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Quarr Abbey and its History

A Lecture Given by Rev. Father Davis [amended] May 1903

At the May meeting of the Hampshire Field Club on the island, Rev Father Davis of Cowes gave the following lecture. The article provides a compressive history of Quarr Abbey and has a result we have decided to quote most of the article in full.

When in the month of October, in the year of our Lord 1066, William the conqueror landed on the shores of Sussex, there were in his army two knights who by themselves and their posterity are intimately connected with the history of the Isle of Wight. Their names are William Fitz-Osborne or Fitz-Osbert and Baldwin de Brionis. In the partition of England made after the conquest; the Isle of Wight fell to the share of William Fitz-Osborne. He is spoken of by an old chronicler as being a man of “vast influence, noteworthy for his intellectual powers, as well as his personal strength”; he died in the year 1070. He had married twice and by his first wife he left three sons and a daughter Adeliza.

In the year 1101 the lordship of the island was bestowed by King Henry 1st. on Richard de Redvers, Count of Devon, the son of Baldwin de Brionis, his wife being Adeliza the daughter of William Fitz-Osborne. Though he was the son of de Brionis he called himself de Redvers or de Riviers, in Latin it was de Riparis taken from the name of a castle and small town on the coast of Normandy, which his father had given to him. Richard and his wife Adeliza had three sons and a daughter. One son became a priest, another William inherited his father’s property at Riviers in Normandy, the daughter Haweis later married William de Romare, Earl of Lincoln.

Baldwin succeeded to his father’s power property and titles and became Earl of Devon and fourth Lord of Isle of Wight, initially the lordship of the Island was valuable for its rents not the title He was first wife was Lucia, the daughter of Dru Baron de Bohun and they had six children, his second wife was called Adeliza.

Baldwin de Redvers, the grandson of the knights, William Fitz-Osborne [d.c.1130, founded Carisbrooke Priory] and Baldwin de Brionis, founded Abbey of Quarr. The site on which the abbey was built has an interest of its own and merits our attention. There is abundant evidence that in the time of Baldwin de Redvers the island was much more thickly wooded than today. Firestone Copse and Combley Wood in this immediate neighbourhood are doubtless the remains of a much more extensive woodlands. Lying between woods and the seashore and in this general area in there has existed for many centuries limestone quarries which we today call Binstead limestone. The stone can be found in the in the cathedrals of Winchester and Chichester also in Beaulieu Abbey. At Bitterne near Southampton the site of the ancient Roman city of Clausentum, an alter dedicated to the goddess Ancasta made of the same stone has been found, the stone has also been found in churches in the north of Hampshire and as far away as Sussex. About 36 years before the founding of Quarr a new branch of the Benedictine order was founded by St. Robert, a Frenchman and St. Stephen Harding, an Englishman from the monastery of Sherborne in Gloucestershire. The new order was sanction by the Pope and was based at a place near Dijon in France called Citeaux and they were known as Cistercians. A group from the order came to England and settled in Waverley in Surrey where they were known as the Order of Citeaux, When Quarr was built it became the second abbey to be founded by the order, records indicate that the number of monks at Quarr expanded rapidly, Matilda mother of Henry 11, funded on a small scale a religious house at a place called Lockswell in the Forest of Chippenham and shortly after Quarr opened gave the Priory of Lockswell to the abbey. Three years later the Priory was moved to Stanley near Chippenham where the ruins were still visible in 1903.

We do not know the reason why Baldwin choose the site for his Abbey, the area at the time had no special name and the Abbey was dedicated to St. Mary. At the time there were many abbeys dedicated to St. Mary so it became known. in Latin as Sanctea Mariae de Quarrariis or in English the “Abbey of St Mary in the Quarries”; the Latin words “de Quarrariis” meaning “in the quarries” so the name got shortened to Quarr Abbey.

In 1131 Baldwin started building the Abbey, and after 18 years the work was so far advanced that on the 1st of June 1150, Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester came from Southampton and consecrated the church of the “Abbey of St Mary in the Quarries”, the first monks to inhabit the monastery came from Savigny in France. Baldwin died in 1155, [his youngest son Henry had already proceeded him and was buried at Quarr] following his father wishes his eldest son Richard had his father’s body interred at the Abbey and Adeliza his second wife was later laid to rest with him.

Because the original Abbey was totally demolished in 1546, the date of consecration allows the style of the church architecture to be identified with some degree of accuracy. When Henry de Blois [brother of King Stephen] was Archbishop, the Norman style of architecture was beginning to change to what became known as the Early English style. The bishop himself was a great builder, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Bishop Wakelin who had erected a large portion of Winchester Cathedral. It is recorded that Earl Baldwin brought over from the Low Countries one known as John le Flemyne a highly skilled stonemason, unfortunately none of his work remains.

The Earl Baldwin gave much property to the Abbey, as did his descendants and other inhabitants of the Isle of Wight, these included the Manors of Arreton, Combley and Niton; lands at Whitfield, Wellow, Binstead, Compton, Shorewell, Shalfleet and Chale. In a deed not dated but, but most likely drawn up soon after the opening of the Abbey and held at the Ashmolean Library [now the Sackler Library, Oxford], states;
“Wherefore I, Englegerius de Bohun, in the knowledge of all men, as well now as for ever, give in charity to God and the church of St. Mary of Quarr and monks there serving, for the good of my soul and the souls of my parents, my land at Haseley, in the Isle of Wight, which I, by hereditary right, posses from my progenitors [ancestors]. I give the same land freely and peacefully to the aforesaid church to be held for ever as freely as I have held it”. There are still in existence a total of 31 title deeds relating to Quarr and its possessions. Various member of the family held the title over the next 60 years of which we have little information.

