Haughmond Abbey (local // HOE-mund) is a ruined, medieval, Augustinian monastery a few miles from Shrewsbury, England. It was probably founded in the early 12th century. Dissolved in 1539, its site is in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
The precise origins of the Abbey are unclear. It is known that it was put on a sound footing for the first time in the years around 1135, when Henry I died and the country passed into the Anarchy, in which Stephen and Empress Matilda competed for power. Around that time William Fitzalan granted a fishery at Preston Boats, about 3 km south of the abbey on the River Severn – the first clear indication that the abbey existed. It is not certain that Wiliam Fitzalan founded or was the first to endow the community. His father, Alan fitz Flaad, acquired the abbey site, along with other large estates in Shropshire and Sussex: they were originally granted by William the Conqueror to Rainald de Bailleul and passed to Alan on the death of Rainald's son, Hugh. It is possible that he was the founder, or even that it began before his time, as a small religious community towards the end of the 11th century. Augustinian communities often began as small gatherings around a noted hermit before growing into established monasteries, or even small religious orders: the Abbey of Arrouaise in northern France, which had a Shropshire community at nearby Lilleshall Abbey, is an example.
Fitzalan's grant names the leader of the community, Prior Fulk, although he may not have been the first. Augustinian communities were generally counted as priories, although large, entirely independent houses were called abbeys. The grant also mentions the dedication: to Saint John the Evangelist. A statue of St John with his emblem can be found carved into the arches of the chapter house. His image also appeared on the Abbey's great seal.
Haughmond's promotion to abbey status came as it continued to grow and prosper – even though William Fitzalan, its main benefactor, took the side of the Empress and was exiled from the region from 1138 until at least 1153. Endowments continued in Fitzalan's absence. In 1141-2 the Empress gave land and a mill in Walcot, Shropshire. The abbey took the precaution of getting Stephen's approval for this major gift – a strategy followed also at Lilleshall during the anarchy – as well as confirmation from Henry of Anjou. Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester, donated fishing rights in the Dee.
Ranulf brought a number of Welsh magnates into the civil war, initially on the Angevin side. This brought gifts of some Welsh churches to the abbey, including that at Trefeglwys, in Arwystli, and at that at Nefyn, which was donated by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd. In 1155, the year after Henry II took the throne, William FitzAlan, his faithful supporter, finally regained his Shropshire estates. William then donated the church at Wroxeter to Haughmond Abbey. This was a portionary church – staffed by a number of canons, dividing the income, but not forming a structured college. Fitzalan also declared he would increase the number of canons at Wroxeter, thus benefitting Wroxeter and Haughmond simultaneously. He declared this was "so that they might have a full convent", implying that he intended the church to evolve into a college, probably as a family chantry. If that was his intention, it never materialised.
As the wealth of the abbey increased, the rebuilding of the church and abbey was begun. Over the next twenty years it was constructed in a late Romanesque style, funded mainly by Fitzalan, his descendants and their vassals, especially the Lestrange family. However there were donations from the King himself, signalling that the abbey was closely associated with the ruling dynasty. This was confirmed by the appointment of the king's former tutor, Alfred, as abbot, probably in the 1160s.
