The overlooked medieval treasure of Beauchief Abbey with Dr Emma Wells

in Sheffield

Oft overlooked, this medieval treasure located on the outskirts of Sheffield overflows with a rich history that spans centuries. Originally established as a 12th-century monastery by Saxon Lord Robert FitzRanulf around 1176, it served as a home to monks of the Premonstratensian order, commonly dubbed the ‘white canons’. This daughter house of Welbeck in Nottinghamshire was rumoured to have been founded as a form of atonement for FitzRanulf, one of the alleged knights involved in the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, although there is no concrete evidence linking him to the crime. Regardless, the abbey was dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket.

Over time Beauchief evolved into a significant regional monastery, engaging in various activities such as farming, coal mining, tanning, and lead smelting. However, in 1537, its end came thanks to the grim fate of Henry VIII’s Dissolution. The roof was removed, and its windows were shattered, leaving the structure to fall into disrepair. The monastic estate was then sold to Sir Nicholas Strelley for £223. The refectory was repurposed as a dwelling, while the chapter house served as a wine cellar and storage area.

In 1648, the Strelley heiress, Gertrude Strelley, married Edward Pegge, and the Beauchief estates were passed down through generations of the Pegge family. In 1671, Edward Pegge used fabric from the abbey to construct a new family residence called Beauchief Hall, situated further up the hill. Meanwhile, the old abbey tower was meticulously restored and transformed into a family chapel, a structure that stands largely unchanged on the former monastery grounds to this day.

Remarkably, the ownership of the abbey church deviates from the typical arrangement within the Church of England. Since 1932, it has been held by the people of Sheffield, with no appointed clergy. Instead, services are led by dedicated volunteers. Today, only the west tower of the church and a portion of the nave remain as remnants of the once-thriving Beauchief Abbey, which continues to tell the story of its enduring history.

Books by Dr Emma Wells

Leave a Comment