Monthly Archives: March 2021

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 12.

Above is an illustration of three seals for official documents from Swine Nunnery as reproduced in Thomas Thompson’s book. One shows a seated Cistercian nun, probably an abbess/prioress.
Apart from the nunnery at Swine and the double house at Watton (see later) the other nunneries in the East Riding were small establishments. The nunnery at Nunkeeling in north Holderness had been founded by the 1140s and at the time of its dissolution, September 1539, 12 nuns received a pension from the state ranging from 30 shillings to 46 shillings while the elegantly named prioress Christiana Burgh received £8 (see Claire Cross’ book, s.p.b.s). No standing ruins survive today although Claire’s book includes a reproduction of ‘The former priory church of Nunkeeling in 1784, by William Dade’ – William Dade being an antiquarian and compiler of much of the information contained in George Poulson’s History of Holderness’ (s.p.b.s on this theme). Close-by was/is the site of a ruined parish church (I am not sure if there was a built connection between the nunnery site and the now derelict parish church although Dade’s drawing suggests there was). It was quite common for communities to develope near monastic sites as the monastic communities generated local economic activity – today there is no village at Nunkeeling but rather scattered farms in the parish of Bewholme.
Wilberfoss nunnery, just east of the River Derwent on the Vale of York, was also founded by 1150 and at the Dissolution 10 nuns received a pension well less than the prioress’ £8. No standing ruins from the nunnery survive although the site was near the parish church.
The nunnery at Thicket, south of Wilberfoss, was in existance by 1180 and at the Dissolution had eight nuns and a prioress. Yedingham priory, beside the upper Derwent, also was the home to eight nuns in 1539. Only one nun was recorded as being at Nunburnholme in 1539, only earthworks remain as evidence of the site and details of its history are obscure.
All the East Riding’s nunneries, except Swine and Watton, were attached to the Benedictine order.

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 11.

Above is an 18th century engraving showing Swine church post Reformation but before the tower was rebuilt in 1787 (for the church today s.p.b.s). Clearly the church of the Cistercian nunnery had a crossing tower and transepts, the bricked-up entrance to the nave from the crossing tower shows a late-Norman arch testament to the initial endowment of the nunnery, close on the heels of Meaux Cistercian monastery, in the mid 12th century. The chancel/nave was/is aisled but seemingly the original nave had no aisles. An attached spiral staircase accessed the belfry. Before the Reformation the nave would have almost certainly doubled-up as the parish church while the choir (surviving) would have been the nun’s church, so at some point post-Reformation the parish decided it could no longer maintain nave and chancel, moved to the original chancel and either demolished the nave (East Riding churches/buildings often incorporated whatever building materials could be obtained, Paull church being a good example) or allowed it to fall into long-term disrepair. Medieval Swine was a very large parish and some outlying areas had a chapel of ease (s.p.b.s and e.g. Skirlaugh).
The interior of the church contains many interesting features although I have not seen them as the church is usually locked. Apart from the arcade piers early 16th century stalls and misericords remain, a couple, in the tradition of misericords, being disrespectful to nuns and the pre-Reformation Catholic Church. Added to this what David Neave describes as the ‘finest collection of medieval monuments in the East Riding’ (Pevsner, East Riding, p. 719) – principally four commemorating members of the Hilton family (lords of the manor) and created across two generations between 1370 and 1410.
Thomas Thompson (s.p.b.s) considered that Swine nunnery might have included some monks, the evidence quoted being from Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum (Sir William Dugdale, 1605-1686, antiquarian and royalist who published M. A. in 1655) where a grant of land to Swine Nunnery refered to ‘brothers and sisters’.

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 10.

