It is difficult to say when Prinknash makes its first appearance in documentary history. According to a venerable antiquary Gloucestershire was erected into a County and divided into Hundreds by King Alfred [c. 890] and in a list of these Hundreds Prinknash is included in the division of the Hundreds of Kings Barton. In a later revision of his work Prinknash is the only property of this division which has the distinction of being extra-parochial. Gloucestershire antiquaries, however, are not always reliable and we cannot say for certain how ancient the place is.
THE GIFFARDS OF BRIMPSFIELD AND PRINKNASH
We are on surer ground, however, when we think of Prinknash as part of Buckholt, which was given to the Giffards of Brimpsfield by William the Conquerer, since this can be checked in the Doomsday Book. The history of Prinknash is so linked up with this family that it is necessary to know precisely who they were.
They were a baronial family of Normandy and at least three of them came over to England with the Conquerer. The most distinguished of them was Walter Giffard, Lord of Longueville who contributed 30 vessels and 100 men in the Duke of Normandy’s invasion of England.
The Giffards also held land in Oxford, which later on will be connected with Benedictine history but for the moment Osberne was Lord of Brimpsfield and owned the land around Prinknash. This is well documented in the Doomsday Book.
In 1096, his son Heylas Giffard gave to the Benedictines of Gloucester a certain portion of his woods in Buckholt, laying the Deed of Gift upon the altar in the Abbey church. This gift was confirmed ‘silvum et planum’ in 1121. His son and heir became a monk of Gloucester and added Cranham to the Giffard endowment.
In 1260 the Abbot of Gloucester bought from Sir Laurence de Chandos 55 acres of arable land in Brockworth with his park of 50 acres and his entire portion of the wood in Buckholt making an estate of 300 acres in all. In 1266 a survey was taken of the 23 manors of the Abbey, when Buckholt was included in the manor of Barnwood. In this survey, Osbert of Broadbridge held 4 acres and also the Prinknash Mill.
In 1283 John Giffard and his wife Matilda de Longuespee founded Gloucester College, Oxford, for students of the Abbey to pursue their studies at the University and endowed the College with lands for their maintenance, that the monks may pray for his soul, and the soul of his wife, in perpetuity.
This long connection between Prinknash and the Giffards of Brimpsfield, and later with the Yorks and Tudors as their immediate neighbours, is invaluable for the understanding of its early history, and may very well account for the several royal arms and emblems which have consistently adorned various parts of the building at Prinknash.
Much of the old glass which used to be in the Carlyle Room windows, now the Calefactory, is now to be found in the cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral but a composite badge of Edward IV may still be seen on the ceiling of the Great Hall, and there are modern carvings of Catherine of Aragon’s pomegranate surmounted by a royal crown.
PRINKNASH AND THE BENEDICTINES OF GLOUCESTER
We have seen so far that the land at Prinknash which was given by the Giffards of Brimpsfield to the Benedictines of Gloucester in the 11th. century, became more extensive in the 12th, and 13th., and there was a mill there. There is another ancient document which says that, though the Giffards held Brimpsfield and all their lands for a military service of 9 soldiers, the Abbots of Gloucester held theirs in alms.
Later we are told that the Abbey had a park there and free warren in all their Demesn lands granted by Edward III in the 28th. year of his reign and confirmed by Richard II in the first year of his reign. It is very probable that there was a hunting lodge here and occupied by a woodward. From internal evidence some parts of the house are as old as the 14th. century. In 1339 the Bishop of Worcester granted a licence “for the Abbot of Gloucester and his fellow monks to celebrate Mass or to have it celebrated by a suitable chaplain in an oratory within their manor of Princkenasch.” This document makes it clear that already in the 14th. century Prinknash was a manor and had a chapel where Mass was said. Free warren means the right to hunt deer and other game and it would be perfectly natural for the owners of this property to keep a lodge with hunters and hounds and all the necessities for their maintenance.
In a visitation of the Abbey in Gloucester in 1301 by Winchley, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Abbot is limited to 8 hounds and 4 harriers which are to be kept by one huntsman and one page boy only.