Endowments and wealth
|Location||Donor||Nature of grant||Approximate coordinates|
|Preston Boats||William Fitzalan||Fishery in River Severn|
|Sheriffhales, Shropshire||William Fitzalan||Land|
|Peppering, near Arundel, Sussex||William Fitzalan||Land|
|Walcot, Shropshire||Empress Matilda, confirmed Henry II||Land and mill|
|River Dee||Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester||Fishing rights|
|Trefeglwys||Church of St Michael|
|Nefyn||Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd||Church of St Mary|
|Wroxeter||William Fitzalan||St Andrew's Church, Wroxeter|
|Cheswardine||John Lestrange||Mill and Church of St Swithun|
|Shawbury||Church of St Mary|
|North Stoke, West Sussex||St Mary the Virgin's Church, North Stoke|
|Leebotwood, Shropshire||Henry II||Land|
|Betchcott, Shropshire||Henry II||Land|
|Downton, Shropshire||William Fitzalan||Lordship|
|Upton Magna, Shropshire||William Fitzalan||Land and mill|
|Nantwich, Cheshire||William Fitzalan||Half of a salt evaporation pond|
|Berrington, Shropshire||John Lestrange||Land|
|Webscott, near Myddle, Shropshire||John Lestrange||Land|
|Ruyton-XI-Towns, Shropshire||John Lestrange||Mill and church|
|Myddle, Shropshire||John Lestrange||Mill|
|Nagington, Shropshire||Hamo Lestrange||Land|
|Alveley, Shropshire||Guy Lestrange||Mill|
|Wolston, Warwickshire||Guy Lestrange||Mill|
|Hopley, near Hodnet, Shropshire||Helias de Say||Land|
|Hopton, near Hodnet||Helias de Say||Land|
|Newton by Ellesmere, Shropshire||Land|
|Beobridge, Shropshire||Emma, daughter of Reynold of Pulverbatch||Land|
|Aston Abbots, Shropshire||Lestrange family of Knockin||Land|
Churches formed a significant part of the abbey's wealth. Through appropriation, the abbey corporately took on the role of rector in the parish and thus received the tithes. It retained advowson of the church and any chapels, allowing it to appoint the vicars and curates; this would generate a substantial entry fine on each appointment. Churches provided a steady stream of income, with little cost and effort. Haughmond appropriated the churches listed above in the 12th century: Stoke, Shawbury (including its dependent chapels), Cheswardine, Ruyton XI Towns, Nefyn and Treseglwys. In addition it later appropriated the following churches:
|Location of Church||Dedication||Coordinates|
|Old Hunstanton||St Mary|
|Stokesay||John the Baptist|
|Stanton upon Hine Heath||St Andrew|
The distribution maps available above show that the abbey's assets were heavily concentrated, tending to form natural groups, in Shropshire. This was a major advantage that Haughmond had over nearby Lilleshall, which always suffered from the running costs associated with a widely dispersed property portfolio. The acquisition policy of the abbey tended to strengthen this advantage, deliberately buying or requesting grants of adjoining estates to increase local concentrations of land. Around Leebotswood, for example, the abbey built up a large composite manor called Boveria, presumably from the Latin bos/bovis, an ox, and meaning roughly "cattle country". The land in that area, to the west of the Long Mynd and along the Wales–England border, was mostly waste when the canons arrived but quickly became excellent pasture, as the new name suggests. After it acquired Aston Abbots, in the early 13th century, the community built up another large group of holdings east of Oswestry at Hisland, Twyford and West Felton, and Great Ness. Wherever estates adjoined uncultivated areas, the community took to vigorous assarting. This had been specifically allowed by Henry II in some of his grants. To make administration easier, the estates were divided into 12 local bailiwicks. These were generally under lay management, but obedientiaries, canons with specific responsibilities for rent and tithe collection, were deputed by the abbots to keep in touch.
In addition to land and churches, the abbey increasingly exploited mills, which increased in number over the centuries. As Dissolution approached in 1538, profits from the abbey's 21 grain and 5 fulling mills amounted to about 8% of its total income.
The concentration of property reflected the circumstances of the abbey's foundation by a powerful territorial dynasty that maintained its interest in the Marches for at least two centuries. The Fitzalans were always recognised as founders, a situation formalised by a charter of Henry II, giving them custody whenever the position of abbot was vacant. The first William Fitzalan was buried in Shrewsbury Abbey, but subsequent heads of the family were buried at Haughmond for over 150 years. Even after the Fitzalans acquired the prestigious earldom of Arundel in 1243, they continued to regard the abbey as theirs and to call the canons canonici mei. When Edmund FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel was executed at Hereford in 1326, his body was buried there, despite his wish to be buried at Haughmond. Abbot Nicholas of Longnor protested and was able to have the body transferred to Haughmond.
