Buildwas Abbey was a Cistercian (originally Savigniac) monastery located on the banks of the River Severn, at Buildwas, Shropshire, England - today about two miles (3 km) west of Ironbridge. Founded by the local bishop in 1135, it was sparsely endowed at the outset but enjoyed several periods of growth and increasing wealth: notably under Abbot Ranulf in the second half of the 12th century and again from the mid-13th century, when large numbers of acquisitions were made from the local landed gentry. The abbey was a centre of learning, with a substantial library, and was noted for its discipline until the economic and demographic crises of the 14th century brought about decline and difficulties, exacerbated by conflict and political instability in the Welsh Marches. The abbey was suppressed in 1536 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Substantial remains of the abbey church and monk's quarters remain and are in the care of English Heritage.
- 1 Foundation
- 2 Era of growth under Abbot Ranulf
- 3 Wealth and endowments
- 4 History
- 5 Closure
- 6 Modern history
- 7 See also
- 8 Footnotes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Buildwas Abbey was a Cistercian house, although originally founded as a Savigniac monastery in 1135 by Roger de Clinton (1129–1148), Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. The short-lived Savigniac congregation was a reformed and ascetic branch of the Benedictine Order, centred on the Abbey of Savigny in Normandy, and dating only from 1112.
Buildwas manor was land previously belonging to the diocese. In Domesday the manor of Buildwas was assessed as one hide and was home to nine households, five of them headed by slaves, four by villeins and one by the reeve. It had a mill and woodland, with 200 pigs. It was then worth 45 shillings, as before the Norman Conquest of England, although the value had slipped a little in the intervening period. The dedication of the abbey was to St Mary and St Chad: the same as Lichfield Cathedral. The foundation charter itself has been lost, but a poor transcription survives among the manuscripts of Roger Dodsworth, now in the Bodleian Library. This was printed by Robert William Eyton, the great Shropshire antiquarian, who considered that the list of witnesses, including parties who were soon afterwards drawn into the civil strife of King Stephen's reign on opposing sides, was designed to suggest an early date for the document – an impression he considered false. The first abbot is named as Ingenulf. The transcript omits details of the bishop's grants to the new abbey. However, these are listed in a confirmation issued by Richard I. Like the transcript, this addresses Roger de Clinton as Bishop of Chester and states that his donation was of Buildwas itself, with its surrounding woodland, assarts and appurtenances; land at Meole, just south of Shrewsbury, with its burgesses and a due (tax) called greffegh; churchscot, a due for the support of the clergy, from the hundreds of Condover and Wrockwardine; et in territorio Licheffelddensi hominem unum nomine Edricum ("in the territory of Lichfield one man named Edric"). Edric’s rôle is not specified but presumably involved some kind of work on the abbey’s behalf in the diocesan centre.
The earlier confirmation by King Stephen, issued apparently while he was involved in the siege of Shrewsbury in 1138, gave few details of the grants, although it did give the size of the site as one hide, as in Domesday. Instead it concentrated on recognising the abbey's immunity from taxes and other exactions, including scot and lot and Danegeld. Stephen was a strong supporter and promoter of the Savigniac community, whose mother house stood within his own county of Mortain, which he lost to the Angevins during the Anarchy. One of the witnesses of Stephen’s confirmation was Philip de Belmeis, an important Shropshire landholder. Together with his wife, Matilda, Philip subsequently made an important grant to the abbey of land at Ruckley in Tong, with common pasture and pannage in his woods towards Brewood and the Lizard. The grant is not dated but makes clear that the abbey was still part of the Savigniac community, as it committed all Savigniac houses to pray for Philip, Matilda and their family. The Savigniac houses were all absorbed into the Cistercian order in 1147, and the merger was confirmed by a bull of Eugenius III on 11 April 1148. By this time Philip had transferred his support to the rival Augustinians, granting lands which allowed the establishment of Lilleshall Abbey.
Era of growth under Abbot Ranulf
Buildwas Abbey was initially quite small and poor, as its early endowments were not great in total, even if, as seems likely, it received its grant of Little Buildwas, across the river from the monastery, from William FitzAlan, Lord of Oswestry, in its early years: the original charter is lost and the grant is known from the second William FitzAlan’s later confirmation. Ingenulf, the first abbot, was fairly obscure, but the abbey entered a period of growth and development under Abbot Ranulf, who is known to have taken over by 1155, since a charter relating to Lilleshall which he witnessed cannot be later than that year. His abbacy coincided very closely with the reign of Henry II.
