The Canons Regular of St. Augustine

Canon Regular of St. Augustine.
Canon Regular of St. Augustine.

This Order had five houses in Nottinghamshire and no other Order had more than one house for men. The brief account which follows is therefore applicable to their houses at Thurgarton, Worksop, Shelford, Felley and Newstead. The York diocesan series of Visitations is the most complete by far, and of the Austin Canons there is a maximum of seven each for Newstead and Thurgarton, and of these two latter the earliest which has survived is dated 1252 for Newstead. These canons followed the Rule of St. Augustine of Hippo, and had lay brothers in their priories in common with the other Orders, as well as the usual paid servants. The first house of this Order was founded at Colchester about 1100 and the number rapidly increased.

Life in an Austin Priory was little if any different from life in any monastery in England, and that also applies to their buildings. The canons wore black cassocks, black cloaks with large hoods, and sandals or boots and stockings.

At Barnwell in Cambridgeshire where they had a large priory, the by-laws which have survived, instructed them inter alia, when in the lavatory "to be careful not to blow their noses with the towels or rub their teeth with them or use them to staunch blood".

Guyot de Provins says about these canons: "Among them one is well clothed, shod and fed"—surely a good testimonial from this candid critic.

The Augustinians rank with the Benedictines as the historians of the Middle Ages. They usually served their own churches.

(a) Worksop (Radford) Priory

This priory was founded between 1123-1140 by William de Lovetot, and the endowment provided by him and members of his family, combined with gifts from reigning sovereigns and others, made the priory fairly wealthy. It was erected in what is now the Borough of Worksop.

The Visitations and other similar documents contain little of value and are similar to most others.

A Charter of 1316 showed that the king's son had taken some timber from the canon's wood at Grove to make engines of war for the invasion of the Isle of Axholme then in revolt, and that Henry III had authorised the canons to recoup themselves by taking sixty shillings worth of heather from the Royal Forest of Sherwood.

The usual couple, Legh and Layton, visited the priory in 1536 and found its annual value to be £240 and the debts to be 200 marks. They also reported that they had found four of the canons to be guilty of moral offences and that one canon desired release from his vows. When the priory surrendered in 1538, Thomas Stokes, the last prior, was awarded a pension of £50 (£2,500) and the fifteen others received from £6 to £2 per annum. The canons sold some of their livestock just prior to the Dissolution. A list of the silver handed in to the King's Jewel House is given below.

Silver Plate handed over at the Dissolution

One pair of silver candlesticks.
One censor of silver.
One ship of silver (for containing incense).
Five chalices.
Two cups with gilt covers.
Two salts with one cover.
Twelve silver spoons.
Four ale cups.

In 1541 Henry VIII granted the priory and certain parcels of demesne lands to Francis, fifth Earl of Shrewsbury, in exchange for the manor of Farnham Royal in Buckinghamshire.

The Priory Church was originally one of the largest and finest of its class and is still a magnificent and imposing building. The fine fourteenth century gatehouse had a room for casuals on the first floor and a staircase leading to a large room above, used as a school many years ago and again recently by the Nottinghamshire County Council.

Worksop Priory, church and gatehouse. Before the restoration of the church in 1833.
Worksop Priory, church and gatehouse. Before the restoration of the church in 1833.