Elias or Helias de Say was an important early benefactor, giving lands around Hodnet. His daughter, Isabella, was William Fitzalan's second wife. The male line of the Clun de Says ended with Elias and Isabella passed the estates to the family of her second husband, Geoffrey de Vere, son of Aubrey de Vere I, Earl of Oxford. However, there was another branch of the family at Stokesay, to which they gave their name. The tombstone of a later family member, Olimpia de Say, is now displayed in the chapter house, having been discovered in the Cloister.
The Fitzalans also motivated their vassals and allies to follow their example in making grants. This was especially so of the Lestranges, and most especially of the Knockin branch of the family. Their interest and protection continued down the centuries, with repeated grants of land and loans. In 1342 Roger Lestrange, Baron Strange of Knockin, granted the church at Hanmer to fund a perpetual chantry at the abbey, although it was not until about 1426 that practical and legal difficulties were overcome to establish the chantry. The first priest to serve in it was the blind and deaf poet John Audelay.
The monastic life
The Augustinian rule allowed for many different styles of religious life. Haughmond was certainly a community of Canons Regular but only a little is known about the precise interpretation of the rule that prevailed or how well it was followed. Generally, a financially solvent house was likely to have a better religious life, and Haughmond was generally well run. After the mid-14th century there were never more than 13 canons, although the size of the buildings suggests numbers were considerably greater in earlier centuries.
Augustinians were expected to observe strict protocols in contacts with outsiders, to travel only with their abbot's permission and never to sleep alone. One of the problems at Lilleshall was that canons were often forced to undertake expeditions to the outlying estates, outside direct supervision of the abbot. This was much less prevalent at Haughmond, with its more concentrated estates, although it seems there was sometimes a need for canons to stay at Nefyn, where there was a canons' house in the early 14th century. There were also facilities, including chapels, for canons and abbots to stay on some of the granges, including Leebotwood and Beobridge. As the canons were all ordained priests, they could also officiate at chapels in the extra-parochial areas to the west, although Secular clergy were appointed as soon as these communities became viable. In the early years there were lay brothers to help in the work of the abbey, but they are never mentioned after 1190. There were, however, numerous paid officials and servants on the premises.
Arrangements for food and clothing altered over the years. Initially, canons were granted an annual allowance for clothing. In 1315, the Bishop of Lichfield, Walter Langton, prohibited this practice, so Abbot Richard de Brock earmarked the revenues of Cheswardine church and of Nagington and Hisland to be given to a chamberlain, who was to arrange supplies of clothing.
The diet at Haughmond seems to have been relatively varied and less austere than in most monastic institutions. In 1280 147 sheep and a calf were supplied to the abbey. Tithes of sea fish were exacted at Nefyn and the abbey had fisheries on the Dee and Severn, but it seems unlikely that fish were supplied fresh from the further fisheries. Ranulf of Chester's grant, however, allowed the canons to purchase annually 6000 herrings, which could be salted. These were available at Chester on special terms. In the 12th century the abbey was granted half a swarm of bees in the woods at Hardwick: it may be that mead was made, although honey had a symbolic connection with the austere life because of its association with John the Baptist, who is represented on a pillar of the chapter house.
Diet seems to have been improved in the early 14th century by the same process of earmarking revenues to it. In 1332 Abbot Nicholas of Longnor, as part of a more general package of reforms, allocated the proceeds from the churches at Hunstanton and Ruyton XI Towns, together with those of the Dee and Severn fisheries, to the purchase of meat and fish. A new set of kitchens were constructed. Fuel, flour, peas, cheese, butter, and pottage were still to be provided from the general accounts. There was a piggery at the abbey gates, and this was to provide 20 animals a year for the community. Two loads of flour were requisitioned annually for pastry. It is unclear to what extent the large quantities of meat actully formed part of the monastic diet, as there was also an infirmary on the premises. The kitchener was ordered to render account to the abbot four times a year. A cellarer was responsible for the supply of both beer and bread, including that required at the abbey's granges. the abbot ate from the same kitchens as the canons and could feed guests free of charge when on the premises, but he, the steward and the chaplain were to feed themselves when away from the abbey. Abbot Longnor established a substantial garden at the abbey and in later centuries a dovecote was installed there, providing another convenient source of meat.
