The Remains of Coggeshall Abbey
By G F Beaumont, F.S.A.
An extract from Transactions ‘n.s.’ Volume 15 part 1 (1918). This volume is available exclusively to members in digitized format. To subscribe use the ‘Contact Form’ on this site.
As the writer, some 30 years ago, in his History of Coggeshall, gave an account of the foundation of the abbey and a description of its remains and our member, Mr.·R. C. Fowler, has recently contributed to the Victoria History of Essex a thoroughly trustworthy article on the abbey generally, it is not intended to do more in the present paper than bring together such information as we have been able to draw from certain documents, preserved in the Public Record Office [now The National Archives] and elsewhere, in so far as they tend to elucidate the purposes for which the buildings which survived the general demolition were appropriated, and to give such further details concerning the abbey as have not hitherto been published.
Of the buildings of the Cistercian monastery of Coggeshall, which must have been somewhat extensive, there remain the "mansion," or rather a portion of it, and annexed to it on the south side a narrow building running north and south and consisting of a vaulted passage with a chamber above, both floors opening into an oblong building running east and west, and at the south-east corner of this building, but disconnected from it, another building with its longer axis approximately north and south. In addition to these buildings there is the little chapel of St. Nicholas, about 200 yards to the west.
The abbey was surrendered on 5th February, 29 Henry VIII. (A.D. 1538), Henry More being at that time abbot or perpetual commendatory, and William Love his immediate predecessor.
On the 23rd March, 1538, all the possessions of the monastery were granted by the king to Sir Thomas Seymour. That great destruction of the monastic buildings was shortly afterwards wrought, is clear from the fact that Thomas Mildmay, one of the auditors of the revenues and. augmentations of the Crown appointed to survey certain of the lands and possessions of the late monastery then belonging to Seymour, with a view to an exchange to be made between him and the king, reported in April, in the thirty-first year of Henry VIII. (A.D. 1541), that "the churche is clene prostrate and defaced, but the cloyster and lodgings doe yet remayne untouched."
With regard to the abbey house, anciently called "the mansion," it has been said that it was built by Clement Smith on the site and out of the materials of the abbey. This statement is contained in an exceedingly interesting architectural account of the remains of the abbey by the late Rev. E. L. Cutts, sometime assistant curate of Coggeshall, and from the foundation of our Society down to 1866 its honorary secretary. The statement would seem to be incorrect, as Clement Smith, although the grantee of Holfield Grange and other estates in the neighbourhood, does not appear to have ever been possessed of the abbey buildings or precincts, and from the references to the abbey house in the documents mentioned below it seems clear that the mansion was erected some years before the dissolution. A comparatively small portion only now remains, and is represented by the more substantial or northern portion of the present building.
The first allusion we have to the house is that contained in the will of Sir John Sharpe, kt. He was a man of considerable worldly possessions, including lands in Essex, the manor of Cartelyng in Cambridgeshire, and the manor of Brokedysshe Hall in Norfolk. His will is dated 7th June, 1518, and by it he gave his mansion and lodging at Coggeshall Abbey, with the appurtenances and all his years in the same, meaning his lease of it, and all such copyhold lands on the backside of the same mansion as he held by copy (i.e., being of copyhold tenure) of the abbot and convent of Westminster, to Isabel Damme, the wife of Robert Damme of Systed (? Stisted), for life, and after his death to his (the testator's) nephew, Robert Browne. After making various other bequests to Isabel Damme, he touchingly beseeches "all those that ever bare me any good mynde or favor in my lyfe or will doo anything for me when I am goon, that they will be good favourable kynde and helpynge unto the said Isabell for she hath ben alweys the best assured and the most faithfull fast frende that ever yet I knewe or cowde fynde in all my lyfe." The will was proved the 12th Feb., 1518-19.
Sharpe's lease having evidently come to an end, abbot William Love and the convent on the 6th December, 19 Henry VIII. , granted to Clement Harleston, esq., a lease for ninety years, from the previous Michaelmas, of the "mansion which Sir John Sharpe, kt., late held within the monastery next to the firmary of the monks,"together with all the houses, kitchens, chambers, garden, etc., annexed, and it may be well now to set forth what other property was comprised in this lease: if consisted of a certain stable "of olde tyme called the Tannehouse halle," with the chambers thereto annexed; a certain chapel of St. Katherine, with gardens on both sides of it, as enclosed by banks and ditches; a dovehouse which had been lately built within the "Hostry" garden, with a little chamber or house called the Gatehouse, between the abbot's stable and the backehouse (bakehouse) garden; also two pieces of land called the Coope, lying together next the river, adjoining to Hollmeadow on the west and the lane to Feering Bury on the east, one head abutting on the road to Colchester on the north and on land called Samuels on the south, with a meadow called the Backehouse meadow lying next the backehouse of the abbot and convent, with the feeding or pasture called the Holme thereto annexed; also one little garden next the Colloquitory on the west and the mansion on the east. The annual rents reserved were: for the mansion and appurtenances 9s., for the lands called the Coope 1l. 6s. 4d., for Backehouse meadow and Holme pasture 6s. 8d., and for the garden next the Colloquitory 2d. Harleston was restrained from fishing in the river, and was not to stop the water in the stream and river, nor to sell his lease without the licence of the abbot and convent.
