It was customary for the owners of
estates to assign a portion of the rent or indeed a portion of the estate itself
to a religious foundation. The effect of this was that an enormous proportion of
property was in the hands of the Church, even in Saxon times.
Countess Judith endowed the Benedictine
St. Wandrille, in Normandy, with estates in Northamptonshire, and perhaps due to
her influence in Hallamshire, a small satellite from the parent house
settled in Ecclesfield. When this took place is not certain, but if evidence
given before Parliament in 1376 is to be believed, then the Priory was founded
three hundred years before that i.e. in the late 1000s.
The first record of monks in Ecclesfield
is in 1141, when amongst the English possessions of the abbey of St. Wandrille
are "Aiglesfeld, a church with chapels, and tithes, and one mill."
The abbey's ownership of the church in Ecclesfield is confirmed in
documents from the early 1300s, which state that Richard de Lovetot, at the time
of Henry I, gave the church to the Abbot of St. Wandrille. The first priory must
have been a small affair, sited just north of the present church. The site is
now occupied by a private house, which was once called Ecclesfield Hall. This
building incorporates parts of the monastic chapel.
The monastic settlement in Ecclesfield
grew slowly over the years. This growth is confirmed in two inventories dated
1324 and 1337. In 1324 the total of the valuation was £30/17s/1d, which had
grown to £46/1s/4d in 13 years. The priory was an "alien"
establishment, entirely administered from the parent abbey in Normandy. This
caused problems when England was at war with France, as happened several times
during the 14th century. For instance, in 1337, the King got possession of all
the alien priories. These he let out for a period of 23 years, then in 1361,
hostilities having ceased, he restored them to their former owners. Finally in
1386 the priory was seized by the Crown for a final time, before being given to
the Carthusian Monastery of St. Anne, Coventry. It is believed that no
were ever stationed at Ecclesfield, but the estate was farmed out to someone in the
neighbourhood who converted the monastic buildings into what became Ecclesfield
At the dissolution of the monasteries in
1539 the entire estate and the patronage of the church of Ecclesfield passed to
the Earls of Shrewsbury and by marriage to the Dukes of Norfolk.