Skip to main content

Full text of "Stoneleigh Abbey, from its foundation to the present time"

See other formats

BY Tf1T 


r i\ 




The Abbey and the Anon from the South-Cast. 


ancient days, when the great forest of Arden extended 
over Warwickshire, one of the few early Saxon settle- 
ments in the vale of Avon was Stoneleigh, Stonele, 
or " Stanlei," as it is called in Domesday Book. 

Till the reign of Henry II. Stanlei was in the hands 
of the king, who, as Sir William Dugdale tells us, " had 
feeding for 2000 Hogs " in its woods. Each of the king's 
tenants, or sokemen, held " i yd. land," paying a yearly 
rent of a penny an acre, and " doing his suit at the King's 
Court," held every three weeks on a little hill near the 
village of Stoneleigh, which to this day is called Motstow 
Hill, from the word mote = pleadings. 

The " customs " concerning these sokemen were varied 
and quaint. On a sokeman's death, his horse, harness 
and arms, and his best beast were to be given up to the 
king. Sokemen were allowed " estovers," i.e., the privilege 
of taking wood in the outwoods, by the oversight of the foresters, for " house- 
bote, heybote and firebote," i.e., the repair of houses and hedges, and the keeping 
up of the hearth fire; and "freedom of pannage " (viz., pasture) "for their own 
Hogs ; but for such Hogs as they did buy after the Nativity of St. John Baptist, to 
give pannage." 

The lord's inferior tenants were ordered to "come with there sykeles to the 
Bedrepe of the lorde and reype hys corne " ; and amongst other directions (including 
orders to the sokemen to " ryde with their rodds or wands " to oversee the reapers) 
it is further commanded, " That they should be in the field at Sunrising, and work 
till Sunset, not sitting down to breakfast, but each of them eating what he brought 




The Old Gatehouse. 

with him, as they went up and down the lands to their work ; and after breakfast 
to sit down once before dinner, the lord finding them drink ; but at Noon, both 
they and the sokemen to have meat and drink provided by the lord." 

".That the Reapers should eat by themselves, every one having a lyttell wheyton 
loofe, iiij egges, and pottage : viz., grewell, without flesh boyled in it, except the 
lord would afford them other, with Cheese and Beer sufficient ; and after dinner 
one sitting down with bread and beer, but the sokemen themselves to be served 
with better dyet, according to their degrees." 

Some of the " liberties " of the lord of the manor were as follows : 

" The lorde of the man r of Stoneley hath thrs libties that is to wytte Waren " 
(viz., the right of hunting rabbits and hares and catching pheasants, partridges, etc.) 
" infange ne thef outfange ne thef weyved strayed" (viz., taking or catching thieves 
within his own fee and judging them in his own court, and seizing goods stolen 
and waved or left by the felon on being pursued), " the catall of fugitive felons the 
coke stole : pyllery psecabor soks saks Toll Tern " (viz., power of administering 
justice, exemption from paying dues, the right to judge bondmen and villeins with 
their children and goods in his court), " Amerciamets of murdres and emendyg of 
Bred and Ale frayes and of marketts and the fayres in Stonley." 

Henry II., in the first year of his reign, granted Stonele to a body of Cistercian 
monks, in exchange for Radmore in " the forest of Canock " or Cannock Chase, 
Staffordshire which they had found an unpleasant place of residence owing to the 
troublesome visits of the thieving foresters. These monks first settled at a house 
in the neighbourhood of Stonele called " Crulefield," now Cryfield, a name ascribed 
by local tradition to the cries of the children slain by a "foreign Earl," who was 
a great robber, and infested the country, and who lived here till removed by 
the king's orders to make room for the more peaceable monks. But the monks, 



suffering in their turn from 
the close proximity of the 
highways, removed from Crule- 
field, and built their abbey at 
Stonele. In the reign of 
Edward I., it was certified 
that the village of Crulefield 
"paid a stone of wax yearly 
for the maintenance of the 
lights in Stoneley Abbey 
burning before the image of 
the blessed Virgin." 

Some local names carry us 
back to the days of the 
monks : e.g., a group of neigh- 
bouring cottages, known as* 
" Pipe's Mill," remind us of 
Thomas de Pipe, abbot in the 
time of Edward III., who 
compiled a valuable " Leiger 
Book," containing information 
relating, not only to the abbey 
itself, but also to various histori- 
cal events of general interest. 

