The Priory of Berden


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A House of Austin canons

Nothing is known of the origin of this house, though it was probably founded by some of the Rochefords, lords of the manor of Berden. It appears to have been at first a hospital. It was dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. Its possessions are valued in the Taxation of 1291 at £6 9s. 10d. yearly. There was a portion of 10s. in the church of Dengie. The temporalities amounted to £1 5s. 4d. in Berden, £1 4s. 7d. in Clavering and Langley, and £1 in Rickling, with smaller sums in Paglesham, Elsenham, Rochford, Hawkwell, Newport, Dengie and Little Shoebury in Essex, East Reed, Brent Pelham and Little Pelham in Hertfordshire and Cambridge.

A fair at midsummer at Berden was granted to the prior and convent in 1214, 1222, and 1267. In 1314 they had licence to acquire from Robert de Rocheford 18 acres of land in Berden, and the advowson of the church, and to appropriate the church. The appropriation was not actually carried out till 1427, when a vicarage was ordained; and in 1514 they were allowed, in consideration of their poverty, to appropriate this also and to serve the church by a removable chaplain. In 1317 they had licence to acquire rent in Shoebury, Great Stambridge and Bretton from Walram de Rocheford; in return for which they agreed to find a canon to celebrate divine service at the altar of St. Mary in the church for the souls of himself and his wife for ever.

Pope Gregory X on 13 March, 1272, granted a bull confirming the liberties of the priory; and on 4 March, 1308, twenty-one bishops promised forty days' indulgence to all who should help the rebuilding of the priory or make gifts to it of ornaments and other things, as the church, cloister, refectory, dormitory, infirmary and hall and almost all the buildings had lately been burnt to the ground.

In 1343 the advowson of the priory was granted by William de Bohun, earl of Northampton, and Elizabeth his wife to the abbot and convent of Walden.

On 20 February, 1455, notice was given to the prior of intended visitation on 30 April by the priors of Holy Trinity and Elsing Spital, London, who had been appointed visitors in the dioceses of London and Ely at. the last chapter general of the Augustinian order celebrated in the priory of St. Bartholomew, London. On 5 April in another year not far off the priors of Holy Trinity and Blackmore, similarly appointed at the last chapter at Leicester, announced visitation on 6 May.

A few letters from various persons to Prior Thomas Dane are preserved, though they are of no great importance. He appears to have had a dispute about homage and relief demanded from him at the honour of Rayleigh, and also trouble in collecting arrears of rent from his lands in Rochford hundred. The tenants maintained that they had paid to John Ive of Rayleigh, late receiver of the prior, and the executors of the latter said that he had paid every penny. One tenant had left the district without paying.

The value of the priory is given in the Valor as £29 6s. 4½d., the gross value being £31 5s. 1¾d. It was dissolved in 1536, the prior receiving a pension of £5. An inventory of the goods in the various chambers and buildings was taken on 18 June. These were only worth £7 7s. 2d. in all, besides cattle valued at £2 6s. 8d. The house had no corn and nothing was owing to it, but it was in debt to the extent of £2 19s. 5d. The whole of the stuff was sold to Henry Parker for £7 1s. 0d. except the plate, which amounted to twelve ounces, and was valued at £2 3s. 2d.

The priory was leased in 1537 to Parker; and in January, 1539, it was granted for £100 to him and Mary his wife in tail male, with the rectory of Berden and various possessions in Berden, Manuden, Elsenham, Henham, Takeley, Rickling, Clavering, Ugley, Rochford, Brent Pelham and Stokyng Pelham, of the total yearly value of £23 7s. 0d., at a rent of £2 7s. 0d.

Priors of Berden
Gilbert, occurs 1235, till 1241
Nicholas, occurs 1285
W. occurs 1317
William, occurs 1337
John de Marchia, resigned 1393
John Parent, elected 1393, died 1429
Thomas Whaplode, collated 1429, resigned 1440
William Cotyngham, collated 1440, resigned 1441
Thomas Dane, collated 1441, occurs 1463, resigned 1473
William Wodde, collated 1473, died 1486
Robert Harlow, collated 1486, resigned 1487
John Clement, collated 1487, resigned 1490
John Scott, collated 1490, occurs 1501
John Wakeley, occurs 1514, 1534, the last prior.

The seal of the priory is a pointed oval, 2 in. by 1½ in., representing St. John the Evangelist in a canopied niche with tabernacle work at the sides, holding in the left hand a chalice from which a serpent issues and pointing to it with the right hand. Legend:—

This article is taken with acknowledgement from:
'Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Berden', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2 (1907), pp. 143-144.