From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Buildwas Abbey

52° 38' 7.1" N 2° 31' 42.3" W

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Buildwas Abbey is a Cistercian abbey located on the river severn close to Ironbridge, Shropshire.

The abbey was founded in August 1135, by Roger de Clinton, bishop of Chester. Dedicated to St Mary and St Chad, the abbey became a satellite of the popular abbey of Savigny who provided the founding colony of monks. The bishop was a powerful man who gave the monks the site of the abbey, land near to Shrewsbury and income from other sources. King Stephen issued the abbey a charter which confirmed the gifts and a few of his own in 1138. Twelve years after the abbey was founded it became Cistercian along with the other Savigniac monasteries. With a new abbot, construction of stone buildings were started as the abbey flourished, in character with the cistercian ideal. Books on theology and spirituality were being copied at Buildwas, to be read in the cloister and for study.

Two former Savigniac houses became daughter houses of the abbey, St Mary's abbey, dublin in 1156, and Basingwerk in wales in 1157. King Richard I listed all the property held by the abbey, it showed the abbey had acquired land in Shropshire, staffordshire and as far as Derbyshire.

Life at the abbey was good, it prospered through out the thirteenth century and the abbey was extended. An infirmary was built along with separate accommodation for the abbot. More lands were acquired adding to the now extensive income, mostly from livestock with a percentage from arable farming. Wool was a profitable bushiness in supplying Italian merchants. It is thought that the abbey acted as a go between or middlemen, buying in fleeces for profit, to supplement its own flocks.

The fourteenth century started off well for the abbey, with profits increasing and its abbot attending a dozen or more parliaments. Unfortunately, this did not last, by the middle of the century, the abbey was plunged into chaos, with the murder of the abbot whose name is lost to history. This caused total disarray, with factions disputing the election of a new abbot. Goods, land and the abbeys wealth were squandered un till the abbey fell into debt. Raids a few years later from the Welsh, pillaging treasures and taking hostages. The black death also played a hand, but it is unknown if it affected the abbey directly but would have caused shortage of labour and a decrease in income. By 1377, the abbey had no more than six monks and in 1381, only four.

The abbey slipped further into decline suffering due to the war of the roses, being forced to buy land that had been given to them previously. The monks even fraudulently sold leases on already leased lands to try and raise hard currency to pay debts. The abbey had fallen from the strict standards set out by monastic discipline, a visitor in 1521 reported that the abbey was 'very far from virtue in every way'.

The suppression and dissolution of the monasteries would seem to have come as a relief for this abbey. The net annual income of the abbey as about £111, which would have caused Cromwell's commissioners to look into spiritual affairs of the abbey as a prelude to dissolution. In March 1536 an act was passed ordering the suppression and dissolution of monasteries with an income lower than £200. The abbey was surrendered to the state in late 1536. Anything of value was catalogued and reserved for the king.

Close to the border of Wales meant it had a turbulent history. Welsh Princes and their followers would raid the abbey. In 1406 raiders from Powys even kidnapped the abbot.

In 1342 a Buildwas monk, called Thomas Tong, murdered his abbot, who then managed to evade arrest. After a while he then petitioned for re-instatement into the Cistercian order.