Gables of the Old Abbey. 

Ancient Doorway and Staircase in the 
Old Abbey. 

Among the other inhabit- 
ants of Stonele at the time 
the monastery was founded 
were four "Bondslaves," 
each of whom in return for 
" i mess, and i quatrone of 
land " made gallows and 
hanged thieves, though how 
often these hangmen's services 
were called into requisition 
is not recorded ; apparently 
the management of the gal- 
lows did not take up all their 
time, as they were also ex- 
pected to plough and reap 
twice a year, make the lord's 
malt, and do other servile 
work. Each wore a " red 
clout," as a badge, between 
his shoulders. 

The monks of Stonele 
did not always lead lives of 
uninterrupted peace. The 
ninth abbot, William de 
Gyldeford, was a man of 



the church of the 
"the Gate- r " 
house, a fair 
and strong j 
building, and j 
also one of 
his works, h\ 
still stand- ' 
eth " ; and '&? 
over the gate- 
way we notice 
the large 
stone escut- 
cheon bearing 
the arms of 
Henry II., 
placed there 
by Robert in 
memory of 
the founder 
of Stonele 

such great learning that he 
was made penitentiary to 
Pandulph, the Pope's legate, 
and afterwards was sent as 
legate himself to Wales. A 
shepherd of the monastery 
having fought a duel and 
hanged a thief who had 
stolen the monks' cattle, was 
supported by the superior, 
whereupon some influential 
abbots and others, who 
through jealousy had become 
William's enemies, caused 
him to be deposed. 

Not long afterwards many 
of the monks grew unruly 
and took to a wandering life ; 
whereupon King Henry III., 
by letter, directed all sheriffs 
and other officers to appre- 
hend and deliver them up 
to the abbot for chastisement, 
wherever found. 

A very young, but " sage 
and prudent " abbot, Robert 
de Hockele, who died in 
1349, repaired and beautified 
abbey, of which very few traces are now to be found ; but, as 

Abbey from the Garden. 

The Abbey and the River Avon. 



Old Abbey north-west corner- seen from the Courtyard. 

This gatehouse may have been intended as a place of reception for guests, and 
an eleemosynary for distribution of alms. In an ancient wooden bench within the 
gateway are ten curious circular holes, the original use of which is uncertain ; 
but they were possibly destined in later warlike days to hold lances or other 

The church, as already stated, is no more ; though some encaustic tiles, which 
probably came from the church, form part of an old pavement in the abbey. A 
room thought to be the ancient chapter-house still exists, with a massive pillar 
in the centre. A long chamber with a groined roof, which has for many years 
been used as a brewhouse, is supposed to have been a crypt under the abbot's 
lodging. This brewhouse, by the way, is introduced into a picture at Stoneleigh, 
in which a Royalist butler and brewer are represented endeavouring to persuade a 
Roundhead baker to drink to the Pretender's health. 

Beautiful specimens of Norman arches and pillars still remain, both in the 
abbey, and in the parish church of Stoneleigh, where may be seen a very fine 



Stars Bridge, Stoneleigh Deer Park. 

chancel arch of 1160 and a late Norman door. Various parts of the existing 
abbey date from the reigns of Henry II., Edward III., James I. and Charles II. 

An inner courtyard, situated between the ancient abbey and the more modern 
building, appears to have formed part of the burying-ground of the monks. A few 
years ago three skeletons were unearthed here ; as there were no traces of coffins, 
and no chalice or paten was found buried with them, it is supposed that they were 
the remains of lay or serving brothers, and not of priests or actual monks. They 
were reinterred in the same place, and it is to be hoped that their ghosts will 
never disturb the slumbers of the abbey's present inhabitants. 

Every Maundy Thursday, " at the washing of the feet " of the poor, the 
monks distributed in charity ' 8 quarters of Rye made in bread at $s. the 
quarter, 3 quarters of Malt in beer at 4$. the quarter, and 200 Herings at 2od. 
the Hundred." 