The abbey must have built up a collection of books large enough to need separate accommodation, as Abbot Richard Pontesbury complained in 1518 that the bybliotheca was in need of repair. A small number of the books have survived: a Bible; a volume of glossed Gospels; a work by Petrus Comestor, a French theologian; one by Hugh of Fouilloy, another French cleric; and a volume containing both the Sententiae of Isidore of Seville and De sapientia by Alcuin. However, Haughmond, like other Augustinian houses in the region, was not noted for its scholarship. The only Haughmond canon to achieve academic eminence was John Ludlow, who was a scholar in St Mary's College, Oxford, a specifically Augustinian institution, and headed it as prior studentium in 1453 and 1453: he became abbot of Haughmond in 1464. The abbey was supposed to maintain at least one canon at university but was fined in 1511 by the general chapter of the Augustinians for failing to do so.
In the absence of much documentary evidence, the abbey's art may shed some light on the values held dear by the community. In the 14th century a number of figures were carved on the previously plain shafts of the arches at the processional entrance to the church and at the entrance to the chapter house. St Peter and St Paul flank the church entrance used by the canons to enter the church for the Canonical Hours. These were the saints most closely associated with the Papacy, from which both the order and the abbey took their authority. For the chapter house, Augustine of Hippo, eponym of the order, and St John the Evangelist, patron saint of the abbey, were obvious choices. The remaining saints were all illustrative of martyrdom, austerity or spiritual struggle. Thomas Becket, murdered on the orders of Henry II, one of Haughmond's major benefactors, was a martyr whose cult at Canterbury was the focus for medieval England's most important pilgrimage. Catherine of Alexandria, seen as a virgin martyr, is portrayed with her wheel of martyrdom, taking revenge on the Emperor Maxentius. John the Baptist, closely associated with asceticism and speaking truth to power, and a Biblical type for Becket, clutches the lamb and flag symbol of the Agnus Dei. He is accompanied by Margaret of Antioch, who is spearing a dragon, a female counterpart to St Michael. St Winifred, a third virgin martyr, whose relics were kept at nearby Shrewsbury Abbey, is shown with her persecutor Caradog sinking into the ground. Facing her, St Michael the Archangel, armed with spear and shield, treads down and impales a dragon, representing Satan.
Difficulties and abuses
The abbey was subject to canonical visitation by the local ordinary, the bishop of Lichfield. These were particularly zealous in the early 14th century and criticised administrative and moral failings. For example, the obedientiaries who collected rents and tithes were instructed not to travel alone and canons residing away from the abbey were ordered to be recalled. In 1354 the canons were criticised for their love of hunting. The criticisms were, however, few and infrequent for most of the abbey's history. It is likely that monastic discipline was generally reasonably good. More serious criticisms came late in the history of the abbey, during the time of two abbots: Richard Pontesbury and Christopher Hunt.
Pontesbury was abbot from 1488 to about 1521. His failings seem to have been mainly in management both of resources and people, revealed in visitations in 1518 and 1521. Because revenues were being misapplied the buildings were in need of repair – particularly the infirmary, dormitory, chapter house, and library. Pontesbury seems to have complained about this to the bishop as if he himself were not responsible. Liturgical life was suffering because of lack of instruction for the novices. Worse still, canons were visiting Shrewsbury, a woman of ill-repute was frequenting the abbey and there were boys in the dormitory.
Pontesbury was replaced but Hunt, his successor was accused of fornication as well as incompetence and negligence in 1522. He admitted the fornication but claimed he had already performed penance. Nevertheless, he was sent to Lilleshall Abbey to be disciplined, and it was said he was much improved on his return. However, Hunt managed to get the abbey into debt by £100, a considerable feat considering its excellent revenues and low running costs. Between 1527 and 1529, he disappeared from the scene and was replaced by Thomas Corveser, who had been his chaplain and one of his sternest critics. Corveser seems to have restored the abbey's finances and reputation. He remained abbot until the dissolution.