Harleston was afterwards knighted by Henry VIII. and died at Boleyn in France, and his will, nuncupative, made in 1544, was proved by his son John on 20th May, 1547. It was he who was invited by the abbot to accompany him to inspect the great brazen pot which a ploughman while at his work had found in West field, about three-quarters of a mile from Coggeshall, and belonging to the abbey. “The mouth of the pot was closed with a white substance like paste or clay, as hard as burnt brick, and when that by force was removed there was found within it another pot but that was of earth; that being opened there was found in it a lesser pot of earth of the quantity of a gallon, covered with matter like velvet and fastened at the mouth with a silken lace: in it they found some whole bones and many pieces of small bones, wrapped up in fine silk of fresh colour, which the abbot took for the reliques of some saints and laid up in his vestuary."
Then came the dissolution and the abbey buildings passed to the Crown, but within a few weeks Seymour procured a grant of the monastic properties. Although retaining many of the lands, he, about three years afterwards, arranged an exchange with the king whereby the site and precincts of the abbey again became vested in the Crown.
But for the fact that the grant to Seymour followed so soon after the surrender, we should probably have found in the Minister's Accounts of the following year or so, interesting information concerning the destruction of the buildings and the sale of their contents, similar to that which has been published by Dr. Gasquet in reference to the destruction of other monasteries. How ruthlessly the work was done is thus expressed by Dr. Gasquet: "In the work of wrecking the finest monuments and most costly buildings which took place all over the country, there does not appear to have been any hesitation on the part of Henry or his servants. There was never any question of sparing anything which could not be used for f arm or other purposes, or by the demolition of which a few pounds might be added to the sum total of the plunder. At St. Mary's, Winchester, the superfluous buildings were church, chapterhouse, dormitory, fratry, and those allowed to stand were the superior's lodging with offices." The same words are applicable to the abbey of Coggeshall, substituting Harleston's mansion for the superior's lodging and adding the other buildings referred to hereafter.
In 1574 Thomas Paycocke was possessed of all the properties which were comprised in Harleston's lease. By his will made on the 20th December, 1580, he gave all his estate, interest, lease and term of years in Mr. Harleston's house, with 18 acres of ground to the same belonging, to Richard Binnyon and Anne his wife. Anne Binnyon or Benyan was one of Paycocke's daughters. She died in January, 1603, and Richard Benyan died 17th November, 1610. His death was presented at a Court held for the manor of Feering on 19th April, 8 James I, he having held for his life, by right accruing on his wife's death, lands and pastures called Jackletts and Samwells, containing 10 acres, which are doubtless the same lands as those referred to in Sharpe's will; and it was also presented that Elizabeth Stanfield, widow, and Anne Churchman, daughters and co-heirs of Anne Benyan, were entitled to this copyhold property.
Although Harleston's lease was not due to expire till 1617, Matthew Bacon had, in the 45th year of Elizabeth , procured a lease of all the before-mentioned leasehold and certain other properties comprising the watermill, a chamber adjoining, and the fruits and profits of the cemetery there, gardens called Love's garden and Sandeford 's garden, and all the waste grounds within the gates and walls of the late monastery. The lease to Bacon suggests that, after the death of Anne Benyan, her husband left the abbey house, and it may be that he went to reside at the Dairy House or at the Home Grange, as he had a lease of those properties granted to him in 1599.
On 25th October, 1604, James I., on the nomination of Sir Henry Bromley, granted to Ralph Walley and Thos. Dodd, among other properties, all those which were comprised in Benyan's lease. The other properties included a tenement called the Brewhouse, with pasturage for two cows in the Old Park and 3 roods of land on the south side of Loughridge, at the bottom of Grange hill, and adjoining the Brewhouse.
