his wife’s and his son William’s souls.

But the greatest work of piety and munificence on the part of the Lovetots was the foundation of Worksop Priory, and its subsequent enlargement.