Titchfield Abbey

Titchfield Abbey

Infobox monastery
name = Titchfield Abbey

caption = Titchfield Abbey in 2005 showing the nave of the church with the Tudor gatehouse built through it
full = The Abbey Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Titchfield
other_names = Place House (post-monastic period)
order = Premonstratensian
established = 1222
disestablished = 1537
mother = Halesowen Abbey
diocese = Diocese of Winchester
founder = Peter des Roches
dedication = The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
people = William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou, Charles I, Thomas Wriothesley, Henry Wriothesley
location = Titchfield, Hampshire, United Kingdom
remains = nave of church, ruins of east range, foundations and massive Tudor gatehouse of post-Dissolution mansion
public_access = yes, (English Heritage)

Titchfield Abbey is a medieval abbey and later country house, located in the village of Titchfield near Fareham in Hampshire, England. The abbey was founded in 1222 for Premonstratensian canons, an austere order of priests. The abbey was a minor house of its order, and became neither wealthy nor influential during its three centuries of monastic life; the inhabitants were devoted to scholarship, as shown by their very impressive library.

Titchfield was closed in 1537 by Henry VIII of England during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the building was converted into a mansion by Thomas Wriothesley, a powerful courtier. Later in the sixteenth century the abbey was home to Henry Wriothesley, who was a patron of William Shakespeare and had some of his plays performed there in his private theatre. In 1781 the abbey was abandoned and partially demolished to create a romantic ruin. The remains were given to the nation in the twentieth century and are now a Scheduled Ancient Monument under the care of English Heritage.


The builder of the abbey was Bishop Peter des Roches of Winchester,Harvnb|Page|Doubleday|1973|pp=181–186.] an important politician and churchman who founded several religious houses, including Netley Abbey,Harvnb|Thompson|1953|pp=3] also in Hampshire, and La Clarté-Dieu in his native France. The inhabitants of the new foundation were canons regular belonging to the Premonstratensian order (also known as the 'white canons' from the colour of their robes and Norbertines from the name of their founder, St. Norbert). They lived communally like monks, following a very strict interpretation of the Rule of St Augustine, but in addition to engaging in a life of study and prayer within their monasteries they also had a pastoral mission and served as parish priests ministering to the spiritual needs of the laity. The order was well known for the austerity of the lives led by its members, something that made it — as with the Cistercians — especially popular with wealthy benefactors in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Harvnb|Platt|1984|pp=59–61.]

The first canons, led by abbot Richard, arrived in 1222 from Halesowen Abbey in Worcestershire. Titchfield was to maintain a strong connection with its mother house at Halesowen throughout its existence as a monastery.

Bishop Peter held one of the richest bishoprics in the mediaeval church and so was in a position to be generous in the endowment of his new abbey. He not only gave the manor of Titchfield itself but also extensive lands dotted around Hampshire, and this property was expanded by major grants from local aristocrats and King Henry III (who also granted the monastery important legal privileges in 1231), with the result that Titchfield was placed on a firm financial footing from the beginning.

Monastic history

The internal affairs of the abbey seem to have been largely quiet. It was generally well run over its history and maintained a good reputation for the life led by its canons. The abbey remained tolerably solvent for most of its existence, however, in common with many religious houses and secular lords it experienced severe financial difficulties in the latter half of the 14th century and the early 15th century due to the economic and social crisis resulting from the effects of the Black Death.Harvnb|Platt|1984|pp=132–135.] The scale of the disaster can be judged by the fact that on the Titchfield estates in the plague years of 1348-1349 close to 60% of the tenants died, together with a vast number of animals, and when the plague returned in 1361-1362 the agricultural population took another massive hit. When John Poole, abbot of the mother house of Halesowen Abbey inspected Titchfield in summer 1420 he found the coffers empty, the abbey's accounts deeply in the red and the barns and storehouses nearly empty of food and fodder. Despite this, in the following years the canons managed to retrieve the situation and in the last years of its existence Titchfield was again moderately prosperous.

Abbey buildings

The abbey buildings were centred around the church, which was comparatively small and lacking in grandeur. It was cruciform in plan with a narrow, aisless nave, a short eastern arm, six side chapels in the transepts and a tower with bells. It was in some ways a rather old fashioned design and deliberately austere, perhaps reflecting the strict doctrines of the order at the period of construction. Though it was restored once after nearly falling to ruin, unlike many of their fellows the canons of Titchfield never succumbed to the desire to create an elaborate new church in the later middle ages and kept their original building until the end of monastic life at the abbey.

