© Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society & Contributors 2016-7 Registered Charity no. 287289
Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society

900 Years of the Abbey of

Saint Mary, Cirencester

The people of Cirencester celebrate in 2017, 900 years since the founding of The Abbey of St Mary, so we show you some of the things that our Society has done during its many years, and give links for those who want to dabble further. We start off with Alan Welsford’s riposte to a WGS reader about the need for the celebrations. We then continue with a description of the end of the Abbey, by Richard Reece, taken from our Newsletter no.2 dated summer 1960. Sian Deferary wrote of the trials and tribulations of our Millennium Project to outline the extent of the Abbey in the Grounds. We do not know what the abbey looked like, but the model is the best current guess, from the archaeology that has been done to date. This was discussed at our public meeting in the Corn Hall in June 2017, attended by about 240 people.
Alan Welsford: letter to the Wilts and Glos Standard, autumn 2016: Why Abbey 900? Dear Sir, Why “Abbey900”? asks one of your correspondents. Because the Abbey was more than just a building. Though little remains of the structures, there are fifty or more manuscripts which were once in the Abbey Library still extant, including the great Cartulary. The manuscripts were saved by one of Henry VIII’s commissioners who oversaw the Dissolution of the Abbey. These documents reveal the importance of the Abbey not only locally but nationally and in a European context. Several of the abbots were Papal Judges, in its later years the Abbot was summoned to Parliament and one Abbot negotiated a settlement between the King and Barons in revolt against him. Through the management of their estates in the Cotswolds the Abbot and Canons, (the Abbey was Augustinian with Canons rather than Monks), took the name of the Town far into Europe as the wool produced under their stewardship gained prominence as the best that could be obtained. The Abbey also brought to the Town many influential people including Kings and the Black Prince. But it is not only in the fields of Church and State politics and in  commerce that the Abbey is important. It was also the home of several notable scholars. Canon Jocelyn is noted as one of the first to understand the significance of the new mathematics arriving from the Middle East in the 10th and 11th centuries. Robert of Cricklade, who was a Canon here before moving to Oxford, is known as the author of important works. Then there is Abbot Alexander Nequam, foster-brother of Richard the Lionheart and a noted international scholar who, in the later 12th century, championed the newly re-discovered works of Aristotle and shared in the beginnings of a scientific attitude to learning, the 12th Century Renaissance. Alexander’s memorial in Worcester Cathedral reads,: “ Wisdom suffered an eclipse. A sun is buried, which, while it lived, every branch of learning flourished. Nequam is dissolved into ashes. Had he one heir on earth, his death would be less cause for tears” Our medieval inheritance is as worthy of celebration as is our place in Roman Britain. Alan Welsford. Cirencester

Richard Reece - from Newsletter no.2 1960

The End of the Abbey of St. Mary

The edict of Henry VIII suppressing the major Abbeys and Monasteries of England hit Cirencester on the morning of December 19th 1539, in the form of Robert Southwell, Richard Poulet, King’s Treasurer, and William Berners, King’s Auditor. These among others received the surrender of John Blake, Abbot, and Richard Woodall, Prior, reporting later to the King that all went smoothly, and everyone, including the monks, seemed satisfied with his treatment. In this way the new year of 1540 brought into Gloucestershire the tremendous clerical system needed to deal with the dissolution of the monasteries, and opened up a short chapter for which documentary evidence abounds, albeit so far untapped. The events following the suppression of the Abbey make an interesting story which involves especially the King’s wine-merchant Roger Basing. Immediately after obtaining the tenancy of the site on 11th May 1450(sic) he was unjustly thrown into prison in Spain, and was only released six months later on the plea of King Henry himself to the Emperor Charles V. Basing kept an interest in the tenancy of the site, in spite of all that Fuller, Beecham, Baddeley and others may say, until he sold it to Dr. Richard Master in February 1564.  Other characters in the story include the courtiers and county worthies Sir Anthony Hungerford and Sir Anthony Kingston and ill-fated Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. The violent deaths of the last two meant that the site was each time confiscate to the crown, the same piece of land being sold three times over, and the Treasury as usual, making a handsome profit. Going back to the original sources it is now possible to give a reasonable account of the passage of the site and buildings from 1539 to their purchase by Dr. Master, and hence to the present day. This research has supplemented the findings of a small excavation which took place by kind permission of Col. W.E. Chester-Master, on the site of the Abbey at Easter 1959. This showed three main phases. Uppermost was the debris of the present Abbey house, built towards 1800, then the debris of the Tudor house of Dr. Master, (c.1590-1780), and beneath that a third layer of mortar rubble containing fragments of moulded stone, stained glass, glazed tiles and 16th century pottery, which bore eloquent witness to the physical fact of the “dissolution” of the monastery. A full report on the Abbey is now being written and will appear in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Richard Reece Newsletter no.2 Summer 1960 The BGAS report can be found here published in 1962. A quick search of the BGAS Transactions finds very many references to the Abbey.