Amongst other curious concessions to the monks, it is recorded that in the 
reign of Edward IV. two owners of land in the neighbouring village of Ashow had 
licence to grant, inter alia, "XXs., a pound of Pepper, and a red ros.e yearly rent, 
with half the fishing in Avon, to the monks of Stoneley, for ever." It is interesting 
to note that the little village, now hardly boasting more than a hundred and fifty 
inhabitants, which was thus called upon for its yearly rose, is in these days, in 
summer, a real garden of flowers. Another curious though more modern custom 
is registered in the parish accounts here: from 1825 to 1856 the rector and 
churchwardens were in the habit of paying fourpence for every dozen of sparrows 
brought to them by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. 

At the time when the lesser monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII., the 
clenr yearly value of Stonele being less than ^200, this monastery was suppressed, 



" Stoneleigh Abbey," from an old Picture. 

and the monks were sent away to the larger undissolved religious houses, the abbot, 
Thomas Tutbury, receiving a pension of ^23 a year. 

Henry granted the abbey to his brother-in-law Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, 
whose sons dying childless, it passed to their cousin, William Cavendish, who sold 
it to Sir Thomas Leigh. Thomas Leigh, the younger son of an old Cheshire family, 
having been the clever and diligent apprentice of a rich merchant and knight- 
alderman of London, Sir Rowland Hill, was employed as his " Factor beyond sea," 
and pleased him so well that Sir Rowland bestowed on him the hand of his niece 
Alice Barker, for whom the merchant had a great affection. Sir Thomas Leigh, 
having thus become a rich man, bought the old abbey and lands of Stoneley, which 
remained in the possession of his descendants, and gradually acquired the name of 
Stoneleigh. He was Lord Mayor of London at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, 
and rode before Her Majesty at her entry into the city to be proclaimed at St. Paul's. 
His wife, Dame Alice, lived to see her children's children to the fourth generation, 

The Abbey 



and founded a " hospital," or almshouses for five poor men and five poor women, 
which exists to this day in the village of Stoneleigh. 

The great-grandson of Sir Thomas, another Sir Thomas Leigh, was reputed a 
giant ; and it is told of him, though with what truth we know not, that on one 
occasion, finding a man riding a donkey trespassing within his park, he lifted up 
man and beast and threw them over the gates. 

This giant was created a baron by Charles I. That ill-fated monarch, on his 
way to Nottingham, attended by six thousand horse, found the gates of Coventry 
closed, and was received at Stoneleigh by his loyal subject Sir Thomas, where he 
met with " right plenteous and hospitable entertainment, while the Cavaleers made 
the poore Country mens houses their Innes, and there they made their own welcome 
taking what they pleased." 

A bronze medal with a head of Charles I. is preserved at Stoneleigh, doubtless 

'North Lodge," Stoneleigh Deer Park, 

presented to his host by the King. And a portrait of King Charles, attributed by 
experts to Vandyck, concealed beneath a painting of flowers, was discovered in 
recent times by Sir George Beaumont, who noticed the outline of an eye peering 
through the leaves and petals, and suggested that the outer covering of flowers 
should be cleaned away. 

Over two hundred years later than this visit of King Charles, Stoneleigh opened 
wide its portals, under far different conditions, to another royal visitor; but no 
soldiers in their buff jerkins and armed with pikes and swords were needed then 
to guard their monarch's person with jealous care. On the evening of June i4th, 
1858, a vast concourse of people, who had assembled from every side, broke out 
spontaneously and with one voice into " God save the Queen," when our beloved 
sovereign, accompanied by the Prince Consort, and leaning on the arm of Lord 



Leigh, came out on to the 
garden terrace and appeared in 
their midst to acknowledge 
with grace and dignity the 
greetings of her loyal subjects. 

In the same year (1643) 
that Sir Thomas Leigh was 
created a baron, the vicar of 
Stoneleigh was one Sunday 
preaching on the duty of re- 
lieving the poor, especially as 
they could not " in those days 
goe abroad to beg of others," 
when a trooper of Serjeant 
Fonts with two other young 
men came to the church door 
and discharged a pistol. They 
then went in and listened to 
a portion of the sermon, by 
which, however, they did not 
appear to be much edified, as 
the trooper interrupted the 
preacher by telling him that 
he " lyed," and he and his two 
friends proceeded to enforce 
the remark by going outside 
and firing their pistol against 
the window near the pulpit, " to the great affryhtment of all the people." 

On an outer wall of this church is the following curious inscription to one who 
seems to have been very liberal at another's expense : 


Porter to the R< Hon blc The Ld. Leigh. 

