Episode 5 – Abbey Dore

Today we reach the youngest village so far on our alphabetical tour of Britain – Abbey Dore. This village of around 500 people did not exist at the time of the Domesday Book, but the intersection of a river and an ancient Roman road made it an ideal location for a new settlement.

If you want to view the village today, I can recommend this YouTube video of one group’s hike through the area.

Roman Conquest

But nearly two thousand years ago, Abbey Dore was a very different place. In the year 43 AD, the Romans began the conquest of Britain, and soon the Celtic Britons either submitted willingly, or were forced to do so in battle.

The Celtic tribe called the Silures were based in south-east Wales, and fiercely resisted Roman rule. One part of their land was the kingdom of Ewyas (pronounced ‘you-us’), including the future location of Abbey Dore. The Celtic High King, Caractacus, led the Silures against the Romans, but ultimately Celtic warriors could not match the Roman military machine [1]. One part of that machine included the building of roads and forts to allow the soldiers of the legions to travel with ease. At Abbey Dore, evidence has been found of such a fort at Black Bush farm, to the side of a Roman road that ran from nearby Kentchester in a south-westerly direction. [2]

Once Wales had been subdued, the Celts eventually became used to living under the Romans, and embraced Christianity when it was adopted throughout the empire. After the Romans left, the Celts retained their beliefs, and Wales soon split into individual kingdoms again. The Saxons often both raided Wales, and formed alliances with its various rulers.

King Offa of Mercia came to power in the second half of the eighth century, and pushed the borders of the kingdom to what would be their greatest extent. He often raided into the Welsh kingdoms, and one of his most famous achievements was the construction of Offa’s Dyke. This was a wall made of earth, and marked Mercia’s western border. Abbey Dore barely fell onto the Mercian side of this wall.

Offa’s Dyke continues to deliniate the border between England and Wales. At Abbey Dore, the border lies to the West, following Offa’s Dyke, and then juts east to join the River Monnow and then go down South to Monmouth.

Holy Men

Following 1066, this area became Norman land, and in 1147, one of the Norman lords – Robert FitzHarold of Ewyas – was in control of the area. It was his desire to set up a monastery nearby, and so he sent out an invitation to the Cistercian monks of Morimond, in eastern France. [3]

The Cistercian order was fairly young at this point. In 1098, a group of monks split apart from their previous order – the Benedictines – to set up a new monastery near Dijon, France. This location became known as ‘Citeaux’, and it is from this word that we get ‘Cistercian’. While previous orders of monks had worn dyed habits, Cistercians wore undyed white habits and were known as ‘White Monks’.

They had many differences from the Benedictine order they had split from. Benedictines, for instance, had fairly independent monasteries and raised money from tithes and donations. The White Monks encouraged strong links between the ‘founder’ monasteries and their ‘colonies’, such as between the new Dore Abbey and Morimond. The monasteries were also to be self-sufficient, raising their own money through economic endeavours such as brewing ale, and farming. [4]

It was the monks who named the Abbey, and the most common theory I have seen for the name ‘Dore’ comes from a language mix-up. The locals still spoke Welsh, while the monks spoke French. When the Cistercians arrived at their new home, they asked the locals what the river was called. They were told “dwr” (which means ‘water’), but the monks heard “d’or” (which means ‘golden’). Today, the river is still called ‘Dore’, and the valley in which it sits is the ‘Golden Valley’. [5]

One of the first abbots of Dore Abbey was called Adam, and historically he has a mixed reputation. One source says he was “celebrated as a philosopher, poet and physician” with a reputation for “piety and holiness of life”, which is why he was chosen as abbot. [6] Other places say he was ambitious and greedy, because of his methods for achieving the Cistercian self-sufficiency.

Abbot Adam’s goal for Dore Abbey was simple: land. Indeed, there was some very nice land nearby to the east – a place called Trivel, used as a royal hunting ground – which he saw as being useful to his plans to raise money. He travelled in person to see Richard I, in Aquitaine, to persuade him to sell the land to the abbey. The king was not initially willing to give over the land without more information, so Adam bribed a Herefordshire soldier to back him. This persuaded the king. By 1213, the abbey held 1,200 acres of the 2,000 acre woodland.

