The Priory of Lenton was one of the multitude of monastic foundations which arose in this country shortly after the Norman Conquest. It was one of those 150 religious houses erected during the reign of Henry I, whose concessions gave much confidence and zeal to the clergy. The Priory of Lenton belonged, as previously stated, to the Cluniac Order. It was founded by William Peverel, who built Nottingham Castle, and who amply endowed the Priory so that it rose to a position of great opulence and wealth.

The exact year when Peverel granted his charter is not known, but it was, no doubt, between the year 1103, when Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, who is mentioned in the Charter, was born, and the year 1108, when Gerard, Archbishop of York, one of the witnesses, died. We are thus enabled to bring the date of the foundation of the Monastery within five years.

The Founder's Charter was confirmed by King Henry I whose charter is as follows:—

"In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, be it known to the pious devotion of the faithful of the Holy Church, that I, Henry King of England, for the love of Divine Worship, and the remedy of my soul, etc., and also for the health and safety of my son William, and of my daughter Matilda, etc., at the strenuous and earnest request that this should be done, of William Peverel, founder of the same church, with his wife, Adelaide, and his son William, grant the church of the Holy Trinity which is in Lenton, to the government and religion of the Cluniac monks who serve God in the same place, to be held in perpetual right under the Prior and at the disposition of the Cluniac institutions, and to be henceforth possessed undisturbedly and inviolably and free from litigation, together with all things which have been attached to the same church by the said William Peverel of Nottingham, this is, ten carucates of land with very many tithes, and the Manor of Courteenhall, except for the fee of one knight, which Walter the Son of Winemerus holds, and the land of Turstin Mantell, but in recognition, the aforesaid William and his successors shall each pay one marc of silver annually of their own to the aforesaid church of Cluny.

+ The sign of King Henry.

+ The sign of Queen Matilda.

+ The sign of William Peverel of Nottingham.

+ The sign of Adelina his wife.

+ The sign of Earl Ro, and of other good witnesses."

For 430 years the Priory of Lenton and its work continued. As there were 20 to 30 monks in residence at a time, there was a total of about 1,000 men who passed through the Priory in four centuries. It was the tenth richest Priory in England, and the most wealthy of those in the Midland counties. In common with other convents, Lenton Priory was used by nobles for the safe keeping of their money, as there were no banking facilities in olden times. There is a reference in the Wollaton MSS. to certain monies deposited in Lenton Priory. The Prior of Lenton had a prison to which ordinary criminals were committed, and from which William Ford of Duffield, carpenter, charged with felony in 1505, escaped in contempt of the King.

The Prior and Convent of Lenton had part-control of Nottingham High School, as referred to in the foundation document.


Donations to the Priory of Lenton were both numerous and substantial. 127 towns and villages in Nottinghamshire, 120 in Derbyshire, besides several in Yorkshire and Leicestershire paid tribute to the Priory, whose annual income was round about £320.

About the year 1241 a dispute between the monks of Lenton and the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield over certain donations in the Peak district, assumed a serious aspect. When the great estates of the Peverels were confiscated in the reign of Henry II, they were given by the King to his second son, John, Earl of Mortaigne. Richard had no sooner ascended the throne than his brother John began to play the part of conspirator. Hugo de Nonant, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, a man of large estates and considerable influence, but in disposition thoroughly secular and turbulent, was one of his readiest and ablest allies in the Midland counties. But when his attachment to John, and his consequent opposition to the King, appeared to show a decline, the Earl bought his further support by the gift of the churches of Bakewell, Hope and Tideswell, with all their appurtenances. On John's accession to the throne, he confirmed the gift of the Peak churches to the Bishopric during the episcopate of Geoffrey Muschamp; but his successors transferred these rights to the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield. Immediately on the completion of this transfer, litigation seems to have commenced between the Priory and the Dean and Chapter, which continued, with certain intervals of peace, for fully 300 years. " During that period there were no less than five several appeals to the Court of Rome, but the first time that matters came to a decided head was in the years 1250-1 when the monks of Lenton by force of arms seized on certain tithes of wool and lambs in the parish of Tideswell. They broke the doors of the sheepfolds placed at the bottom of the church itself, they violently robbed them of 14 lambs, and 18 lambs they trampled under the feet of the horses, and some they slew with swords, and some they pierced with lances, and caused them to be carried over to the cells of their satellites as if they were hares; by savagely beating the Ministers of the church, and by seriously wounding some as above; the door of the church they violently broke in; their satellites seized part of the wool, shedding blood in the church and in the churchyard."

