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Abbeys of the Witham Valley

Tupholme Abbey

A guide to the history and remains of the Premonstratensian abbey. The name 'Tupholme' has ancient origins. The first part, 'Tup' is a country word for sheep, and 'holme' comes from the Saxon word for island, or raised piece of ground.

Tupholme Abbey founded by an Abbot and twelve canons from Newsham Abbey on land given by Gilbert and Alan de Neville
13th century
Charter granted, confirming the right for the Abbey to have a canal linking it with the River Witham
Earl of Lancaster grants the manor of Burreth to Tupholme Abbey
Tupholme is endowed with the manor of Ranby by Ralph de Neville
Henry VIII passes an Act of Parliament to dissolve the smaller monasteries, Tupholme among them
The site of Tupholme Abbey with church, bell tower and church yard is granted to Sir Thomas Heneage of Hainton
The estate passes to Sir Thomas's son-in-law William Willoughby and a Tudor mansion is built
Tupholme is sold by the fifth Baron Willoughby to the Vyner family
The Tudor mansion is demolished and the new Tupholme Hall built
1710 – 1720
William Stukeley visits the site and draws the gatehouse
Samuel Buck visits the site and draws the monastic ruin, with the new Hall visible in the background
Mid 18th century
Cottages built on the south side of the Abbey wall
19th century
Abbey Farm develops; the farmhouse is extended and the farmyard enclosed by barns and sheds
1970s Farmhouse derelict
1972 Bardney Pop Festival held on the site
c.1986 Farmhouse demolished
1988 Tupholme Abbey acquired by Heritage Lincolnshire

The seal of Thomas
Abbot of Tupholme
Artist impression
- aerial view
Samuel Buck's engraving
Farmhouse and cottage
Layout of Tupholme Abbey
How to get there
The Founding of Tupholme Abbey
In the middle of the twelfth century, a newly elected Abbot and twelve canons set out from Newsham in North Lincolnshire to found a new Premonstratensian Abbey on the 'island of the sheep' at Tupholme. The site had been granted to them by Alan and Gilbert de Neville, and later, in 1342, their descendant Ralph de Neville enlarged the Abbey holdings by granting to it the manor of Ranby.
The Premonstratensians
The monks who founded Tupholme Abbey were from the Premonstratensian Order, founded in 1121 by St.Norbert at Prémontré in Northern France. The Premonstratensians followed a strict version of the rule of St.Augustine, and had a similar lifestyle to the Cistercians.
The first English Premonstratensian house was at Newsham in Lincolnshire, and from there Abbeys were founded at Barlings, and a few years later, at Tupholme. The canons (as Premonstratensian monks were known), wore white habits and caps, and were often known as the 'white canons'. Unlike ordinary monks, they did not always stay within the cloisters of the abbey, but served as village priests and missionaries in the local community.
Agriculture, especially wool production, provided most of their income, however, Tupholme never became a wealthy house. In 1347, when the Abbey was heavily in debt, an enterprising Abbot was accused of 'forgery and counterfeiting of the coin of the realm', apparently using the proceeds to buy corn and wine which he sold for a profit.

The Medieval Abbey
Life for canons at Tupholme was regulated by a series of eight daily services, which began with Vigils at 2.00am, and ended with Compline at 7.30pm. The lay brothers also had the regular work of growing crops, husbanding sheep and tending the Abbey's outlying lands.
The canons ate their meals in the refectory, which was on the first floor above a store room. Their religious observances continued whilst they ate, for a pulpit was built into the refectory wall, from which lessons would be read during the meal.
It was a hard life, sometimes too strict for some of the canons, as the records of visiting Bishops show. In 1497, Thomas Pynderwelle was banished to Croxton Abbey in Leicestershire as he had become involved with a local woman called Philippa and fathered her child.
In 1482 the behaviour of the canons had evidently been unruly, as they were forbidden to leave the precincts of the abbey without prior permission, or to sit up drinking after Compline. The penalty for these crimes was to be three days on bread and water.
Few relics of these times have survived, but the British Museum does have a wax impression of the Tupholme Abbey seal, used to 'sign, seal and deliver' documents.
The Dissolution...and after
After some 400 years of religious life at Tupholme, the tradition came to an abrupt end. In 1536 the Abbey was suppressed, along with other small houses, when Henry VIII began the dissolution of the monasteries. The Abbot, John Acaster, was given a pension of £18, the other canons £1 each, and the site of the abbey together with the church, bell tower and church yard was granted to Sir Thomas Heneage of Hainton.
Sir Thomas built a house at Tupholme for his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law William Willoughby. This Tudor mansion passed through the Willoughby family, until it was sold in 1661 by the fifth Baron Willoughby, who used the proceeds to pay for his enterprises in the Caribbean. Tupholme then became the property of the Vyner family, who demolished the Tudor house and built the new Tupholme Hall, 750 metres to the north (now also demolished). A fragment of the ruined abbey was probably kept as an eye-catching ornament in the surrounding parkland.
From the 18th century a farm was developed on the site, and the ruin was reputedly used as the back wall of a cowshed.
The Abbey Buildings
The surviving wall at Tupholme is two storeys high, with small square windows lighting the lower store room, and graceful Early English style windows lighting the upper floor. When the site was excavated as part of the 1989 repair work, some of the coloured glass from these windows was found. The wall was part of the refectory, or dining room, and the cloister and other monastic buildings would have extended northwards, towards the modern road.
The mounds and hollows that can be seen in the field are the remains of the medieval abbey, disturbed and overlaid by the foundations of the Willoughby's mansion. There are several fishponds to the south of the wall, which have monastic origins, and the moated area is thought to be the remains of a water-surrounded arbour.
Between 1710 and 1720, Tupholme was visited by the famous antiquarian, William Stukeley. He made a drawing of a gatehouse which guarded the entrance to the Abbey, but no trace of this building survives above ground today.
Tupholme Abbey today
In the late 1980s, the farm buildings at Tupholme were demolished, and in 1988, the site and ruins of the Abbey were put on the market. Tupholme was bought by the Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire, with the aid of grants from Lincolnshire County Council, East Lindsey District Council, and English Heritage. Major repair works were carried out in order to stabilise the abbey wall, and, with the help of many organisations and local people, who formed the 'Friends of Tupholme Abbey', the site was brought into a fit state to open to the public.
Tupholme now boasts interpretation panels, a picnic site, and a flock of Soay sheep and it is proving to be a haven for wildlife in an otherwise intensively farmed landscape.
The Pop Festival
In 1970 and 1971 folk festivals were held at Tupholme, and in 1972 Lincolnshire's biggest ever Pop Festival was held here, starring Rod Stewart and the Beach Boys among others. The event lives on in local memory – apparently the heavens opened and many of the barefoot fans had to be housed in village and church halls for the night.

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