Medieval Dunstable©   Webmaster Helen Mortimer  Privacy Policy | Terms of Use          

Churches and Lands

Churches and Lands


Click this link for an interactive map of the counties, towns and villages.

Churches and Lands: Derbyshire                                                                                                Author Jean Yates

This is a much shortened version of our Derbyshire story.

The full story will be in our book, Medieval Dunstable: Its Monasteries, Manors, Markets and Melées, to be published in the summer of 2013, and available from Priory House, by mail order or in person.

The connection with Bradbourne, Derbyshire, begins in September 1205 when both the Charters and Annals tell us that Sir Gaufridus le Cauceis gave to Dunstable Augustinian Priory, “the church of Bradbourne, with its chapels of Ballidon, Brassington, Tissington and Atlow, and with tithe in Aldwark and Lee Hall; for the support of the hospice at Dunstable, because they are placed on a public crossroads of England, they have very many guests; it is seemly therefore that at God’s prompting they should have some helpers in satisfying so many.”

What appears to be a simple outright gift of the churches and chapels of Bradbourne parish by Gaufridus, who we are told died the following May, is not that simple. The Bishop of Coventry confirms the gift, but keeps for himself the episcopal and parochial rights. Shortly after this, the gift is confirmed by Stephen Archbishop of Canterbury, and we begin to see how important this gift must be for the Archbishop’s confirmation to have been needed.

In 1215 the Prior is obviously not happy with the arrangement that has left the rectors in place and it is recorded that three judges appointed by the Pope looked at ‘the shortcomings of the existing clerics; that Robert the rector of Bradbourne was son of the former rector, himself incontinent; Henry the vicar of Ballidon chapel was son of a former vicar, and also himself incontinent;  William the chaplain of Tissington publicly kept a mistress and hunting dogs, abandoning the tonsure and his clerical office;  they denied all charges but are suspended and the Prior and Canons are instituted in their stead. John Blundus was appointed Rector of Bradbourne and of the chapel of Atlow...etc.’ The term incontinent referred to being married.

As a result of this, Bishop William of Coventry redistributes the revenues from the churches between canons, their vicar and ‘former clerics’. The former clerics give up their half of the tithes to the Priory at Aldwark and Bradbourne, just retaining the vicarage at Bradbourne. Mentioned in this agreement are the tithes from Mouldridge, Beggarshoe and Unthank as well as the usual villages of Bradbourne parish.

Moving onwards and definitely upwards, in 1222, when William, 4th earl of Derby, ‘confirmed for us the grant of the church at Bradborne’. The overlord here, he owned more than a hundred Derbyshire manors, and must have returned from his 1218 trip to the Holy Land where he went with many others.

The importance of this ‘out of county’ gift becomes obvious when Pope Gregory confirmed Gaufridus le Cauceis’ gift to the canons in 1227.

We learn that Gaufridus’ daughter was called Margareta when she confirms the gift of her father.

This must have been a profitable few years as the canons purchased land at Ballidon, and Cardlehey, land and buildings at Mouldridge, rented Lea Mill for ten years, and Thorpe Mill to the monks of Burton on Trent, giving an indication that Thorpe was on the extremes of their manor and surplus to requirement..  At Mouldridge they established a grange, still standing, the converted barns at the back of the farmhouse called Priory Barns.

John, a canon, was sent to the Peak ‘for good’, but he is not there some ten years later when the names of the canons at Bradbourne are recorded.

  The scribe also a fire at Ashbourne, which ‘caused much distress and many were pauperised’. Their stable at Bradbourne was burned the same day.

In 1243 we get a glimpse of how vast their flocks were when 800 died in the Peak district.  

 When the vicar of Ashbourne died in 1260, there was an argument between the dean of Lincoln and the king as to who should have the right to the presentation of the church. Not only did the king win the argument, he received a huge gift of money, and his appointment, a clerk, was given an income from the dean.

  Robert Ferrers, 6th earl of Derby, was captured in 1266 and imprisoned at Windsor. Three years later some of his friends took to the forest and began living there. They stole from the whole area around, including a very good horse which belonged to the canons at Bradborne.  Could this have become the legend, were they a merry band of men living in the forest?

Money must have become short, as the canons sold their Peak wool on the futures market in 1275, for five years. Quite a gamble to sell fleeces so far in advance, and one that sometimes caused a loss.

A dispute over tithes with Darley Abbey was firstly decided in Dunstable’s favour and then lost on appeal, but Darley had to pay 32s a year at Bradbourne to the canons, so it is not clear who really won.