Financial and cultural advance
Richard I's confirmation of the abbey’s lands, issued from the hand of his chancellor, William de Longchamp in 1189, two years after Ranulf’s death, suggests that considerable progress had been made in acquiring land and other sources of income during his abbacy. In addition to the early endowments, it lists Bishop Richard Peche's grants of a messuage in the Foregate at Chester and of a mill worth four shillings at Burne (possibly Burntwood) near Lichfield; Brockton, Staffordshire, from Gerald of Brockton and his son; Richard of Pitchford's gift of the services of a man called Richard Crasset, who lived at Cosford, Shropshire; half of Hatton, south of Shifnal, from Adam of Hatton and Reginald, his son. Half of Walton, Staffordshire from Walter Fitz Herman; land at Ivonbrook, near Grangemill in Derbyshire, from Henry Fitz Fulk; land at Cauldon in north-west Staffordshire from William of Cauldon; and a house from Robert Fitz Thomas, although the location is partially erased.
The increasing wealth of the abbey was probably reflected in the enrichment of its library. Oxford University's database of the medieval libraries of Great Britain records 57 volumes that belonged at some time to the library at Buildwas, including two that subsequently found their way to St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, although Trinity College, Cambridge has by far the largest collection of former Buildwas books. Seventeen of the 57 are definitively dated to the 12th century and a further six possibly so. Two are internally dated to the time of Ranulf. One of these is a copy of works of Augustine of Hippo, with its attribution to Buildwas Abbey and the date 1167 written above the title in red and black letters. A glossed copy of the Book of Leviticus has the date 1179 on the 7th folio.
The additional income must also have played a major part in the decision to press ahead with construction of up-to-date stone buildings for the monastic community.
Construction of the abbey
There is no documentary evidence of the construction of the abbey at Buildwas, but it seems to have lagged a little behind Kirkstall Abbey, now in a Leeds suburb, which was built probably built between 1152 and about 1170. Buildwas and Kirkstall are of the simplest and earliest pattern of Cistercian churches in Britain and are broadly comparable. In both cases, the builders became more adventurous as they progressed toward the west from the eastern end of the church. Both churches have a stone tower over the crossing, although this was forbidden by the General Chapter of the Cistercians in 1157. The presbytery at Buildwas was without aisles and the aisles of the nave had wooden ceilings, rather than the more elaborate vaulting found in later buildings. The piers of the aisles are also simple cylinders. While still definitely Romanesque, Buildwas has details in the design of capitals, bases and windows which prefigure the transition to Gothic architecture that came a little later.
In 1154 Pope Anastasius IV, at the request of Abbot Richard of Savigny, listed the Savigniac houses, now following the rule of the Cistercian brothers but subject to the abbot of Savigny. Each house is named, along with any other houses subject to it. Bildwas cum pertinentiis suis (with its appurtenances) appears alone, without any dependent monasteries. However, in December 1156 Abbot Richard and his convent of Savigny, addressing Abbot Ranulf of Buildwas, declared: commitimus atque concedimus vobis et domui vestre curam et dispositionem domus nostre Sancte Marie Dubline imperpetuum habendam. ("We commit and submit to you and your house the care and disposition of our house of St Mary, Dublin, to be held in perpetuity.") In 1157, Basingwerk Abbey in Flintshire was handed over to Ranulf and Buildwas Abbey on the same terms as the Irish house. Both Basingwerk and St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, had formerly belonged to Combermere Abbey in Cheshire. An attempt in 1177 to reverse this change of dependence failed and prompted Savigny to send a collection of pertinent documents and a covering note to the abbot of Cîteaux, the head of the Cistercian order.
