The Story of St. Mary and St. Hardulph Church
After the Conquest - The Later Middle Ages
After the Norman Conquest in 1066 Breedon, together with Wilson, Tonge and the now lost village site nearby of Anderchyrch were among the 34 villages granted by William The Conqueror to Robert de Ferrers later to be come 1st Earl of Derby. At an unknown date but probably between 1109 and 1122 Robert de Ferrers gave the Parish Church (in all possibility the remains of the ancient Saxon Minister Church) of St. Mary and Hardulph to the Augustinian Priory of St. Oswald at Nostell in Yorkshire. The endowment consisted of Breedon Church, the chapels of Worthington and Staunton Harold with 4 virgates of land and other property in Breedon Parish. Revenues were also given from Stapleford (Leics.), West Leake (Notts.), Crakemarsh (Staffs.), Hethcote (Derbyshire peak) and later lands at Coleorton. An interesting grant also made to the Priory was the market of Breedon which was situated on the hilltop itself although now quarried away. The 18th. century enclosure map locates it with the name 'Marketstead'.
By 1122 the prior and five canons from the mother house at Nostell were established here and either built cast of the existing old parish church or restored the eastern part of the existing buildings for their own use. This is to say the part of the church of Breedon as we now know it being only part of a much longer building extending westward.
They built their cloister and other domestic quarters probably around a quadrangle on the north side of the present church (see the blocked door at the west end of the north aisle). All these former buildings, of course, begin to explain the various roof pitch marked on three sides of the present tower. Breedon church today is less than half the church it was. The little priory foundation established at Breedon was always to remain small and dependent on Nostell. The mother priory remained entirely responsible for the canons sent to live at Breedon whose number never exceeded 5.
In 1223 Nostell presented Prior Gervase to Breedon who proceeded to try and make the priory independent. His eventual failure led to his resignation in 1244. It should be noted in fairness to Nostell that Breedon Canons were allowed to participate in the affairs of Nostell.
The architecture of the present church suggests that the upper part of the tower and the general fabric of the eastern priory part of Breedon Church was extensively re-modelled in the style of the 13th. century with its lancet windows extending to more decorative styles and the vaulted aisles added. In 1253 a valuable piece (relic) was entrusted to the prior and convent of Breedon for 8 years by one Robert de Alevton which had formerly belonged to Edward the Confessor.
In 1330 the prior and convent of Nostell obtained from Edward III permission to change their annual fair at Breedon from one to five days.
In 1441 Bishop Alnwich visited Breedon to find the priory in debt and the church and priory buildings dilapidated. He suspended one of the 3 canons for failing to appear before him. A few years later another canon found himself in jail awaiting trial in Leicester.
By 1518 Breedon Parish Church - that is the nave and the porch - were dilapidated, but the responsibility for this probably rested with the parishioners and not the canons of the priory attachment.
As far as can be seen no Prior of Breedon ever held the cure of souls in the Parish Church to which it was attached which had its own separate priest for the parish.
By 1535 the income to the Priory was stated to be £24.10.4d. The value of the vicarage £6.13.4d. By then the Priory was occupied apparently only by the Prior. The priory was surrendered with Nostell's other possessions in November, 1539 - the net yearly value of the Priory lands then stated to be £32.4.7d. Thus Breedon's parishioners found themselves with their ancient but dilapidated Parish Church the now deserted Priory Church, east of the central tower, and its attendant buildings.
|Breedon on the Hill from Isley Walton, Leicestershire. Brian C. J. Williams 1974