Next to the church stood a cloister surrounded on three sides by the domestic buildings of the house, including the chapter house, dormitory, kitchen, refectory, library, food storage rooms and quarters for the abbot. Though not large, the surviving ruins show that the abbey buildings were of very high quality with fine masonry and carving. As the Middle Ages progressed considerable investment was made to upgrade the domestic buildings to meet rising living standards, and it is probable that by the mid fourteenth century they were rather luxurious, as evidenced by the elaborate polychrome floor tiles (an expensive and high status product) still seen today all over the site. [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.18560 Accessed 9th July 2008]

The central core of the monastery was surrounded by a walled precinct containing gardens, fishponds (several of which still survive close to the abbey buildings), [www.fareham.gov.uk/council/departments/planning/character/031-02Titchfieldabbey.pdf Accessed 9th July 2008] orchards, barns, guesthouses, stables, a farmyard and industrial buildings. Entrance to the abbey was strictly controlled by several gatehouses.


The Premonstratensians placed great emphasis on scholarship and the canons of Titchfield possessed a very impressive library, the catalogue for which survives. There were 224 volumes, each containing a number of different works bound together, as was common in the period, and some must have been very large to contain all the works recorded for them. The books were systematically organised by subject, shelf and location in the library room (probably the chamber between the chapter house and the church as this was the traditional location). There were books in Latin, English and French covering theology, church history, writings of the Fathers of the Church, medicine, law, philosophy, grammar, travel, legends, romances and records of the abbey. The canons also had another collection of more than 100 books used for services that they kept in the church. A library on this scale was huge for the period and is surprising for a minor house like Titchfield. It compares closely, for instance, with the holdings of the great royal foundation of Reading Abbey which had 228 volumes.Harvnb|James|1925|pp=83.]


Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in 1537. In 1535 the abbey's income was assessed in the Valor Ecclesiasticus, Henry VIII's great survey of church finances, at £280 gross, £249 net, so it avoided being destroyed in the first round of suppressions in 1536. However, several important courtiers, especially Thomas Wriothesley, desired to seize the abbey for themselves and put great pressure on the abbot, John Salisbury, Suffragan Bishop of Thetford to surrender on terms before he was made to by force. Abbot John bribed Wriothesley heavily to hold off, but when it was obvious to them that their abbey was doomed he and his canons took steps to secure their personal future by realising the assets for cash, including selling off the abbey's livestock, treasures and church plate. Titchfield finally fell in December 1537. The abbot proved a tough negotiator in the surrender, securing 100 marks a year as a pension for himself and comfortable incomes for his eight canons and three novices. Despite this, Abbot John remained in government favour, being made Dean of Norwich Cathedral in 1539,Harvnb|Horn|1992|pp=42–44.] and later Bishop of Sodor and Man.Harvnb|Horn|2004|pp=141–146.] . He died in 1573.

Place House

Wriothesley won the battle to gain control of Titchfield and turned it into a mansion for himself, known as Place House. Unlike his similar project at Beaulieu Abbey, which he had also been granted by King Henry, Wriothesley chose to convert the main abbey buildings, including the church, into his house. It was an imaginative scheme: he constructed a spectacular castellated gatehouse with four octagonal turrets which was forced through the middle of the nave to provide the appropriate seigneurial emphasis needed for a classic Tudor courtyard house.Harvnb|Thompson|1987|pp=125.] The cloister became the central courtyard of the house (a magnificent fountain was placed in the middle), the old refectory, with the addition of a grand porch, became the great hall, while the rest of the abbey was turned into fine apartments for the family. The church tower was initially kept as part of the house but it was soon demolished as it stopped some of the chimneys from drawing properly.Harvnb|Knowles|1959|pp=270.] Other features of the mansion included a private indoor theatre and a deer park. [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.18559 Accessed 10th July 2008] [www.fareham.gov.uk/council/departments/planning/character/031-02Titchfieldabbey.pdf Accessed 9th July 2008] The resulting palatial dwelling attracted favourable notice from Wriothesley's contemporaries: in 1540, the traveller and historian John Leland noted in his "Intinerary",