Bishop Richard Peche probably granted the house at Chester Foregate to Buildwas so that Abbot Ranulf could more easily discharge his responsibilities in Ireland. In 1183–4 Gilbert Pipard, the guardian of Chester, filed a claim for expenses of four shillings for arranging the passage of the abbot of Buildwas to Ireland, making clear that Ranulf did sail to Dublin from Chester, easily reached via Watling Street, which ran just north of the abbey. Pipard's claim was made on the basis that Ranulf was travelling in the king's service, and he seems to have been at least as much involved in Henry II's intervention in Ireland as in the affairs of the daughter house in Dublin. Gerald of Wales, in his account of the Synod of Cashel of 1172, portrays Ranulf as being central to the king's conquest of Ireland, helping to enact and dramatise[clarification needed] his power by imposing his norms on the Irish church. The leading bishops of Ireland, he reports, attended the synod,
|cum suffraganeis suis et coepiscopis, abbatibus quoque, archidiaconis, prioribus, et decanis, et multis aliis Hiberniensis ecclesiae praelatis, ex ipsius triumphatoris mandato, in civitate Cassilia convenerunt; et de utilitate ecclesiae, et statu eius in meliorem formam perducendo, ibidem concilium celebrarunt. Huic concilio interfuerunt isti, a rege missi: venerabilis vir Radulfus abbas de Buildewas, Radulfus archidiaconus de Landaf, Nicolaus capellanus, et alii clerici et nuncii domini regis. Concilii autem statuta subscripta sunt, et regiae sublimitatis authoritate firmata.||with their suffragans and fellow-bishops, together with the abbots, archdeacons, priors, and deans, and many other Irish prelates, assembled by the conqueror's own command at the city of Cashel, and there held a synod concerning the well-being of the Church and the reformation thereof. At this synod were present, on the king's behalf, the venerable Ralph, abbot of Buildewas, Ralph, archdeacon of Llandaff, Nicholas the chaplain, and other clerks and messengers of our lord the king. The decrees of the synod were subscribed by the prelates, and confirmed by royal authority.|
After Ranulf's assistance in Ireland, Henry II confirmed the transfer of St Mary's Abbey in Dublin to Buildwas, listing its numerous endowments that had been granted to it before Richard de Strigoil came to Ireland. Richard de Striguil, otherwise Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and later called Strongbow, was a potential threat to royal power, a Norman baron already powerful and well established in Ireland. His uncle, Harvey de Montmorency, was involved in negotiations with Ranulf to grant lands for the founding of a new Cistercian abbey at Dunbrody, which would be a daughter house of Buildwas Abbey and colonised by it. Ranulf sent a monk from Buildwas to survey the site, but the report was unfavourable, and in 1182 Ranulf finally decided to back out of the project, conceding it to St Mary's, Dublin.
Ranulf seems to have travelled a great deal, and the chronicler of Waverley Abbey tells us that in 1187 obiit Rannulfus abbas de Bildewas in itinere capituli ("Ranulf, abbot of Buildwas, died on his way to the chapter"), i.e. the general meeting of the Cistercian order at the mother house in Burgundy.
Wealth and endowments
Buildwas Abbey shared in the increasing prosperity of the 13th century and built up a large portfolio of estates that gave it a sound economic base, at least under normal conditions. There were peak periods of acquisition in the 1240s and 1280s, as can be seen in the table below. The map based on the table demonstrates how Buildwas built up a concentrated belt of granges along the Severn and the Shropshire-Staffordshire border, with extensive grazing lands further away near the Welsh border and much further away in Derbyshire.
Strategies of expansion
Potentially the most valuable acquisition close to the abbey was the grant by Gilbert de Lacy, lord of Cressage, probably in 1232, of the vill of Harnage, near Cound, Shropshire. Despite initial difficulties, a combination of persistent legal defence and shrewd bargaining allowed the abbey to establish and consolidate its position in the area. The boundaries of the grant were meticulously detailed. As well as the land, the abbey was assigned rights of pasture for 50 cattle and for pigs, and right of road for the abbey’s vehicles so that their employees could ash sheep and load barges in the River Severn. However, it seems Gilbert was in debt and in no position to make the grant. He had used the land as security for a loan from Ursell, son of Hamo of Hereford. It is unclear whether the abbey was expected to enter into a mortgage or purchase or whether Gilbert hoped to evade repaying Ursellus, who was Jewish. In 1234, shortly after Gilbert's death, the abbot secured from Henry III a complete cancellation of the pledge, although not presumably of the debt itself, and the Justiciars of the Exchequer of the Jews were notified of the change. By this time, however, the abbey was already involved in a complex suit with Gilbert's widow, Eva, who was claiming part of his estate as her dower. The abbey's position was guaranteed by a charter of the dead man's son, also called Gilbert, who swore to answer his mother's claim in court, should the need arise. However, the matter was settled by accord during 1236. By 1249 the younger Gilbert was dead and his son Adam in the wardship of Matilda de Lacy. The debts were still large and the king ordered that they should not be paid until after Adam came of age. With the usual pressure of a dower to be found[clarification needed], however, the estate was in trouble and in 1253 the abbot of Buildwas took the opportunity to purchase a 19-year lease of part of Cressage for 200 marks. In 1255 the Hundred Roll records the abbey as holding one hide at Harnage. By 1291 the abbey held the whole of Harnage, assessed at four carucates.