Radulphus de Harewold, canon, died in 1282 and was buried at Bradbourne A stone coffin stood behind Bradbourne church door which was discovered in use as a local water trough, is thought to be his

Income from sheep was of prime importance, and the annals frequently refer to them. We believe that Priory House, our Heritage Centre, near the crossroads at Dunstable, was rebuilt in the 1200s, and this was probably funded with the profits from the Derbyshire sheep and lands. This would certainly support Gaufridus’ gift, but we have no written record of this.

 It was possibly liver fluke in the low lying areas that killed many sheep in 1283 as it is recorded as a very wet year. Against the itch, now called scab, ‘we anointed them successfully with stale hogg’s lard, quicksilver and verdigrease; but nothing would do against the wet.’ A sheep farmer of my acquaintance wondered how many shepherds this mixture may have killed!

The canons were very upset when 1200 sheep only produced 150 stone of wool one year.

In 1287 the prior visited Bradbourne and found ‘plenty of sorts of corn, it having been a plentiful year. Our sheep there were then 800, at 12 score (240) to the hundred, but the place was in debt from former failures of corn and other accidents.

In the early 1300s the Priory asked the bishop of Coventry and Lichfield if a secular vicar could be appointed to the church at Bradbourne, instead of their canons living there. I quote from Cox: ‘ This petition was granted, and  it was arranged that the vicar should have for immediate habitation the close of land belonging to the Priory at Tissington, with the house upon it, together with two bovates of land at Tissington tithe free. The Priory also undertook to cause a hall and other new buildings to be erected for the vicar, in a close belonging to them on the south side of the church of Bradbourn. The further endowment of the vicar was eventually settled by his taking tithes of corn and hay and lambs at Tissington, of the mills throughout the parish and all the small tithes, mortuaries and altar dues throughout the parish and chapelries. In return for this income, the Vicar was to undertake the due administration of divine service at his own expense at all the chapels as well as at the mother church.’

At Bradbourne, it is fairly easy to see where the vicarage was built, as there is a house there today in a close on the south side of the church, but at Tissington it is not so clear cut. The Hall at Bradbourne which is adjacent to the east end of the church is generally thought to be where the canons had their grange, and Sheffield University confirmed two rectangular buildings under the front lawns. There would have been a large barn for storing the tithes, accommodation for servants, a bakehouse, brewhouse, stables for oxen and horses and sheep folds. There are references to bercaries for sheep, and even now you see the booths or bothys on the moors where the sheep and shepherds spent their winters.

All Saints church Bradbourne has Saxon origins, a little of which can be seen on the north side. Soon after Dunstable took possession, the nave and chancel were enlarged and the main Norman doorway with a beak head and winged animal design was moved to the bottom of the tower allowing a south aisle to be built. Carvings on a window mould here are believed to be of Edward III and Queen Philippa c 1340. The canons would certainly recognise the church today as little has changed since 1540.

Cox remarks on Bradbourne Church font being unusual in shape and construction. ‘It is formed of a single square block of stone, being two feet four inches square. The basin, which is circular and lined with lead, measures about a foot in depth. He attributes it to the period 1280-1300.’

Lea Hall, according to the North Derbyshire Archaeological Trust, is an outstanding example of a deserted medieval village earthworks as the village layout can still be seen, a large settlement with linear-street form with ridge or dale-edge sitings.

Ballidon All Saints Church was a chapel of ease with no graveyard, now derelict, sitting isolated in a field. The dimensions of the nave are thirty feet by seventeen feet seven inches, and of the chancel sixteen feet by twelve feet nine inches, according to Cox, who adds ‘the walls up to 1882 were covered with what has been described to us as "pen and ink frescoes," which, in the opinion of the Church- 
warden who plastered them over, made the chapel look like " a bad place." Up to that date the floor was annually strewn with rushes, there being no pews.’ There is a fireplace high up in the wall. Legend says that the Dunstable canons slept upstairs when they held services here, it being too far to walk there and back to Bradbourne. .

Brassington church, St. James, sits on the hill looking over the village and the (lead) Miners Arms, and across at the disused lead mineshafts. A Norman church with an original font, it was extended in Victorian times.

Atlow receives few mentions in the records, although there was a moated medieval manor house here.  Perhaps it was at this manor that an agreement was made in Atlow, between the prior and the lady Helena.

