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Cistercian Abbeys: STONELEIGH

Name: STONELEIGH Location: Stoneleigh Park County: Warwickshire
Foundation: 1141 Mother house: Bordesley
Relocation: c. 1155 Founder: King Stephen
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: National Agricultural Centre – open to the public

The original foundation was made by King Stephen (1135-54) at a place called Radmore (or Red Moor), in Staffordshire, in 1141. He granted some land to two devout hermits, Clement and Hervey, and their companions so that they might have a place of retreat. Their hermitage was often disturbed by the foresters who frequently rode past their property and humbly besought the Empress Matilda (d. 1167) to change their site. Matilda told them that if they would convert to the Cistercian Order then she would agree to their request. The hermits consented and Radmore was converted into a Cistercian abbey. Prior William, who ruled over the hermits, was made the first abbot and immediately invited two monks from Bordesley to join them so that they could be instructed in the Cistercian religion. However, the community found the foresters increasingly burdensome and the monks petitioned Henry II on the day of his accession, 19 December 1154. Henry granted the monks leave to transfer to his manor of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, in exchange for their property at Radmore.(1) The first stone of the new church was laid on 13 April 1155, although the monks may not have moved to their new site until c. 1156-9.(2) The permanent site of Stoneleigh Abbey was at a place near the confluence of the Rivers Avon and Sow.

By the 1170s, the construction of the abbey was well advanced, but the community suffered a set back when the buildings were severely burnt in 1241. In 1288 the abbey was attacked by a number of unknown persons, who set fire to the house, consumed goods and hunted and stole deer. During the the Despenser disturbances of the fourteenth century, the abbey was attacked yet again when the earl of Hereford, Sir Roger de Mortimer and others entered the abbey in 1321; they broke open the coffers and carried away £1000 in money, charters, muniments, bonds and other precious objects.(3) The house was never particularly wealthy and, during the thirteenth century, internal discipline was known to have been relatively lax. At the time of the Dissolution the net annual income was valued at £151 and the house was suppressed with the smaller monasteries in 1536.(4) In 1539 the site was granted to Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk (d. 1545). In 1562 the house was bought by Sir Thomas Leigh who built a house which incorporated the east cloister range, south transept and south nave aisle. This house was extended in 1714-26 to include the site of the western range of the cloister.(5) These sections of the monastic buildings remain within the house today, although garden landscaping has removed any clear evidence of the precinct, apart from the great gatehouse. The house is now used as the National Agricultural Centre, situated within Stoneleigh Park, and can be visited during opening hours.