Obiit 6 Febr. An Dni 1688. ^.tat 63. 
Here Lyes a faithfull Friend unto the Poore, 
Who dealt large Alms out of his Lord ps Store. 
Weepe not Poor People, Tho' the Servant's Dead, 
The Lord himselfe will give you Daily Breade. 
If Markets rise, Raile Not against their Rates, 
The Price is stil the same at StoneLeigh Gates. 

A granddaughter of the first Sir Thomas Leigh, Alice by name, was married to 
Sir Robert Dudley, son of the famous Leicester who entertained Queen Elizabeth 
right royally at his princely Castle of Kenilworth. It is curious to note in passing 
that, before the Conquest, Kenilworth "was a member of Stoneley, being ancient 
demesn of the Crown ; and had, within the precincts thereof, a Castle situat upon 
the banks of Avon, in the woods opposite to Stoneley Abbey. Which Castle was 
demolished in those turbulent times of warr betwixt King Edmund and Canutus 
the Dane." 

Sir Robert Dudley, a few years after his marriage, left England for Italy, 
accompanied, not by his wife, but by a less estimable if more enterprising lady 
in the very beautiful person of Elizabeth Southwell, " who went with him into 
Italy in the habit of a Page and there married him " ! He himself was strong 

Old and New Abbey. 

35 2 


A show Church. 

and handsome, skilled in mathe- 
matics, and especially in navi- 
gation, on which subject he 
wrote a learned book entitled 
Arcano del Mare, profusely 
illustrated with plans and charts 
which are still to be seen in 
fresco on the walls of a room 
in the Palazzo Vecchio at 
Florence. He had also a great 
knowledge of chemistry, and 
invented some deadly poisons. 
His talents won him the friend- 
ship of the Duke of Tuscany, 
who allowed him a yearly stipend 
of about a thousand pounds ; 
and also of the Emperor Ferdi- 
nand of Austria, who bestowed 
on him the title of Duke of 
Northumberland. He built him- 
self a palace at Florence, and 
died in 1649. 

Meanwhile Alice, whom he 

had deserted, remained at home, devoting herself to charity and widely spread good 
deeds ; and being created by Charles I. duchess in her own right, was known as 
Alice Duchess Dudley. She survived her affliction well, for she lived to the age of 
ninety. Her portrait, taken when she was an old lady, is preserved at Stoneleigh, 
her little thin, sharp-featured countenance appearing out of the midst of the enormous 
ruff of the period, and surrounded by a white fluted cap under a black hood. She 
died in her house near St. Giles's Church in London, to which, amongst many other 
churches, she left large sums of money and various gifts, including " a neat pair 
of organs, with a case richly gilded," and " the great bell in the steeple, which, as 
oft as it ringeth, soundeth her praise." She also left a sum of money to t'le sexton 
of St. Giles's to " toll the Great Bell, when the prisoners condemned to die shall be 
passing by, and to ring out after they shall "be executed." These gifts to various 
churches Duchess Dudley left on condition that her name should be mentioned in 
the sermon preached on Whit Sunday, a custom which to this day is faithfully observed 
by the vicar of Stoneleigh. This good old lady's funeral must have given universal 
satisfaction, for she directed that her body should be taken from London to Stoneleigh 
for burial, and bequeathed " to fourscore and ten Widows (according to -the Number 
of the Years she lived) to each one a Gown and fair white Kerchief to attend the 
Hearse wherein her Body was carried, and one shilling a piece for their Dinner after 
that Solemnity was performed, which was on the sixteenth day of March, 1668. She 
appointed five pounds to be given to every Place or Town where her Corps should 
rest. She ordered that sixpence should be given to every poor body that should 
meet her Corps on the road." 

Dr. Boreham, the rector of St. Giles's, published a list of her charities in a 
little panegyric entitled, " A Mirrour of Christianity and a Miracle of Charity, or a 
true and exact Narrative of the Life and Death of the most virtuous Lady Alice 
Dutchess Duddeley." A marble monument in Stoneleigh Church to Duchess 
Dudley and her unmarried daughter Alice was the work of Nicholas Stone, master- 



mason to Charles I., who engaged him for 
the building and reparation of Windsor 
Castle, at the fee of twelve pence a day. 

