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Pershore Abbey

Pershore Abbey
Pershore Abbey
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Broad Church
Dedication Holy Cross
Parish Pershore
Diocese Worcester
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) Revd Kenneth Crawford

Pershore Abbey, at Pershore in Worcestershire, was an Anglo-Saxon abbey and is now an Anglican parish church.


  • History 1
    • Foundation 1.1
    • Refoundation 1.2
    • 'Second' refoundation 1.3
    • Later Middle Ages 1.4
  • Current structure and features 2
    • Bells 2.1
    • The font 2.2
  • Abbots of Pershore Abbey 3
  • Organ 4
  • See also 5
  • Gallery 6
  • Notes 7
  • Citations 8
  • References 9
    • Secondary sources 9.1
    • Primary sources 9.2
  • External links 10



The foundation of the minster at Pershore is alluded to in a spurious charter of King Æthelred of Mercia (r. 675-704). It purports to be the charter by which Æthelred granted 300 hides at Gloucester to Osric, king of the Hwicce, and another 300 at Pershore to Osric's brother Oswald.[1][2] It is preserved only as a copy in a 14th-century register of Gloucester, where it is followed by two charters listing the endowments made to the abbey until the reign of Burgred, king of Mercia (852-874).[3][4] The 300 hides mentioned here are unlikely to be a contemporary detail, as they were intended to represent the triple hundred which later made up the area of Worcestershire.[1] Historian H. P. R. Finberg suggests that the foundation charter may have been drafted in the 9th century, based on some authentic material.[5] Oswald's foundation of a monastery at Pershore is not stated explicitly in the charter, but the Worcester chronicle Cronica de Anglia, written c. 1150, reports it under the annal for 683, and John Leland, consulting the now lost Annals of Pershore, places the event around 689.[1][6] Patrick Sims-Williams suggests that the foundation by Oswald may also represent an oral tradition at Pershore, as its archives were probably destroyed in fires of 1002 and again in 1223.[1]

In the 9th century, Pershore comes to light again as a minster under the patronage of Mercian kings. In other charters contained in the Gloucester register, Coenwulf (r. 796-821) and Burgred are recorded as having been patrons of Pershore.[4] A charter of King Edgar refers back to a grant of privileges by Coenwulf at the request of his ealdorman (dux) Beornnoth.[1][7]


In the reign of King Edgar (959-975), Pershore reappears as one of the abbeys to be re-established (or restored) under the programme of Benedictine reform. Writing c. 1000, the Ramsey monk Byrhtferth relates that under the auspices of Oswald, bishop of Worcester, seven monasteries were founded in his diocese, notably including Pershore.[8] The first abbot was one Foldbriht,[9] whose name is sufficiently rare to suggest that he may be the same Foldbriht whom Bishop Æthelwold previously installed at Abingdon and used to be a monk of Glastonbury before that time.[10]

The refoundation is what lies behind an exceptionally elaborate charter for Pershore, dated 972, in which King Edgar is presented as granting new lands and privileges as well as confirming old ones, such as the one granted by Coenwulf.[7] The authenticity of this document, however, has been questioned. Æthelred II's reign.[11] Since then, Susan Kelly and John Hudson have vindicated the status of some of these charters, including the one for Pershore, which is written in square minuscule characteristic of some of Edgar's charters.[12] More recently, Peter Stokes has brought to light a variant copy of the charter and suggests that two different versions may have been produced around the same time, somewhere between 972 and 1066. A possible scenario is that they were produced to make up for the loss of the original charter(s), perhaps shortly after the fire which is reported to have destroyed the abbey in c. 1002 (see below).[13]

The 12th-century historian William of Malmesbury, who seems unaware of any pre-existing minster, claims that one Æthelweard (Egelwardus), whom he describes as "ealdorman of Dorset", had founded the abbey of Pershore in the time of King Edgar.[14] Similarly, Osbert's Life of Eadburh of Winchester alleges that one Alwardus, who is styled comes and consul, was responsible for the refoundation. Both authors also attribute to him a role in the translation of some of the saint's relics to Pershore. Osbert writes that an abbess of Nunnaminster had sold some relics to Æthelweard (Alwardus), who in turn handed them over for the refoundation of Pershore.[15] Some scholars have identified him with Æthelweard, the well-known chronicler and ealdorman of the western shires.[16] [note 1]