On 8th January, 16 Charles I (1647), Robert Offley and others conveyed to Thomas Bromfield and Henry Colbron the Dairy House, the 'sheepenhouse' and shed, the "Covent Garden" (formerly in one parcel, but then divided into several: called Hither Covent Garden, Middle Covent Garden and Further Covent Garden, the Miller's field and Black Pond field), also the Park then divided into the Park, in the occupation of George Nicholls, the Little Park and Beerhouse field, and it is stated that the Covent Garden, the Park, and the way between them leading to the abbey were all anciently used as one parcel; also Shortlands, containing 27 acres, and a house built thereon by Giles Hoskins, Holme meadow near the Dairy House, a meadow near the same containing 2 acres 2 roods 0 poles, two watercorn mills ( formerly one) with the river, stream, etc., thereto belonging, the dwellinghouse used with the mill, the fruits and profits of the churchyard near the abbey and the grounds about the abbey which were anciently called Love's garden and Stamford's [Samford's] garden, and the waste grounds within the gates, walls and pales of the abbey, late in the occupation of Mr. Benyan; also the mansion house and houses within the monastery, formerly in the occupation of Sir John Sharpe, and then in the occupation of George Nicholls; also the buildings near the abbey called the Tanhouse hall, with the chamber adjoining; also St. Katherine's chapel near the abbey and all the cottages, tenements and buildings erected on the place where the Tanhouse hall stood, and the gardens and grounds on both sides of the chapel and the banks and ditches which enclosed the same; also lands called the Coope or the Coope fields adjoining Holme mead, containing together 21 acres; also the overshot mill called Squit mill, built on part of the lands called the Coope; also Backhouse mead, containing 15 acres, adjoining Holme mead; also Holme mead, containing 9 acres 2 roods 0 poles, and adjoining the lands called the Coope; also a cottage built on the Beerhouse field, formerly part of the Park lands.
Colbron, who, it is recited, was a trustee for Bromfield, released his estate in the property to the latter by deed dated 20th May, 1647, and warranted the title against Dame Anne Bromley, deceased, presumably the widow of Sir Henry Bromley, on whose nomination the grant was made by James I. to Wolley and Dodd.
 Vol. ii., p. 125.
 Rentals and Surveys, Duchy of Lanc., 7/34·The certificate, No. 7/35, is similar, but has no reference to the church and lodgings.
 Trans. E.A.S., vol I (o.s.) p.166
 Presumably the same person as John Sharpe, son of Christopher Sharpe, whose lands in Pointell Street the bailiff of Coggeshall Hall manor was ordered to distrain in 17 Henry VIII. - Duchy of Lanc. Court Rolls, bundle 38,
 P.C.C .: 13, Ayloff .
 Duchy of Lanc. Rentals and Surveys, 2/11
 Robert le Tanhus is mentioned in Pat . Roll , 18th July, 1316.
 The hostellary or guesthouse which was probably near the principal gatehouse which was close to St. Nicholas chapel.
 P .C C.: Alen, 36.
 This field can be approximately located by reference to Duchy of Lanc. Court Rolls, bundle 58, No. 726. It lay south-west of the Home Grange, see Hist. of Coggeshall, p. 7; also Duchy of Lanc, Surveys, 2/ II,
 Camden's Britannia , translated by Holland , p. 449·
 Henry VIII, and the English Monastries.
 Duchy of Lanc. Rental s and Surveys, 2/11. It has been suggested that the large gates at Paycock's house in West street were brought from the abbey, and it seems not improbable that such was the case.
 P.C.C.: 50, Arundell
 For Paycocke family see E .A .T ., vol. ix ., p. 311.
 Parish Register
 Court Rolls in P.R.O., 174, Nos. 1-5
 Duchy of Lanc. Misc., No. 82, fo. 275d
 Abbot John Sandeford or Sampford was Love's predecessor.
 Duchy of Lanc. Misc. Books, No. 85, pp. 358-363.
 Close Roll, 23 Charles I., pt. 21, No. 18.
 No. 68, 4.461 acres.
 No. 69, 5.791 acres
 Nos. 53 and 55, and probably part of No. 52, containing together about 12 acres.
 No. 51, 4.758 acres
 No. 50, 3.371 acres.
 No. 29, 27.358.
 Nos. 266, 267, 265, 58, and parts of 57 and 264.
 The old perambulation of Great Coggeshall commenced at the angle made by the east and south hedges of Squitts field. The lower part of No. 264 is called Squitts field in the Tithe Apportionment.
 This is probably represented by the field No. 131.
 Court Roll, 23 Charles I., pt 21, No 18