Reminiscences of places, men, and times.

by Henry Dingley.

Ed's Note : I reproduce below the first of a series of articles sent to me by Harry Vincett. The articles appeared in the “Bourne College Chronicle” over 110 years ago.

The Manor Abbey

QUINTON, nestling on the heights, is lovely, as viewed from the hills of Clent, the sweet range of the Lickey, and the romantic Frankly Beeches; and at the time we write is indeed one of most charmingly-situated rural villages of Worcestershire. It is fringed by the delightfully picturesque Leasowes, which was once the happy seclusion of the poet Shenstone. It was also sighted by Cromwell when he battered from neighbouring heights the Old Manor Abbey, a little distance off. It has been visited by eminent Methodist pioneers, including John Wesley, Hugh Bourne, and William Clowes. The village was destined to cast a mantle of glorious gospel light upon her less favoured neighbouring sister hamlets.

About the year 1850 I visited the Manor Abbey, and till then, like most of the inhabitants of Quinton, knew nothing of its rich and ancient associations hence I have thought well to make it the subject of my first paper. Leaving Quinton (College Road) and passing down Manor Lane in the direction of Halesowen, twenty minutes walk brings you to the Manor Abbey. Manor means a tract of land subject to the territorial jurisdiction of a grantee proprietor, styled Lord of the Manor. The legal theory of the origin of Manors, refers them to a grant from the Crown. It is still a fundamental rule that all lands were originally received from the Crown. The Manorial institution dates from remote feudal times until that of Edward I, in 1290.

As far as this description of the Abbey goes, it refers to the period of my first visit there, forty years ago. I thought the old Abbey looked much like the remains of an old battered castle. Not much of the old walls wore left, but these in their ruins were sufficient to excite my wonder and admiration. The ruins of this once splendid Abbey form a picturesque object, alike worthy the attention of the artist and the antiquary. The largest and most entire member of this religious house is now a barn, and was probably used for the same purpose by the monks; its interior has some vestiges of a timber roof, apparently of considerable age. On the south side is a substantial farmhouse. sheltered by a lofty fragment of the Abbey, containing several Gothic window recesses This wall, of considerable length, forms the boundary of a large farmyard, with appurtenant buildings, numerous stacks of corn, hay, etc.; and amid these humble edifices, two very fine fragments of an ancient Church lift up their venerable heads, majestic in decay. The opposite, or northern wall, resembles that of a choir of a cathedral, fractured towards the east, exhibiting one long narrow window recess, and several inferior arches; it is lofty, and clothed with ivy.

A gable to the east, apparently the termination of a side aisle, is also rich in antique architecture. The most interesting ruin adjoins the farmhouse. It consists of a range of elegant pointed arches, in a tolerable state of preservation; below them are the remains of strong buttments, and several pointed doors, still in use, the lower part of the building being kept tenantable, and appropriated to the meanest purposes of the farm.

“See how the tottering fragments keep their ground,
Clasped by the ivy's strong embrace. Behold
The gadding plant throws its green mantle round
The fractured walls; which, by its friendly aid,
Stand up against the injuries of time,
And brave unmoved the fury of the storm."

the Manor of Hales in the time of Edward the Confessor. These Thanes attended the Saxon princes at their courts, and held their lands immediately of them, acknowledging no superior. They were succeeded after the Conquest by the Barons Regis; hence Court's Baron. The first Norman possessor was "Rogerus Comes de Minte Gomerico," or Roger, Earl of Montgomery, who descended from Gunnara, Duchess of Normandy, great-grandmother to the Conqueror.

William heaped great honour upon, and made extensive grants to, his relative, favourite, and great captain, Roger de Montgomery. He not only created him Earl of Shrewsbury, Arundel, and Chichester, but also granted to him nearly the whole of the county of Salop, besides one hundred and fifty-eight Manors in various parts of the kingdom. Roger, Earl of Montgomery and Shrewsbury, died A.D. 1094, in the eighth year of William II, in the sixth Kalends of August. His remains were deposited in the Abbey of Shrewsbury, which, by consent of his consort, Adelaisa, he had founded in A.D. 1083, and in which he became a monk. His remains we are informed, were removed from the old Abbey, A.D. 1622, and in an altar-tomb in the Abbey Church, Shrewsbury, his figure, in a recumbent position, may still be seen.

