On Wednesday we were invited for lunch by my cousin and his wife who live in a lovely village near Dronfield. After lunch we had plans to visit a local Industrial Museum called Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. As we drove along my cousin mentioned Beauchief (pronounced Bee Chiff) Abbey and that in all the years he had lived in the area he'd never visited. We decided we could stop off for a visit and still get to the Museum before it closed at 4p.m.
Beauchief Abbey church is unusual in that it isn't owned by the Church of England but by the local council. The church and lands containing the remains of the former abbey were sold to the Sheffield Corporatiom in 1931 by its last owner Mr Frank Crawshaw for the use of the citizens of Sheffield. Services are held there and it is part of the Anglican Communion but there are no appointed clergy and the church is run by its congregation and services are led by volunteer clergy.
Unfortunately we'd missed the church being open to visitors over the Heritage Open Days Weekend so we could only look around the outside. The land belonging to the Abbey is flanked on either side of the road by a golf course and quite a few people were playing during our visit.
Someone was maintaining the walls with a bit of dry stone walling.
The building of the Abbey was begun in 1176 thanks to the gift of some land by Robert FitzRanulph, Lord of Alfreton. It was a daughter establishment of nearby Welbeck Abbey. It was dedicated to St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr and to brothers of the Premonstratesian order. You can see from the plan above how extensive it was, the black lined areas are the parts still standing or visible as ruins. The parts at the top would now be under the golf course.
The members of the Premonstratensian order were canons rather than monks and were known as the White Canons. There would have been about fifteen of them living at the Abbey and as they were ordained priests they would work outside in the local community taking charge of some of the churches in the area. Robert FitzRanulph granted several churches to the Abbey including those at Norton, Alfreton, Wymeswold and Adwalton.
In 1399 Dronfield church was also granted to the Abbey which also owned some local farms or granges and four or five mills along the nearby River Sheaf.
On 4th February 1537 the monks 'surrendered to Thomas Cromwell's commissioners without giving any trouble or opposition'. After the Dissolution the Abbey and its lands came into the hands of Sir Nicholas Strelley, Lord of Eccleshall who bought the Abbey and the land and liberty of Beauchief. In 1648 it was passed by marriage to the Pegge family. During the 17th century some parts of the Abbey fell into disrepair and much of the stone was used to build Beauchief Hall. During this time the nave and tower of the Abbey church were made secure and it was used as a family chapel by the Pegge family who lived at the hall.
I must look out for next year's open days because I would love to see inside the church which was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as 'an incongruous but very attractive combination of different elements.'
Our visit to the Abbey was a very pleasant diversion on a sunny afternoon but we were soon on our way a little further along the road to the Industrial Museum which I will write about in my next post.