Monks

Apart from the very early days in the 1130s, there appear to have been never more than two Benedictine monks at Wootton. How a Prior and one brother fulfilled their duties – chanting the eight Canonical Hours each day in the great chancel of St Peter’s, distributing bread to the poor and sick twice a week, celebrating the fifty major Feasts, managing the estate, holding a manorial court each three weeks, collecting the tithes and rents and getting the profits back to Conches each year – can hardly be imagined. It was all too much for one Prior, Peter de Altaribus, in 1281; he attacked his monk, sold all the church plate, refused to give charity to the poor and hunted illegally on the lord’s land. He was excommunicated and sent back to Conches!

The Priory was always an alien presence and, when the Hundred Years War with France broke out in 1338, it was quickly identified as the enemy. Profits were confiscated; Priors regularly fined; local gentry took over the management of the estate. In 1399, the end appeared to come when the Priory was handed to the Carthusians at Coventry but it returned to Conches until 1443. In that year, Henry VI closed it down and transferred its assets and the church to his new college at King’s. By then the old Priory was almost certainly in ruins; only fishpond, dovecote and tithebarn remained - and the mill at Pennyford, where John Priory, the miller, lived on, probably a lay brother the village could not do without.