Prior to the time of the Conquest, Halas was reckoned in Worcestershire, and appears to have been in the Hundred of' Clent. It is thus described in Doomsday:-" In Clent Hundred, Earl Roger holds of the King a Manor called Halas; it contains ten hides. There is a demesne, four carucates, thirty-six villans, and eighteen bordars, four radmen, and a Church with two priests; among them all there are forty-one ploughs and a half; there are eight bondmen and two bondwomen. Of this land, Roger the Huntsman holds of the Earl, one hide and a half; he has there one carucate, six villans, and four bordars, with five ploughs; it is yearly worth 25s."

These Roman terms may appear ambiguous to the general reader, and in the present day may require a little, elucidation. Hide - an uncertain quantity, generally about 120 acres. Demesne -freehold manor. Carucate, Carve, or Ploughland - generally 100 acres. Villans, Villani or Bondmen, held their lands by tenure, and all their property was at the will of the lord; they were above the rank of Servi or Bordars. Bordars were tenants who held a bord or cottage, with land, on condition of supplying the lord's table with small provisions during his domestic work, or even any base service he may require. Radmen were freemen bound to do husbandry work. Mowing one or two days for the lord was a common tenure in this county.

In the first age after the Norman Conquest, the great Barons annexed to those counties where their principal estates lay, such of their Manors as were situated in an adjoining county; and for this reason that part of the Manor of Hales which was given by the Conqueror to Roger Montgomery was annexed to Shropshire, while Cradley, Tutley, and Warley-Wigorn occur as distinct Manors at that time. The Manor of Hales as then recorded in Doomsday, comprehended only that part of the parish now reckoned in the County of Salop; for Cradley, Warley-Wigorn, and Tutley occur as distinct Manors in the said survey, and had different owners. Had the Conqueror given Cradley, Warley-Wigorn, and Tutley to Earl Roger, as well as Hales, (cum appendicus), there is no doubt but that the Earl would have annexed the whole to the County of Salop.

Robert, Earl of Montgomery and Shrewsbury, was succeeded in the Earldom of Shrewsbury by Hugh, his second son, (the elder having his father's possessions in Normandy), who being slain four years after in the Isle of Anglesea by Magnus, King of Norway, Robert, his eldest brother, gained the Earldom of Shrewsbury from William Rufus by the payment of £3,000. He was "Princeps Militie Regis Willelmi Rufi," i.e. "Captain-General of the forces of William Rufus." But after the death of that king, adhering to Carthose against King Henry I, was at length obliged to abdicate the realm about the year 1102, when all his lands were confiscated, and among others the lordship of Hales. And thus it continued in the hands of the crown till King John, in the sixteenth year of his reign (A.D. 1215), granted it to Peter de Rupibus Bishop of Winchester, for the purpose of founding an Abbey here.

The Abbey and Convent remained in possession till the dissolution of religious houses in the reign of Henry VIII, when this monarch granted HalesOwen, with its adjoining Manors, to Sir John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who, by a deed dated 3 Edward VI, granted a part of these possessions to George Tuckey, in consideration of his good services for twenty-one years.

On the accession of Queen Mary to the throne, this gentleman suffered death for endeavouring to support the pretensions of his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, to the crown of England; whereupon all his lands and manors, comprising that of Hales, were confiscated.

By a deed dated 1555, Sir Robert Dudley, afterwards Earl of Leicester, (celebrated in English history as the favourite of Queen Elizabeth), obtained possession of Hales, and afterwards alienated it to Thomas Blount and George Tuckey, esquires. In the same year these gentlemen sold Hales Owen, with all its members and appurtenances, to John Lyttleton, of Frankley, whose descendants now enjoy it. The Manor of Oldbury, with Langley and Wallaxhall, were not included in Blount and Tuckey's purchase.

“Whoe'er thou art, approach, and with a sigh
Mark where the small remains of Greatness lie;
Here sleeps the dust of Baron, Lord, and Knight.
But list! Be falls to rise again who lives aright."

The distance from Quinton is about one mile, down the Manor Lane, which is narrow and crooked, still crowding with interesting associations. The first hundred and fifty yards from the village is supposed to have been the old Roman road leading on for Birmingham.

A little lower down is the Owly Grange farm house, known as one of the places of hiding for Charles II when pursued by his enemies, and as marking the occasion a monstrous spear is said to have been left by the King, and is now to be seen hanging over the mantel of the old house. A little lower down the lane, on the right, are “Shenston's Walks," and the famous grounds, beautifully wooded, and sheltered by natural elevations; here and there are rustic cottages that have been greatly weathered by the storms of many long years; in various parts of the lane the hedgerows are bedecked in their season with lovely herbs and wild flowers, and altogether the lane between Quinton and the Abbey is one of the most interesting and suggestive.

