This small community of Benedictine Nuns was founded in 1120 by Manasses, Count of Guisnes and his wife, Emma, who was the daughter and heiress of William de Arras, Lord of the Manor of Redlingfield. In the same year, Redlingfield Church was appropriated to the priory, which was erected beside it. In later years the priory was able to draw revenues from parts of the manors of Hickling (Norfolk) and Rishangles, also portions of the money and tithes paid to the churches of Walpole, Melton and Levington. The nuns were able to give the aged and poor inhabitants a daily dole of pence, bread, beef and herrings throughout Lent and Easter each year at a cost of £8.
It seems the priory was not free from the occasional piece of scandal! One notorious Prioress was Isabel Hermyte (who served from 1419-27). She was the subject of a Bishop's Enquiry in 1427. It appears that she had not made Confession for at least two years, neither had she observed Sundays and Festivals. What was worse, she had taken to sleeping in a private room with Joan Tates, a novice, she had “lain violent hands” upon Agnes Brakle on St Luke's Day and she had been alone with Thomas Langelond, the bailiff, in “private and suspicious places” such as a small hall with windows closed, and “sub heggerowes”. She had neglected her priory in other ways and was a bad influence on Alice Lampit, her Sub-Prioress. She resigned, the Sub-Prioress did penance the following Sunday by wearing white flannel and no veil, and the other five nuns and two novices were made to do penance by fasting on bread and beer every Friday.
In 1514, Bishop Nykke made a personal visitation and then all was not well. Alice Legate, the Prioress, was not satisfied with the obedience of the nuns, and the nuns complained that the Sub-Prioress was cruel and severe in administration of corporal punishment, occasionally actually drawing blood. In addition to this there were no curtains between the beds in the dormitory and boys had been allowed to sleep there. There was no proper infirmary and the refectory was not being put to its proper use as a dining hall. It seems that this was all put in order because at later visitations in 1520, 1526 and 1532, all was found to be satisfactory.
The priory was finally suppressed, with other smaller monasteries, in 1536 and the nuns were sent back into normal life. Each was equipped with the paltry sum of 23s 4d with which to establish themselves in their new lives. Their two Chaplains received 25 shillings each and their 13 servants received small sums of money. Other than these trifling “rewards” they were turned out penniless. Grace Sampson, the Prioress, fared a little better - she was granted a pension of 20 marks per year.
The priory buildings and property were granted in 1537 to Sir Edmund Bedingfield (the next village has the same name as the family). The manor remained in Bedingfield hands until 1636, after which it was owned by the Willis and Adair families.
The inventory of possessions of the priory, made in 1536 by the Commissioners, gives us interesting information about its furnishings and possessions and their value. It appears that the priory Church possessed the following: a silver chalice, an alabaster table, 3 altar cloths, 2 large and 2 small candlesticks and a Missal. In the Lady Chapel was a hanging for the altar, also a linen cloth and super-frontal, two cruets and sacring-bell. In the vestry were stored a crucifix, a cope, a set of black velvet vestments for Celebrant, Deacon and Subdeacon, also russet damask, red silk and blue silk chasubles. Several of these vestments, however, were described as being of “lytell worthe”.
Some authorities state that the Priory Church was actually to the south of the parish church and others maintain that St Andrew's (pictured) served as the Priory Church. The latter seems reasonable because an official list of churches appropriated to monasteries, made in 1416 states clearly that the nuns of Redlingfield had held the parish church to their own use since the foundation of the priory. St Andrew's also stood within the priory precincts and a community which usually numbered about ten nuns would not need a large church.
There is also some doubt as to what the building now used as a barn for Redlingfield Hall (pictured) was originally used for in the priory. It is about 50 feet long and stands north-south. Some experts believe that it was the infirmary. Another authority says that it was two-storied and could therefore have been the guesthouse. The priory fish-ponds also remain to the west.
This information was taken from a guide compiled by Roy Tricker, who thanked Rev David Streeter, James Risk, Cynthia Brown and George Pipe for information and advice, also the staff of Suffolk Record Office for the use of their facilities.