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The Story of Coombe Abbey - click for Contents Page

Chapter I - Monks come to Combe

Before the Norman Conquest, a district known as Smitham, some four or five miles east of Coventry, was in the possession of a man called Harding.  Immediately after the Conquest it came into the possession of William I and was leased to Earl Alberic, but in 1086, when the Domesday Book was written, Geffrey de Wirce or de la Guerche was subtenant.  The district contained some six hundred acres of arable land, fifty acres of meadow and woods half a mile square.  Within this area were the twin villages of Over- and Nether-Smite, and the lessee was termed the Lord of Smite.  The annual value was six pounds. 

About the year 1100 the Lordship passed to Robert, Earl of Delient and Leicester, and by him or his son it was sub-let to Nigel d'Albany, whose son Roger de Mowbray gave the church of Smite to the canons of Kenilworth at the request of Samson d'Albenio, the then incumbent.  In the 1140's Roger de Mowbray gave the Lordship of Smite to Richard de Camvill, of Didleton Castle, near Bicester in Oxfordshire, to be held by the service of one Knight's fee (i.e. De Camvill or his tenant had to be prepared to fight for de Mowbray).

De Camvill was a devout and pious man and was very interested in the monastic way of life (he married the widow of Robert Marmion, the founder of Polesworth Abbey).  In 1128 the first colony of Cistercian monks in England had been established at Waverley in Surrey, and it was to Gilbert, Abbot of the Monastery of Our Blessed Lady at Waverley, that de Camvill gave all his Lordship of Smite, that the Cistercians might establish a monastery there too.  He was obviously influenced in his decision by the fact that part of Smite was in a shallow valley, well wooded and far from the beaten track. In fact it was an ideal site for a monastery.

Gilbert accepted the gift, and sent out an advance party of monks, who, living in temporary wooden buildings, began the building of a monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.  Among these monks was one Martin who was to be the first Abbot of the new House, which was called the Abby of Cumbe.  The name is derived from the old British word cwmm, a low and hollow place, still used in the Welsh Language and to be found in many places names in the West Country.

The gift of land was confirmed by Roger de Mowbray on the 6th of July 1150, which is taken as the foundation date of the Abbey.  De Mowbray also released the monks from the Knight's fee due to him from Richard de Camvill, and gave them a large area of woods near Binley and permission to gather wood and to graze cattle in his wood called Burchlei. Later, in the time of Henry II (1154-1189), the gift was ratified by Robert, Earl of Leicester, who agreed with de Mowbray and the monks that de Mowbray should be reputed the Principal Founder of the Abbey, and that the monks should perform for him and his heirs, both in his life time and after his death, such duties as they performed for the chief founders of their order.


Combe Abbey was the second Cistercian Abbey in Warwickshire, the first being founded two years earlier, in 1148, at Merivale, by Robert, Earl of Ferrers.  In 1154 Henry II founded a Cistercian Abbey at Stoneleigh, only seven and a half miles from Combe. An interesting point here is that there was a rule of the Cistercian Order which forbade one House to settle within seven miles of another.

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