The way to me has special interest, and recalls the days of my childhood, as, though not the most direct, it was the road I usually selected in returning from school at Halesowen, and often with others of my schoolfellows have I lingered to play and, sport near the Abbey, where on the right of the lane is a long osier bed, or willow marsh, that served for our freaks and games. Hard by is the Grange, a fine old residence, half hidden amid the trees. There are in the immediate neighbourhood but few large houses of ancient date, either standing or in ruins, which is probably accounted for by the fact that most of the land around was held by the Abbey.

In this district rise the rivers Rea and Stour, the former at Egg Hill, passing by Northfield and Birmingham into the Tame at Aston; the latter at Frankley, flowing through Halesowen, Stourbridge, and Kidderminster, to the Severn. But

"Here 'mid the quiet beauty of undulating shade”

We must not further linger, although

“From-whispering tree to tree
The restless songbirds flutter.
And unto happy hearts their throats attune.
Larks from the air and throstles from the grove."

We now enter the gateway above alluded to as on our left, and tread the grassy walk, where:

“The russet thickets bud, and many a star
Of golden aconite looks out beneath."

A thoughtful mood now comes silently over me, and I feel a touch of inspiration, as though treading upon holy ground. A dark cloud, poised, as it were, in mid air, hangs in the sun-lit heavens in front of me, along the top of which runs a line of light-the silver lining.

Far down below, and directly beneath this great shadow of nature, rises in solemn grandeur, ancient with days, a pile of old grey fragments and stone walls. These are the remains of the Old Manor Abbey.

How grand this structure was in its original splendour, none living can tell; but it probably vied with the famous Whitby Abbey, with its floors sparkling with tessellated pavements; every arch of its beautiful arcades glowing with gold and colour; its altars brilliant with embroideries, and glorious with storied and sculptured reredos; every window resplendent with the unrivalled glass of the thirteenth century; and every panel in its roof blazoned with monograms, emblems, and symbols. As we realize this, we feel that we are gazing on a remnant of matchless mediaeval art, standing amidst the ruins of an ancient glory.

King John, in the 16th year of his reign, A.D. 1215, granted the Royal Manor of Hales to Peter de Rupibus, Bishop of Winchester, for the purpose of founding an Abbey here. The original deed, now in a fine state of preservation among Lord Littleton's evidences, is written in Latin, and commences as follows:"John, by the grace of God, etc., to the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, etc. Know ye, that for the good of our souls, and our ancestors, we have given, granted, etc., to Peter, Lord Bishop of Winston, our Manor of Hales, with all its appurtenances, for the building of a religious house on the same, of whatsoever order he shall think fit, for the furthering of the Church on earth; its tenements and hereditaments, in wood and plain, in meadows and pastures, in fish ponds and pools, etc., free from all servitude and secular exactions."

The Lord Bishop of Winston, being thus possessed of the Manor of Hales, immediately founded an Abbey of Premonstratenses, and got the grant further confirmed by King John. The Abbey was finished A.D. 1218, and was first inhabited by Monks from the Abbey of Welbeek, in Nottinghamshire on the sixth day of May in that year. The order of Premonstratensian was a religious order, which formerly possessed great political influence in France. It was first founded in the French Bishopric of Laon by Norbet, a Canon, in the forest of Couchy, in a meadow pointed out to him, as he said, by Heaven. He collected his first disciples A.D. 1120, and gave them the rule of St. Augustin. The original Monastery of this order was at Premontre, near, Caucy in Picandy. The order was introduced into England, in 1146, and its members were then regularly known as the White Canons. They were so called from their habit, which was a white cassock with a rochet over it, a long white cloak and a white cap.

We learn from a manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, No. 1519, folio 18, that this Abbey was dedicated to the honour of the Virgin Mary, and St. John the Evangelist, A.D. 1218. The government of the Abbey was lodged in the following :- the Abbot, Prior and Sub-Prior, Sacrist, Chantor and SubChantor, Cellarer, Custos Infirmorium. All the rest were barely Monks.

Here is a list of the Abbots:-

R 1232
Thomas de Leche1276
Walterus de Flagge1106
Fraser Bartholemus 1314
Thomas de Birmingham 1350
William de Bromsgrove 1369
Richard de Hampton 1369
John de Hampton 1391
John Poole, or Powle 1395
Henry de Kidderminster 1422
John Derby 1446
Thomas Brige, or Bridges 1488
Edmund Green 1490

The Abbots of this house had jurisdiction over Titchfield Priory, in Hants, and also over Dotford Priory, near Bromsgrove. These places were cells to Halesowen Abbey, consequently all their goods and lands belonged to it; but the Abbot of Halesowen was obliged to send Monks to perform Divine Service at these places.

