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Canonsleigh Abbey

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Canonsleigh Abbey in Burlescombe parish, Devon, was an Augustinian priory.


Founded by Walter II de Claville

It was founded in about 1170 by Walter II de Claville, lord of the manor of Burlescombe, for the Augustinian Canons Regular as the Priory of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist. He appears to have been a descendant of Walter I de Claville (floruit 1086) the Domesday Book tenant of Burlescombe and of many other manors. The original Anglo-Saxon name of the site donated by Walter II, perhaps a sub-manor of Burlescombe, was "Leigh" (Domesday Book Leige), which after the foundation of the Abbey became known as "Canons' Leigh" and was Latinised by mediaeval scribes to Leigh Canonicorum (i.e. "Leigh of the canons"), now "Canonsleigh".

Re-founded by Maud de Lacy

By 1284 the number of canons had declined to seven, and these were evicted in 1285 when the widow Maud de Lacy, Countess of Gloucester(d.1289), formerly the wife of Richard de Clare, 6th Earl of Gloucester(d.1262), refounded the establishment as a nunnery as the Abbey Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Etheldreda. In 1286 the abbess was granted licence to hold weekly markets. It was not especially wealthy. The number of historical records that survive for this establishment is not large which limits our knowledge of its history. However a recent article shows how it is still possible to describe some aspects of Canonsleigh's story in detail.


Among the possessions of Canonsleigh Abbey were the following:

  • Netherton, Farway
  • Dissolution

    It was suppressed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


    In September 1546 Sir Richard Grenville (c.1495-1550), of Stowe, Cornwall and Bideford, MP for Cornwall in 1529, together with Roger Blewett of Holcombe Rogus paid nearly £1,170 for the manors of Canonsleigh in Burlescombe and Tynyell in Landulph.


    Canons Leigh Barton (or "Canonsleigh") was in the 16th and 17th centuries a residence of the family of Culme (or "Columb", "Culem" etc.), which may have derived its name from some ancient landholding in the area of the River Culm, perhaps at Uffculme or Collumpton. The family is generally said to have died out in the male line on the death of Richard II Culme in 1658, although the Rev. John Culme, vicar of Knowstone-cum-Molland, to which the Culme family held the presentation, died later in 1691.

    Present Remains

    The remains today consist of a substantial 15th-century gatehouse, now within the yard of Canonsleigh Barton farm, and to the east lie fragments of a wall possibly once part of a mill. As no parts of machinery or workings are left inside the structure it is also speculated that it may have been an ablutions block as much of the stonework is akin to the area used for a similar function inside the gatekeeper's quarters in the Gatehouse, also known as the Almonry. There also remains part of the outer walls of the grounds, the leat and the stable block.


    Canonsleigh Abbey Wikipedia

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