Later mention of Prinknash as a residence of the Abbot of Gloucester is in 1526 when an Abbey lease is granted to a tenant in Upton with the obligation of felling and transporting sufficient wood to the house of the Abbot of Prinknash as long as the Abbot should be in residence there. We can safely say from documentary evidence that Prinknash was already an abbatial manor in 1339, though there are architectural features of later developments. The work of rebuilding and enlarging the house was the achievement of the last of a long line of distinguished Abbots of Gloucester, William Parker [alias Malverne]. Parker was his family name; Malverne may have been territorial.
Abbot Parker had held the office of Master of the Works in the Abbey before he was elected Abbot in 1515. Among other things he supervised several improvements in the buildings of the Abbey itself.
He entertained Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn for a week during the King’s progress in Gloucestershire in July 1535. From his letters and papers we know that the King took leave of the Abbot of Tewkesbury and rode to Gloucester where he was met by Abbot Parker and lodged at “…the [Vin]yerd, the [Abbo]ttes place”. This Vineyard was probably the manor built by Abbot de Staunton in c.1337 at Over, only two miles from the city. That he was entertained by Abbot Parker in the vicinity of Prinknash is documented but there is no certain evidence that he ever stayed in the house.
The story that the last Abbot of Gloucester died of grief at the suppression of the monasteries is a pious legend. He died many months before, as the request of the community for a ‘conge d’elire’ on account of his death clearly shows. The Abbey was surrendered on 2nd. January 1540 by the Prior and monks under the conventual seal. The monks were pensioned off and the King created the county of Gloucestershire into an episcopal see with the Abbot of Tewkesbury as the first Bishop of Gloucester. The Abbey church was made a Cathedral and the bishopric endowed with part of the monastic lands. The Bishop was given the Abbots house in Gloucester as his palace and the Vineyard as his country manor.
THE KINSTONS AND THE BRIDGES AT PRINKNASH
The Kingstons did well out of the monastic lands at the dissolution of the monasteries. After the surrender, the manor of Prinknash was rented by Sir Anthony Kingston from the Crown on condition that he preserve forty deer annually for the King’s use. After much notoriety he was one of some conspirators sent to the Tower, and Kingston [arrested in Cirencester] died on his way to London.
The house and manor of Prinknash was then granted to Edmund Bridges by Henry VIII in 1544. The Bridges were friends of the King and Edmund was knighted at Roxbugh after the battle of Musleborough and was Lieutenant of the Tower in 1553. In 1557 he succeeded his father as Lord Chandos of Sudeley and Sudeley Castle became their home but Prinknash was still used by the family as a residence for many generations.
Amongst the State Papers is a letter from the 5th. Lord of Chandos to the Lords of the Privy Council, dated from Prinknash August 12th. 1602. Prinknash remained in the Bridges family for the rest of the reign of Elizabeth I until it passed to the Sandys of Miserden and eventually to the Bridgemans.
THE BRIDGEMANS OF PRINKNASH
It was probably about 1628 that Sir John Bridgeman, Chief Justice of Chester, became joint purchaser of Prinknash with his son George. He had been knighted by Charles I at Whitehall in 1623 and after that event Sir John played a conspicuous part in the affairs of Wales, the Marches, and Gloucestershire.
In 1628 he was appointed Recorder of Gloucester. When he aquired Prinknash the chapel was in a ruinous condition and a part of the wall had fallen down. Sir John restored it and it was consecrated by Godfrey Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester in 1629. The deed of Consecration in the Act Book of Gloucester mentions the fact that from time immemorial “there has been a certain church, chapel, or oratory at Prinknershe.” Godfey Goodman is said to have been the only Anglican Bishop until that time to have become a Roman Catholic.
Sir John Bridgeman died at Ludlow in 1638 but his wife, Frances Lady Bridgeman, continued to live at Prinknash and played an historic part in the Civil War between the Royalists and Roundheads. Gloucester was a defiant Puritan city, the centre of the Cotswolds wool trade and held a commanding position over the Severn, blocking the way to the Royalist cities of Worcester and Shrewsbury, the iron foundaries of the Forest of Dean, and the whole of Wales where the Marquis of Worcester and his son were recruiting for the King.
