Barking Abbey - Mr Lethieullierís manuscript - 1848 Whites Directory
Barking Abbey, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is said to have been the first convent for women established in this kingdom. It was founded about the year 670, in the reigns of Sebbi and Sighere, Kings of the East Saxons, by St Erkenwald, Bishop of London, in compliance with the earnest desire of his sister Ethelburgh, who was appointed the first Abbess. The founder was nearly allied to the Saxon Monarchs, being great grandson of Uffa, the first King, and second son of Anna, the seventh King of the east Angles: he was also the first bishop who sat in the See of London after the building of Sat Paulís Church by King Ethelbert. The monastic writers speak in very high terms of his piety and zeal in the discharge of his Episcopal functions; and tell us, that, when he was grown weak through age and infirmities, he was carried about in a litter from place to place throughout his dioceses, constantly teaching and instructing the people till his death, which happened about the year 685, whilst he was on a visit to his sister Ethelburgh, at Barking. After his death, great disputes arose (as we are informed by the monkish annalists) between the Nuns of Barking, the Convent of Chertsey, and the Citizens of London, about the interment of his body, each claiming an exclusive right to the bones of the venerable prelate. Nor was this dispute terminated without the intervention of a miracle, which declared in favour of the Londoners, who having obtained the body, bore it off in triumph: on the road they were stopped at Ilford and Stratford by the floods: upon this occasion the historians record another miracle, by which a safe and easy passage was procured for the corpse of the holy man and its attendants. The Bishop was canonized, and frequent miracles were said to be wrought at his tomb. So highly was his memory revered, that, in the reign of Stephen, a magnificent shrine was erected against the east wall of St Paulís Cathedral, into which his bones were translated with great solemnity; and vast sums were expended, from time to time, in adorning it with gold, silver, and precious stones. Ethelburgh, the founderís sister, before-mentioned, was the first abbess: the time of her death is uncertain; but she was buried at barking, and received the honour of canonization. Her successor was Hildelitha, who had been sent for by the founder out of France, to instruct his sister Ethelburgh in the duties of her new station: she also obtained a place among the Romish Saints. After her, several Abbesses of royal blood succeeded: Oswyth, daughter of Eldifrith, King of Northumberland; Ethelburgh, wife of Ina, King of the west Saxons, who was canonized; and Cuthburgh, sister of King Ina, who had been a Nun at Barking in the time of St Hildelitha: she died about the middle of the eighth century. Nothing more is known of this monastery till the year 870, when it was burnt to the ground by the Danes, and the Nuns either slain or dispersed. It lay desolate about one hundred years, being within the territories which were ceded by Alfred to Gormund, the Danish Chief. About the middle of the tenth century it was rebuilt by King Edgar, as an atonement for his having violated the chastity of Wulfhilda, a beautiful Nun at Wilton, whom he appointed Abbess: he restored the Monastery to its former splendour, and endowed it with large revenues. After Wulfhilda had presided over the Convent many years, some dissentions arose between her and the Priests of Barking, who referred their cause to Elfrida, the widow of Edgar, and mother of Ethelred, whom they requested to eject Wulfhilda, and assume the government herself; a proposal to which she readily assented. Wulfhilda retired to a religious house which she had founded at Horton, in Devonshire; and the Queen putting herself at the head of this Monastery, continued to preside over it, as the historians inform us, twenty years; at the end of which term, a violent sickness seizing her at Barking, she repented of the injury she had done to Wulfhilda, and reinstated her in her former situation. Wulfhilda, seven years afterwards, died at London, whither she had retired to avoid the Danish army, then invading England, and was enrolled among the Romish Saints, being the fifth abbess who had received the honour of canonization. At the time of the Norman Conquest, Alfgiva, a Saxon lady, who had been appointed by Edward the Confessor, was abbess. The historians, Carte and Brady, relate, that William the Conqueror, soon after his arrival in England, retired to Barking Abbey, and there continued till the fortress he had begun in London was completeted; hither, they say, whilst preparations were making for his coronation, repaired to him, Edwin, Earl of Mercia; Morcar, Earl of Northumberland; and many others of the nobility and great men of the land, who swore fealty to him, and were reinstated in their possessions. Others (among whom are Simon Dunhelmensis and Roger Hovedon) affirm, that Berkhampstead was the place of the Kingís abode; but there are strong circumstances in favour of the former opinion. Berkhampstead Castle was not built till after the manor was given to Earl Morton by the Conqueror; yet, admitting that a mansion might have previously stood there, fit for a royal residence, the proximity of barking to London certainly rendered that place a more convenient station for the new monarch.