Dissolution and after
Initially intended to assess the value of church properties, the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 reckoned the net annual value of Haughmond at £259 13s. 7¼d. The values formed a basis for the £200 threshold set by the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act of 1536, which left Haughmond and Lilleshall in being. However, the precedent and the storm of criticism unleashed by the dissolution of the majority of religious houses intimidated many of the more successful institutions into surrender. Haughmond took this step in September 1539, the year before the Second Act of Dissolution.
The abbot, Thomas Corveser, and ten canons signed the deed of surrender, each of them receiving a generous pension: the abbot £40 a year and the canons from £5 6s. 8d. to £6 each. The annual income was reckoned at more than £350, as the new estimate included the abbey site and the granges of Homebarn and Sundorne, missed in earlier calculations.
In 1540 the abbey site was sold to Sir Edward Littleton of Pillaton Hall, Staffordshire. Only two years later, Littleton sold it to Sir Rowland Hill, who became Lord Mayor of London in 1547, and soon after sold Haughmond to the Barker family. During this period the Abbots Hall and adjoining rooms were converted into a private residence, although the church and dormitory were already being plundered for building stone. Some of the other buildings around the little cloister continued as private accommodation, with the Little Cloister becoming a formal garden, up until the English Civil War.
There was a fire during the Civil War and it left the hands of the wealthy, being turned over for use as a farm. A small cottage still stood in the area of the former abbots kitchen when the ruins were placed in the guardianship of the Office of Works in 1933.
Today English Heritage looks after the site and has installed a small museum. The site is attended during opening hours and there is a small entry charge.
The ruins today
The Haughmond Abbey buildings, like those at Lillsehall, show signs of Cistercian architectural influence. The standing remains are of white sandstone rubble construction with ashlar dressings. Most of the buildings were grouped around two cloisters. They include: the foundations and west cloister doorway of the late 12th- and early 14th-century church; the late 12th-century chapter house (which is still roofed); the west wall of the warming house and dorter; the walls of the frater and its undercroft; and the early 13th century infirmary, flanked by the abbot's lodging to the east. Apart from a few walls, little else has survived from the western side of the site and, at the northern edge, the abbey church has completely disappeared – although the cruciform ground plan is still clearly visible.
The public entrance to the abbey site is now on the south side, where the extant ruins are at their most impressive. Visitors are confronted by the elaborately decorated, five-sided bay window of the abbot's private quarters. This is of very late date – probably the second half of the 15th century. The accommodation for the abbots became steadily more luxurious and more private throughout the history of the abbey. Beyond the window are remains of the 12th-century abbot's rooms, which were on a far more modest scale. The large and impressive abbot's hall, with its great west window of six lights, was built in the 14th century, partly over some of the 12th-century abbot's buildings. Below the window doorways led to the service buildings: remains and traces of these mainly 12th-century structures are still visible beyond the western end of the hall. This southern end of the site was considerably modified but preserved after the dissolution, when it was used as a family residence.
From the western side of the ruins, the abbot's hall window remains the dominant structure, but walls of the kitchen and dining areas and of the main cloister are easily made out beyond it. It is possible to walk through the entrance to the undercroft of the frater or refectory, below the great west refectory window, which would once have been an impressive structure when it was inserted in the 13th century. The refectory and its undercroft separated the little cloister to the south from the larger northern cloister. The undercroft was the main storage area for provisions, which were brought in through its western entrance from the abbey grounds. A sluice supplied by a stream is on the northern side of the undercroft. The undercroft linked via service steps to the frater above, and by a door to the kitchens, which lay along the western side of the little cloister. The large fireplaces in the west wall of the kitchen range are still very prominent. The frater, being on the upper floor, has gone, but the main cloister wall closest its entrance has two large, arched niches that contained the lavers for the canons' ceremonial ablution before meals.
The main cloister was a large, almost square, open area, not arcaded like the little cloister, but open to the sky. It gave access to the main theatres of communal life: the refectory, the chapter house, the canons' dorter and the church itself.
