November 29, 2009
The History of the Priory of Nocton Park
Though there is little if no trace today, almost 900 years ago Nocton, like some one hundred other locations in Lincolnshire, had its own monastery.
The founder of Nocton Park Priory was the second lord of Nocton Hall, Robert D'Arcy, who had been heavily influenced by the monastic revival of King Henry 1st. At this time, back in the early years of the twelfth century, Robert, an understanding landlord, had realised the need for "education" and placed the churches of the two villages of Nocton and Dunston into the hands of the Benedictine Monks. He felt this was the best way forward for his "people" as these holy men, in the main, were the only ones able to read and write and thus pass on their knowledge.
Around 1118 Robert gifted around 300 acres of his Nocton estate to the Canons of the Order of St Augustine with the Cisterian Monks of Kirkstead the trustees. The Priory erected on what is known locally as Abbey Hill also had a convent built in close proximity but little, if nothing, is known of this. From its location on the hillside the monks had an unobstructed view across the fenland towards other priories situated at Tupholme and Bardney. The Priory was a seat of learning and human activity for over 400 years until Henry 8th launched his attack on England's monasteries on the implementing of the Dissolution of Monasteries Act in 1536.
Again little is known of the interior history of Nocton Priory as few records of that time were preserved following the Dissolution. It is, however, known that the land was developed to give a sustained life for those living there, together with produce which provided an annual income. Robert D'Arcy's dream was being realised as the young received education from the members of the holy order at the schools in the priory, convent and rectories of surrounding villages. Additionally his foresight saw the monks start to maintain parish records which are still around to this day. The monks and their counterparts were also continuous travellers which in reality saw the arrival of our first postal service as information and ideas were exchanged in different areas of the country.
Being patrons of the monastery for over 250 years, it can be appreciated there were many disagreements between the D'Arcys and the monks. These included land issues with, on more than one occasion, the D'Arcys of the opinion the priory was slowly "acquiring" more land than had first been gifted. The landlord took these complaints to the Crown, but not being a favourite of the king, the findings invariably went in favour of the Priory.
On one occasion the Priory counter complained that the landlord had employed "henchmen" to commit damage to their farm equipment and "rustle" their animals, preventing them tilling their land. This case was heard by three justices and Philip D'Arcy was bound over for a year to keep the peace. Later Thomas D'Arcy was to win a law suit taken out against the Bishop, opposing the election of a prior of whom he disapproved. Then Thomas's son, Norman, lost a law-suit which a Prior brought against him for blocking off a right-of-way from the Priory to the Watermill on Prior Lane at Dunston. This right-of-way was most probably the boundary from the Priory, through Nocton Woods to the main water supply in Dunston.
In the first part of the fourteenth century the "Black Death" not only saw a steady decline in monks but also signalled the last of the D'Arcy's patronage on Philip's death (also succumbing to the plague himself). For around a century Nocton Priory, along with many others, saw financial difficulties. Then on the arrival of Sir Nicholas Wymbishe as patron of the local priory, not only was there a financial improvement but also a better relationship towards their patron.
In 1453 Sir Nicholas even gifted the Priory an "Alehouse" in Chancery Lane, called the Harfleur Inn. Little is known of these premises, an unusual sort of gift to bestow on members of the church.
Through the history of the priory there are records of there being twenty two priors, the first being Ivo de Scarla elected in 1231 and the last Thomas Hornell in 1532. In 1440 a scandal broke out at Nocton Park when an additional canon (above and beyond the one prior and four canons) was found to be in residence. This canon, the Canon of Thornton, was in residence without authority and in actual fact had even brought scandal to the priory by virtue of an "unlawful connection" with a woman from Bardney - outrageous! The Bishop of Lincoln examined the facts and the case was proven and the canon banished to a cell in St Osyth's Abbey, Essex. Apparently he eventually returned to the priory and remained there indefinitely, even though the Bishop ordered his further dismissal.
When Henry VIII came to the throne it was not too long before he found he had a number of problems, other than wives. One was the power the Pope appeared to have over the Church and to end this he was declared head of the Church of England himself. He then found that the country was fast running into debt and instead of placing added taxes on the people he took heed of his chief minister. This advice was that fat and lazy monks, who were supporters of the Pope, were no longer helping the community but merely taking money from the poor. As monasteries had become larger and larger it was decided an easy solution to his financial embarrassment was to dissolve any religious establishment which produced an income of less than £200 per annum. Nocton Priory (having an income of only about £87 per annum), was one such monastery and was subsequently transferred to the Crown.
The last prior, Thomas Hornell, gave up his priory before Michaelmas (29 Sept) 1536. On leaving he received a pension of ten marks, and his colleagues, canons Johannes Treeve, Jacobus Parke and Thomas Wyffyn, 20s. apiece. Two "poor" boys being educated in the priory received 3s. The Priory and its land was gifted to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, grandfather of Lady Jane Grey (Queen of England for nine days). In accordance with the King's orders, all buildings of worship were destroyed and what remained of the Priory was turned into a domestic dwelling (long since vanished).
Over the four years of 1536-1540 Henry saw the closing of monasteries as a fruitful practice and in total he closed 850 throughout the country, never to be opened again.