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Cistercian Abbeys: MEDMENHAM

Name: MEDMENHAM Location: nr Marlow County: Buckinghamshire
Foundation: 1204 Mother house: Woburn
Relocation: (resettlement) c. 1212 Founder: Hugh de Bolebec, Count of Oxford
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: Private property – no access

The first endowment made for the establishment of a colony at Medmenham was made by Hugh de Bolebec in 1201. However, the first monks did not arrive from Woburn until 1204. The colony did not stay long and had returned to Woburn within the year. It seems that the initial grant made by Hugh de Bolebec proved inadequate for the community and there is some reason to believe that the monks may also have been recalled by the abbot of Woburn.(1) The abbot of Woburn was deposed on account of this failure and another colony of monks was sent to Medmenham sometime in the following few years. By 1212 there seems to have been a permanent independent community at Medmenham, although it was smaller than most of the Cistercian monasteries.
The abbey did not receive many endowments and thus could never support a community of more than six or seven monks. The founder, Hugh de Bolebec, entered the monastery towards the end of his life; however, his children never shared his enthusiasm for the Order. His daughter, Isabella, attempted to claim the land back while his son went as far as to expel the monks from his land.(2) A settlement was finally reached in 1241 and the monks were allowed to remain at the site. The community never prospered and by the time of the Dissolution there was only one monk besides the abbot. The net annual income was just £20 and the house was dissolved with the smaller monasteries in 1536.(3) Between 1755 and 1763 the site was the home of Sir Francis Dashwood’s ‘Monks of Medmenham’ or the ‘Hell Fire Club’.(4)
There is very little left of the complex today, apart from one thirteenth-century quatrefoil-shaped pier from the church and what may be part of the walling of the west range. A private nineteenth-century country house named after the abbey now occupies the site of the east range and the north transept.(5)