Adam paid a huge sum of money for the land, but the monks soon made it back by clearing the woodland to make into wheatfields, making back three times the value paid by selling the wood for building purposes. The word ‘Capitalist’ didn’t exist yet, but Adam would have been one. This may have been good for the Abbey, but it did not impress Prince John, who had often hunted at Trivel. Richard I died on Crusade in 1199 and John, his brother, became King. Not only did John like his hunting grounds, he also found that the kingdom was struggling after all the money spent on crusade. So, being King, he took the land back from Dore Abbey. They had to spend even more to buy it back again. [7]

It seems that Adam and John’s ‘war’ over the land cost the abbey financially, with them having to pay further amounts in 1223 to be able to prove their ownership of Trivel. But the future was bright; Cistercian self-sufficiency paid off as the dedicated monks used the land to raise sheep. Wool was the main export from the British Isles, and by the end of the 13th Century, wool from Abbey Dore was renowned as far away as Florence in Italy, and commanded a high price of 28 marks (about £18 then or £20,000 today) per sack [8].

The Dissolution

The secluded life of the Dore Abbey monks could not continue forever. Enter Henry VIII, and the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1536, the land was granted to Edward Fox, bishop of Hereford, to look after. [9] However, since Bishop Fox was busy in Germany (he seems to have been closer to the German forms of protestantism than Henry’s other bishops) [10], someone else had to administer the land. That was John Scudamore – a wealthy commoner from Holm Lacy near Hereford. Ultimately, John used his connections to purchase Abbey Dore for £379 in 1540. Though not a lord, he held duties in the royal household and also acted as a judge.

Interestingly, Scudamore was a Catholic, and Queen Mary I made him a member of the council in the marches of Wales. He was appointed steward of Hereford, and was still in authority in Elizabeth I’s time. In 1564 Bishop Scory of Hereford made a list of all the people in authority in Herefordshire who were not happy with her rule, and Scudamore came top. Nevertheless he was not removed from his position. [9]

When John took over the land, as part of his duties for the dissolution he tore down all the monastery buildings and part of the church at Dore Abbey. The bricks and tiles were sold as building materials. [11]

John Scudamore’s eldest son was called William, and William’s son was John. When William died in 1560, the younger John (John II for the purposes of keeping track) became the heir to the Scudamore land. He also inherited some property from his father.

In those days, a young man in the upper end of society would be under his father’s guardianship until he was 21, and he could also not legally inherit until that age. If his father died before then, his ‘wardship’ (guardianship and management of the inheritance) would be purchased by someone of high standing. Anyone in the lower end of society probably didn’t need to worry about this as all land was ultimately the property of the local lord.

John II was only eight when William died, and his wardship was purchased by Sir James Croft, the holder of Croft Castle in Herefordshire. James’s daughter, Eleanor, caught John’s eye, and they were married and had five children. She died in 1569, and John would later go on to re-marry.

In 1571, the elder John Scudamore died aged 58, and John II inherited Abbey Dore. In the same year, he became a junior MP for Herefordshire, alongside senior MP and his former guardian, James Croft. He and James Croft were regularly re-elected in this position up until 1589, when John II stepped back in favour of his brother-in-law and James’s son, Herbert. He later returned as MP in 1597.

It is not entirely clear what John II’s inclinations were, religiously. While Mary Queen of Scots appears to have had an interest in him, he spoke up against a future mayor of Hereford who might be ‘a hinderer of the godly proceeding of the present state of religion’. Then again, one of his sons became a Catholic priest, and his sister married a man who refused to accept Protestantism. Perhaps, like his grandfather, he knew how to keep his head down. [12]

John and Eleanor’s eldest son was James Scudamore, presumably named for his grandfather James Croft. James, like his grandfather William, died before his father. James’s son John, born in 1601, became the new heir to Abbey Dore, and he will have some influence over the village.