The same strategy was followed elsewhere: assiduous acquisition of lands and strengthening of authority and control in centres where the abbey already had lands, coupled with new inroads into centres close to existing granges. At Leighton, for example, the abbey began before 1263 with a mill and fishpond on the River Worfe. Next came the church, where in 1282 it first acquired the advowson or patronage, ie. the right to nominate the parish priest, and then appropriated the church, thus acquiring the tithes. Very soon, the lord of the manor added land, including meadow. Sometimes Buildwas clashed with other important monasteries in the vicinity. Along the River Tern, Buildwas feuded with Lilleshall Abbey, which had numerous holdings. In 1251, for example, the abbot of Buildwas took out two writs, accusing his rivals of destroying his pool at Tern by tearing down the dam and of damaging his interests by unlawfully building a pool at Longdon. The Cistercian Croxden Abbey was much more accommodating. In 1287 it traded its grange at Adeney in Shropshire for Buildwas' Caldon Grange, an advantageous exchange for both abbeys, eliminating outlying granges to make administration easier. In line with a Cistercian prohibition, Buildwas did not set out to acquire either the advowsons or tithes of many churches: in 1535, shortly before dissolution, tithes were bringing in only £6 annually: £4 from Leighton and £2 from Hatton
List of endowments
|Location||Donor or original owner||Date of acquisition||Nature of property||Approximate coordinates|
|Buildwas manor||Bishop Roger de Clinton||1135||Land assessed as one hide at Domesday and subsequently.|
|Meole||Roger de Clinton and Hugh Nonant||1135–1192||A vill known as Crowmeole, uninhabited at Domesday, perhaps mainly pastoral. but apparently looked after by burgesses who lived in Salisbury. Bishop Hugh granted or confirmed the lordship of the manor in 1192.|
|Ruckley||Philip de Belmeis and Matilda, his wife.||By 1147||Land, with grazing and pannage further east and north in Tong manor.|
|Donington, Shropshire||Richard de Belmeis.||Early, possibly around 1150||Common pasturage throughout Donington manor and three acres of land to build a bridge to gain aceess from Ruckley.|
|Little Buildwas||William FitzAlan, Lord of Oswestry||Before 1160. Possibly 1140s.||The vill and "all that pertains to it on land, in the waters, woods, meadows and pastures."|
|Chester Foregate||Bishop Richard Peche||c.1161||A messuage or house|
|Between Weston and Brockton, Staffordshire||William, son of John Bagoth||1176||Land|
|Brockton||Gerald of Brockton and his son||Before 1189||Land|
|Cosford, Shropshire||Richard of Pitchford||Before 1189||The services of Richard Crasset. Later William Crasset exchanged the services and/or some parcel of land elsewhere for land at Cosford.|
|Hatton, Shropshire||Adam Treynel, also known as Adam of Hatton, and Reginald, his son.||Before 1189||A moiety of the vill of Hatton, situated to the east of the Twybrook, a tributary of the River Worfe.|
|Walton, Staffordshire||Walter Fitz Herman||By 1189||A moiety of the vill|
|Cauldon, Staffordshire||William of Cauldon||By 1189. In 1287 exchanged with Croxden Abbey for Adeney.||Land|
|Ivonbrook, near Grangemill in Derbyshire||Henry Fitz Fulk||By 1189||Land|
|Wentnor, Shropshire||Robert Corbet of Caus||About 1198||Mill|
|Hatton, Shropshire||John de Hemes and Walter, his son.||By 1202||John granted lease of a virgate and twelve acres of his demesne. Walter added the remainder of the land in the western moiety of Hatton, as far as the road that runs through Evelith. Annual rent of 12d. payable, with a further rent of five shillings to the Traynels, as manorial lords..|
|Wentnor||Robert Corbet of Caus||About 1203–1218||"Ritton" and "Hulemore": large areas of grazing land in the Stiperstones.|
|Kinnerton||Richard Corbet of Wattlesborough||Between 1217 and 1224||The entire vill of Kinnerton in Wentnor.|
|Broseley||Philip de Burwardesley||c. 1220||Right to quarry stone in the wood at Broseley and to cut down trees to make a road to the River Severn, but not to remove the timber.|
