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Priory of St Mary's

PRIORY REMAINS, UPSTANDING

Neighbouring a light industrial estate and airfield, which during the war years was under operational command of the American air forces, is not necessarily where you would expect to find the fragile remains and site of a seven hundred-year-old priory. But, situated between the villages of Colmworth and Little Staughton in Bedfordshire, stands Bushmead Priory[?], or, to give it its correct title “The Priory of St Mary’s[?],” Bushmead.

It was founded around 1195 by William, Chaplain of Colmworth. Hugh de Beauchamp[?] of Eaton, grandson of the great crusader, endowed the land to the local order of monks, along with 28 acres.

During its early years the priory held a considerable number of land strips, called ‘Selions’, mediaeval open fields used for ploughing. These were given to them by local people as gifts of faith.

Around 1206 King John permitted the monks to enclose and clear part of the nearby Perry woods.

After William’s death in 1215 Joseph, Chaplain of Coppingford, became head of the house (order?). The priory had also held land around Coppingford chapel[?]. The most popular monastic order around Bedfordshire at that time was the Augustinian, a comparatively recent order at the time, but one in which ordained priests lived as a community in a similar style to monks. Under Joseph’s guidance the house became an Augustinian priory[?].

Throughout the following years the priory prospered through gifts and grants. The monks copied out documents concerning their daily lives, their administrations and possessions into books of charters, called Cartularies[?]. Unfortunately through the centuries very few of these charters have survived.

The majority of monasteries, priories and abbeys received gifts. Most were given in simple faith without condition; some were given in return for a special service and occasionally reconciliation and easing of conscience. It was equally common for disgruntled heirs to object to the size of their father’s/uncle’s gifts. Bushmead Priory had suffered for years, apparently, a problem with the Pateschull family over a rent of about eight pounds which Simon de Pateschull[?] remitted in 1260. The problems continued and Simon’s grandson, John, had the priory’s cattle seized. Richard of Staughton[?], a senior canon and later prior of Bushmead, called the bailiff and set out to recover them. Richard was seized by John Pateschull’s men and imprisoned. The dispute was finally ended through arbitration.

When Richard became prior, he obtained permission from the bishop to form a boy’s school; however it is believed he died of the Black Death before the project could be implemented.

When the monasteries were dissolved, Bushmead Priory became a bone of contention for ownership between the St John family of Bletsoe and Sir William Gascoigne[?] of Cardington, the latter being Cardinal Wolsey's[?] controller of the household. He had previously exchanged land with King Henry VIII and sought further recompense. The King waited until 1537, almost a year after the priory’s dissolution, before allowing the priory to pass to Sir William.

Fifteen years later, in 1562, a Cambridgeshire man, William Gery, purchased the state and almost immediately began building on the monastery site. Around a hundred years later Richard Gery extended the priory site and formed a mansion. There have obviously been many changes to the priory. A new floor and windows in the lower section were fitted around 1500, although only the rafters now remain. Clearly visible, though, are the major and various subsequent minor alterations, giving an interesting insight into its architectural history. Up until the mid-seventies it was still owned by the Gery family (from 1792 the Wade-Gerys) who passed the guardianship of the refectory hall to the English nation, and its upkeep has since been maintained by the English Heritage Commission[?].

The Priory is open for visitors at weekends during spring and summer.



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