Sir John Bridgeman’s son, George, rode into Cirencester by the Kings command and there he died a month later at an early age. He was buried in the Abbey at Gloucester. The Royalists marched to the seige of Gloucester on the 9th. August and a diaryist wrote in his journal that day: “We had intelligence that provision was made for the entertainments of His Majesty at Princknedge, in the Lady Bridgemans house, three miles off the city, and that the foot and carriages would be there that night”. It is certain that Prinknash became the headquarters of Prince Rupert and his staff of officers, until relief came to the Puritans of Gloucester from the Earl of Sussex on September 5th, a month later.
When the seige was relieved the Royalists retreated from the neighbourhood and Prinknash was left again in its accustomed peace and tranquility. Lady Bridgeman was still alive in 1651, for in the records of the City of Gloucester dated 15th. April that year, she and her grandchild, John, had to provide out of their own property “one horse with complete furniture of good and serviceable armes [viz] back and breast, pott, pistols and sword”. When she died she is supposed to have been buried at Ludlow in the tomb she herself had built at the time of his death before the Civil War; but there is some confusion over this.
Her grandson, John, through his marriage to Margaret Berkeley, linked up the Bridgemans of Prinknash with another of the famous families of Gloucestershire. Generations of Bridgemans continued to live at Prinknash until 1770.
CAMDEN AND HORACE WALPOLE AT PRINKNASH
In 1695 Camden visited the neighbourhood of Prinknash and wrote of it “Between Stroud and Gloucester standeth Paynswick a market town, said to have the best and wholesomest air in the whole County; near it, on a hill, was Kembsborow Castle, the fortifications and trenches thereof still visible. Beyond which lies Prinknersh, once the mansion of the Abbot of Gloucester, a pleasant seat on the side of the hill: ’tis now the inheritance of Sir John Bridgeman Esq., a descendant of Sir John Bridgeman Lord Chief Justice of Chester”.
Horace Walpole was also a visitor, but in 1774, and in a letter to a friend wrote ” Yesterday I made a jaunt four miles hence that pleased me exceedingly, to Prinknash the individual villa of the Abbots of Gloucester…..It stands on a glorious but impracticable hill, in the midst of a little forest of beech, and commanding Elysium.”
PRINKNASH AS A STATELY HOME IN THE 18th. AND 19th. CENTURIES
We have seen in the course of the centuries how Prinknash developed from a Mill to a Hunting Lodge, to an Abbatial Manor, and then after the dissolution of the monasteries to use by the Gentry and Nobility of Gloucestershire. In the next two centuries it continued to pass through different families, each generation leaving its mark.
Sir John Howell bought it in 1776 and he died at Prinknash in 1815. The Howells sold Prinknash in 1847 to James Ackers of Larkshill, who had been a member of Parliament for Ludlow since 1841. He once more restored and beautified the chapel. He died in 1865 and was succeeded by his son, Benjamin St. John Ackers, who improved the older parts of the house and added a new wing on the South-East side of the property. In 1888 the Ackers sold Prinknash to Thomas Dyer Edwardes who gave it the most attention since the days of Abbot Parker of Gloucester.
THE DYER EDWARDES AND THE EARLS OF ROTHES
Thomas Dyer Edwardes was born in 1847, educated at Rugby and Clare College Cambridge, and owned houses at Waverley, Hyde Park gate, London, and a villa in Nice. He married Clementina Lucy Drummond Villiers in 1879 and had a daughter Noel who married the 19th. Earl of Rothes in 1900. Immediateley after his purchase of Prinknash, Thomas Dyer Edwardes embarked on the most extensive alterations in the house, the pleasure gardens and the park. He added an apsidal sanctuary to the chapel and furnished it with plate and embroidered vestments. He constructed the avenue which winds its way through the park from Upton St Leonards to the Portway, nearly a mile in length, and built two lodges for the entrance gates.
He also made the sunken garden and the steps descending to the stables, which he enlarged to contain a team of six white spanish mules, carriage house, harness room and coachmans house. He was a Magistrate for the County of Gloucestershire. There was a regiment of gardeners and farmers to look after the grounds and the park, and a bevy of peacocks to adorned the gardens.