Famous guests

The abbey's location near Southampton and Portsmouth made it a convenient stopping place for journeys from England to continental Europe. The marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou was celebrated there in 1445. [www.fareham.gov.uk/council/departments/planning/character/031-02Titchfieldabbey.pdf Accessed 9th July 2008] Other royal visitors included Henry VIII, Edward VI, Elizabeth I, [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.18558 Accessed 10th July 2008] and Charles I, who was chased there by Parliamentarian forces in 1647 towards the end of the English Civil War. [www.fareham.gov.uk/council/departments/planning/character/031-02Titchfieldabbey.pdf Accessed 9th July 2008] Shakespeare was a close friend of Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl, and probably visited the abbey. It is believed that that some of his plays were first performed at Titchfield Abbey. [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.18558 Accessed 10th July 2008]

Later history

Wriothesley's heirs, including the Duke of Portland and the Duke of Beaufort lived at Place House until 1742, [www.fareham.gov.uk/council/departments/planning/character/031-02Titchfieldabbey.pdf Accessed 9th July 2008] at which point the estate was sold the Delme family. [www.fareham.gov.uk/council/departments/planning/character/031-02Titchfieldabbey.pdf Accessed 9th July 2008] They lived there for another forty years until, in 1781, a decision was made to abandon the mansion and deliberately demolish much of it to create a romantic ruin. When this happened local people took stone from the abbey for their homes; evidence can be seen in walls and foundations of older houses in Titchfield village. Much, though, is inside the buildings; in The Bugle Hotel in Titchfield, for example, one can see a big fireplace that was salvaged from the ruins. [http://www.thebuglehotel.co.uk/history.htm Accessed 10th July 2008]

Present day

Though a great deal has been destroyed, there are still major remains of the abbey and Place House to be seen. The nave of the church still stands to full height and with it Wriothesley's gatehouse. Fragments of the cloister buildings survive, including the entrance arches to the chapter house and library in the east range. Large areas of the late mediaeval tile floors are preserved. The abbey has been the setting for concerts, including folk and blues festivals and open-air theatre and is now under the care of English Heritage. It is open to the public.

ee also

* Peter des Roches
* Beaulieu Abbey
* Halesowen Abbey



*citation|last=Horn|first=Joyce|title=Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume VII: Ely, Norwich, Westminster and Worcester dioceses|publisher=University of London, Institute of Historical Research|year=1992|isbn=0901179914
*citation|last=Horn|first=Joyce|title=Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume XI - Carlisle, Chester, Durham, Manchester, Ripon, and Sodor and Man dioceses|publisher=University of London, Institute of Historical Research|year=2004|isbn=1871348129
*citation|last=Knowles|first=Dom. David|title=Bare Ruined Choirs|publisher=Cambridge University Press|year=1959|isbn=0521099307
*citation|last=Page|first=William|last2=Doubleday|first2=H. Arthur |title=Houses of Cistercian monks: Abbey of Netley, A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume II|publisher=The Victoria County History|year=1973|isbn=0712905928
*citation|last=Platt|first=Professor Colin|title=The Abbeys and Priories of Medieval England|publisher=Secker & Warburg|year=1984|isbn=0436375575
*citation|last=Thompson|first= A. Hamilton|title=Netley Abbey|publisher=Her Majesty's Stationery Office|year=1953|isbn=0116700203
*citation|last=Thompson|first=M. W.|title=The Decline of the Castle|publisher=Cambridge University Press|year=1987|isbn=0521321948

External links

* [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/ConProperty.223/chosenImageId/2 Titchfield Abbey information at English Heritage, with opening times, history and images]
* [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=38110. Date accessed: 9th July VCH entry on Titchfield Abbey: 'Houses of Premonstratensian canons: Abbey of Titchfield', A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume II (1973), pp. 181-186
* [http://www.premontre.org/subpages/loci/imagines/imtitchfield/galtitchfield.htm Old pictures of Titchfield Abbey from the official site of the Premonstratensian order]
* [http://www.titchfieldfestivaltheatre.co.uk/ Titchfield Festival Theatre]
* [http://homepage.ntlworld.com/m.low1/titchfieldabbey/titchabbey.htm] Titchfield Abbey notes and photographs

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