William de Vernon the second son of the First Earl of Devonshire became Lord of the Isle of Wight and was a friend of Richard Coeur de Lion, he died at Quarr in 1216, in his will he left £300 pounds [equivalent to £3000 in 1903] to have a monument erected to his father and himself.

There are few records available of the Abbey for the next century, however we do know that it was a prosperous time for Quarr, the abbot had a seat in the House of Lords. More than once the abbot was involved in commissions examining the defence of the island. In 1340 King Edward 3rd.granted the Abbot a licence to fortify the abbey with walls and towers, the sea gate was provided with portcullis and loopholes for defence. An old deed still in existence wherein the King directs that the Abbot’s ships Ann and Martha and all his other ships, can come and go with paying duty. To the west of Quarr is Wootton Creek, at the head of which the abbot had established a post and fishing station. At that time it went by the name of Fishhouse, but is now known as Fishbourne. The abbey was also granted a licence to hold a weekly fair or market, which was held at a four-way crossroad near Binstead.

Another legend associated with Quarr concerns a grove of trees to the south of the Abbey ruins, Henry 2nd. King of England from 1154 to 1189 was married to Eleanor of Guienne and she was for some time imprisoned at Quarr and a favour area was this grove of secluded trees, it is marked on maps as Alender’s Grove which is a corruption of Eleanor’s Grove. Tradition states that she died at Quarr, and was buried in a golden coffin in this grove of trees, around 1850 a search was made for the coffin, it was not found, but a wooden coffin containing the skeleton of a female was, was this the resting place of Eleanor, Queen of England.

Sir John Oglander, in his memoirs mentions a burial in the abbey of a ”Great Mownayor of finance, slayne in our island in Richard the Second reign” but he does not say who it was. In 1377 the French landed on the island and burned down Francheville [Newtown] and Ermouth [Yarmouth]. They then move to attack Carisbrooke, but were ambushed outside Newport at a place we know today as Nodehill. The French force was defeated and many were killed, the lane at the time was known as “Deadmans Lane”, the name has now been changed to Trafalgar Road. The name “Mownayor may have been a high ranking French officer, but no records exists.

There was another interesting burial at Quarr, Edward 4th had three daughters, the youngest was named Cicely or Cecilia, she was born towards the close of 1469. Before she was a year old her mother had to seek refuge in Westminster Abbey at the outbreak of the Lancaster rebellion. Aged five years she was betrothed to James, son of James 3rd of Scotland, but the marriage never happened. On the death of her father in 1484, she again took refuge in the Abbey where she remained for nine months. After the victory at Bosworth Field in 1485, Henry 7th married her elder sister Elizabeth and soon afterwards Cicely at the age of seventeen married John Lord Wells a relation of the king. They had two daughters Elizabeth and Anne, after about ten years of married life her eldest daughter Elizabeth died, this was to be followed by the death of both her husband and youngest daughter.

In 1501, Cicely is mentioned as a great beauty at the marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Arragon, in 1503 she left the court and married Sir John Kime of the Isle of Wight, retiring to Standen, near Newport, she died aged thirty eight and was buried at Quarr.

Not many years after the death of Cicely, saw the end of Quarr Abbey, Henry 8th and his successors laid waste to the monasteries. In 1546 the buildings were sold to a Southampton merchant by the name of George Mills, the Abbey was demolish and the stone sold for building material, shiploads were taken to Southampton and used to build the quay walls it was also used in the building of Yarmouth and Cowes castles. When George Mills died he left everything to his son George, who died without an heir, and on the death of his wife, everything passed to his brother’s son Sir Richard Mills.

In the reign of Elizabeth there was a Mr Thomas Fleming living in Newport who kept a merchants shop on the corner turning into the corn market. His son Thomas, a sergeant-at-law became the Recorder of London in 1596, then the Solicitor-General and finally in 1607 Lord Chief Justice of England. The now Sir Thomas purchased Quarr from Sir Richard Mills and completed the levelling of Quarr. The direct line of the Fleming’s became extinct in 1737 and the estates passed by marriage to Dr. Browne Willis.

Several stone coffins have been excavated at Quarr over time, in the History of the Isle of Wight by Albin, he notes that one of the stone coffins was used as a cattle trough. In 1857 a road was constructed through the grounds passing through the middle of the old abbey and during its construction three small stone boxes 2 feet in length by 1 foot wide were found. The lids were removed and three human skeletons in a good state of preservation were found, these were deposited in the museum in Ryde.

In 1891 the whole of the foundations of the abbey were uncovered under the supervision on Percy Stone, in the southeast corner of the cloisters three bodies were found in their original coffins. In the centre of the north wall of the church, 19 feet from the east end, a narrow grave was found, in it were the bones of a male and female skeleton, was this the final resting place of the abbey’s founder Richard de Redvers and his wife Adeliza?

As a result of the excavations a perfect ground plan of the abbey now exists.

Source: Isle of Wight County Press. 16th May 1903

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:45

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