Hayling Island and the abbey of Jumièges

by Sue Humphrey

Many people who live in Hayling Island are aware that there is a historical link between Hayling and Jumièges Abbey in Normandy, but are perhaps unaware of how that link came about. St. Philibert founded the Abbey of Jumièges in 654 and became its first Abbot. It stands on the north bank of the River Seine, a few miles west of what is now the town of Rouen, but is now a ruin. The Abbey prospered under its second Abbot Saint Archard and by 685 it numbered around 1000 monks. In the 9th century it was pillaged and burned to the ground by Normans but was rebuilt on an even grander scale by William, Duke of Normandy who died in 942. A new church was consecrated in 1067 in the presence of William the Conqueror. This Church of Notre Dame is described as being an exceptional example of 11th century early Romanesque architecture. The Abbey enjoyed the patronage of the Dukes of Normandy and it became a major centre of religion and scholarship in France. It produced many renowned scholars including the historian William of Jumièges whose book “The Deeds of the Dukes of Normandy” was written to demonstrate that William the Conqueror was the rightful King of England. One Abbot, Robert, became Bishop of London in 1044 and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1051 during the reign of Edward the Confessor.

It is not surprising, therefore, that when William the Conqueror took the throne of England he rewarded the Abbey of Jumièges with the grant of many manors in England. One of these manors was the Manor of South Hayling. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 “The Abbey of Jumièges held about half of the Island in demesne, with over lordship of the rest by the gift of William I.” But their possession of the Island was strongly disputed by the monks of St. Swithuns at Winchester who based their claim to the Island on a grant from Queen Emma. She is said to have given the manor the monks of Winchester, with eight other manors in her gift, as a thank offering for having passed safely through the “ordeal by fire”. (See my article on the Early History of Hayling Island here). Jumièges, having obtained a grant of so rich a manor, refused to give it up however, and Henry I confirmed Jumièges claim to the manor in 1101. Early in the 12th century Bishop Henry of Blois and the monks of Winchester renounced their right to the manor of South Hayling in favour of Jumièges Abbey at the behest of Pope Innocent.

In 1174 Henry II granted a general charter of confirmation to the Abbey of Jumièges of all their English possessions including “the greater part of Hayling with the church and tithes of the Island.” The monks then founded a large Priory in Hayling (the exact location has never been established) and under the grant of Henry II the monks were allowed “to carry all things from the demesne of the church freely to all parts of England and Normandy.” It seems, therefore, that the produce of the Island was exported to the Abbey in Normandy. Taxation returns for 1291 returned the Prior of Hayling as holding in the Island £20 of rents, agricultural land taxed at £5., a mill taxed at 13s 4d, a dovecote taxed at 4s. a garden at 6s. and the service of villains at 20s, yielding an annual income of £27.3s.4d. At the same time the rectory of Hayling, which was in the hands of the prior, on behalf of the Abbot of Jumièges, was returned at the high annual value of £80, whilst the vicarage was worth £14.6s.8d. Hayling was a very wealthy manor.

But the priory suffered from two causes, war and the encroachment of the sea. In 1294, due to the wars with France, Edward I seized all alien priories which were dependent on Abbeys in Normandy. The prior of Hayling was taken into custody and the goods and chattels of the priory seized. On renewal of hostilities with France under Edward II, the priories, including Hayling were again seized but on this occasion the Prior was granted the right to keep his possessions “in safe custody”. Another misfortune, which befell the priory, was the encroachment of the sea on the west shore of the island, which ate away at the property of the monks. In 1324-5 a very considerable portion of the Island was definitely submerged beneath the sea, including the priory church and conventual building. In 1325 the prior forwarded a statement to the crown, and on 8th March 1325 an Inquisition found that 206 acres of arable land of the priory demesne had been inundated and destroyed by the sea since 1294, and that the full annual value of possessions destroyed amounted to the considerable sum of £42.7s.4d.

In 1414 after the general dissolution of all priories in England, Henry V granted Hayling to the Abbey of Sheen in Surrey. So the connection between Jumièges and Hayling came to an end. But the monks of Jumièges were Lords of the Manor of Hayling for the best part of four centuries and the Island prospered under their stewardship. It is therefore appropriate that on the coat of Arms of Havant Borough (of which Hayling Island forms part) the keys borne on the Shield have been taken from the Arms of the monks of Jumièges since History records that “in 1067 William the Conqueror vested in the Abbey of Jumièges the Island called Hayling with all its belongings”.