The Mill Story – Part 3

The Beauchief Abbey Canons, or white canons, belonged to the Premonstratentian order, which was founded in northern France in 1121. In England and Wales, there were some 35 houses, whose members were ordained clerics; so, locally, they had responsibility for the churches at Alfreton, Norton and Wymeswold[i], and, of course, one of them would have had to make the daily walk to the chapel at Carterknole to say prayers for the departed members of the d’Ecclesall family. These abbeys were only small having only between twelve and fifteen canons, assisted by clerks and lay brothers, whose activities were industrial as well as monastic. At Beauchief, they owned five mills along the Sheaf, were engaged in farming and woodland industries on the estate and wider afield had control over iron, lead and coal extraction in several locations in Derbyshire.

Their abbey had been founded in 1183 by Robert Fitz-Ranulph Lord of the neighbouring Manor of Alfreton, being the daughter institution of the larger Abbey at Welbeck[ii]. Robert[iii] dedicated it to the recently canonized Thomas a Becket; Pegge, writing at the end of the nineteenth century, has proved that, in spite of rumours to the contrary, he was not implicated in Thomas’s murder. The original charter covered an area of about 700 acres stretching from Twentywell Lane north-west along the Sheaf on one side and Hemper and Bocking Lanes on the other. Subsequent benefactors donated land over much of Derbyshire, where they had several granges, or farms.

The Abbey contained the full range of monastic buildings:- church, cloisters, chapter house, kitchen, refectory, dormitory, abbot’s chamber, guest chamber and infirmary.  There was public access to the church, guest-room, abbot’s house and kitchens only; to the rear of the abbey, the grounds were walled and would have contained a garden, Where they grew fruit, vegetables and, importantly, herbs, because one of their number would have been an apothecary, acting as a doctor for the Abbey and probably the surrounding population; they also kept bees –honey was important as there was no sugar- note that the hat, face net and garments of the bee keeper below are very similar to what they wear today Streams running into the Sheaf filled ponds which provided water which served for drinking, sanitation and a fishery.

[i]Wymeswold is near Loughborough.

[ii] Welbeck is about 25 miles east of Chesterfield

[iii] Alfreton is ten miles south of Chesterfield                                                                       J H-W October 2010