Rebuilding the church

In 1615, John III turned 14, which in those days was the minimum age for marriage. Within a month of his birthday, he married Elizabeth. She was heir to a sizeable fortune – £600 or more per year (£150,000 today). This is an unusual case of a man marrying a woman for her money!

When James died in 1619, despite being married already John was still under 21, so his grandfather John II bought the wardship. [13]

On 1 June 1620, John III was created a Baronet [14], which is the lowest possible hereditary position in England. In effect, he was still a commoner, but he got to use the prefix ‘Sir’ instead of ‘Mr’. It seems that this was influenced by his grandfather. Aged 21, he inherited James’s property and was also of-age to become an MP (this is still the age limit for being an MP today). While not completely clear on religious opinion, he was friendly toward the Church of England. [13]

John II died a few years later in 1623, and by now the Scudamores were the most powerful family in Herefordshire. John III’s inheritance from his grandfather included 13,600 acres in Herefordshire and 1,840 in Worcestershire. [12] [13]

A few years after John III became an MP, the ruling monarch, James I of England (and VI of Scotland) died. His son Charles became king. As mentioned already in this blog, Charles and parliament did not get on. You may recall from Abberley that Charles’s main issue with parliament was that he wanted money to pay for wars, and they wouldn’t give it to him. John – like much of Herefordshire – supported the king and his causes. In 1628 he used his position as MP to make speeches arguing for baronets (of which he was one) to pay a subsidy of £50 (£12,000 today) to the king.

Charles rewarded John III by enhancing his family’s noble position. He became Viscount of Sligo. I don’t know that the Scudamores ever visited Ireland, but it would certainly have provided a substantial increase in income.

Now the history of Abbey Dore directly connects to the Scudamore family. In the year 1634, the Archbishop of Canterbury – William Laud – approached John III and asked him to rebuild the abbey. A local folk tale suggests that John and Elizabeth did not have any surviving male heirs despite being married for 20 years. The Archbishop suggested that this was a curse from God because of John I tearing down the abbey buildings. As a penance for his ancestor’s doings, John should rebuild the church and then God would give him a male heir. After the abbey was restored, they had a male child who lived to inherit from his father. [15]

This story is complete rubbish. Because Elizabeth and John had a son called James, born in 1624 [13] [16]. I think this story comes about because the cycle of grandson inheriting from grandfather repeating itself for the third time, and possibly alluding to the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah. John IV – the second Viscount Scudamore – was born in 1650 to James and his wife. Some have mistaken John IV for being John III’s son.

The part of the fable that is not a lie, however, is that John III reconstructed Dore Abbey. Visiting today, the coats of arms of John, Charles I and Archbishop Laud can be found on the church walls.

Royalist John III and his son James of course picked sides with the King when the English Civil War kicked off in 1642. April 1643 saw the Parliamentarian army arrive at Hereford, and John and James were present inside the town. It seems that John III took a leading role in the preparations, and tried to get the people of the town ready for siege warfare:

“… first that a breastwork should be made on ye banke of ye river upon both sides of ye bridge, and that ye way under ye Castle being upon ye same banke very plaine, and open as any highway should be likewise strengthened with a good worke, and turnpike, to hinder any entrance by land under ye Castle, or by water in boats; 2ndly that a brestworke should be cast up to defend ye entrance into ye Castle by ye Mill, as plaine and open a place as ye other, only there is a small ascent; 3rdly that deep trenches with any movable bridges untill drawbridges could be provided, should be digged and made within evry open gate; 4thly that Byster’s Gate should be dam’d up; 5thly that some old houses on severall places on ye wall should be taken downe …” [17]

But the people were reluctant to follow this advice, which probably would have saved the city. Hereford easily fell, and the defenders surrendered without much trouble. John III and James were captured. After four years they were released, and John III had to pay a hefty fine.

The Poor Law

The future of the Scudamore family does not really touch on Abbey Dore, so let’s have a look at some of the more recent history of the area, and the workers who lived there.

From the time of Elizabeth I, a system had been set up so that each church parish would take care of the poor and needy within their area. The wealthier members of society paid tithes towards the church which went to support the system. But they felt that too much of their tax money was going towards the poor, so they were relying on welfare instead of trying to find work. So in 1834 the law was amended.

