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            The Parish Church of St. Mary,

           Penwortham

                 

                     The Priory, its Priors, and the Penwortham Breviary

The Priory

Warin Bussel, the first Baron of Penwortham, was married to Matilda, a lady who held land in Evesham (Worcestershire), and had made gifts to the Abbey of that town.  Her affection for the Abbey no doubt continued when she and her husband arrived at Penwortham and found expression in generosity towards Penwortham Priory, a cell or offshoot of Evesham Abbey.

Warin Bussel transferred to the Abbey certain lands and benefices and in return the Abbey undertook to serve Penwortham Church with three monks and a Chaplain, and to accept one of Warin’s sons as a monk.

Prior of Penwortham was not an exalted position; to be at Penwortham in any capacity was looked on by the monks as a form of penance. Over the years of its existence, the Priory did mange to attract four characters of some interest:

The generous Prior Wilcote set up a bequest which provided funds to feed the monks. This was very necessary, for some monastics in those days were not above embezzling from the common funds even the means of survival.

The learned Adam Sortes was perhaps the Priory’s most distinguished resident. He had fled from Evesham in 1207 to escape persecution by Roger Norris who, unfortunately, later came to Penwortham himself.  This Roger –“Black Roger”, he was called – began his muddy career at Canterbury, where he was imprisoned, after betraying his fellow monks. He escaped through a sewer, and perhaps having deceived the King with his pompous manner and literary skill, was made Abbot of Evesham by the king’s command. Here he satisfied his greed by means of embezzlement and misappropriation; he thus deprived the monks in his care of all but the barest food and clothing. In 1213 he was deposed by the Papal Legate and put in charge of Penwortham; in the following year his behaviour led to his ejection from even this post. He was reinstated in 1219 to Penwortham – but out of pity and not because of any new found virtue;  he remained at Penwortham for the last six years of his life; unreformed, unrepentant, irreconcilable. Nearer in time to the Reformation we have another black sheep – Prior Hawkesbury was reported by the Commissioners Leigh and Layton for his (sexual) incontinence. By that time there was only one other monk at the Priory.

With the Dissolution of the Monasteries imminent, Penwortham had already begun its decline. Early in 1539, the Abbot of Evesham leased the Manor, Monastery, Parsonage, Tithes and everything except the advowson of Leyland Church, to John Fleetwood, of Little Plumpton, near Kirkham.

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