Given that nunneries were comparatively numerous in the East Riding, although all except Swine and Watton (see later) were small, it is worth dwelling on this issue for a while. The maintenance of a nunnery presented considerable logistical problems and Thompson (s.p.b.s) tries to address some of these. Given that the Cistercian Order defined what women could, or more importantly couldn’t do, one wonders how they functioned day-to-day.
The primary function of sisterhood (being a nun) was to follow the daily devotions ordained by the Roman Catholic Church of Christendom across Europe (before the Reformation), these being; matins (2am), Prime (6 or 7 am), tierce, sext, none (followed by lunch in a communal refectory), vesters (supper), compline (7pm in winter 8pm in summer) then to bed in communal dorter. The Cistercian nuns were not expected to engage in manual work to the extent of their brothers and there seems to have been no great tradition of study or writing, indeed critics sometimes characterised nuns as idle, given to gossip (although speaking was strictly regulated) and sloth.
Nunneries were established by the will of barons on land that they endowed, which was the case at Swine, so location was thus determined. In reality nunneries needed men for them to function on a daily basis. First and foremost they needed a chaplain to take mass (women not allowed to). At a nunnery like Swine he would probably have been resident in the gatehouse, physically separate from the nuns, and almost certainly would usually have been a monk of Meaux. As lands endowed increased a well endowed nunnery, like Swine, would need to establish granges (s.p.b.s) these probably overseen by a male bailiff and work on the land done by paid day-labourers or lay brothers from Meaux. As regards building programmes one nun would be allowed to discuss the plans with a contractor but any on-site workers would not be allowed to speak to, or socialise, with the nuns.
The image above is an interesting one for the history of Swine church itself and will be used again in the next blog and explained.
(to be continued, but I am taking a week of to catch-up on other history projects and on the allotment)

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 10.

Today’s picture is a photo. of Swine church taken from the south-east part of the churchyard, a photo. taken some years ago.
Thompson (s.p.b.) wrote his history of Swine (s.p.b.) in an age less commited to conservation than our own, in his Preface he writes ‘The rapid decay of the antiquities of the country by all-devouring time, and the barbarous spoilations of ignorant men, call for the interposition of the annalist and antiquary, to preserve the knowledge of those remnants of curiosity and antiquity which are still to be found in the kingdom’.
Thompson makes three other interesting points in his Preface;
(a) Having noted that religious dissention has in the past led to the destruction of places of worship he notes that ‘better times have succeeded’. By this he is refering to a post-Napoleonic War Act of Parliament whereby £1 million was allocated to new church building across the country, this to counter the rapid rise in support for the ‘new’ dissenting sects, particularly Methodism, and their chapel building programmes.
(b) In recognising that his book was but a history of one parish he hoped that someone would ‘execute the comprehensive plan of the late Rev. William Dade’, that is compile a history of all of Holderness. These blogs from a few weeks ago show that this aim was later to be accomplished by George Poulson (s.p.b.s).
(c) A reference to the his ‘remembrance’ of when ‘the vicar of Swine was also the schoolmaster’ shows that Thomas Thompson grew-up in the village of Swine.
Swine was a very large medieval parish, evidence from the Reformation, usually in the form of deeds of sale, show that Henry VIII sold on the arable, pasture and meadow lands of Swine itself to Sir Richard Gresham as well as the chapels of ease and great tithes of; Coniston, Ganstead, Skirlaugh, Arnold, Bilton, Burton Constable, Thirtleby, Benningholme, Marton, Dowthorpe and Ellerby. The fine church at Skirlaugh survives.

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 9.

The picture above, as with the previous blog, is the frontispiece of a book published in 1824 and entitled ‘A History of the Church and Priory of Swine in Holderness’, thus a history of the parish and of the Cistercian nunnery which existed there up to the Reformation of the late 1530s. The author was Thomas Thompson, a wealthy banker and buisinessman of Hull and an avid antiquarian in the vein of Rev. William Dade and George Poulson (s.p.b.s). The picture on the frontispiece shows a rural scene with a church tower in the distance and the stump of a preaching cross in the centre. This stump was a well known feature in Swine up to the 20th century but whether or not it still exists I am not sure. The outline of the pig on the shield in the foreground is misleading as the name Swine is derived from a Viking landowner rather than the quadraped shown.
Thompson’s Dedication and Preface to the book are of some interest. The Dedication is to ‘The Right Honourable the Earl of Shaftesbury … Lord of the Manor of Swine’. This was Cropley Ashley-Cooper (1768 – 1851) 6th Earl of Shaftesbury who had been an M.P. up to 1811 and thereafter Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords, as Thompson states in the Dedication. His son was to be the famous social reformer Anthony Ashley – Cooper (1801 – 1885) from whom the Crown purchased the estate at Swine in 1865 (Swine remains a Crown estate).
Thompson signed-off the Preface with the date and his address, ‘Cottingham Castle, near Hull, June, 1824’. Today Castle Hill Hospital stands on the site and grounds of Thompson’s ‘Cottingham Castle’, Castle Road also named from the site. Cottingham Castle was a mock-Gothic period house which Thompson had built as his family home, it had no longer pedigree than that – it was destroyed by fire after Thompson’s death. One part still stands, the folly/tower at the west end of the site, beside the busy main road.
(to be continued)