The chapter house is of exceptional quality and in a good state of preservation. It is fronted by three heavily decorated round arches of the late 13th century, the larger centre arch a doorway and the flanking arches originally windows. The shafts between were built with carved capitals, but a series of sculptures of saints was added to them in the 14th century. There is no trace of the original seating, which would have allowed the canons to sit around the walls of the building. However, there is an impressive moulded, wooden ceiling, probably moved from another part of the abbey: the chapter house was substantially remodelled in the 16th century, perhaps subsequent to the complaints about its condition under Abbot Pontesbury.
The church is the most completely ruined part of the site, with little in the way of upstanding walls. A single Norman architecture arched doorway, leading from the cloister into the nave of the church shows fine foliage moulding, with the sculptured figures of St Peter and Saint Paul either side of the opening. This is on the south side of the church's western end – an austere choice, apparently unaltered. Lilleshall and most similar abbeys had their processional door near close to the transept and dorter, and many had night stairs for the convenience of the monks or canons. At Haughmond the canons had to cross the cloisters, in all weathers, and all times of day and night. There are traces of an early 12th-century church, found during excavations, close to the south transept. However, the easily discerned cruciform plan of the late 12th-century building provides the main framework. The natural upward slope to the east was used to create a symbolism of spiritual ascent, with steps leading from the nave to the choir, and more from the choir to the sanctuary and high altar – a rise of about four metres. The church was about 60 metres in length – about the same as at Lilleshall – and originally aisleless. However, an aisle and porch were added on the northern side in the 13th century. A chapel was added to the northern side of the presbytery in the 15th: this may have been the chapel of St Anne), where the canons served the Le Strange chantry around 1480. Burials of lay benefactors took place in the church and elsewhere on the site: the graves of Richard FitzAlan, 8th Earl of Arundel (d.1302) and his mother, Isabella Mortimer, Countess of Arundel (d. circa 1292), both very important benefactors, are marked in the sanctuary area.
The remains of the canon's dorter or dormitory are slight. It was probably a two-storey building, with the bottom floor used for storage – like the frater – and for a warming house. At the northern end, the dorter is backed by Longnor's Garden, the area set out by the abbot for culinary and medicinal herbs, which contained a dovecote in the 15th century. At the southern end of the dorter, a doorway led to the reredorter, the communal washing and latrine block. Although the facilities themselves have gone, there is a very clear length of stone drain, still supplied by a diverted stream.
The abbey precinct is enclosed in part by a wall of undressed stone, which still stands around the south and west sides. The outer gatehouse and a possible inner gatehouse survive in earthwork form, along with other buildings which may have been part of the Abbey. The artificial landscape created in the Middle Ages is discernible to the north. A reservoir and three possible fishponds can be identified, along with various other medieval features.
- A T Gaydon, R B Pugh (Editors), M J Angold, G C Baugh, Marjorie M Chibnall, D C Cox, Revd D T W Price, Margaret Tomlinson, B S Trinder: Victoria County History: Shropshire, Volume 2, Chapter 9: the Abbey of Haughmond
- Victoria County History: Shropshire, Volume 2, Chapter 10: the Abbey of Lilleshall
- Caroline Lewis: Mystery Of Sussex Church Solved By Archaeology Students, at Culture24, 11 December 2007
- Baugh, G.C. and Cox, D.C. (1982): Monastic Shropshire: Shropshire Libraries: ISBN 0 903802 18 X.
- Bos in the Lewis and Short Latin dictionary at the Perseus Project.
- Iain Ferris (2000):Haughmond Abbey, Lilleshall Abbey, Moreton Corbet Castle: London, English Heritage: ISBN 978-1-85074-750-5.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Haughmond Abbey.|
- grid reference SJ542152
- English Heritage – Haughmond Abbey page
- A panoramic landscape of Haughmond Abbey[dead link]
- www.geograph.co.uk : photos of Haughmond Abbey and surrounding area[dead link]