On the site of Abbey Garth field to the North & West of the present Church, is where Ellerton Priory once stood. Locals still talk of seeing Monks walking down to the river on cold, rainy nights......... could it be that they are haunted by the real reason they came here?
In 1203, a church & priory dedicated to Virgin Mary & St Lawrence was founded by William Fitz-Piers (or Peter). Here, the Gilbertine canons were to care for elderly. It has always been said that this Priory looked after 13 of the poor and destitute - but the truth is a very different matter! The Priory was actually a Monastery & Nunnery, run by Priors & Prioresses and aided by two Canons. In fact they weren't exactly looking after the poor of Ellerton very well at all!
Documents from the 13th Century write - "(Ellerton Priory) had no particular provision of the poor at the gate, though they had a two-tier system of looking after guests". "Important guests were put up in the maior hospitum (Major hospitality) & the indigant poor were cared for in the domus elemosinarie (Almshouse/home for the poor)".
It seems the Church was given land & funds to set up the Priory on the pretence of looking after Ellerton people, but in fact ran a "5 star" Bed & Breakfast for rich folks passing through and the Priory paid no tax on the land they farmed, even though they kept all the money raised.
Part of the Priory. Now loving restored into a wall in Ellerton after being found on a dump.
By the 1400's, The Hay family were the major patrons, actively supporting charity work, and they were disheartened to find that there wasn't exactly much charity work going on. So in 1387, with the use of an "advowson" (sort of legal takeover) for the care of 13 poor, the Priory came to an agreement with Germanus Hay that if they did not carry out their work for the 13 paupers sufficiently well, they would suffer "high penalties".
In 1538 , the Priory was dissolved, due to the failure of the Pilgrimage of Grace. The Priory was surrendered by Prior John Golding with four of the Friars and it was granted to John de Aske, from Dugdale, Burton."On very indulgent terms".
The Church & graveyard were adopted by the village. The monks were turned adrift and the poor left to starve with no land inheritance. The last Prior - John Golding, was allowed to keep his pension of £13 6s 8d as a solatium for his lost dignity. Records of burials between 1688 - 1698 show that the bodies were usually buried in "nothing but woolen", showing the severity of destitution the people of Ellerton were in.
By 1820,John Bethell Esq. was Ellerton Church Patron.
The flat stones in the graveyard are the only remains of the Priory's monks.
John of Wyntringham's grave, Priory Monk, can be found just to the left of the Church porch.
Here is just a bit more on the running of the Priory - The Gilbertines were very different to other canons. They had Monks and Nuns in the same housing, which was unheard of anywhere else, although there were strict rules to keep them apart. Two parts of the buildings were separated so the Monks and Nuns never saw each other.
The Nuns did nothing but pray and make the clothes, the Monks did everything else. This included cooking, washing up, gardening, cleaning etc. The Monks would pass through the meals on a plate through a small hatch to the Nuns and the Nuns would pass back the dirty plates when they had finished!