Earls Colne Priory

Monastery C.1500

Monastery C.1500

Following the battle of Hastings in 1066, William of Normandy gave the manor of Colne to Aubrey de Vere his brother in law.

When Geoffrey,the son of Aubrey and Beatrix, fell gravely ill they sought the help of Faricius, the abbot of Abingdon. He was a skilled physician and a man of wide culture originally from Arezzo in Umbria. Geoffrey recovered under the care of Faricius. In gratitude Geoffrey gave the Abbey of Abingdon the church of St. Andrew in the Colne and a church in Kensington. Faricius arranged two monks to establish a chantry in the Church of St. Andrew to pray for the souls of the de Vere family.

The de Veres later planned to establish a monastery at the Colne, linked to Abingdon. Faricius agreed as did Maurice Bishop of London and this was confirmed by royal charter c. 1105. After the death of Beatrix, Aubrey became a monk, he later died and was buried in the monastery around 1112.

The funeral was conducted by Abbot Faricius, who increased the number of monks from six to twelve. When the priory church was finished in 1148 it was dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint John the Evangelist by Robert, Bishop of London.

Local people gave many gifts of land to finance the building and the upkeep of the monastery.


Monks working in the Cloisters

Monks working in the Cloisters

The priory church was a noble Norman Structure, twice as large as the present parish church. At the centre was great tower of flint and freestone and at the west end were a pair of smaller towers.

The purpose of the monastery was the offering of prayer and praise to God, according to the Benedictine rule in 1321 the priory became independent of the Abbey of Abingdon, and freer to include local people in the life of the priory.


Monastery after the dissolution

Monastery as it may have looked after the dissolution

In the 1530's Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries taking their possessions and land. Colne was unusual in that the lands were returned to the de Veres probably because their family tombs were there. In 1583 Edward deVere sold the manor of Earls Colne to Roger Harlackenden, his steward and nine years later he sold the priory to Richard Harlackenden. Gradually the monastery buildings fell in to ruin, and most of the remains were progressively swept away when the present house was built in 1826. the exception being the base of the north west tower which remained as a ruined fragment until 1988.


The site of the old church and monastery is now scheduled as a national monument. The Earls Colne Society has taken the occasion of the second millennium to record these events and to place a cross (based on a design by Constantinople just before the end of the first millennium) beyond which the site of the monastery can be viewed. To view the cross, walk along the path opposite St. Andrews Church which runs alongside the graveyard turning right at the end or follow the path which starts to the left of the main entrance to the priory.

My thanks to the Earls Colne Society and the River Colne Countryside Project for allowing me to use the above pictures and text.