Over the next thirty-five years, the four Augustinian priories that resulted from the Pope's approval were built at Rye (1364), the second was at Atherstone (1375), the third at Newport in Wales (1377) and the fourth either at Tawstock in 1385 or (because of the failure of Tawstock) at Thetford in 1389.
This Augnet page will focus on Atherstone. Consistently one of the smaller Augustinian (Austin) friaries in England, Atherstone still draws attention because its fourteenth-century Augustinian-built church still stands and, subsequently enlarged and amended, is still in use; it is now the Anglican parish church.
The generosity of Ralph Lord Basset of Drayton made possible the foundation of the Austin Friary at Atherstone in 1374. He donated to them twelve acres (4.9 hectares) of land that earlier belonged to the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Bec in Normandy, and had contained the ancient St. Mary’s Chapel that dated from the early 12th century.
Even though Pope Urban V in 1364 had demanded that the four new Austin Friars Priories should be able to maintain twelve brethren, it seems doubtful that this friary ever reached this complement. Neither did the small town of Atherstone, with a population of only about 250 people, offer a chance for great material expansion and, therefore, this house always remained small.
Like other similar attempts in the latter part of the fourteenth century it was to serve the religious needs of the local people whose parish church at Mancetter in North Warwickshire was difficult for them to reach. The pastor at Mancetter, Richard Bulcot, understood the problem and came in July 1375 to an amicable understanding with John Combe O.S.A., the procurator for the Austin Friars.
The construction of a church in Atherstone was the principal need. It was erected on the foundations of an ancient chapel which had belonged to the Benedictine Royal Abbey of Bec (in French: Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec: The Abbey of Our Lady of Bec) in Le Bec Hellouin, near Rouen in Normandy, France. The chapel was 55 feet (17 metres) in length and 22 feet (7 metres) wide.
When Lord Ralph bequeathed in his will 500 marks towards the completion of the church, the Austin Friars added a nave 95 x 31 feet (33 x 10 metres), converted the first church into their choir and connected both by an octagonal tower which was 12 feet (4.2 metres) square. The building still stands today, and serves as the Anglican parish church in Atherstone.
In 1485, on the evening before the battle of Bosworth which was to win him the Crown of England, King Henry VII received in this church Holy Communion from the hands of an Austin Friar. He did not sleep in the Austin Friary overnight, but in the Three Tunns Inn nearby.
The addition to the church seems to have increased attendance. This and some other reasons led in 1404 to a bitter attack on the local Austin Friars by the Pastor William Brinkelow.
(Continued on the next page.)