Beauchief Abbey was founded as a daughter establishment of Welbeck Abbey, thanks to a gift of land by Robert FitzRanulph, Lord of Alfreton, in about 1176. The official founding date was not until 21 December 1183. It was dedicated to “God and St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr and to the brothers of the Premonstratensian order”. Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170 and was made a saint in 1173, but there is no evidence that FitzRanulph had any direct connection to these events.
The Premonstratensian order was founded in 1120 at Prémontré in France. Its members were canons (popularly known as White Canons) rather than monks. Usually, between 12 and 15 of them lived at the Abbey, but as ordained priests they also worked in local communities, some taking charge of nearby churches. FitzRanulph granted the churches of Norton, Alfreton, Wymeswold, and Adwalton to the Abbey, and a further grant of Dronfield church was made in 1399. In addition, the Abbey owned a number of outlying farms or “granges” as well as four or five mills and a smithy on the Sheaf.
Records of the lands held by the Abbey were copied by the canons into a book known as the "Cartulary". This book, in its original binding, is held in the Archives of Sheffield City Council. It has recently been transliterated and edited by David Hey, Lisa Liddy, and David Luscombe, under the title “A monastic community in local society: the Beauchief Abbey cartulary” (Cambridge University Press, 2011: The Beauchief Abbey Cartulary) so it is accessible to all.
Henry VIII’sDissolution of the Monasteries saw an end to medieval church life at the Abbey, and on 4 February 1537 it was surrendered to Thomas Cromwell’s commissioners, “without giving any trouble or opposition.
Sir Nicholas Strelley, then Lord of Ecclesall, bought the Abbey and all the land in the Liberty of Beauchief for £223. In 1648 the land came by marriage into the possession of the Pegge family. Following the Dissolution, the church fell into disrepair, but it seems (on the basis of excavations conducted in the 1920’s) that some of the other buildings, including the chapter house and the refectory, continued to be used, the first as a lumber store and wine cellar the second as a residence. At least from 1667 onwards, however, much of the stone was used for the building of Beauchief Hall, which became the residence of Edward Pegge in 1671. At about this time or later, the nave of the church and the tower were at least partially restored to make a chapel for the landowners, as can be seen today in the surviving box pews, coats of arms, and carved stone memorials. Nathaniel Baxter was appointed the first chaplain in 1662, and the gravestones on the floor of the chapel include two by the altar which are dated 1659 and 1660. This suggests that the chapel had started functioning by that time, although Tony Smith argues that it did not assume its present form until the middle of the 18th century. Nikolaus Pevsner (“Yorkshire: the West Riding”, 1967) memorably called the whole ensemble an “incongruous but very attractive combination” of different elements.
The Pegge family continued to own Beauchief Hall and the Abbey until 1922, when they were sold respectively to Major Wilson and to Mr. Frank Crawshaw. In 1931 he sold the land occupied today by Beauchief Golf Course to the Sheffield Corporation. At the same time Mr. Crawshaw offered the Abbey, adjacent cottages, graveyard and Abbey grounds as a gift to the Corporation, for the Citizens of Sheffield, on certain conditions which, after modification, were accepted. The Abbey was declared to be a scheduled monument in 1957 but it remains in the ownership of the Council.
Full details concerning the history of “Beauchief Abbey and Beauchief Hall” are contained in a CD made by Tony Smith in 2004, which is available for purchase.
Church services continue at the Abbey to this day. The Abbey receives visits from groups and individuals on a regular basis. If you'd like to arrange a group visit to learn more about the Abbey's heritage and the life of the church please get into contact with us today.
Images courtesy of Pictures Sheffield