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

Monk Bretton Priory

53° 33' 14.1" N 1° 26' 17.5 W

  • History
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
  • Gallery
Monk Bretton Priory is located in Barnsley, Yorkshire. Founded in the 1150’s, Monk Bretton Priory was part of the powerful French order of Cluny. Its monks followed the 6th-century Rule of St. Benedict.

In the 1090's Robert de Laci, lord of Pontefract Castle, set up a priory of Cluniac monks at Pontefract. Those monks came from the Cluniac order at La Charité-sur-Loire, in France. Robert’s family was rewarded for this gift with daily prayers to save their immortal souls. Ailric of Cawthorne was a local, English landowner under de Laci rule. His grandson, Adam Fitz Swain, set up a Cluniac priory at ‘Lund’, staffed by monks from St Johns. Its foundation can be dated to 1153-54. The 12th-century priory, St. Mary Magdalene at Lundwood, Barnsley is also known as Monk Bretton Priory.

The Cluniacs at Monk Bretton controlled agriculture and natural resources on may sites between Wakefield and Rotherham. Their market charter was the cause of Barnsley’s growth into a West Riding market town. King Edward I was troubled when monks came from La Charité-sur-Loire in France to fight for control of this wealth. They are commemorated in the nearby Mill of the Black Monks restaurant.

After years of rivalry, competing for supremacy and status, Monk Bretton Priory finally broke away from Pontefract in 1281 and became an independent Benedictine house. Apart from a severe fire towards the end of the 14th century, Monk Bretton Priory settled into a remarkably uneventful phase until the time of Dissolution.

As a relatively small house of 13 monks, Monk Bretton Priory survived until 1538 when, in November, it surrendered to Henry VIII. Stripped of all valuable assets, part of the church being dismantled and re-erected at Wentworth, the monastery stood neglected until the latter part of the 16th century. Bought by the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1589, Monk Bretton Priory was given to his fourth son, Henry Talbot, as a wedding present. Henry converted the prior's lodging, together with several other buildings along the south and west claustral ranges, to create a home for him and his new wife. Monk Bretton Priory is now owned by Barnsley MBC under English Heritage custody and promoted by the Diocese of Wakefield.

Many of the monastic buildings survive at foundation level. The first monastic church was quite small with four aisled nave bays, but this was extended by the end of the 15th century. A few low sandstone walls, indicating the transepts and chancel of Monk Bretton Priory church, are all that now survive. Because of the residential conversion, which incorporated the original monastic structure, the south wall of the refectory remains standing to a good height, and even two windows still exist. Parts of the west range also remain intact. A sophisticated drainage system existed during monastic times, and much of this has been preserved.