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The Monks in the Seyne House

'Badsey Manor House' or the 'Seyne House' in 2011
'Badsey Manor House' or the 'Seyne House' in 2011

There is a tradition that Badsey Manor House is on the site of an earlier building belonging to Evesham Abbey. Pevsner says “…on the site of the Seyne House, an early fourteenth century rest house of Evesham Abbey, … perhaps incorporating earlier masonry…”.

It is worthwhile to consider the ways in which the Benedictines at Evesham Abbey made use of Badsey. The village was about two miles away from the main abbey buildings. Little of Evesham Abbey remains today and so it is easy to forget that it was once one of the most important monasteries in England.

The Domesday survey in 1086 tells us that Badsey belonged to the abbey. Arable farming there was on a large enough scale to make use of eight ploughs. There were just under 800 acres in cultivation. About 1233, the Chronicles of Evesham Abbey tell us Abbot Thomas de Marleberge “caused certain pieces of land at Badsey to be cultivated, to the extent of five acres, which had never before been cultivated as long as men could remember.” As well as being a religious body, the abbey was a large and successful business looking for ways to expand. Much of the abbey’s income was from rents. But the monks found Badsey useful for more than just agriculture. The Chronicles tell us that about 1317 Abbot Chiriton acquired a house and land at Badsey. About 1330 income was given to the abbey chamberlain “so that if either minuti or their fellow-monks of this abbey wanted to eat there, (permission having been obtained from the prior or his deputy), they should receive the corrody belonging to them (from both the cellar and the kitchen) just as fully as they would have if they were staying and eating at the abbey.” The site at Badsey was therefore important enough to have its own kitchen. We are told it provided a catering service similar to that offered in the main abbey. The Chronicles mention nowhere else outside Evesham offering this special facility.

So what were the monks doing at Badsey? The clue comes from the Latin word ‘minuti’ which can perhaps be translated as ‘the diminished ones’. Minuti were monks who had been bled, not because they were ill, but because it was part of the monastic ritual. The practice is so odd that it needs some explanation.

Blood letting seems to have been practised in most monastic communities. The ‘Cistercian Usages’ tell us in some detail what happened to their monks. All were bled four times a year. Recovery could take some days because several pints of blood were removed and the process continued until a monk was on the point of unconsciousness. Monks stayed in a heated room, had special food, and enough time to recover before returning to their normal work and duties.

For many centuries it was thought that bleeding could cure a wide range of ailments. But why bleed healthy individuals? A medieval manual claimed that the process “strengthens the memory, dries up the brain, sharpens the hearing … produces a musical voice” among other supposed benefits. Some modern commentators have suggested that bleeding was done principally as a preventative against sexual arousal. Monks were supposed to abstain from any kind of sexual activity.

On the main abbey site at Evesham there was an infirmary to care for old and sick monks. It is likely that Badsey also carried out some of this work. In 1334 the Chronicles mention “a messuage with a garden and virgate of land in Badsey for the refreshment of the monks in sickness.” The distant location may have partly been chosen to avoid contagion. Black death arrived in Europe in the 1340s. But a site away from the bustle of the abbey may also have been well suited for monks recovering from their ordeal of bleeding.

Two entries in the Chronicles mention improving conditions for monks who had been bled at Badsey. About 1362 money was provided “…to give and distribute a few pence from this sum to each individual monk who was bled, … He should give the prior twice as much of the said sum, when he was bled. To retain the health of the healthy, and to relieve the infirmity of the sick; he freely added and granted two more days of rest to the aforesaid minuti… for they had formerly had no more than three days. … he also granted single loaves of this type known as treycatm to every monk bled”. About 1400 an order was given to provide “three cartloads of straw a year, for the beds of the monks and the minuti” at Badsey.

Thus we know at least four monastic activities took place at Badsey: the abbey received income from agriculture there; it provided a catering service comparable to that at Evesham; it cared for sick monks; and it bled large numbers of healthy ones. Where did this happen? It is possible that more than one building was needed. There were perhaps a cluster of monastic buildings at Badsey.