The 1834 law brought groups of parishes together into unions, and required these unions to build workhouses with fairly standardised rooms and regulations to encourage the poor to get work rather than stay in the workhouse. The goal was for the conditions of the workhouse to be worse than those of a labourer, but a labourer’s living conditions were not that great in south-west Herefordshire so the workhouse would have to be even worse.

Where there was low unemployment, the workhouses would have worked well. But where there was high unemployment, they would have been filled with poor people who wanted to work, but were unable to find any. The spirit of the law was honourable, but it resulted in terrible conditions in the cities.

Workhouses already existed before the 1834 amendments – there were two small ones in the area that would become the Dore Union at Kentchurch to the south east, and Madley to the north east. But after 1834 a single workhouse was to be constructed at Abbey Dore, because it was in the centre of the three parishes in the Union.

The Dore Union Board got a loan of £2,000 from the government in 1837, and they hired an architect and builders to construct the workhouse. Don’t imagine the same sort of place that Oliver Twist would have been confined to. This was a country workhouse, a quiet location in the middle of fields. Men and women were separated, as were adults and children. Residents had to keep to a strict timetable, and there were a lot of rules about behaviour. If a resident misbehaved, food would be restricted, and if this continued, they’d go before the magistrate.

Abbey Dore does not seem to have had many problems, though. Only a few residents went before the magistrate, and in the whole time of the workhouse’s existence, only maybe three residents put into prison for bad behaviour. In addition, the members of the board were not greedy and evil, but kindly and caring of their charges: children were well-cared-for and given good apprenticeships that matched their skills and desires, and the sick and disabled were taken to London for treatment. When government reforms tried to improve workhouse conditions, the Dore Union was able to say that it already met the new requirements.

In 1929, the workhouse system was ended. Children by now were kept in care homes, but the building remained a Public Assistance Institution for the elderly and poor for a while. Today, the old workhouse buildings have been made into houses. [18]

Next time, we cross the Irish Sea for the first time to visit two villages – Abbeydorney and Abbeyfeale – both homes for more Cistercian monks.


[1] Silures (Britons), Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles, The History Files

[2] Roman Fort, Black Bush Farm, Abbey Dore, Herefordshire Through Time, Herefordshire Council

[3] Abbey Dore, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire, Volume 2, South West, British History Online

[4] Who were the Cistercians? Prof Janet Burton, Monastic Wales

[5] Dore Abbey Interactive Guidebook, Dore Abbey, 2009

[6] Excursions in the Counties of Kent, Gloucester, Hereford, Monmouth, and Somerset, in the Years 1802, 1803, and 1805, James Peter Malcolm, 1814

[7] King John and Dore Abbey, Blanche Parry, R.E. & T.G. Richardson, 2015

[8] The English Wool Market, c.1230-1327, Adrian R. Bell, Chris Brooks, Paul R. Dryburgh, Cambridge University Press, 2007

[9] SCUDAMORE, (SKYDMORE), John (by 1503-71), of Holm Lacy, Herefs., History of Parliament Online, Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982

[10] Edward Fox, Tudor Place

[11] Abbeydore, Herefordshire, Extract from Littlebury’s Directory & Gazetteer of Herefordshire, 1876/7

[12] SCUDAMORE, John (c.1542-1623), of Holme Lacy, Herefs., History of Parliament Online, Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981

[13] SCUDAMORE, Sir John, 1st Bt. (1601-1671), of Holme Lacy, Herefs.; later of St. Martin’s Lane and Petty France, Westminster., History of Parliament Online, Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010

[14] Complete baronetage, Cokayne, George E. (George Edward), 1825-1911

[15] A BRIEF HISTORY of DORE ABBEY, Friends of Dore Abbey website

[16] Scudamore, John, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51, Thomas Seccombe

[17] Sir William Waller, The English Civil War, Herefordshire Through Time, Herefordshire Council

[18] Dore Workhouse in Victorian Times, by Nancy Elliot, The History of Ewyas Lacy, 1986


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