Whatever high-level patronage the foundation may have received, it was not enough to sustain its fortunes for very long. Precisely what happened to Pershore in the later 10th century is poorly documented, but some sources seem to hint that it went into decline during the succession crisis which emerged in the wake of King Edgar's death.[18] William of Malmesbury says that "it, too, like the others, decayed to a pitiful extent, and was reduced by more than a half".[14] According to Leland, the Annals of Pershore hold an earl called Delfer responsible for depriving the abbey of several of its lands. This Delfer has been interpreted as a misreading for Ælfhere (d. 983), ealdorman of Mercia[18] (whom Leland mentions elsewhere).[19] While himself a patron of Ely and Abingdon, Ælfhere was also charged with despoiling reformed monasteries during Edward the Martyr's brief reign (975-978). The targets included houses refounded by Bishop Oswald or Bishop Æthelwold and considerably enriched under the patronage of Æthelstan Half-King's sons, notably Æthelwine, ealdorman of East Anglia. Evesham Abbey, for instance, as later reported by its own chronicle, also claimed to have lost several of its lands in this way, and Winchcombe was disbanded altogether. Æthelwine, in his turn, was remembered at Ely as a despoiler of its lands. Tensions between Ælfhere and Bishop Oswald, whose authorities overlapped, and between Ælfhere and Æthelwine, with whom Oswald maintained a close relationship, are therefore likely to have been the principal cause of the upheaval.[18] Whether a liberty similar to that of Oswaldslow was an extra cause for concern, compromising Ælfhere's authority as ealdorman, cannot be ascertained from the sources.[18]

'Second' refoundation

The nave

Pershore suffered worse misfortune when according to Leland, it was destroyed by fire and subsequently deserted by the monks,[19][20] probably in the year 1002.[21] The monastic archives were largely lost in the event, as no original record from before that date survives today.[21] Pershore, however, found a generous patron in the wealthy nobleman Odda of Deerhurst (d. 1056), who restored many of its lands and granted new ones. It has been suggested that he was a kinsman of the ealdorman Æthelweard. The earliest extant record from the archive of Pershore, a charter of 1014 by which King Æthelred granted Mathon (Herefordshire) to ealdorman Leofwine, may testify to Odda's restorations of lands to the house.[21][22] The monastery was active again by the 1020s, as its abbot Brihtheah was promoted bishop of Worcester in 1033.[21] Odda's brother Ælfric was buried at Pershore in 1053, joined three years later by Odda himself.[21]

In Odda's life-time, the total landed assets of Pershore grew to 300 hides, but after the loss of its benefactor in 1056, about two thirds were seized and given to Edward the Confessor's new foundation at Westminster.[21] The original single sheet which preserves the fullest version of King Edgar's refoundation charter (though it need not be authentic) is marked by a number of textual alterations and erasures. Some of these changes may suggest a response to the abbey's proprietary struggles.[13]

From the early 12th century, there is evidence that Pershore Abbey claimed possession of some of the relics of Saint Eadburh of Winchester, the sainted daughter of King Edward the Elder. Her body was initially buried at Nunnaminster (Winchester), but it was translated in the 960s to a more central spot in Winchester, and again to a shrine in the 970s. Among several possibilities, Susan Ridyard has suggested that the Eadburh whose relics were preserved at Pershore may have been a Mercian saint of that name whose identity had become obscure.[23]

Later Middle Ages

The main building was begun in about 1100. In the fourteenth century it benefitted from the generosity of Adam de Harvington, Chancellor of the Exchequer 1327-30, who was probably related to the Abbot, William of Harvington. The abbey was dissolved in 1539. A monk of Pershore, named Richard Beerely, was one of those who gave evidence to Thomas Cromwell about the misbehaviour of some of his brothers, writing that "Monckes drynk an bowll after collacyon tell ten or xii of the clock, and cum to mattens as dronck as myss, and sume at cardes, sume at dyss." (Monks drink a bowl after breakfast until ten o'clock and come to Matins as drunk as mice, some (playing) at cards, some at dice.)

