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The Abbey at Wellow



The abbey of Wellow was founded, like thepriory of Dunstable, by King Henry I,  anddedicated to St. Augustine and St. Olaf.  Thereis no evidence at present to determine the exactdate of foundation. Ranulf earl of Chester andGeoffrey Trussebut were benefactors of thehouse before the reign of Henry II, who confirmed the gifts of his grandfather, and took theabbey under his own patronage.

In 1202 the abbot secured the advowson ofthe church of Riby in a suit against Emma ofRiby.In 1228 a licence was granted to thecanons to preach and beg alms for the repair oftheir house throughout the king’s dominions.  During the Scottish wars of Edward II theabbot was required to supply the king withwheat, malt, and sheep to the value of £18, andhad £12 10s. 8d. besides exacted from him,but these sums were repaid by Edward III. The house was seriously in debt in 1325, and asecular was appointed to take charge of its affairsfor awhile;   and again, in 1359, arrangementshad to be made by the bishop to reduce theexpenses of the canons’ maintenance.  Lateron, in 1372, the abbot, John Utterby, wasaccused of having sold, alienated, and dissipatedthe goods of the house and brought it almost toruin.

In 1534 Robert Whitgift, the abbot, with tencanons, signed the acknowledgement of royalsupremacy.   The abbey at this time had aclear revenue of only £95; it consequently fellwithin the range of the first Act of Suppression.It was dissolved before Michaelmas, 1536. Theabbot received a pension of £16 a year, and ninecanons had £8 10s. divided between them ‘inregard,’ as well as their arrears of ‘wages,’ amounting to £6 13s. 4d.   The bells and leads of themonastery were sold for £202 16s.,  whichmakes it probable that the buildings were fairlyextensive, and had been intended at first for alarge number of canons.

There are several notices relating to theinternal history of this abbey in the Lincolnregisters. In 1359 the bishop made arrangements for one secular clerk to manage itsrevenues and another to collect the rents andhand them over to the prior, as it was evidentthat the canons at that time were not good menof business. In the same year it was noticedthat some scandal had arisen because the northgate of the church had been frequently left open;this defect was to be remedied in future.   In1368 the canons were accused of frequentingthe taverns of Grimsby, and passing a good dealof time there in drinking and gossip.   In 1372 the abbot was suspended for his badgovernment, and required, with another brother,to do penance for crimes (not specified) whichhad been proved against them.

Bishop Flemyng visited the house in 1422, butfound nothing specially worthy of comment.He ordered his injunctions as to the keeping ofthe rule to be read twice every quarter inEnglish, to avert, as far as possible, the danger oflaxity. Bishop Alnwick visited in 1438 andin 1440; his injunctions are again formal, andsuch as might have been delivered to anymonastery at the time: to safeguard the observance of the rule an apostate canon was to becaught and brought back.   In 1444 the samebishop gave orders that the parish church of Cleeshould be served by a secular priest instead of acanon, as religious men suffered so much loss tosoul and body by wandering from the cloisterand conversing with the world.

In 1519 the monastery was visited by BishopAtwater. The abbot complained that hisobedientiaries were not diligent in performingtheir duties. No other complaint seems to havebeen made. The bishop enjoined that accountsshould be duly shown, and exhorted the brethrengenerally as to charity and diligence in study.  The house was evidently in better condition atthis time than some others of the order, for theabbot in 1518 had been made one of the definitorsat the general chapter held at Leicester   under thepresidency of Cardinal Wolsey, when such greatefforts were made to secure reform and renewalof fervour among the Augustinians generally.

After the Lincoln rebellion the prior of thesuppressed abbey of Wellow was accused by oneof the king’s officers of charging him to join theCommons, but the matter does not seem to havebeen taken up.

The original endowment of the abbey ofWellow by Henry I consisted of the site inGrimsby, with the church of St. James anddivers ponds, mills, &c., for which they had topay a rent of 40s. a year to the exchequer,  andtithes of the manors of Lusby, Grimsby, and offish in the port of Honfleet.   Ranulf earl ofChester gave the churches of Tetney, Clee,Humberston, and Huttoft, with lands in Tetneyand Humberston; Geoffrey Trussebut gave thechurch of Riby;   Gilbert de Turribus the churchof Cabourn.   The burgesses and knights ofGrimsby gave other lands in that vill.   Thechurches of Thorganby, Holton, and Cadebyalso belonged to the abbey at an early date.  In1291 the temporalities of the abbot were assessedat £67 2s. 5d.  In 1303 he held one-twelfth of aknight’s fee in Irby, three-quarters in Thorganby,one-eighth in Swallow, one-twelfth in Clee,  and very much the same both in 1346  and1428.   In 1401-2 he held the churches ofSt. James, Grimsby and Clee, and a quarter of a feein Clee.   Mention is made during the fourteenth century of the manors of Tetney, Weelsby, Cabourn, Thorganby, Swallow, Grimsby, andStallingborough as belonging to the abbey.   In 1534 the clear revenue of the house was only£95 6s. 1d. (  The Ministers’ Accounts amountedto £178 9s. 10d., including the rectories of Grimsby, Clee, Riby, Cabourn, and the manorand rectory of Tetney.

Abbots of Wellow

William,   occurs about 1153

Richard,  occurs 1202

Richard,   elected 1217, occurs to 1226

Reginald,   elected 1234

Philip de Gammes,   elected 1252

William Cabourn,  elected 1252, occurs 1261

John,   elected 1271, died 1271

Simon of Wainfleet,  elected 1271, died 1293

William of Croxby,   elected 1293, died 1317

Thomas of Wellinghom,   elected 1317, died1341

John of Holton,   elected 1341

Richard of Utterby,  died 1369

John of Utterby,   elected 1369, deposed 1374

John Thorp,  elected 1374, died 1410

William Cotes,  elected 1410, died 1417

John Grimsby,   elected 1417, resigned 1421

Henry Sutton,   elected 1421, died 1456

John Anglesby,   elected 1456

Richard Clee,   elected 1467, died 1477

Richard Hamilton,   elected 1477

Thomas Cawode,   elected 1501

Richard Kyngson,   elected 1504, died 1525

Robert Whitgift  last abbot, elected 1525

A twelfth-century pointed oval seal   showsSt. Augustine, standing, lifting up the right handin benediction, in the left hand a pastoral staff.


The fourteenth-century pointed oval sealmade by John de Utterby  shows, in a doubleniche, with carved canopies, crocheted and pinnacled, with a small vacant niche between thetwo large ones; on the left St. Augustine fulllength with mitre lifting up the right hand inbenediction, in the left hand a crozier; on theright King Henry I, the founder (or perhapsSt. Olaf), with crown, lifting up the right handwith first finger extended, in the left hand abattle-axe. On the tabernacle work at thesides, two shields of arms—the left, quarterly1 and 4 England, 2 and 3 France (ancient); onthe right England.

In base, between two trees, a shield of arms;on a chevron between a royal crown and a lionof England in chief, and in base a pastoral staff,issuing from the base three fleurs-de-lis, GrimsbyAbbey.


The thirteenth-century pointed oval seal of anabbot   shows the abbot standing on a platform,a book in the hands. In the field on the rightan estoile; the corresponding device on the leftside is destroyed. The legend is destroyed.

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