|Harnage, near Cound, Shropshire||Gilbert de Lacy, Lord of Cressage||By 1234, probably 1232||The whole vill, together with rights of pasture. Right of road through Cressage for the abbey’s employees to wash sheep in the River Severn and to load barges there.|
|Kinnerton||Thomas Corbet of Caus||1236||Right to enclose the abbey's lands around Kinnerton.|
|Hope Bowdler||William, son of William de Chelmick||About 1240||Half a virgate of land.|
|Ragdon in Hope Bowdler||Robert de Acton, clerk||Between 1245 and 1255.||Land assessed as one hide, the whole of Robert's holding in Ragdon.|
|Upton||Alan la Zouche, lord of Tong||1247||The whole of Alan's vill at Upton in exchange for wider pasturage rights in Tong manor. The abbey then leased Upton to Walter de Dunstanville, the lord of Idshall|
|Bicton||William of Bicton||1247||2½ virgates of land with the site of a grange and an access road to the highway.|
|Stirchley, Shropshire||Osbert Fitz William, lord of Stirchley||1247 or shortly after.||All Osbert's interests in Stirchley, including manor house, garden, land and the homages of his tenants.|
|Hatton, Shropshire||Robert Traynel||About 1248||The eastern moiety of Hatton in frankalmoin, replacing the previous lease arrangement, and effectively conceding to the abbey lordship of the manor of Hatton..|
|Benthall, Shropshire||Philip of Benthall||About 1250||Land called Hermiteshelde and Holweruding, with right of road to collect stone, coal and timber from Philip's land, and confirmation of right to construct a boundary ditch between his land and the abbey's.|
|Tern||Unknown||By 1251.||Land initially along the River Tern, where Buildwas disputed rights with Lilleshall Abbey. The value of the estates rose rapidly in the late 13th century, perhaps because several small properties came together, and were all leased to Lilleshall.|
|Cressage||Matilda de Lacy and Geoffrey de Genevill||1253||A 19 year lease on part of the manor for 200 marks.|
|Leighton, Shropshire||Robert de Wodecote||By 1263, as William de Leighton, lord of Leighton mentioned in the charter died that year.||A fish pond and mill at Merehaye in frankalmoin, but with a rent of 6 shillings to William de Leighton for aid and timber for repairs from his woods at Leighton. Right to build a further dam and mill on the same brook, with an annual rent of one pound of cumin to Sir William and his heirs, once contructed.|
|Leighton||Richard de Leighton to Robert Burnell, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Bath and Wells, who regranted it in frankalmoin to Buildwas Abbey.||1282. Royal confirmation 28 February 1286||Advowson of Leighton church and one acre of land. Licence to appropriate the church granted by Roger de Meyland, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.|
|Ryton, Shropshire||Hugh de Weston and Thomas de Marham||Confirmed by William, lord of Ryton, between 1279 and 1284.||From Hugh a mill. From Thomas a meadow.|
|Atchley, Shropshire||William, lord of Ryton||By 1286.||A piece of land between Ryton and Cosford. Right of pasture throughout most of Ryton for the abbey's animals in the granges of Cosford and Hatton.|
|Leighton||Richard de Leighton.||1283/4||Additional meadowland and rights to pasture.|
|Adeney, in Edgmond, Shropshire||Croxden Abbey||1287||Obtained from the Cistercian Abbey of Croxden, in north Staffordshire, in exchange for Caldon Grange.|
|Bicton||Geoffrey Randulf of Newport||1288-91||Initially, the main house of the vill of Bicton and half the lordship of the vill. Later two more houses and 60 acres of land|
|Bonsall, Derbyshire||Edmund, 1st Earl of Lancaster||1296||Grazing for 400 sheep on the moor at a rent of 6s. 8d.|
|Little Buildwas||Edmund de Lenham and Alice, his wife.||1302||Lordship of the manor.|
