go to home page go to byland abbey pages go to fountains abbey pages go to kirkstall abbey pages go to rievaulx abbey pages go to roche abbey pages
The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Text only version

About the Project






Contact Us

Cistercian Abbeys: FORDE or FORD

Name: FORDE Location: nr Chard County: Dorset
Foundation: 1136 Mother house: Waverley (from Brightley)
Relocation: 1141 Founder: Richard fitz Baldwin
Dissolution: 1539 Prominent members: Baldwin of Canterbury
Access: Privately owned - open to visitors during the summer months

In 1136 Richard fitz Baldwin, lord of Okehampton and sheriff of Dorset, founded an abbey at Brightly in central Devon. He was a kinsman of the founder of Waverley and it was to this house that Richard turned to provide a colony of monks for his new foundation.(1) However, the year after the first monks arrived Richard fitz Baldwin died. The monks abandoned the site four years later, in 1141, probably as a result of environmental difficulties and problems with the scale of Richard’s endowment. It is reported that the monks were on there way back to Waverley when they were met near the south-eastern border of Devon by the founder’s sister, Adelicia.(2) Adelicia offered them substantial holdings at Thorncombe, together with temporary accommodation at a house called Westford. Permanent buildings were constructed near the crossing of the river Axe, which gave rise to the name ‘Forde’.(3) This time the house survived, despite the death of Adelicia in 1142. Early endowments were rapidly expanded upon so that by the second half of the twelfth-century Forde abbey had become the most devout religious house of the south-west. Indeed, Forde abbey gave rise to some notable individuals. Baldwin, the third abbot (1168-81), was to become bishop of Worcester, and from there he was later made Archbishop of Canterbury. John, the fifth abbot (1191-1220), was a significant theologian and writer, and although some of his works (including his letters) have been lost, his Life of Wulfric, the recluse of Haselbury, and a number of his sermons still survive.(4) Under the rule of these two men, daughter colonies were sent out to Bindon in 1171-72, and to Dunkeswell in 1201.

However, by the fourteenth-century the monastic buildings were said to have been dilapidated and the church almost in ruins. In the years immediately preceding the Dissolution Abbot Thomas Chard (1521-39) launched an extensive programme to restore the monastery. He built himself a great hall and had begun the reconstruction of the cloister when the community was dissolved.(5) In the 1535 survey, the house was still a relatively wealthy one, the net income of the abbey valued at £374.(6) The monastery was dissolved in 1539 and the site was sold into private ownership. The buildings were converted for domestic use and Forde was eventually bought in 1649 by Sir Edmund Prideaux, who was to become Oliver Cromwell’s solicitor-general. Prideaux converted the buildings into a grand seventeenth-century mansion: he refitted Chard’s lodgings and the great hall; introduced handsome plaster ceilings; transformed the misericord into a library; and converted the chapter-house for use as a chapel.(7) The house remains in private hands today, and although the abbey church has entirely disappeared, the buildings constructed under Chard survive in the present day mansion. Forde abbey and gardens are open to visitors during the summer months.