A few of the largest rooms in the old 
abbey have little inner chambers, supposed 
to have been used as " powdering closets," 
when the monks of Stoneleigh gave place to 
" fair women and brave men." The visitor's 
interest is also aroused by a curious figure 
painted on a wooden panel. It is known 
as " the pretty housemaid." The legend tells 
how a beautiful housemaid of long ago had 
clad herself in fair array, in a pale plum- 
coloured laced bodice, blue skirt, lace cap 
and ruffles, bracelets and ring, in preparation 
for the Coventry fair, when the housekeeper 
indignantly commanded her to don her long 
apron, take her broom and sweep the floor ; 
the Lord Leigh of the time, beholding her 
thus, was so struck by her beauty that he 
ordered that she should be painted. Chan- 
cellor Ferguson of Carlisle, who has published 
a pamphlet on Picture-Board Dummies, in 
which he describes this figure and others 
like it, conjectures that it is really that of 
a Flemish gentlewoman masquerading as a 

housemaid, of the date l6lO to 1620. "The Pretty Housemaid." 

The visitor who, on antiquarian researches intent, approaches Stoneleigh Abbey 
from its west side, is surprised to find himself confronted by a comparatively modern 
house, with its Italian gardens sloping down on the south side to the banks of 
Shakespeare's Avon. But having passed through Robert de Hockele's Gateway, 
already mentioned, he soon discovers the old abbey concealed behind the new 
building erected in Italian style and attached to the ancient house by Edward 
Lord Leigh in 1720. 

It has been told how Sir Thomas Leigh as Lord Mayor of London attended 
the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. In 1702 the Lord Leigh of that date went up 
from Stoneleigh to London to be present at the coronation of Queen Anne ; his 
journey (now accomplished by train in two hours and a half) occupied eight days ; 
prayers were offered up in Stoneleigh Church for his safety ; and a bill for " lifting 
his lordship's carriage out of the ruts " is preserved among the family archives. 
Another journey of a somewhat different nature, taken by one of the family, has 
not been forgotten. The grandmother of the present owner of Stoneleigh was 
enjoying a country drive on a winter day, the ground being many feet thick in 
snow, when she felt the carriage give an alarming jerk ; and upon her anxiously 
inquiring the cause, " Don't be alarmed, ma'am," the coachman answered reassuringly ; 
" it is only a wall we have driven over ! " 

One of the beauties of Stoneleigh is its Deer Park, situated at' a short distance 
from the house. Had we, like Shakespeare's exiles of the Forest of Arden, the 
power of finding " tongues in trees," we might gather from Stoneleigh's famous 
oaks many other memories worth recording. What tales might they not whisper 
to us of the jovial monks, and gallant knights, of the merry retainers of the barons 


of Stoneleigh who chased the deer beneath their branches, or even, it may be, of 
the " bard of Avon " himself, who, tradition has it, composed some of his immortal 
plays in the vicinity of what is still known as " Shakespeare's Oak " ! What changes 
have these veteran oaks seen, from the time when some of their forest companions 
were felled to make room for the monastery then building in Echels Wood, to the 
days of the Georges, when, as represented in a quaint old painting still preserved 
in the deer-keeper's lodge, Lord Leigh in mulberry-coloured coat and perruke and 
three-cornered hat drove through his domain in a coach-and-six ! But here we close 
the record in which we have endeavoured to bring together, though we fear very 
imperfectly, a few of the most memorable events in the history of Stoneleigh. 



THE children played, in the cool morn air, 
At what they would like to be : 
They posed as lords and as ladies fair, 

And folks of a high degree. 
For life looks fair at the break of day, 
With little of work and much of play, 
And all is possible so they say, 

When the heart, when the heart is young. 

The morning changed to the heat of noon. 

And then to the twilight chill ; 
The children wearied of high life soon, 

And quarrelled, as children will. 
But they ran away home in the fading light, 
To sob out their wrongs ere they said good-night, 
And the mother, the mother made all things right, 

For their hearts, oh, their hearts were young. 

And we need not sorrow, as years roll on, 

If the hopes that have ceased to be 
But bring us, when passion and youth are gone, 

To the truth at the Father's knee ; 
Who husheth us up, when our prayers are said, 
Forgetful of sorrow, in restful bed, 
To awaken again when the night has fled, 

Where the heart will be always young. 


BX 2596 .873 L42 1896 IMST 
Lei gh, M. Corde 1 i a. 
Stoneleigh Abbey 47228586