Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Dale, William Page


Houses of Premonstratensian canons: The abbey of Dale. Pages 69-75.

A History of the County of Derby: Volume 2.

Originally published by Victoria County History, William Page, London, 1907.



The abbey of Dale, or as it was often termed Stanley Park (De Parco Stanley), was a religious establishment founded in a dale of South Derbyshire of much quiet beauty, and possessing an early history as picturesque as its surroundings.

There is a fine register or chartulary of this abbey at the British Museum, consisting of 196 small quarto vellum leaves in the handwritings of the reigns of Edward I and II. (fn. 1) At the end of this chartulary is the old chronicle of the founding of Dale Abbey, written in the middle of the thirteenth century by Thomas de Musca, a canon of the house; it is one of the most vividly written and realistic accounts of the gradual rise of a religious community anywhere extant. This chronicle is now fairly well known and has been several times printed. (fn. 2).

  1. Cott, MS. Vesp. E. xxvi. A complete abstract of the whole of the chartulary proper, which ends on fol. 177b, was given by the Dr. Cox in vol. xxiv of Derb. Arch. Soc. Journ. (1902).
  2. The chronicle of Dale Abbey covers fols. 180-7 of the chartulary; but there are also bound up in the volume two fragments (fols. 5 and 195) which are of thirteenth-century date, and are almost certainly parts of the original version in the handwriting of the compiler. A copy of the chronicle was made by Nicholas Charles, Lancaster Herald, in 1611, which is to be found in Cott. MSS. Julius C. vii, fols. 265-8; and there is a later copy in Harl. MSS. 5804, fols. 278-84. The only good critical version, with a faithful translation, is that which is given by Mr. St. John Hope in Derb. Arch. Soc. Journ. v (1883).


The initial letters of the different sections of the story make up the name of the chronicler— T. H. O. M. A. S. D. E. M. V. S. C. A. He is doubtless the same person whose name occurs in the chartulary as Thomas de Muskham, canon in the days of Abbot John Grauncourt (1233-53). The family of Muskham resided near the abbey, and were in good circumstances, holding lands at Stanton and Kirk Hallam, &c., and they were considerable benefactors of the abbey. (fn. 3) The chronicler was evidently a man of superior education, with a knowledge of the old classics, an exceedingly rare acquirement for a religious of those days. He recounts in his opening paragraphs that he was given by his father, in the midst of the flower of his boyhood and youth, to serve God and his Virgin Mother by taking the habit of a White Canon from the abbot, John Grauncourt, ‘a venerable father deserving of love from God and man.’ He proceeds to praise the goodness and mutual charity of his brethren there devoutly serving the Lord Jesus Christ, specially naming Brother Geoffrey de Grevell and Roger de Derby, adding that ‘in the magnitude of their virtues, if I had the fluent loquacity of Homer or Maro, it would I think fail to be expressed.’

  1. Chartul. fols. 79-89. Mention is made in the various grants of Robert de Muskham of Stanton and of his sons (1) Hugh and Ydonea his wife, (2) William, (3) Andrew, and (4) Robert. Thomas de Muskham was probably a brother of the first-named Robert.


As a good example of the style of this chronicle the opening paragraphs of the actual tale may be here cited, following the English version of Mr. Hope:—

Four years and more had I been among them in their veteran congregation when a noble matron, the lady Matilda de Salicosa Mara, the foundress of our church, whose memory is in our benediction, came to us from the district of Lindsey, old and full of days, because knowing the time of her vocation from this world to be rather quickly approaching she had disposed herself to commend her end to God by the prayers of such holy men. And the holy convent having been summoned before her on a certain day for the sake of discoursing, and mention having been made of the first inhabitants of this place, she began the following narrative before them all:—

‘Open your ears,’ said she, ‘to the words of my mouth, my dearly beloved sons, and I will tell you a tale—not a tale, but a circumstance which most certainly happened.’

‘There was a certain baker in Derby in the street which is called St. Mary’s. Moreover at that time the church of St. Mary at Derby had a large parish, and the church of Heanor was subject to it and a chapel. And the said baker, being in a measure another Cornelius, was a man religious and fearing God, so intent upon his good works, that whatever food and clothing beside his own and his children’s and the needful things of the house he could procure during the week, on every Saturday he would bring to the church of St. Mary and bestow on the poor for the love of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. And when with such pious exercises he had passed his life for many years and had been dear and acceptable to God, it pleased God to prove him more perfectly, and having proved him to crown him more gloriously. Also it happened that on a certain day in autumn when he had given himself up to repose at noon, there appeared to him in his dreams the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying, “Thy alms are acceptable before my Son and me. But now if you wish to be perfect, leave all that thou hast and go to Depedale and there thou shalt serve my Son and me in solitude: and when thou shalt have happily finished thy course, thou shalt have the kingdom of brightness, mirth and eternal happiness, which God has prepared for those who love Him.” The man awaking and perceiving the Divine goodness which had been towards him, giving thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin his comforter, spoke nothing to any man but having left all that he possessed straightway withdrew “knowingly ignorant” as it is read of the blessed Benedict; knowingly, because he had learnt the name of the place; ignorant, because he was entirely without knowledge where the place was. Therefore turning his course towards the east, whilst he was passing through the midst of the village of Stanley, he heard a woman saying to a certain girl, “Take our calves with thee and drive them as far as Depedale and return hastily.” Having heard that, the man admiring the favour of God, and believing this voice to have been made as if on his own account, was astonished, and approaching near said: “Tell me, good woman, where is Depedale?” who replied: “Go with the girl, and she, if you wish, will shew you the way.” Whither when he had arrived he found that the place was a marsh, exceedingly dreadful, and far distant from every habitation of man. And turning himself to the southeast of the place, under the side of the mountain, he cut out for himself in the rock a very small dwelling and an altar turned to the south, which had been preserved to this day, and there, by day and night, he served God in hunger and thirst and cold and nakedness.’

The Lady Matilda then proceeded to narrate how one Ralph Fitz Geremund, a man of great power and lord of the moiety of Ockbrook and of Alvaston cum saka, when hunting in his woods of Ockbrook, saw smoke issuing from the hermit’s cell, and was wroth at the intrusion; but seeing the great poverty of the man of God he relented, gave him the place, and also the tithe of his mill at Borrowash for his support. The next section tells how the hermit, attacked by the enemy of souls, moved from his rocky cell, and eventually moved a little to the west where he built for himself a cottage and an oratory adjoining dedicated to God and the Blessed Virgin. On this follows the recital of a vision that appeared to one Uthlagus, when sleeping on the hill of ‘Lyndrik, which is the hill beyond the gate of our monastery towards the west.’ He saw in the vision a golden cross standing where the monastic church was afterwards erected, and multitudes adoring it. When he awoke he told his companions and prophesied of the flowers of virtue that would hereafter bloom in that dale and draw many ‘to adore the Lord and to serve him until the end of time itself for a succession of ages.’