Mr. Dyer Edwardes became a Catholic in 1924 and invited the Benedictines of Caldey to make a foundation at Prinknash Park. They had originally been founded by a young medical student in the Anglican Church who was later to become famous as Abbot Aelred Carlyle, and in March 1913 they had been received into the Catholic Church. It had been a struggle to make Caldey Island economically viable but without success. The gift of Prinknash seemed providential and they eventually sold the whole island to the Cistercians.
A deed of Covenant was eventually made out in 1925 when the monks were in a position to move. Dom Wilfred Upson and Dom Dyfrig Rushton [later the first and second Abbots of Prinknash respectively] came to inspect the property, and the former wrote in his diary on 10th. February 1926: ” To Prinknash. First visit since the transfer of property. On arrival, Southard [the caretaker] informed me of a wire he had just received announcing the death of Mr. Dyer Edwardes in Naples. We went at once to say prayers for his soul. Our first official act as owners of the property. Stayed at the Royal Willian Inn near by – very comfortable.” They would have not been so comfortable had they known that they were not the owners of the property, since the death of the owner, coming so soon after the Deed of Gift, had made the Deed inoperative.
The whole estate passed legally to the grandson of Dyer Edwardes, Lord Lesley, who succeeded his father as the 20th. Earl of Rothes in 1927. Lord Rothes could have excused himself from sacrificing a valuable and historic part of his inheritance to provide a home for a catholic Benedictine community but with a generosity and disinterestedness, which the community will ever gratefully remember, he did in fact honour his grandfather’s wishes in this matter. A new Deed of Conveyance was made out, dated 1st. August 1928 and signed by him, in which the Grantor conveys to the Trustees “all that messuage or tenement known as Prinknash Park, with the stabling, electric light house, and the chapel, pleasure grounds and lands, containing in all 27 acres, 1rood, and 21 perches.”
The death duties were, however, so heavy that the donor was forced to sell all the valuables in the house before handing it over to the community. The medieval heraldic glass was bought by public subscription and transfered to the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral; mantels and chimney pieces of value were also removed from some of the rooms; some hundreds of feet of oak panelling in six of the rooms was sold and re-erected in a historic period room, called the Prinknash Park Room, in the City Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. In 1987 this panelling was sold by the museum to Mr. F. Koch who installed it in Sutton Place, near Guildford, Surrey, when he was renovating his old Tudor house as a home for his Art collection. The house, gardens and art collection are now open to the public, phone 01483 504455 for further information.
The community of Benedictine monks of Caldey Island were now ready to face the formidable business of moving. When the monks sailed away from the island the boat passed directly through a rainbow and this could be taken as symbolic of God’s blessing upon the faithful community and the work that lay ahead of them. When six monks arrived at Prinknash on October 6th. 1928 everything was chaotic and cold. It was to be the coldest winter in living memory, with no heating in the house, and the first wash in the morning in ice.
The chapel had to be adapted, large rooms had to be partitioned to make thirty bedrooms and on the other hand small rooms had to be enlarged to make a refectory for the thirty monks. Twice a week during November two lorries were loaded at Tenby for the heavy work of transport. Arriving during the evening and unloading during the day in the snow and bitter cold it took two months for the move to be completed. On December 19th. 1928, the fourteen monks left on Caldey travelled to Prinknash. In the early days attics were opened up and provided with dormer windows; temporary extensions were added to the south-west of the house to provide 24 small rooms, guest quarters and a chapter house; the choir of the chapel was doubled to provide stalls for the monks and a new transept was built for the laity.
Between 1972 and 2008 the monks lived in a purpose-built monastery on the other side of the estate, but this proved too big and too expensive to run, so they returned to the old house where they lived before.
The daily work of singing the divine office, saying Mass, studying the Bible and other spiritual writers, cooking, cleaning, making incense, doing the laundry and looking after many day visitors continues as it always has done through the centuries. “To the monk, heaven is next door” wrote Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman.
We hope we shall be still here for many centuries to come. We trust in God.