An important donation was that of the three parish churches of Nottingham, which William Peverel, with the consent of his Lord King Henry the First, bestowed upon the Priory. S. Mary's gave £40 per annum, derived from tithes of corn and hay, the vicarage, including glebe land, tithes of bread, beer, wool, lambs, pigs, chicken, fruit and Easter tithes. S. Peter's gave a pension of 16s., and S. Nicholas one of 15s.

William de Avenal of Haddon, granted to God and to the Church of the Holy Trinity at Lenton, and to the monks there serving God, "five shillings out of my mill at Rowsley to be paid to them yearly on the feast of S. Mark. ... to provide a light in the cloister upon the tomb of my ancestors."

Four charters were granted to the Priory by King Henry the Second. The first freed all the property of the Prior of Lenton from any tax, toll, or custom. The second conferred a Fair of Eight Days at the feast of S. Martin with full toll on all purchases except those of food and clothing, and other privileges. The third made a grant of 80 acres of land. The fourth gave the hermitage of Kersall in Lancashire.

Geoffrey Torkard, with the consent of Maud his wife, and Henry his son, for the health of his soul, and of his ancestors and successors, and for the soul of Alexander de Cheney, gave to God and the church of the Holy Trinity at Lenton, and the monks there serving God, one cart to be continually wandering about, to gather up his dead wood of Hucknall. King John in the first year of his reign confirmed the charters of Henry I and Henry II. He also granted them carts, to take dead wood and heather from his forest of Berkswud (Bestwood), and a tenth of all the game taken in the Counties of Nottingham and Derby. This was renewed in 1220 by Henry III.


In 1224 the Prior of Lenton (Roger) was sent by Henry III to France, together with the Master of the Temple and the Chancellor of London, to make a truce with Louis VIII. It is a singular mark of royal confidence that the Prior of Lenton should have been selected for such an important mission.

The following report of the visitation of Lenton Priory in the year 1262, by the visitors of Cluny Abbey, gives some interesting details of the manner in which the temporal and spiritual affairs of the monastery were conducted, together with the number of monks and lay brethren, and the debt of the Priory. "1262. Also we enquired at Lenton through Brother Alfred, of Lenton, sub-cellarer and of Richard, the almoner of the same place, from which it is evident to us that the state of the house in spiritual matters is good; the service of God is there performed agreeably as it has hitherto been accustomed to be performed. There are 22 monks and two lay brethren there. Concerning the circumstances of the house, we enquired the truth from the Prior and two of the said monks, from which it appeared to us that the house was honourably indebted even to the value of a thousand pounds of the money of the realm." There were subsequent visits in 1276 and 1279.

In 1264 the Prior of Lenton, with certain bishops and a great number of abbots and priors, knights and burgesses, was called to consult with Simon de Montfort, who, "in all but name a king," having defeated the royal army at Lewes, held King Henry a prisoner.

Upon several occasions the reigning King of England was entertained within the walls of Lenton Priory. Henry II was there in 1230. Edward I was at Lenton in April, 1302, and on the 10th of that month addressed a letter, dated at Lenton, to Henry, King of Spain, on the proposed marriage of Prince Edward of England with Isabella, Infanta of Spain. He was at Lenton again in April, 1303, and wrote letters to the Count of Namur, and the Councillors of Bruges and other communes in Flanders. In the year 1307 King Edward II was at Lenton Priory on his accession, with a very distinguished company, including the Earls of Lincoln, Hereford and Lancaster, and also in 1323. The Prior of Lenton at this time must have been an important and wealthy personage, not only to be honoured by such guests, but to possess the means of entertaining so distinguished an assemblage.

Edward III visited Lenton Priory in 1336 and at other times.

According to John Capgrove, Lenton Priory appears to have been the meeting place of the captors of Roger Mortimer at Nottingham Castle, in the year 1330. Capgrove in his Chronicle of England says " It is said commonly that there is a weye fro the hous of Lenton on to the castel of Notyngham under the ground; and this way cam thei in that took him."

On the southern side of Nottingham Park there are the remains of a singular chapel and a range of cells, formerly appendent to Lenton Priory, excavated out of the face of a semi-circular sweep of sandstone rock which crops out on the bank of the Leen.

Cardinal Wolsey is supposed to have stayed a night in Lenton Priory when on his journey to Leicester Abbey, where he died, and also to have left a copper alms dish, the whereabouts of which is not now known.