The abbey church remained in use as a belfry floor and the opening up of the lantern tower to expose the beautiful internal tracery panelling. Scott described the lantern as the finest in the country after that of Lincoln Cathedral. The tower pinnacles were added in 1871.[24]

In 1913, two western flying buttresses were added to replace the support from the missing portion of the building.

Current structure and features

The Norman baptismal font.

The church as it now stands represents only a small portion of the original building.

Major repairs were undertaken in 1994, to stabilise the south transept with a ring beam and to strengthen its roof and to repoint the tower and pinnacles. An underfloor heating system was installed.


Pershore Abbey has a 25 cwt ring of eight bells. The ringing room, devised as part of Scott's 1862-64 restorations, is a metal 'cage' suspended high above the chancel crossing; it is accessed by means of two stone spiral staircases, a walkway through the roof, a squeeze through a narrow passage and a see-through iron staircase.

The font

In about 1840 the Abbey was given a new font and the original Norman font was cast out into the churchyard. It was later used as a cattle trough, and later used in a garden at nearby Kempsey. In 1912 a war memorial was erected on the site of the Victorian font and the old font was returned, on a pedestal designed by Harold Brakspear. The font is decorated with an interlacing arcade, in the panels of which are the figures of Christ and his Apostles.[25]

Abbots of Pershore Abbey

Name In office Comments
Foldbriht c. 970 – 988 [26]
Brihtheah (Brihteah) ? – 1033 Nephew of Wulfstan I, Archbishop of York; went on to become bishop of Worcester (1033–8) [26]
Ælfric ? fl. 1046 x 1050.[26]
Edmund 1058–1085 d. 1058.[26]
Thurstan 1085–1087 Master of Gloucester.[26]
Hugh ? Died before 1113.[26]
Guy ? – 1102
? – 1136/7
Deposed in 1102, but later restored to office.[26]
William 1138 – ? Master of Eye.[26]
Thomas ? Appears in 1143 x 1145 and following suspension, again in 1145 x 1150.[26]
Reginald ? – 1174 First known appearance in 1155.[26]
Simon 1175–1198 [26]
Master Anselm 1198–1203 Master of Reading, d. 1203.[26]
Gervase 1204–1234 d. 1234.[26][27]
Roger de Rudeby (Rudby) 1234–1251 Chamberlain of Pershore.[27]
Elerius 1251–1264 Prior of Cogges.[27]
Henry of Bidford 1264 – ? Master of Pershore.[27]
Henry de Caldewelle 1274–1290 Master of Pershore.[27]
William de Leghe 1290–1307 Cellarer of Pershore.[27]
William of Harvington 1307–1340 Master of Pershore, etc.[27]
Thomas of Pirton (Pyriton) 1340–1349 Cellarer of Pershore.[27]
Peter of Pendock 1349–1363 Master of Pershore.[27]
Peter (de) Bradewey(e) 1363–1379 Master of Pershore.[27]
Thomas de Upton 1379 Elected 1379.[20]
William de Newenton 1413 [20]
Edmund Hert 1456–1479 [20]
Robert Stanwey 1479 [20]
John Pibleton 1497 [20]
William Compton 1504–1526 [20]
John Stonywell 1526–1539 x 40 Surrendered the abbey[20]


A three manual organ built by Nicholson of J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd in 1940 and 1971.[28]

Past organists and masters of music include Charles Tovey, Edred Martin Chaundy (1898–1899, formerly of Enniskillen Parish Church, afterwards Holy Trinity Church, Stroud and Armagh Cathedral), Frank Alfred Charles Mason (1900–c.1921)[29] Peter B. Waddington. ca. 1948, Rodney Clifford Baldwyn (1951–1981), Ian Gerrard (1993–2003), Sheila Joynes (2003–2004), Mike Pegg (2004–2005), David Barclay (2005–2007) and Alex Crawford (2007–2008). In 2009, Mike Pegg resumed his former duties.