Other CAHS Newsletter Articles about the Abbey

Immediately following on from the Richard Reece article, Cirencester Excavations Committee report for 1960 describes a dig for seven weeks in the Abbey grounds in March to May 1960 [Newsletter 2 pp13-14] Newsletter 8 has an article on Abbey Stonework Newsletter 17 has three articles about the Abbey: The Library of St. Mary's Abbey, Cirencester [9 Refs] - Alan Welsford  The Abbey's Possessions in Berkshire -  Anthony Denning  Traces of the Abbey of St. Mary at Cirencester still to be seen - Clericus Noster    Newsletter 41 details Sian Deferary’s aggravations in getting our Millennium Project, the marking out of the Abbey footprint on the ground,  completed. Reprinted below The Abbey was covered in a early volume published 110 years ago(!) of the Victoria County History and the article can be found in British History online   The Abbey owned a vast range of property throughout the kingdom. The church in which your correspondent was married, in Northamptonshire, once belonged to the Abbey, and is the biggest parish church in that county. Your correspondent tried to interest the organisers in these external links, with little outcome so far.

The Festivities

 A webpage is now up and running with somewhat limited information, but it does list all known events with dates. A paper calendar that may contain more information is available at various outlets in Cirencester. The Croome Lecture this year was a learned discourse on why so little is known about the Augustinian order. We learnt more from Alan Welsford’s letter above.  A report of the talk is here. We finished our 2016-7 season with a public meeting about the archaeology of the Abbey We had some delicious nibbles in the parish church early in September 2017, when more information was available. The town mayor was dressed as a bishop (is that a heresy?), and a retired maths master as a monk. From Newsletter 41 August 1999

The Saga of the Abbey Outline - a cautionary tale

In 1995 it was thought fit a good idea that for our Millennium celebration we, as a Society, would outline the old Abbey church with paving slabs for the benefit of townsfolk and visitors. We thought at the time that it was rather early to start as the year 2000 was 5 years away. How wrong we were! Here is a summary : June 1995 : we found that the Town Council were interested in forming a partnership with us to achieve the project. Meetings were held to formulate our Plans. March 1996 : we arranged a meeting with the Town Council.  We arrived to find that their committee had been called out on more 'urgent' business leaving just the groundsman to hold the fort. He told us that they had already decided to just outline the corners of the Abbey Church. Our small group left with steam rising. A strong letter was promptly sent to Town council expressing our disappointment at their response to our suggestion. By return of post great apologies were received. April 1996 : another meeting was convened and Town Council agreed to do the job properly. May 1996: our Society approached CAMAS to supply slabs, English Heritage for permission to carry out the work, and Cotswold District Council for planning permission. A difference in opinion concerning slabs resulted in another meeting with the Town Council on site. It was agreed to accept the council's proposal to put slabs in a dotted line. Our proposal was to outline the old part in grey slabs and the new part in buff slabs. This was agreed. July 1996 : English Heritage approval arrived and a further meeting on site with Town Council took place in the autumn. They were informed that any work done on site must be supervised by Cotswold Archaeological Trust. Winter 1996 : outline marked out by CAT Spring 1997 : passing through the Abbey Grounds, a staff member of CAT noticed work going ahead without CAT being contacted. The Town Council were told to stop and comply with conditions. Work progressed slowly. Spring 1998 : it was discovered that colour coding had been disregarded and half the choir stall had been done in buff and the other half in grey! Summer 1998 : to compensate for this the slabs of the new part of the building were stained yellow. The yellow has washed off in the rain. Finally, in Autumn 1998 - the work was completed. Now for the notice board. A plan was initially agreed by Town Council in 1996. Scale drawings were made and submitted for approval by the council’s committee. These were left inadvertently with the planning applications. An irate member of the public then rang up to say the drawing was all wrong. He knew because he had read the report. He was told firmly that the archaeologists who wrote the report had in fact helped with the research on the drawing and agreed to it! Town council apologised for leaving the drawing in wrong place. Drawing was returned for some minor alterations which were done. This was then returned for final confirmation. After waiting another 3 months drawing was retrieved only to find it has now been radically altered yet again. That is the position we are at the moment. Will we get it ready in time for the Millennium? Your guess is as good as mine. All I can say is that Dawn, Peter (both from CAT) and I never ever want to do anything like this again! Sian Defferary Postscript: it was mostly ready and we did have a launch ceremony. About two years later the display panels had suffered from both water ingress and vandalism, and were removed
Abbey900 Website
Page last updated 8 November 2017
Our Lego volunteers: Deidre Waddell, Anne Buffoni, Sheila Jones, Aileen Anderson, Jennifer Griffith, Sarah Marshall and Leslie Jones celebrate the completion of the model. Gary Cowley also helped.
Model of St Mary's Abbey, Cirencester
© CAHS & contributors 2016-7 Registered Charity 287289
Cirencester Archaeological  & Historical Society