Much of the land acquired by Buildwas Abbey was used for stock rearing. The Taxatio Ecclesiastica of 1291 showed about 60% of the temporalities in Shropshire and Staffordshire coming from stock and about 20% from the arable land of the abbey's demesne. Excluded from this are the Derbyshire lands, which included grazing for a large flock of 400 sheep, rented to the abbey by the king’s brother, Edmund Crouchback for just 6s. 8d. Sheep seem to have been the main concern also in the Shropshire lands, with the rights acquired at Cressage allowing the abbey to wash sheep in the Severn and then ship them down river. The abbey was certainly involved in the European wool trade to an important extent and this was typical of Cistercian houses, which were at the forefront in supplying the growing Flemish markets. In 1265 the abbot of Buildwas was one of a number of monastic heads to whom Henry III wrote to regulate their business with wool merchants from the County of Flanders.  In the first half of the 14th century Francesco Balducci Pegolotti stated the wool output of Buildwas ("Bihguassi") in his famous guide for Italian merchants, known as Pratica della mercatura as 20 sacks annually. He valued its wool at 20 marks a sack for the best, 12 marks for medium, and 10 marks for broken wool.
Although the 13th and early 14th centuries were the great age of demesne farming, Buildwas always acquired some income from rents and leases. However, its income from churches was exceptionally low, less than 5% of net income in 1535, compared with over 80% at the Augustinian Chirbury Priory, for example.
The abbey's location near the border of Wales meant it was destined to have a turbulent history. Welsh princes and their followers often raided the abbey; on one occasion in 1406, during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, raiders from Powys even kidnapped the abbot. This however paled in comparison to an earlier event in 1342 when one of the Buildwas monks, Thomas of Tong, murdered his abbot, evaded arrest, and then petitioned for reinstatement into the Cistercian order.
In the 17th century, the abbot's house and infirmary were incorporated into the building of a private house for the Acton Moseley family, although the remaining buildings are now in the care of English Heritage. They are open to the public, who can view the church, which remains largely complete and unaltered since its original construction, although it is now without its roof.
The remains are considered to be among some of the best preserved 12th-century examples of a Cistercian church in Britain.
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- https://hydra.hull.ac.uk/assets/hull:461/content Domesday text translation at Open Domesday.
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- Angold et al. House of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Buildwas, note anchor 14.
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- Victoria County History in 1973 reckoned about forty books extant, with more than a dozen dating to the 12th century. Cf. Angold et al. House of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Buildwas, note anchor 12. This was based on a 1964 reference work by Neil Ripley Ker, which has since been incorporated into Oxford University's online reference tool (MLGB3). Although published in 2015, the website does not yet cover volumes discovered or provenanced later than 1987.
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- "33 HENRY III (28 October 1248–27 October 1249), no. 475". Henry III Fine Rolls Project. The National Archives and King's College London. 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
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- Angold et al. House of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Buildwas, note anchor 30.
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- Eyton. Antiquities of Shropshire, volume 9, p. 121
- Dugdale. Monasticon Anglicanum, volume 5, p. 360, no. 24.
- Blakeway, J. B. Crowmeole and Goosehill, p. 329-31. Meole seems to have referred to a much larger area than the modern Meole Brace, taking in much of Kingsland and Radbrook, as shown by the location of Crowmeole Lane. See Meole in the Domesday Book for the holdings in 1087
- Eyton. Antiquities of Shropshire, volume 2, p. 175, and footnote 3.
- Eyton. Antiquities of Shropshire, volume 2, p. 263-4, and footnote 4.
- Eyton. Antiquities of Shropshire, volume 2, p. 263.
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- Eyton. Antiquities of Shropshire, volume 11, pp. 190.
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