After the death of Alfgiva, Maud, Henry Iís Queen, assumed the government of the Convent; and it is not improbable this connexion with Barking induced her the more readily to build the Bridge at Bow. Maud, wife of King Stephen, followed the example of her aunt, on the death of Agnes, the abbess, in 1136; but she soon resigned the charge to Adeliza, sister of Paris Fitz-John, a baron of considerable note, who was slain in a battle near Cardigan. During her government, Stephen, with his Queen, and the Court, were entertained for several days at the abbey. Her successor was Mary, sister to Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose appointment is said to have been intended as an atonement for the injustice he had done her family, who were banished the kingdom as a punishment for the prelates insolence. From the time of Mary a Becket, but few remarkable occurrences are connected with the history of this abbey. The most material, as it affected the interests of its inmates, was a great inundation, which happened about the year 1376, and broke down the banks of the Thames, at Dagenham. It is first mentioned in a record of the ensuing year, when the convent petitioned that they might be excused from contributing an aid to the King, at the time of a threatened invasion, on account of the expenses they had been at in endeavouring to repair their damages. The plea was allowed; and the same reasons were generally pleaded with success, as an exemption from contributions of a like nature. In 1380 and 1382, the abbess and convent stated that their income was then diminished 400 marks per annum, by inundations, and that they had scarcely sufficient left to maintain them. In 1409, they stated, that they had expended £2000 to no purpose, in endeavouring to repair their banks. The next year it was set forth, that the revenues of the convent were sunk so low, that none of the ladies had more than fourteen shillings per annum, for clothes and necessaries. In consequence of these several petitions, they obtained frequent exemptions from taxes and other burthens; writs to impress labourers to work at their banks, and licence to appropriate certain churches to the use of the convent. Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, retired to Barking Abbey after the murder of her husband, in 1397, and died there in 1399, having, as some say, professed herself a nun. During the time of the Queen Dowager, Catherine de la Pole, Edmund and jasper Tudor, her sons, by Owen Tudor, were sent to be educated at this abbey, a certain salary being allowed to the abbess for their maintenance.
of Barking were of the Benedictine order. The Abbess was appointed by the King
till about the year 1200, when, by the interference of the Pope, the election
was vested in the Convent, and confirmed by the royal authority. The Abbess of
barking was one of the four who were Baronesses in right of their station; for,
being possessed of thirteen knights fees and
a half, she held her lands of the King by a barony; and. Though her sex
prevented her from having a seat in Parliament, or attending the King in the
wars, yet she was always furnished her quota of men, and had precedency over the
abbesses. In her convent, she always lived in a great state; her household
consisted of chaplains, an esquire, gentlemen, gentlewomen. Yeomen, grooms, a
clerk, a yeoman cook, a groom cook, a pudding wife, etc. The Abbey was
surrendered to Henry VIII, in November 1539, when an annual premium of 200 marks
was granted to Dorothy Barley, the last abbess, and various smaller pensions to
the nuns, who were then thirty in number. The site of the conventual buildings,
with the demesne lands of the abbey, were granted by Edward VI, to Edward Fyne,
Lord Clinton, who the next day conveyed them to Sir Richard Sackville. Since
that period they have passed through various families. The
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London pub history directory.
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