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A Brief History & Description of Hinton Priory in Somerset
by M.R. James


Early English Carthusians

Hinton, the second of the Carthusian foundations in England is properly called Locus Dei. It was established by Ela, the widow of William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, in 1227. Her husband had made provision for Carthusians at Heythrop in 1222, but the place did not suit them. The buildings at Hinton were finished in 1232 and inaugurated by Ela on the same day as her nunnery of Lacock in Wiltshire, apparently 13th April. The dedication was the same as that of the first English Carthusian house, at Witham - to the Virgin, St. John Baptist and All Saints.

The clear annual value at its Suppression in 1539 was £248. A few books from the library still exist. For example at Lambeth Palace. The Carthusian libraries, to judge from the extant remains of them, were very largely composed of devotional books. John Blackman's library, left to Witham but collected in his secular days, was of a fairly miscellaneous character.

Of Hinton, there remains one beautiful thirteenth-century building which was attached to the church; and in the offices of the later mansion on the site (itself built, no doubt, largely out of the materials of the monastery) are some other relics.

The church is quite gone. The surviving tall building was attached to it on its south side. The north wall of the said building (the nearest to you as you approach) shows a string-course and vaulting shaft. There is a trefoil-headed recess and an arch to the west. Then comes a blocked passage with a chamber over it. Then the main building, in three stages. The lowest is a beautiful vaulted chapel in three bays. There is a trefoil-headed piscina with two drains on the south side, a very remarkable spiral corbel. On the north, an aumbry, or cupboard. In the east wall, three lancets.

The first floor has another vaulted chamber in two bays. It is often called the library, but there is nothing to show that this was its use. The top floor is a dovecote. Passing to the present stable-yard, we find a building which is said to be the frater. It stands east and west and is in two storeys. The vaulted undercroft is of three bays and has two columns. At the west end of this is the kitchen with a serving hatch in the south-west corner, a fireplace and a lancet window by it. At right angles to the frater is a projection with three lancets in its upper storey at the north end. Under the Carthusian rule the brethren did not meet in the frater every day, but only on Sundays and feasts. On other days, they kept within their little houses, of which each monk had one, with a small garden. These houses stood round a court. The best example of a Charterhouse, showing the old arrangements, in this country is Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire.

Traces of the Frary or lay-brothers' church have been found in the lower part of the park, near the road.

Edited from M.R. James' "Abbeys" (1925)  (T) 302.234.8904    (F) 302.234.9154    Copyright ©2000, LLC
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