The Abbey was often visited by the Rev. Father in Christ, Richard Assav, Abbot of Shap, in Westmoreland, between the years 1478 and 1517. This Abbot of Shap was also Bishop of St.Asaph, and acted as Commissary to the Rev. Lord Hubert, the Pope's Vicar-General. It was also visited by Superiors from Premonstre.

The Abbey was rich in advowsons, etc. King Henry III, after confirming his father's grant and foundation charter of this Monastery, A.D. 1248, confirmed on the came the patronage of the Church of Walshale (Walsall), Staffordshire, with its chapel, together with all the small tithes arising within the chapelry of Wednesbury and Rushall. John Botetourt, Baron of Wesleigh, granted the Manors of Clent, and Rowley to the Abbot and convent of Halesowen, A.D. 1344, in the eighteenth year of the reign of Edward III. Warin de Upton, Lord of Upton-Warren, in the beginning of the reign of Henry III granted to Hales Monastery forty acres of land, lying at Habbelench, in the county of Worcester. The whole number of Monks who resided at this Abbey scarcely ever exceeded twenty.

I was always very fond of country rambles and the sight of ancient edifices, hence it is that such places as the Old Manor Abbey have indelibly fixed themselves upon my memory; and there is no need to travel into distant lands in search of natural and historical objects to admire. To see the more awful and romantic, we must visit such countries as Switzerland, the giant Andes, the primeval forests of the Western world, or listen to the roar of grand Niagara. We must go like Mungo Park, Moffat, Livingstone, Stanley, etc., into African deserts, or accompany Ross, Parry, and Franklin to the accumulated icebergs of the Northern Pole. We have nothing in England to be compared with the marvels of other lands; but if it is simply the beautiful, and the remains of ancient historic structures, whose architectural grandeur has been the attraction of many nations-if this is required, then we have enough, not simply in the British Isles, but lying closely around us, to make our hearts beat with joy and our eyes sparkle with delight. Many persons know the pleasure there is in visiting spots of historical interest, and of tracing amid their surroundings indications of the events and times which made them famous. Yet so rapid is the flight of time, and so numerous the changes which it brings in its train, that but few places allow us to picture with accuracy the details of what once occurred there. I remember still my first visit to the Old Manor Abbey, and what the old people said about its picturesque ruin, its sweet seclusion, and the beauty of its situation. And. there it is now, in its own grey loveliness, amid the surrounding landscape of hill, vale, and woodland, adorning the scene with variegated beauty a venerable pile. The clustering ivy, that friend and companion of ancient rains and aged trees, is here abundant.

“Ivy, thou art ever green.
Let me changeless, then, be seen”

At a visitation of the Convent held in the reign of Henry III, A.D. 1489. the whole number of religious amounted to but seventeen persons, of whom four were resident in the cures belonging to the Monastery. We find 20 bushels of wheat and rye were weekly consumed in bread, and 1,110 quarters of barley, 60 oxen, 40 sheep, 30 swine, and 24 calves spent yearly in the house an incontestable evidence the great hospitality and charity which at that time reigned here.

In this Abbey was a great hall, where the monks dined; the orial for the infirm; the locutory, or parlour, for the monks to discourse in; the dormitory, or sleeping place; the laundry; the library; a Church and Sanctuary for criminals and debtors to fly to; a gaol for incorrigible monks; and an oratory, or place of prayer. The granges or demesne farms belonging to the Abbey were ten, and are (except Pyrcote, which lay in Old Swinford) situated in the parish of Hales, viz., Warley Grange, Hill Grange, Owley Grange (Quinton), Farley Grange, Whitley Grange, Uffmore Grange, Rudhall Grange, Blakeley Grange, and New Grange.

The Abbey lands were very extensive, being situated in all the surrounding parishes, and produced a great income. An inventory was taken A.D. 1505, on the death of the Abbot Briges, of the divers cattle and goods belonging to the Monastery of Halesowen, which included at the Home Grange, 44 oxen, a bull, and 12 heifers; at St. Mary's, 33 young beasts and a barren cow; at Uffmore, 3 barren kye (cows), 8 oxen belonging to the cellarer, and 2 fat beeves for the kitchen, 140 sheep, and 60 lambs.

