What was Newstead Priory?
Newstead Priory between Stamford and Uffington was founded by William de Albini III early in the thirteenth century. It was endowed with the local mill, assorted parcels of land, and the chapel of the Blessed Mary at Newstead. It operated as an Augustinian priory for the next 300 years. Perhaps reflecting the absence of physical remains, a history of Lincolnshire in 1906 described it as “Small and insignificant”. However, general chapters of the Augustinian order were held at Newstead in the mid 14th century suggesting that it did have a degree of prominence.
Newstead Priory – Evidence & Finds
There is nothing now visible above ground level and indeed the precise location of the priory is not entirely clear. However, there is documentary evidence for the site and there are intriguing lumps and bumps in the landscape which probably reflect the location of buildings associated with the priory.
An account by Peck in 1727 notes “there are now no remains either of the church or priory, save that some traces of the foundations & building may just be discerned above ground, & that is all. The wall which surrounded the same is likewise thrown down, & the ditch (if part of it be not taken into the cut of the new river) filled up”.
There is no founding charter but we know it was established before Albini III’s death in 1236. Early documents suggest it was initially a home or hospital for “seven poor, weak and infirm persons of sound faith and honest life”. Before Albini’s son died in 1242 charters imply it had become a conventional priory. A comprehensive list of the masters and priors of Newstead up to its dissolution in 1536 has been compiled.
The extent of the priory’s resources is indicated in the document granting it to Richard Manners after the dissolution. As well as the priory buildings, church, granges, orchards and dovecotes, the estate included the prior’s manor with over 300 acres of land across 4 counties.
The location of the priory coincides with the point where the later Stamford to Deeping Canal was fed by water from the River Gwash. This adds an extra complication when attempting to decipher the many features visible on aerial photographs, LIDAR and as physical undulations.
The focus of the earthworks appears to be about 275m south-east of the current mill, adjacent to the Gwash. It appears that the canal constructed in the mid 17th century respects this site, looping around it, and to the west of a 5-sided feature with a neatly defined circular depression within.
Until there is an opportunity to undertake geophysical survey or even excavation it is unlikely that the arrangement of the priory buildings will be identified.
Physical artefacts from Newstead Priory are extremely limited. A few architectural stones have been found and there are records of finds made in 1863 which included a portion of a medieval statue and 14th century window tracery.
Where did Newstead Priory Fit?
The foundation of Newstead Priory followed a pattern which was quite common in the 12th and 13th century. Wealthy nobleman would be encouraged to establish a religious house in order to seek spiritual redemption and enhanced family status.
Augustinian Canons (or Black Canons) became the most numerous religious order in the country. Their monastic rules were amongst the less strict and they pursued duties of education and pastoral care in their communities. General chapters bringing together the Augustinians from the north and south of England were held at Newstead five times between 1356 and 1383.
Newstead formed part of a network of medieval religious establishments which each drew on substantial holdings of land and other commercial resources. At one end the mighty abbeys of Lincoln, Peterborough, and Ely. Religious houses such Ramsey, Sawtry and Thorney. Then many smaller monasteries and hospitals such as those at Southorpe, Fineshade and several in Stamford.
Why is Newstead Priory Important?
Whilst not listed as a scheduled monument by Historic England, Newstead Priory was a component in the religious, social and economic landscape of the region for 300 years. The limited documentary and physical evidence reinforce the need for archaeological study to fill in the gaps.
More Information about Newstead Priory
Nick Sheehan. Newstead by Stamford Priory. 2018
Francis Peck. The Antiquarian Annals of Stanford in Lincoln, Rutland, and Northampton Shires. 1727. Google Books