See also



  1. ^ A tradition at Tewkesbury Abbey, only 10 miles from Pershore, also remembers a royal kinsman called Æthelweard (Haylwardus) as its patron as well as that of Cranborne Abbey (Dorset), of which Tewkesbury was a dependency.[16][17] The account, which places his floruit in the time of King Æthelred and Dunstan, is recorded in a late chronicle of that house, written in the 15th century, but may very well be based on older sources.[16][17] This Æthelweard is to be identified with the Æthelweard Mæw whose activities, including the foundation of Cranborne, are attested in sources closer to his day.[16] Historian Jayakumar suggests that he may be the chronicler Æthelweard, ealdorman of the western shires, as both were royal kinsmen and in the Tewkesbury Chronicle, Cranborne is said to have been founded in suo dominio.[17] Ann Williams, however, prefers to see them as separate persons.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sims-Williams, Religion and literature, pp. 94-6.
  2. ^ S 70
  3. ^ S 209
  4. ^ a b S 1782
  5. ^ Finberg, Early charters, pp. 153-66.
  6. ^ John Leland, Collectanea, ed. Hearne, pp. 240-1.
  7. ^ a b S 786
  8. ^ Byrhtferth, Life of Oswald, p. 494 (ch. 8).
  9. ^ Byrhtferth, Life of Oswald, pp. 494-5 (ch. 9).
  10. ^ Hudson, Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis, p. cciii.
  11. ^ Keynes, The diplomas of King Æthelred 'the Unready' 978-1016, 98-100
  12. ^ Hudson, Historia Ecclesie Abbendonensis, pp. cxcix-cciv
  13. ^ a b Stokes, "King Edgar's charter for Pershore, 972", p. 72-3.
  14. ^ a b William of Malmesbury, Gesta pontificum IV, ch. 162, ed. and tr, Winterbottom and Thomson
  15. ^ Ridyard, The royal saints of Anglo-Saxon England
  16. ^ a b c d e Williams, World before Domesday, pp. 11-3.
  17. ^ a b c Jayakumar, "Reform and retribution", p. 347.
  18. ^ a b c d Williams, "Princeps Merciorum gentis", pp. 167-8
  19. ^ a b "Oswaldus primum instituit Canonicos seculares apud Persore.
    Postea fuit ibidem chorus monachorum.
    Rursus Canonici inducti.
    Postea monachi per Edgarum.
    Elferus abstulit prædia monachis.
    Odda comes ejus filius restituit.
    Monasterium conflagravit & à monachis desertum est.
    Monachi Westmonasterienses prædia usurpabant.
    Wada comes attulit reliqias S. Eadburgae, & per Oswaldum episcopum Fulbrightus abbas inductus.
    Olney, alias Alney, about Deorhirst in Glocester-shire. Deorhurst yet remainith in Glocestre-shire as a Celle to Twekesbiri." John Leland, Itinerarium, ed. Hearne, vol. 5, p. 2.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Willis-Bund and Page, The Victoria History of the County of Worcester, vol. 2, pp. 127-136.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Williams, "Odda, earl (d. 1056)"
  22. ^ S 932.
  23. ^ Ridyard, The royal saints of Anglo-Saxon England, p.
  24. ^ Wilson, Dr. M. and Crawford, Rev. K., Pershore Abbey, Official Abbey Guide, 2008, ISBN 1-872-665-22-5, pp.11-13
  25. ^ Wilson, Dr. M. and Crawford, Rev. K., Pershore Abbey, Official Abbey Guide, 2008, ISBN 1-872-665-22-5, p16
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Knowles, Brooke and London (2001), The heads of religious houses: England & Wales, I. 940–1216, pp. 58-9.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Smith and London (2001), The heads of religious houses: England & Wales, II. 1216–1377, pp. 56-7.
  28. ^ A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.
  29. ^ Dictionary of organs and organists, Second Edition. 1921.


Secondary sources

Primary sources

External links

  • Pershore Abbey Website
  • Pershore Abbey Images

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