Monastic History Hull and East Riding 16.

Michael de la Pole, who founded Hull’s Carthusian monastery in 1378 (s.p.b.), was a second generation member of the wealthy and powerful De la Pole dynasty. His father was William de la Pole, who’s statue at Minerva Pier can be seen above, and his uncle was William’s brother Richard. The brothers had built-up a flourishing trading business at Ravenser Odd but moved to Drypool and then Hull when the rapid erosion of Ravenser Odd started to impact on their trade.
Michael owned a number of properties in Hull but first-and-foremost the ‘De la Pole mansion’ facing north-west Lowgate, with the building complex and grounds bordered by the town wall and with the site of the Carthusian monastery a few hundred yards away. Sucessive generations of the De la Pole family moved away from Hull but remained very influential therein. Michael’s marriage to a landed heiress living in the village of Wingfield, Suffolk made him a leading landowner in East Anglia and in 1385 he was made Earl of Suffolk. A number of De la Pole monuments survive in the parish church at Wingfield. After 1385 the ‘De la Pole mansion’ in Hull was often known as the ‘Suffolk Palace’.
So why did Michael de la Pole endow the Carthusian monastery near Hull?
The reason(s) why people did things in the past can be more even obscure than why people today do what they do. Answers cannot be definative no matter how compelling. That said:
Firstly, despite a growing scepticism of the rules of Christendom in the late Middle Ages (witness the proto-Protestant John Wycliffe and the Lollard movement) it was still, in the 14th century, a done-thing for those who could to endow a monastic site.
Also the belief endured that the brethren in an endowed site would pray for the soul of the benefacter after their death and thus hasten the journey of their soul through purgatory to everlasting life.
Also the Carthusians were admired for their self denial (s.p.b.) thereby putting the older monastic orders to shame.
So we have fashion, selfishness and respect – but who knows.

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 15.

When Michael de la Pole founded the Carthusian monastery in 1378 (s.p.b.) he also founded an almshouse for 13 poor men and 13 poor women. Five years later the two institutions were separated for administrative purposes and from thereon the almshouse/hospital were known as ‘God’s House in Hull’. These medieval buildings were demolished during the First Civil War of the 1640s (remembering that the site was outside the town walls), this happening just over a century after the Carthusian monastery had been surrendered to the Crown (Dissolution) in November 1539. Incidentally, the six monks and prior resident at Hull Carthusian monastery at the time of its dissolution recieved very generous allowances from the Crown (s.p.b.s), this partly because local gentry families had written to Thomas Cromwell stating ‘the prior and brethren are right well favoured and commended by honest men in Hull and other neighbours thereabouts for their good living and great hospitality by them daily kept’ (quoted in Claire Cross’ book, s.p.b.s, p.33). As regards the almshouses new buildings were built on the north side of Charterhouse Lane in 1663 and a chapel added a decade later, the present buildings date from the late 1770s (the photo above is taken from Hull Civic Society’s Heritage Open Days booklet for 2019, an annual occasion when one can visit the chapel although it is also open Sunday mornings for Christian worship).
On the opposite side of Charterhouse Lane is the Master’s House, a fine five-bay Georgian residence dating from the same time as the buildings opposite (much of the above is taken from David Neave’s revision of Pevsner’s Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2005, 559).
To return to the Carthusian monastery the question might be asked, ‘Why did the rich and powerful Michael de la Pole endow a monastery and almshouses in the 14th century?’
(to be continued for the answers)

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 14.

And so to Hull.Friaries apart (see later) monasticism came late to Hull.
In 1378 Michael de la Pole founded a Carthusian Priory outside the town walls (still under construction at that time) on an open rural site north of the town. To have crossed on foot from the North Gate in the town walls to the monastic site would have then, almost certainly, involved threading around clay pits dug from which to make some of the vast amount of bricks needed in the construction of the town walls, the other clay digging site being to the west of the old town ditch. Today the monastic site is crossed by Charterhouse Lane with, at its east end, Charterhouse Lane School (no longer such) one of Hull’s fine board schools and built in 1881.
The Carthusian Order was, like many monastic orders (see original blogs in this section) an attemt to get back to some of the original purist ideas on monastic life. It is/was often described as austere and disciplined and was a male order only. The cloistral range of buildings was mostly made up of what might be described today as ‘prison-like’ cells, one for each monk of the community and in which they would remain for the bulk of the day and night in contemplation, study and prayer. The on-site church tended to be comparatively small with usually an aisleless nave and internal side chapels. Nothing remains of this original complex of buildings but there are some remains of a Carthusian monastery at Mount Grace Priory in a wooded setting at the foot of the escarpment of the Hambleton Hills, North Yorkshire, a site visible from the A19, a much-used route from Humberside to Teeside, Wearside and Tyneside. The picture above is of the site looking west and shows the crossing tower of the church and on the left-hand side the original entrance archway and a guest-house, much altered in the 17th century.
(to be continued).

Monastic History Hull and East Riding 13.

The photo. above, credited to Dr. B. English, is of the ‘former prior’s lodging, Watton, photographed in 1989′ and scanned from p. 29 of Claire Cross’ book (s.p.b.s). This building still stands and, I believe, is still lived-in as a private residence. It is the only standing building remaining from the complex of buildings that up to the Reformation comprised the ‘double’ monastic house at Watton on the edge of the Hull Valley between Beverley and Driffield.
Watton Priory was attached to the Gilbertine monastic order, so named after the order was established in Lincolnshire c.1140 by Gilbert of Sempringham (village of Sempringham in Kestevan, east of Grantham). The Gilbertine Order was the only monastic order to have originated in England and comprised a complex of buildings for canons and another for nuns but side-by-side with much of the day-to-day work done by lay-brothers and lay-sisters. Watton was to become the largest house of the Gilbertine Order. Although it is only uneven ground that gives clues to the layout of the buildings today it was thoroughly excavated and written-up by two amateur archaeologists in the 1890s. The nun’s buildings were on the west side of the complex centred around a cloister with a large Norman church to its south, this divided by an east to west wall down its centre to divide the half for the nuns and the other for the monks. The monks complex was east of the church with a cloister in the centre. Gilbert was an admirer of the Cistercian Order but, although at Watton the nuns and monks were to always be physically separate, the duality of the site wasn’t acceptable to them.
A similar regime exists in Hull Prison where two populations of prisoners have to be kept physically always apart even though they are on the same site.

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’.