The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.
Beadlow Priory is also known as Beaulieu Priory or the Priory de Bello Loco - French and Latin respectively for "beautiful place".
It was a house of the Benedictine monks, the order having been founded in the 6th century at Subiaco, in Italy, by Saint Benedict of Nursia (480-547).
The priory of Beaulieu was founded between 1140 and 1146 upon the site of a hermitage at Moddry in the parish of Clophill, granted to Ralf the hermit by Henry d'Albini, and afterwards by his son Robert d'Albini to the abbey of St. Albans as a cell of that monastery.
A small cell had already been founded at Millbrook under Richard, the fifteenth abbot (1097-1119), and this was merged in the new priory. The house was never an important one, as it was always small and poor. The original endowment only provided for four or five monks, and it is not likely that their number was increased at any time.
Early in the thirteenth century the prior was involved in a long suit in the Curia Regis, concerning the church of Milton Ernest, which the son of the founder wished to recover for himself; but it remained finally with the religious, and was granted to them afresh in proprios usus by Bishop Gravesend in 1275 on account of their poverty.
At some time in the fourteenth century the house was partially destroyed by fire; it suffered probably also from the general depreciation of property after the great pestilence.
Finally, near the beginning of the fifteenth century, when Abbot John of Wheathampstead 'went down into the garden of nuts, to see if the vines were flourishing and the pomegranates were bearing fruit' - in other words, made a visitation of the cells - he found Beaulieu in such a poverty-stricken condition that it could scarcely support two monks. After reflection he decided to unite the cell with the parent abbey, and apply its revenues to other purposes.
There were two things necessary before he could do this. He had to gain the consent of the patron of the house, Lord Grey de Ruthyn; and also to obtain a bull from the pope. Lord Grey signed a full surrender of all his rights in the priory in May, 1434; and the papal bull which had been asked of Martin V. was granted at last by Eugenius IV. at about the same time.
But it was an expensive matter to claim and use the bull; and while the abbot hesitated, and tried to find out from lawyers whether after all an ordinary prelate could not grant him the necessary licence, the king's escheator stepped in and declared that the house had escheated to the Crown. A jury was summoned to inquire into the abbot's title, which was probably proved without difficulty; for in a short time he was able to carry out the whole of his original plan.
Lord Grey de Ruthyn was granted an anniversary, and a rent of 20s. a year; the vicarage of Clophill was re-instituted a rectory, on condition that the rector should say mass three times a week for the soul of the founder, Robert d'Albini; and the income of the priory, amounting to £18 a year, was divided amongst the students from the abbey of St. Alban's at Oxford, so that each might receive a pension of 13s. 4d. annually, and pray for their benefactor at mass. These arrangements were completed before the death of John of Wheathampstead in 1464, and the priory disappeared so completely that even its site was for a long time forgotten.
The original endowment gave to the priory the demesne land in the parish of Clophill afterwards called the manor of Beaulieu (including the hermitage, the church of Moddry and 15 acres for the service of the chapel of Cainhoe three times a week); the churches of Millbrook, Ampthill and Clophill; the mill of Turnhall, the wood of Hazeldean, with other parcels of land and meadow, and certain rights of pasturage on the founder's demesne. Cecily, mother of the founder, added the church of Milton Ernest; and Aumary de St. Amand a carucate in Wilshampstead for the service of the chapel of St. Machutus in the parish of Haynes (Hawnes).
The temporalities of the priory in 1291 were valued at £26 7s. 10d. ; the spiritualities at £17 6s. 8d., out of which four vicars' stipends were to be paid. Only two small fractions of a knight's fee in Clophill and Flitton are entered as held by the prior in 1302, and only one in 1346 and 1428. At the time of the union of the cell with St. Alban's the abbot stated its whole revenue at £18; the jury at the inquisition valued the lands at £12.
The above was taken from:-
Victoria County History. A History of the County of Bedford: Volume 1. Published 1904. Pages 351-353
The Rev A. J. Foster, in his Tourist's Guide to Bedfordshire (1889) recorded that traces of the foundations could still be seen at Clophill, but by the time that the Victoria County History was published in 1908 the remains had been destroyed. Some glazed floor tiles and a thirteenth century base had been discovered, and a fourteenth century coffin lid could be seen at the farm nearby. Today (1966) these have all disappeared.
The walls follow a north-south and east-west pattern. The foundations of the walls were constructed from roughly shaped sandstone blocks and mortar. Fragments of Totternhoe stone tracery and mullions were found throughout this site.
by David H. Kennett
The sherds of pottery range over the full length of the occupation of Beaulieu Priory, both as a monastic foundation and a farm.
Two principal medieval fabrics are present; a hard, sandy ware with black surfaces and a smooth, black fabric with red or buff surfaces. These are both found at Bedford. All of the vessels appear to have been wheel-made and many still have internal rang from the potter's hand.
A feature of the assemblage is the wide, deep pan, of a form known in thirteenth century contexts at Northole and Manor of the More and found unstratified at Bedford. To this pottery we can probably assign a tentative date within the late thirteenth to fourteenth centuries, whilst the post-medieval material includes stone-wares and Jacobean combed wares, but is all very fragmentary.
The site yielded a small number of decorated floor tiles. They were scattered in a manner which suggests that the floors were extensively robbed before the building was finally destroyed. Three main types of tile were discovered : (a) incised, (b) encaustic, (c) embossed.
The earliest are the incised tiles made in varied shapes and stamped with rosettes and fleur-de-lys. The shapes obviously fitted together to form a mosaic. They are coarse textured and unevenly fired with a greenish yellow glaze.
Only two patterns of encaustic tiles were found, both reddish brown with yellow decoration. The clay was finely textured, fired to a light red colour with a blue grey core.
Only one fragment of an embossed tile was found. This was 7/8 in. thick, fine textured, and fired to an even grey core with a light green glaze. The pattern was pressed on to the tile leaving an uneven surface which must have been unpleasant to walk on and difficult to clean.
Mary Phillips says:-
The first charter (twelfth-century charters of Robert D'Albini) gives to St Albans the church of St Mary which Ralph had founded in the hermitage at 'Moddry', a name considered by place-name authorities to be suspicious or a mis-reading:
'First all Moddry hermitage in clearings and woods and all other things belonging to it the day when Henry de Albini father of the said Robert was alive and was dead, with the wood which the said Robert and Cecily his mother gave to the church above said when it was dedicated, as its endowment, with Turnhale Mill and the land and meadow belonging to it and the wood which they gave afterwards and one holm between the said mill and the barn belonging to it.'