MONASTIC STAFFORDSHIRE
AND ITS BORDERLANDS IN SHROPSHIRE, CHESHIRE AND DERBYSHIRE

Christianity may have first appeared in this region at an early date, it was only with the establishment of the Saxon abbey at Repton that monasticism flourished temporarily. The monastery, although not the pilgrim cult of Saint Wystan, was snuffed out by the Viking invasions. Monasticism only returned in the eleventh century when Benedictine monks from southern England came to live at Burton, and French monks at Lapley. Although William the Conqueror devastated Staffordshire, these monasteries benefited from the Norman Conquest.
Passageway in the church of the Saxon abbey of Repton leading down into the crypt, where pilgrims worshipped at the shrine of Saint Wystan.

Initially, following the Norman Conquest, Benedictine monks established several new houses . But since each house was an independent community, if the abbot proved untrustworthy, little could be done about it. This explains the chequered history of Burton Abbey, largest of the Staffordshire Benedictine monasteries. Additional difficulties were faced, during times of war between the English and French, by the French monks of Lapley and Tutbury.
Tutbury: Alabaster carvings on the portals of the Priory Church: the earliest of their type in England.

In an attempt to raise the standards of the ordinary clergy, by 1150 many had been encouraged to live in small communities and adopt the rule of Saint Augustine. Communities of "black canons," known as Augustinians, were founded at Repton, Calwich, Stone, Ranton, Lilleshall  and Stafford (Saint Thomas), while a community of women following the same rule was set up at Breewood.
Ruins of Lilleshall Priory, Shropshire

In France a religious revival at the end of the eleventh century had led to the foundation of the austere Cistercian order of "White Monks." This had led to the foundation of Radmore Abbey in the south of the county in the late 1130s. Intimidated by foresters, the monks soon moved to Stoneleigh, Worcestershire. Another Cistercian house was set up at Croxden in 1176 by French monks.
A further consequence of the French revival had been the foundation of the Savigniac Order of "Grey Monks." In 1133 a house of the order was set up at Combermere in Cheshire. The Savigniac monks soon lost their initial enthusiasm, and in 1157, in an attempt to restore discipline, the order was merged into that of Citeaux. Thus it was as a Cistercian house, that Combermere Abbey set up daughter houses in Leek (Dieulacres) in 1214 after a failed attempt to colonize the estuary of the Dee, and Hulton in 1218. The Cistercian abbeys of Croxden, Dieulacres and Hulton engaged extensively in agriculture and various business enterprises over the next centuries, and played a major role in local affairs.

Ruins of Croxden Abbey

The Crusades led to the creation of new military-religious orders of "warrior monks" including the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaler. At Keele a preceptory of the Knights Templar was founded, which was handed over to the Hospitalers when the Templars were accused of blasphemy, witchcraft, heresy and various other abominable crimes, and their organisation was suppressed. The Hospitalers also established a preceptory of their own at Yeaveley, near Ashbourne, in Derbyshire.
The walls of the church of Yeaveley Preceptory at Stydd, incorrectly re-erected in 1915 with the inside of the wall incorrectly facing outwards.

Continued dissatisfaction with the work of the monasteries led leaders in Italy like Francis and Dominic to establish their own religious movements to minister more directly to the needs of society. Although initially there was significant local opposition to them, the Franciscans established themselves at Lichfield and Stafford, the Dominicans at Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the lesser-known Austin friars at Stafford. The friars did not become large landowners, and their houses were never as well-appointed as those of the monks, canons and nuns. Although they have left fewer traces than the monks and nuns, it seems that in the end they became more popular - perhaps because they were never landlords.

Between 1530 and 1540 all the religious houses were dissolved by agents of the King Henry VIII. Seeing what was about to happen, many of the abbots of the larger monasteries made arrangements for their own future using means that were strictly illegal. A few found a living as parish priests, while some took up residence near the houses from which they had been ejected.
Almost immediately following the dissolution of the communities, royal officials arrived to sell off good and furniture and in many cases render the church unfit for use. Only at the Blackladies Priory, near Brewood, is their some evidence which may point to possible continuation of the religious life in secret for some time afterwards.
The Tomb of Sir Philip Draycot, last steward of Hulton Abbey, in Draycot Church.

The history of the medieval religious houses is chiefly based upon surviving written records kept by the monks and canons themselves, by the officials of the royal government, the diocese, the orders and the papacy. In addition, legal documents can be used to reconstruct an account of their activities. These were usually in private hands, but now may be found in various archives and repositories.
The witness of written documents can also, in some cases, be supplemented by the findings of archaeologists
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Read more about monasticism in medieval Staffordshire in Monastic Staffordshire and Its Borderlands