900 Years of the Abbey of Saint Mary,

Cirencester 

Alan Welsford: letter to the Wilts and Glos Standard, autumn 2016: Why Abbey 900? Dear Sir, Why “Abbey900”? asks one of your correspondents. Because the Abbey was more than just a building. Though little remains of the structures, there are fifty or more manuscripts which were once in the Abbey Library still extant, including the great Cartulary. The manuscripts were saved by one of Henry VIII’s commissioners who oversaw the Dissolution of the Abbey. These documents reveal the importance of the Abbey not only locally but nationally and in a European context. Several of the abbots were Papal Judges, in its later years the Abbot was summoned to Parliament and one Abbot negotiated a settlement between the King and Barons in revolt against him. Through the management of their estates in the Cotswolds the Abbot and Canons, (the Abbey was Augustinian with Canons rather than Monks), took the name of the Town far into Europe as the wool produced under their stewardship gained prominence as the best that could be obtained. The Abbey also brought to the Town many influential people including Kings and the Black Prince. But it is not only in the fields of Church and State politics and in  commerce that the Abbey is important. It was also the home of several notable scholars. Canon Jocelyn is noted as one of the first to understand the significance of the new mathematics arriving from the Middle East in the 10th and 11th centuries. Robert of Cricklade, who was a Canon here before moving to Oxford, is known as the author of important works. Then there is Abbot Alexander Nequam, foster-brother of Richard the Lionheart and a noted international scholar who, in the later 12th century, championed the newly re- discovered works of Aristotle and shared in the beginnings of a scientific attitude to learning, the 12th Century Renaissance. Alexander’s memorial in Worcester Cathedral reads,: “ Wisdom suffered an eclipse. A sun is buried, which, while it lived, every branch of learning flourished. Nequam is dissolved into ashes. Had he one heir on earth, his death would be less cause for tears” Our medieval inheritance is as worthy of celebration as is our place in Roman Britain. Alan Welsford. Cirencester
Richard Reece - from Newsletter no.2 1960

The End of the Abbey of St. Mary 

The edict of Henry VIII suppressing the major Abbeys and Monasteries of England hit Cirencester on the morning of December 19th 1539, in the form of Robert Southwell, Richard Poulet, King’s Treasurer, and William Berners, King’s Auditor. These among others received the surrender of John Blake, Abbot, and Richard Woodall, Prior, reporting later to the King that all went smoothly, amd everyone, including the monks, seemed satisfied with his treatment. In this way the new year of 1540 brought into Gloucestershire the tremendous clerical system needed to deal with the dissolution of the monasteries, and opened up as short chapter for which documentary evidence abounds, albeit so far untapped. The events following the suppression of the Abbey make an interesting story which involves especially the King’s wine-merchant Roger Basing. Immediately after obtaining the tenancy of the site on 11th May 1450(sic) he was unjustly thrown into prison in Spain, and was only released six months later on the plea of King Henry himself to the Emperor Charles V. Basing kept an interest in the tenancy of the site, inspite of all that Fuller, Beecham, Baddeley and others may say, until he sold it to Dr. Richard Master in February 1564.  Other characters in the story include the courtiers and county worthies Sir Anthony Hungerford and Sir Anthony Kingston and ill-fated Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. The violent deaths of the last two meant that the site was each time confiscate to the crown, the same piece of land being sold three times over, and the Treasury as usual, making a handsome profit. Going back to the original sources it is now possible to give a reasonable account of the passage of the site and buildings from 1539 to their purchase by Dr. Master, and hence to the present day. This research has supplementd the findings of a small excavation which took place by kind permission of Col. W.E. Chester- Master, on the site of the Abbey at Easter 1959. This showed three main phases. Uppermost was the debris of the present Abbey house, built towards 1800, then the debris of the Tudor house of Dr. Master, (c.1590-1780), and beneath that a third layer of mortar rubble containing fragments of moulded stone, stained glass, glazed tiles and 16th century pottery, which bore eleoquent witness to the physical fact of the “dissolution” of the monastery. A full report on the Abbey is now being written and will appear in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Richard Reece Newsletter no.2 Summer 1960 The BGAS report can be found here published in 1962. A quick search of the BGAS Transactions finds very many references to the Abbey.

