Mattersey Priory

Gilbertine Canon.
Gilbertine Canon.

This small priory of Gilbertine canons was erected in lovely surroundings on what was, in effect, an island bounded by the River Idle about eight miles north of Retford. Tradition says that it housed canons and canonesses in its early days, but it seems clear that there were only canons in it for the major part of its existence.

The Gilbertines were members of the Order founded by St. Gilbert of Sempringham in Lincolnshire, who was born there between 1083 and 1089. Some of the houses of this Order included canons and canonesses on the same site. The canons followed the Rule of St. Augustine and the canonesses the Cistercian interpretation of St. Benedict's Rule. The canons wore a black habit and white cloak. It was a wholly English Order and never spread to the Continent. While St. Gilbert was head of his priory late in the twelfth century, his lay brothers struck for fewer working hours and better clothes. He thereupon refused to consider their claims until they resumed work, and when they did so he gave them a stern lecture on the iniquity of illegal strikes and then partly met their demands, thus acting throughout in accordance with the best technique and practice of modern days. The good abbot lived to be about 108 years of age.

Mattersey Priory was founded about the year 1185-1192 by Roger de Mattersey and endowed with property nearby, but was almost wholly destroyed by fire in 1279 and to provide them with money for rebuilding the canons were authorised to appropriate Mattersey Church with most of its income.

Legh and Layton visited the priory in 1536 and found the annual value to be £60. Only one canon was declared a moral delinquent. On October 3rd, 1538, Thomas Norman, the prior, surrendered and was granted a pension of £12 and four others were granted from £2 13s. 4d. to £2 each. The prior was soon afterwards appointed headmaster of Archbishop Holgate's School, Malton.

The manor of Mattersey and some of the priory buildings and lands were purchased in 1539 by Anthony Nevill and his wife for £319 6s. 8d., and he was granted the site of the priory and other lands in tail male at a rent of 38.?. per annum. Finningley Grange, one of the properties of the former priory, was granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Martin Frobisher, the distinguished sailor and explorer. The ruins of the priory are under the supervision of the Ministry of Works. A low relief stone and some stained glass in Mattersey Church probably came from the priory.

Mattersey Priory ruins.