Running along the south side of the Manor House is Monks Path, a public footpath that heads straight to Evesham Abbey. Tradition has it that this was the route used by the monks. We have no map or drawing of what the monks’ buildings looked like. We can guess that they followed a simple medieval style – a single storey, built of stone with a wooden frame roof covered with thatch. When a fire was needed, it would have been on a hearth in the centre of the room. Unlike the more important abbey buildings in Evesham, it is unlikely that the stone was carved. It was probably the locally available lias rubble that is part of so many local buildings.

It made sense to reuse well-built walls and it is likely that some of these medieval walls found their way into the Manor House. One reason for supposing this, is that the Manor House is only half timbered from the first floor upwards. With most Elizabethan buildings, the half timbering starts just above ground level. But here, we guess, there were walls worth reusing.

Two walls which are likely to date back to the monks’ time are on the west and south side of the north wing. They are about 600 mm thick – comparable in thickness to the medieval walls in the Almonry in Evesham.

The Manor House has an alternative name: the Seyne House. It is this name that perhaps provides the strongest evidence of a link between the modern house and one of the monastic buildings.

What is a Seyne House? There is a written reference to ‘a Seyne House in Badsey parish’ in 1545 when Henry VIII granted it to Philip Hoby. The name seems to have stuck and today it still appears on a notice by the front doors. The monks may also have called it the ‘Seyne House’. But what does the name mean?

Along with other 20th century writers, Arthur Savory speculates that the word ‘seyne’ means ‘health’ and has a similar derivation and meaning to the word ‘sanatorium’. It was a house for convalescent monks.

Although this explanation is appealing, it is not supported by the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary lists the word ‘seyny’ from the French word ‘seigne’ meaning ‘bled’. Lewis’s Middle English Dictionary lists the same word with several spellings and several related meanings: “blood letting in a monastery, periods of leave from the usual monastic regimen for monks or nuns undergoing bloodletting, … a room, building, or part of a building set apart for ailing monks and those undergoing bloodletting, where the strict monastic diet was relaxed.” This meaning closely matches our understanding of what the monks did at Badsey. So a seyny or seyne house would have been a house where monks were bled and recuperated.

Today ‘seyne’ is usually pronounced either as ‘sane’ or as ‘sign’ but it is possible that the original pronunciation was ‘sane -y’. Old spellings are confusing but several suggest this possibility, for example a 1621 document mentioning the ‘Seyney Howse in Badsey’.

On 30 January 1540 the monks of Evesham Abbey were celebrating vespers. The commissioners appointed by Henry VIII arrived during the service, which they halted and, at the same moment, brought to an end 800 years of monastic history. The wealth of Evesham Abbey was claimed by the crown. It was divided up and sold or given away to friends of the king.

Like every community in the Vale, the people of Badsey must have been deeply affected by this change. The monks had various kinds of possessions in Badsey. They owned land and buildings. But they also had income from tithes. They owned the title to the manor of Badsey and the right to appoint the vicar. At the dissolution, these different types of wealth were not kept together in a tidy package, but split up and owned by different people.

One man who gained from the spoils of Evesham Abbey was Sir Philip Hoby. Coming from a Leominster family, he won the favour of Henry VIII by supporting the protestant reformation. He was sent as a diplomat to Spain, Portugal and Flanders and became a powerful political figure. Court papers for 1545 tell us that the king granted Philip Hoby property taken from Evesham Abbey for a fee of £888 16s 10d. This included the “Seynehouse, in Badsey parish, in tenure of the said Sir Philip; and two parcels of land lately enclosed outside Shrawnell park in Badesey parish, lately in the abbot of Evesham's own hands”. Shrawnell Park is the area we now call The Parks. At some date after this, Philip Hoby gave the Seyne House to his half brother Richard Hoby, who was about 30 years his younger.

By the time Philip died in 1558 his wealth was considerable, a small part of which included land and tithes in Badsey and Aldington. His will passed these other Badsey possessions on to his half brother Richard. The 1558 will states “…my brother Richard Hoby shall during his life have the profits and occupation and use of the parsonage and tithes of Badsey, Wickhamford and Nawnton … “. He was also given cattle, two of Philip’s beer cups, wall hangings and “one half of my household stuff at Evesham”.

Richard Phillips
March 2011

Adapted from 'The Seyne House' in Aldington and Badsey:Villages in the Vale. A Tapestry of Local History, 2009.

See also