History and Architectural Description of the Priory of St. May, Bolton-in-Wharfedale
By A. Hamilton Thompson


This attempt to tell the history of Bolton Priory was first undertaken in 1923, when, with the kind permission of the Duke of Devonshire, excavations were begun upon the site of the Cloister. If the appearance of the volume has been somewhat delayed, it is due partly to the limited time which the writer, amid a variety of business, has been able to devote to its preparation, but even more to the numerous problems which have been encountered in connexion with the site and its history, and have discouraged earlier publication as hasty and premature.

Some apology is perhaps necessary for the abandonment of the title by which the church and monastery ar e usually known. In dealing, however, with a foundation the head of which was not an abbot, but a prior, it is better to avoid all ambiguity and variation of style by giving it the name which is strictly accurate, and which it bears in all historical documents. At the same time, it would be pedantic to insist upon the disuse of Bolton Abbey as its popular title. Even in the middle ages, when the distinction between abbots and priors was more familiar than it is now, it was not carefully observed in the speech of every day, and even legal instruments were not always guiltless of the confusion. The technical error which prevails in the common titles, not only of Bolton, but of Hexham, Kirkham, Newstead, and other religious houses, is conspicuous in the attribution of the name Abbeys to numerous ancient friaries in Ireland ; while the convenience of that name as an inclusive description is illustrated in the volume, dealing with a number of miscellaneous foundations, which was recently issued by the Great Western Railway with the title Abbeys .

It has seemed to the writer that, in treating the history of a house of Augustinian canons, it was not inopportune to provide an account of the or igin of canons regular, and to say something in detail of certain features characteristic of their organi sat ion. He took a similar course a few years ago, when engaged upon an account of Newstead Priory for the twenty-third volume of the Transactions of the Thoroton Society. In the present instance he has made considerably fuller use of original authorities, and has examined the subject from the special point of view of the houses of the order in Yorkshire. The tendency to look upon all inhabitants of monasteries as monks is as widely spread as the habit of referring to all monasteries as abbeys, and there is much less excuse for it . On the other hand, comparatively little has been written about the orders of canons from the constitutional standpoint, and, without some general introduction to the whole subject, much in the history of a monastery which was sometimes called Bolton Canons would be unintelligible . The publication of Mr. H. E. Salter’s collection of Chapters of Augustinian Canons, with its introduction and carefully edited text of the Benedictine Constitutions, has thrown much additional light upon the history of the northern houses, and to it the writer is greatly indebted.

The first thanks of the writer and of the Society under whose auspices this work is published are due to the noble owner of the site, who permitted and generously defrayed the expense of the work of excavation. A special debt of gratitude must be paid to Mr. Alfred Downs, of the Bolton Abbey Estate Office, whose help has been invaluable in the direction and supervision of operations, and who, for some four years, has shown a lively and practical interest at every stage of the proceedings. Among contributions to the production of this volume, the handsome grant made by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society takes a very prominent place and calls for special thanks. The writer also records his peculiar obligations to two friends whose help and counsel have been of great assistance . Mr. Sydney D. Kitson, kindly undertook the task of prepar ing the historical plan of the monastery, and has been closely associated throughout in the consideration of the numerous difficult problems which have arisen in connexion with the buildings . Mr. C. R. Peers, Inspector-General of Ancient Monuments and Director of the Society of Antiquaries, visited the site with the writer more than once, and lent the benefit of his unique knowledge to the solution of many doubtful points of construction and date. The kind suggestions and advice of both have contributed much to the architectural part of this work which could hardly be acknowledged in detail.

For access to historical documents dealing with the internal history of the monastery thanks are specially due to the Archbishop of York’s Registrar, Mr. A. V. Hudson, who now, as on many other occasions, has allowed frequent consultation of the registers in his custody from which the most interesting details in that history are derived.

The coloured plan, as already stated, is the work of Mr. Kitson, with some assistance from his pupil, Mr. Noel Pyrnan. For the measured drawings we have to thank Mr. Addison, of the Architectural Department of the Leeds College of Art, and his assistant, Mr. Chippindale, who have devoted to the work a diligence and patience beyond praise. Mr. F. Mitchell, a member of our Council, has also given much time and pains to the verification of detail in these drawings, for which we are duly grateful . For the photographic illustrations we are mainly indebted to the members of the Leeds Photographic Society, especially to Mr. J. H. Gough, who has spared neither time nor pains in producing a large number of most admirable views. Two have been furnished by Mr. John Gibson, of Hexham, and one by the Commercial Graphic Co., of Bradford, to whom we owe acknowledgments.

It would be possible to add several names to this list of obligations . Among those which should not be omitted ar e those of the Rev. C. F. Tomlinson, Rector of Bolton Abbey, whose help and kindly hospitality have been a constant source of pleasure, and of Mr. H. Har r ison, the verger of the church, whose never-failing interest in the building and its surroundings has often been of considerable value to the writer. Last of all, not the least thanks are due to the Treasurer of the Thoresby Society, Mr . G. D. Lumb,
and its Secretary, Mr . H. W. Thompson, for the encour agement and aid which they have given to the work, and the inimitable patience with which they have watched its progress; and finally to Mr . H. E. Wroot, whose judgment in the select ion of illustrations and careful supervision of their production have been guided by a technical knowledge on which he has kindly allowed the writer’s ignorance to rely with confidence.

ADEL, LEEDS,           December, 1927.


Full scan on archive.org