The delightful village of Tissington is famous for its custom of well dressing dating from pagan times. It is believed that the custom was revived after the black death in 1349 when the villagers thought that their pure water prevented them from infection. Five wells are dressed here every year on Ascension day. Tissington church has a Norman tower and doorway and is estimated to have been built around 1100. The pillars of the door bear the grooves of the archers sharpening their arrows when parliament encouraged people to improve their archery skills by practising on Sunday afternoons. The present Hall dates from 1609, but the earthworks on the north side of the church show where the previous hall stood.

It is suggested that Friden and Stanedge granges may have been owned by Dunstable Priory. I have found no evidence of this at this present time.

A visit to Aldwark Tithe farm, confirmed that here was one of Dunstable’s granges. The owner’s deeds gave me the proof that I was seeking.

Dugdale’s Monasticon Vol II states that Robert Ferrars founded an oratory at Aldwark. There is no mention of this in Dunstable’s records.

In conclusion we know that Dunstable had considerable lands and churches at Bradbourne, Brassington, Ballidon, Tissington and Atlow, and the tithes at Aldwark and Lea. The tithes of Beggarshoe, now Hoe Grange and Unthank we see in 1215 and again in 1290 as belonging to Dunstable.

The lands from the original charter were added to as the years went by with gifts and purchases of more land and buildings at Cardlehey and Mouldridge. When Thorpe and Ilam are found in their records it extends our knowledge of their boundaries by several miles to the west. It is possible that they also had Griffe, Hawkswell and maybe Stanedge and Friden granges, at least for some of those 335 years when the Dunstable black canons were a familiar sight in the Peak district.

Dunstable’s interest came to an end in 1540 at the dissolution of the monasteries. How did they manage these manors more than a hundred miles from home, the journey at best must have taken them a week to complete.

The Canons’ route – Dunstable to Bradbourne

The priors were shrewd, and we begin to understand the negotiations they made for the various churches along the Watling Street. They appointed the vicars at Great Brickhill and Shenley, and one of these must surely have provided our travellers with their first night’s rest.

Then onwards north to Pattishall, where a charter around 1205 tells of a deal made with Simon of Pattishall, who received land from the Prior of Dunstable, in return for which he was ‘to find for the prior fitting entertainment (lodgings), three times a year, if he comes with four horses, or twice a year if he comes with six horses’. Land was owned here in Northamptonshire from c1154/1189, i.e. before the Derbyshire gift, but the Prior is quick to use it to his advantage when visiting his manors.

The charters give us clues to the numbers travelling, and the feeling that there was no hurry, it was not just a quick one night stop, so perhaps our journey took two weeks!

Weedon for our third halt, again they had the church here. What was owned at Lutterworth is not stated, but mentioned just as ‘value’ and it again would have been a convenient stop.

Their manor at Cadeby would make a fifth and welcome stop, especially when it had a vineyard. Then on through Ashby, and to the Augustinian Priory at Repton for a night or two with friends, crossing the river Trent when it was thought safe. No records of a bridge here in medieval times, so it was probably a causeway for horses and carts and a passenger ferry managed by the priory situated as it was in those days on the banks of the river, that took you to Willington on the north side. From here they could follow old tracks and Roman roads up to the Peak and the moors at Bradbourne.

The Lead Mines

There are no references to lead mines in the annals or charters, but certainly the priory owned them in the Brassington and Aldwark areas, and lead was extremely valuable. Mention is made in the annals when 10 loads of lead were put on the refectory roof, a load being approximately one ton, and also to a new belfry at Dunstable ‘which the prior covered in lead’.

How many lead mines did Dunstable own? Impossible to say, but on Hoe Grange alone the owner tells me that there are five ancient workings. Haven Hill opposite Bradbourne church also has a number of mines as does Brassington and Aldwark.

Lead was much in demand by the castles and abbeys of Europe when Dunstable had an interest here, and the Peak mines sent hundreds of tons of smelted lead to build Windsor Castle, the Great Hall of Westminster and the Tower of London.

The Rev.Dr.J.M.Caffyn in his thesis on medieval waterways provided the answers for transporting the lead. ‘By road a 10 ton load would require a convoy of 15 Wagons, 30–120 oxen and 30 men, and would travel less than 8 miles in a day. A river barge would carry the same load, crewed by 5 men in about 3 feet of water, and would travel 15-20 miles a day’.

Short canals were cut between rivers. An example of this was the Fossdyke, refurbished around 1121AD it is thought to have been built by the Romans. At just over 11 miles long it links the River Trent with the Witham at Lincoln. It was possible in medieval times to load the lead on to barges on the Derwent, and unload them from the Ouzel at Eaton (Bray), a short distance from Dunstable.       River Transport 1189 – 1600 The Reverend Douglas John Morris Caffyn