Frithelstock Priory Frithelstock Priory

Notices Frithelstock Priory

Posted: Thursday 20th May '21

Updated: Monday 14th June '21

  • Founded by in 1220 Robert Beauchamp
  • "If it didnt fall it could be considered to be safe!"
Frithelstock Frithelstock Priory


Frithelstock Priory was founded in about 1220 by Robert Beauchamp of Hatch Beauchamp in Somerset, a descendant of Robert the son of Ivo.

Colonised from Hartland Abbey it was of the order of Saint Augustine and dedicated to the famous Pope Gregory the Great. The Manor and Tythe of Frithelstock was the earliest endowment but other endowments followed viz. Broadwoodwidger, Ashwater Church and land, Germansweek and income from various other sources.


The Manor was about 1000 acres of which the monks farmed 500. The order was established with one prior and four canons but by 1333 it was served by one prior, thirteen canons and two seculars.

Daily prayers were said for Robert Beauchamp the founder and his arms were adopted by the priory. Bishop Stapleton, who was born at nearby Annery in 1261, was a great benefactor. After he was murdered in 1326 he and his brother were included in the daily prayers for the ‘Founders and Benefactors of this Church’. Every year at the hour and time of their death the Prior and Convent were instructed to celebrate the full service for the dead to these three benefactors and on the days of the death of Walter and Richard de Stapleton they were to feed, within the priory, one hundred poor whose need was greatest, provided that the refreshment for each pauper did not exceed the sum of one penny for bread, broth and relish. All the gifts given by Robert de Stapleton were to be recited annually at his service.

The fortunes of the community seemed to fluctuate alarmingly as in 1333 they petitioned Bishop Grandisson for more money as they could scarcely maintain themselves. This was granted provided the canons were kept at their full number.


In 1340 Bishop Grandisson after visiting the Priory issued a long order for its reform. The prior was told that he must take his refreshment in the refectory with the brethren and must sleep in the common dormitory and all vestments were to be provided from a common store. We learn that he had been negligent in his duty and for a time he had to do penance at Hartland.


In 1353 John Heyncie was elected Prior. For seventeen years a diligent and laborious prior, he resigned owing to infirmities and was granted a substantial pension. Dr Oliver tells us that he was exonerated from choir for life, had a suitable room of his own and yearly allowance of £10 plus three large cheeses, 10lbs of candles and two cartloads of fuel. A weekly subsistence included 14 loaves called miches, seven black loaves, 24 gallons of better beer and a daily portion of two canons’ flesh and fish; food for his servant was also provided, and if he was absent for study or recreation, a yearly pension of £14.


In 1384 the Prior and Convent entered into an ‘engagement’ to celebrate a daily mass for the souls of Sir John Sully, his wife, parents and grandparents.


By 1400 Prior John Pynnok, who had again grieviously wasted the goods of the Priory, was admonished and restricted as to clothing and the number of his personal servants but he could have quarterly 40 shillings for clothes, wine and other ‘necessaries’ – by this time too he was permitted a room of his own.

Bishop Edmund Lacy’s register describes the election of a new prior in 1434. He could be elected by scrutiny of votes, by compromise or by inspiration. In this case their choice fell unanimously on Walter Howys under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The last Prior was John Sturgyn, who surrendered possession of the house on 27 August 1536 – there were only four canons with him in residence. It was one of the smaller religious houses and was among first to be dissolved. The estates were worth £143 16s, the greater part of which was awarded to the Governor of Calais, Viscount Lisle. This did not include the lead, which was reserved for the King. The house and parsonage of Frithelstock was estimated at £86. A small portion was given to George Rolle (Lisle’s surveyor). Viscount Lisle died in 1542 when the estate passed over via John Chichester and Arthur Basset to the Earl of Orford and Robert Walpole and was then absorbed into the estate of the Clinton Family where it remained until 1957.

There can be no doubt that the monks brought great prosperity to the area. Beside their activities at the Priory, they are considered to have been responsible for the building of Rothern Bridge, roads were improved and skills taught to the local inhabitants. By their Holy example, hospitality and care of the poor and sick they must have been an abiding good influence and a great comfort to the poor and needy.



The Priory ruins have been the source of controversy for many years and in 1887 there was a considerable amount of correspondence between the Secretary for the protection of Ancient Buildings and Lord Clinton. His Lordship said that his tenant at Cloister Hall was worried that the remains were so dangerous that they should be removed as they overhung his dwelling house. Lord Clinton wrote, ‘I should regret extremely to be compelled to remove the ruins but it may become necessary as a security for life and property which may be seriously endangered by their maintenance.’

Shortly after this the authorities concerned visited the ruins and examined the old walls, and considered that with some maintenance the site could be made safe and suggested that two of Lord Clinton’s men should be asked to do the work. As regards to the danger of the walls falling the committee suggested that a rope should be put round the upper portion of the wall and see if two men could pull it over. If it didn’t fall it could be considered to be safe! More than 100 years on perhaps this ‘scientific’ test was adequate and Frithelstock still has its Priory Ruins.


Extract from Frithelstock Past and Present, reproduced with the kind permission of the Frithelstock Book Group

Key contacts

All the contact details have been given for the local clubs and groups, but please do contact us if you have any questions about what you’ve seen on this website.
Church : Sidney Adams 01805 622300
Village hall booking secretary: Michael Short 01805 623359
Playing field : Liz Hunkin  01805 623734
W.I. : Maureen Poole  01805 622834

Parish Clerk


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