In the 18th year of Edward III (1344), the Commons protested against strangers being enabled to enjoy ecclesiastical dignities in England, and an ordinance was passed prohibiting this. As a result, from that time Lenton seems no longer to have acknowledged the Abbey of Cluny as the mother house, and was itself frequently styled an abbey.


Fairs held under the shadow of the convent gates, with their attendant pastime and mirth, enriched taverner and tradespeople by the influx of merchants, visitors, and customers from all parts. Besides the men who came for serious business, there would be a mob of pleasure-seekers also. The crowds of people of all ranks and classes from every part of the country, with the consequent variety of costume in material fashion, and colour—the knight's helm and coat of mail, or embroidered jupon and plumed bonnet, the lady's furred gown and jewels, the merchant's sober suit of cloth, the minstrel's gay costume, and the jester's motley, the monk's robe and cowl, and the peasant's smock frock—continually in motion up and down the street of the temporary canvas town, the music of the minstrels, the cries of the traders, the loud talk and laughter of the crowd, must have made up a picturesque scene full of animation. Provisions, furniture, and clothing were usually purchased by the country people at the fairs held in their respective neighbourhoods, which were frequently the only means of social intercourse enjoyed by the people. Occasionally scraps of news were obtained from travellers, and something of state affairs was learned from the strolling minstrel, who was often welcomed as much for his gossip as for his song; but the annual reunion of the country people took place at the fairs. The inhabitants then made merry with fresh arrivals of welcome guests, and the cellarer of the Priory took the first choice of all wares exhibited on the stalls in the fair conceded by the charter of the convent. There were many such fairs in the time of Henry VII, when an unsuccessful attempt was made to prohibit them. The appeal against the abolition of the fairs said: "There be many fairs for the common weal of your said liege people, where lords spiritual and temporal, abbots, priors, squires, knights, gentlemen, and your said commons of every country hath there common resort to buy and purvey many things that be good and profitable, as ornaments of holy church, chalices, books, vestments and other ornaments for holy church aforesaid and also for household, as victual for the time of Lent, and other stuff as linen cloth, woollen cloth, brass, pewter, bedding, osmund, iron, flax and wax, and many other necessary things, the which might not be forborne among your liege people."

S. Martin's Day, November 11th, is better known as Martinmas; this is an important holiday of ancient date, being the Roman "Vinalia" or the Feast of Bacchus. When this holiday was "Christianised," it re-appeared as the Feast of S. Martin, and this saint was credited with the failings of the old god of wine; with our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, it was the great slaughter time of the year, when "beeves," sheep and hogs, whose store of food was exhausted, were killed and sold. The people used to begin this saint-day with feasting and drinking, and hence S. Martin became the patron saint of those who drank deep and heavily. We mention these facts, for it is clear that the old monks of Lenton selected this happy time for holding their chartered fair.

It has been stated that, previous to the year 1163, a fair of eight days, commencing on the feast of S. Martin in every year, was granted to Lenton Priory by Henry II. This grant, which conferred on the monks many privileges to the exclusion of the town of Nottingham, was confirmed April 16th, 1200, by a charter of King John. The restriction imposed on the inhabitants of Nottingham during the continuance of Lenton Fair, and the possible preference of traders to bring their goods to Lenton Fair rather than to the two fairs held annually in Nottingham, resulted in a contention about the year 1300 between the Prior of Lenton and the Mayor of Nottingham as to their respective rights and privileges.

The Prior and Convent of Lenton got the better of the bargain, and it appears in the agreement which was drawn up between them that the terms of the fair had been increased from eight to twelve days by charter of Henry III. There was another such dispute in the time of Henry VIII. who recommended the mediation of the Governor of Nottingham Castle.

In 1603, a plague was raging, and the following year seven aldermen and three other persons were appointed to over-see and guard the town (Nottingham) against the pestilence; no inhabitant was to attend the fair at Lenton to buy cattle, and a man was to watch at Lenton Fair to see that no townsmen were there.

We have a note of a man coming from Lincoln to sell "saleable bows" at 2/- each, and being robbed of three at his lodgings at Nottingham; also of one merchant charging another of owing him 40s. and the bailiff of the Fair seizing the debtor's brass pots, etc. There is also a note of an ale-seller sueing a Nottingham ale-wife for supplying him with inferior ale to sell at the Fair.

This Lenton Priory Fair existed as one of the largest and most picturesque gatherings in the country for over 300 years. At the dissolution of the Priory the yearly profit derived from Lenton Fair was £12.