The following persons of note were interred in this Abbey: Lord John Botetourt, Baron of Wesleigh, was buried before the high altar, and bequeathed his jewels and plate to adorn the altars of the Abbey. Sir Hugh Burnell, Governor of Bridgenorth Castle, and one, of the favourites of Richard II, was buried in the choir, under a tomb of alabaster, near Joice his wife. Sir William Lyttleton, of Frankley, was buried before the image of the Virgin Mary. Some seventy years ago the cover of a coffin was discovered among the ruins; this has been fastened in an upright position against the wall. - It is of stone; in the upper part, within a recess, with a trefoil head, is carved the crucifixion; and below, in a similar compartment, is a figure kneeling in the attitude of prayer.

The old Abbey reminds me very forcibly of happily long-past days, when justice was irregularly administered, and when the kingdoms of divided England and could not always insure the carrying out of such, laws as existed for the protection of the innocent. In such a day the Church did excellent work by her system of Sanctuary, by which she threw a merciful protection around the accused, and prevented his life or liberty being touched while he lingered in the neighbourhood of a sacred building.

For some of these Abbeys rights of Sanctuary were procured from the authorities, spiritual and temporal. In some cases, (as Hexham Abbey) the bounds of the Sanctuary stretched a mile in every direction from the Church or Monastery, and stone crosses marked the limits of the asylum. If anyone within these bounds arrested a fugitive who was seeking Sanctuary, he was under a heavy fine to the Church; the nearer to the Church the daring act was committed, the heavier the fine.

But should any one have temerity enough to seize one who had attained the seat of Sanctuary within the Church, no fine could redeem so heinous an offence. The Sanctuary seat - a great stone seat, cut from a single block - is the only remnant still existing of the Upper Church of St.Wilfred, Hexham Abbey. This was the bourne to which the thoughts of the desolate and oppressed turned in that region the earthly pledge of a protecting Providence.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (eighth edition) has the following note, “Every Abbey had at least one person whose office it was to instruct youth; and the historians of this country are chiefly beholden to the monks for the knowledge they have of former national events. In these houses, also, the arts of painting, architecture, and printing were cultivated. They were hospitals for the sick and poor, and afforded entertainment to travellers at a time when there were no inns. They were likewise an asylum for aged and indigent persons of good family."

In Cassell's new serial, Historic Houses, the first article, which is finely illustrated (published in October), is devoted to Welbeek Abbey, to which the reader is referred.

It was between A.D. 1536-40, in the reign of Henry VIII, that Cromwell, assisted by the King and the authority of Parliament, played havoc with the religious houses. Before proceeding to the final suppression, under pretext of checking the superstitious worshipping of images, the King had laid bare their altars, and stripped their shrines of everything that was valuable; nor did he spare the rich coffins and the crumbling bones of the dead. In the final seizures of the Abbeys and Monasteries, the richest fell first; but the fury of the same whirlwind gradually blew over the whole land, until, in the spring of the year 1540, all the Monastic establishments of the kingdom were suppressed, and the mass of their landed property divided among courtiers and parasites. Innumerable works of art were - destroyed, and magnificent specimens of architecture were battered, and left rootless; statues and pictures, many of them the productions of Italian masters, and which had in the eye of taste a sort of holiness, independent of Saints and Madonnas, were broken to pieces or burned.

The mosaic pavements of the Chapels were torn up, and the same brutal hands smashed the painted windows, which almost more than anything gave beauty and glory to our old Abbeys and Cathedrals. All the Abbeys were totally dismantled, except in the cases where they happened to be the Parish Churches also, as was the case at St. Alban's, Tewkesbury, Malvern, and elsewhere, where they were, rescued, in part by the petitions and pecuniary contributions of the pious inhabitants, who were averse to the worshipping of God in a stable.

A cannon ball was brought and shown to me some thirty years ago, which had been dug up in the Manor grounds near the Abbey only a few days before, by one of the farm labourers. It was about four pounds in weight, quite round, but much corroded, having been buried in the earth some hundreds of years. I presume it was originally a seven pounder, shot from Cromwell's cannon. How blessed that we live in times of sweet and prolonged peace. But the days of Cromwell have their lessons. They mark a time of tremendous excitement and struggle in the history of our country; but the battles wore for liberty, and the issues, and influences are touching the nation's life today. The old Abbeys and Monasteries of our land are lying in ruins, and the warriors and Reformers who did the work of demolition are quietly sleeping in their graves; but the liberties for which they struggled, and the trophies which they gathered, were left as a precious legacy for succeeding generations, and are some of the things that give England to-day a proud position among the nations of the world.

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