(e) Newstead Priory

Newstead Priory, west front.
Newstead Priory, Chapter House.

Newstead is the best-known of the Austin priories, and as the home of the poet Byron its fame has spread over the world. It was founded by Henry II about 1170 and richly endowed by him and later benefactors. Both King Edward I and King Edward II are known to have stayed at the priory. These royal visitors were a great expense to any religious house.

In 1238 the king ordered the prior to hand over to a recipient named by him, certain goods late of Joan, Queen of Scots, handed to the prior by her brother Henry Balliol and another, and then in the prior's custody.

The Visitations disclose a fairly long list of debts, dissension and irregularities of different kinds. Gifts from generous donors failed to keep the priory out of debt for long, and various steps were taken to cut down living costs, but as a rule without avail.

Newstead Priory, Cloister Court.

In 1252 Archbishop Gray visited the priory and found the canons "fervid in religion, and lovers of concord", but seven years later his successor complained about drinking and general slackness, and two years later these complaints were in substance repeated. Other similar complaints about their general laxity followed in the next few years and their fervidness of 1252 seems to have almost evaporated by 1314. A few years earlier all games of dice were forbidden.

In 1259 the Archbishop ordered the prior to receive guests with a smiling countenance. This advice had an ulterior motive although it was good in itself.

The priory income was about £167 16s. 111/2d. net, and being under £200 per annum and liable to closure under the Act of 1535-6, the canons obtained a licence to continue and paid £233 6s. 8d. for it, but it did not save them and on 21st July, 1539 they surrendered. John Blake, the prior, was awarded a pension of £26 13s. 4d. (£1,333) and the sub-prior and ten canons got from £3 6s. 8d. to £6 each.

Newstead Priory, east wall of cloister.

The day the priory surrendered Sir John Byron of Colwick was in possession of the site and properties, and eventually purchased them for £810, at least £40,000 in present day values.

The ruined west end of the church, the cloisters and a good deal of the priory still remain to remind us of the huge mass of buildings which once comprised Henry II's Austin Priory of 1170 and later centuries.