Other CAHS Newsletter

Articles about the Abbey

Immediately following on from the Richard Reece article, Cirencester Excavations Committtee report for 1960 describes a dig for seven weeks in the Abbey grounds in March to May 1960 [Newsletter 2 pp13-14] Newsletter 8 has an article on Abbey Stonework Newsletter 17 has three articles about the Abbey: The Library of St. Mary's Abbey, Cirencester [9 Refs] - Alan Welsford  The Abbey's Possessions in Berkshire -  Anthony Denning  Traces of the Abbey of St. Mary at Cirencester still to be seen - Clericus Noster    Newsletter 41 details Sian Deferary’s aggravations in getting our Millennium Project, the marking out of the Abbey footprint on the ground,  completed. Reprinted below The Abbey was covered in a early volume of the Victoria County History and the article can be found in British History online  The Festivities A webpage is now up and running with somewhat limited information, but it does list all known events with dates, if no further information. A paper calendar that may contain more information is available at various outlets in Cirencester. The Croome Lecture this year was a learned discourse on why so little is known about the Augustinian order. A report of the talk is here.  We finish our 2016-7 season with a public meeting about the archaeology of the Abbey From Newsletter 41 August 1999

The Saga of the Abbey

Outline - a cautionary tale

In 1995 it was thought fit a good idea that for our Millennium celebration we, as a Society, would outline the old Abbey church with paving slabs for the benefit of townsfolk and visitors. We thought at the time that it was rather early to start as the year 2000 was 5 years away. How wrong we were! Here is a summary : June 1995 : we found that the Town Council were interested in forming a partnership with us to achieve the project. Meetings were held to formulate our Plans. March 1996 : we arranged a meeting with the Town Council.  We arrived to find that their committee had been called out on more 'urgent' business leaving just the groundsman to hold the fort. He told us that they had already decided to just outline the corners of the Abbey Church. Our small group left with steam rising. A strong letter was promptly sent to Town council expressing our disappointment at their response to our suggestion. By return of post great apologies were received. April 1996 : another meeting was convened and Town Council agreed to do the job properly. May 1996: our Society approached CAMAS to supply slabs, English Heritage for permission to carry out the work, and Cotswold District Council for planning permission. A difference in opinion concerning slabs resulted in another meeting with the Town Council on site. It was agreed to accept the council's proposal to put slabs in a dotted line. Our proposal was to outline the old part in grey slabs and the new part in buff slabs. This was agreed. July 1996 : English Heritage approval arrived and a further meeting on site with Town Council took place in the autumn. They were informed that any work done on site must be supervised by Cotswold Archaeological Trust. Winter 1996 : outline marked out by CAT Spring 1997 : passing through the Abbey Grounds, a staff member of CAT noticed work going ahead without CAT being contacted. The Town Council were told to stop and comply with conditions. Work progressed slowly. Spring 1998 : it was discovered that colour coding had been disregarded and half the choir stall had been done in buff and the other half in grey! Summer 1998 : to compensate for this the slabs of the new part of the building were stained yellow. The yellow has washed off in the rain. Finally, in Autumn 1998 - the work was completed. Now for the notice board. A plan was initially agreed by Town Council in 1996. Scale drawings were made and submitted for approval by the council’s committee. These were left inadvertently with the planning applications. An irate member of the public then rang up to say the drawing was all wrong. He knew because he had read the report. He was told firmly that the archaeologists who wrote the report had in fact helped with the research on the drawing and agreed to it! Town council apologised for leaving the drawing in wrong place. Drawing was returned for some minor alterations which were done. This was then returned for final confirmation. After waiting another 3 months drawing was retrieved only to find it has now been radically altered yet again. That is the position we are at the moment. Will we get it ready in time for the Millennium? Your guess is as good as mine. All I can say is that Dawn, Peter (both from CAT) and I never ever want to do anything like this again! Sian Defferary Postscript: it was mostly ready and we did have a launch ceremony. About two years later the display panels had suffered from both water ingress and vandalism, and were removed
Abbey900 Website
Our Lego volunteers: Deidre Waddell, Anne Buffoni, Sheila Jones, Aileen Anderson, Jennifer Griffith, Sarah Marshall and Leslie Jones celebrate the completion of the model. Gary Cowley also helped.
Model of St Mary's Abbey, Cirencester