Community ID
Alternate Names
Wigenhale, Wigenhall, Crabb's Abbey, Crawows in 1428, S. Iohannis Ewangeliste from a 13th century seal.
Medieval Location
West of Norwich and south of Lynn across the river Ouse, at Crabhouse in the parish of Wiggenhall on a marshy site .
Modern Location
Corporate Status
S. Mary and John the Evangelist; Perhaps also dedicated to S. Thomas and S. Peter , but further research is necessary to verify this.
Date Founded
Date Terminated
1536 (needs verification)
Religious Order
Augustinian after 1200; original order uncertain
Foundation Information

Crabhouse was founded in 1181 through the donation of Roger, Prior of Ranham (Reynham) with the permission of William de Lesewis (Lisewis), lord of the site and the founder of Normansburgh Priory. Sometime after 1200 it was inhabited by Lena (Leva), daughter of Godric de Lynne. Due to the placement of the priory, which was founded on fenland that was later reclaimed to marshland, it is possible that the priory may have had an anchoretic origin (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 220). According to some accounts, Lena purposely founded the priory where there was "no human habitation."The Victoria History of the County of Sussex2:408-10 The land on which the priory was built was given to frequent flooding and at some point the priory may have been abandoned save for one nun, Joan, who lived in the cemetery of S. Mary Magdalene of Wigenhale. Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100-1540., 85)

First Members

Lena, daughter of Godric de Lynne.

Notable Heads

NULL, c. 1270
NULL, elected 1315 and died 1344
Margaret Costayn de Lenn, elected 1342
Olive de Swaffham, elected 1344
NULL, elected 1351
NULL, elected and died 1395
Matilda Talbot, elected 1395
Joan Wiggenhall, elected 1420
Margaret Dawbeny, elected 1445
NULL, elected 1469
NULL, appears c. 1500, 1514
Margaret Studefeld, apppears 1520 and is the last known prioress

Notable Members/Residents/Guests

Joan, an anchoress about 1200. Margaret Hattisle and Cicely di Beauprey were given indults to choose their own confessors in 1352. Agnes Symth, a married woman, was found guilty of adultery and retired here ( The Victoria History of the County of Sussex, volume 2:85), sul v Easebourne. he marriage of Margaret Keroyle and Thomas Hunston took place here by privilege bishop of Norwich in 1476. Two married couples were corrodians at Crabhouse in the mid-fourteenth century (Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100-1540., 65).

Population Counts

There were more than 10 in 1328; 8 in 1381; 10 in 1514; 4 in 1536.

Dependency Of

Originally, Crabhouse was a dependency of Ranham priory (a male foundation) but became a dependency of Castleacre when it was given by Godfrey Lesewis, son of William. At the time, there were 6/7 nuns and a prioress in residence.

Other Ecclesiastical Relations

In 1328 the priory received the moiety of the church of St. Peter, Wiggenhall, already an advowson, at the request of John de Ros who was steward of the household.


On the 10th of July, 1514 a visitation was performed by a Master Thomas, commissary of the Bishop. According to the prioress at the time, Elizabeth Bredon, the house was in debt for 10 marks but was owed 5 marks. In addition, all the nuns were found to be in good standing aside from one Agnes Smyth. The nuns complained that confession was infrequent and the prioress was ordered to make time for more confession. Also, the nuns reported that the chapel roof was in disrepair. Six years later, during the tenure of Margaret Studefeld, another visitation was made but the report was satisfactory.


J Inglethorpe, 1420. Roger, prior of the male monastery Ranham and its community of nuns, who made a very small donation during the 13-14th century. Before 1350, Robert Welle was a benefactor as were Edmund Perys & J Wiggenhall, cousin of the Prioress in the first half of the 15th century. William Harold / R. Ste / According to Dugdale (Dugdale's Monasticon Volume 6 Part 1, 570), Elizabeth de Clare in 1492. It appears she never entered the community. In 1461, Master Stephen Bole, rector of Eccles, made a number of donations and continued to do so throughout his life.


The community's assets included a church in Norwich and land holdings in the vicinity of Norwich that were very marshy, forcing the original nuns to leave. Throughout the 14th century the administration of Crabhouse assets was good. In 1438 the grain ran short. At the time of suppression, the priory's bell and lead was valued at £40 4s. and the priory's goods were worth £15 5s. 8d.


In the 14th and 15th centuries benefactors donated a great amount of funds and many buildings. The income may have been more than 30 pounds per year, although Oliva places it at 24 pounds a year (Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100-1540., 93). In 1535 the net income was about 35 pounds. At suppression, the remaining 3 nuns were given 26s. 8d.

Early Documents

[1]Records the donation of the site (1181)
[2]Records the donation of the site to male monastery (About 1200 )

Art & Artifacts

A Crabhouse seal from the 13th century remains that is a painted oval with an eagle and is located at the British Museum. It reads: S' SANCTI . IOHANNIS . EWANGELISTE

Architecture & Archaeology

The house and garden on the site of the convent contain fragments of medieval masonry; associated finds include pottery, metalwork, carved stone and human remains, which were recorded in the eighteenth century (Gilchrist/Oliva, 85). A survey of 1557 described the dimensions of the buildings and courts which remained at that date. The precinct contained two large courts or yards to the west and north of the original cloister, of one acres and three roods respectively (Gilchrist/Oliva, 85). The west range and cloister of the original priory were retained after the Dissolution. The range was ordered as a hall with upper and lower ends, and the chamber with solar at the upper end corresponds with details given for the construction of the prioress's lodgings in 1422 (Gilchrist/Oliva, 86). The survey of 1557 also described several of the outbuildings which dated to the occupation of the priory, such as an old mill house and old little storehouse. The parson's lodgings consisted of a chamber, buttery and kitchen, adjoining the old steeple. The nunnery church was demolished by 1557, but the steeple and churchyard to the south-east were noted. The church appears to have formed the south range of the cloister. Entrance to the nave was from the south-west. In the survey, roofing materials were noted, including slate, tile, and reed (Gilchrist/Oliva, 86). The Crabhouse cartulary notes a grange, stable, and bakehouse (Gilchrist/Oliva, 33).

State Of Medieval Structure

Crabbe Abbey house now occupies the site; the house and garden contain many fragments of medieval masonry. (see Architecture/Archaeology field)

Manuscript Sources

British Library, Harleian MS 2110, fos. 82, 125, and p. 24-5.

Miscellaneous Information

The community may have been linked with canons of Normans Burrow (Women Religious: The Founding of English Nunneries After the Norman Conquest, 220). One of the nuns was relegated to the lowest end of the seating at the refectory table for having born a child (in the fifteenth century?) (Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100-1540., 56). The guild of the Holy Trinity maintained an altar in the conventual church of Crabhouse (Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100-1540., 61). At the time of it's suppression, the nuns of Crabhouse were accused (by Cromwell's visitors John ap Rice and Dr. Legh) of engaging in a number of sins. The abbess was accused of fathering a child along with two other nuns (one of whom was accused of giving birth to a child fathered by a priest). However, during a subsequent visitation, the nuns were cleared of all these charges and found to be in good standing.

Manuscripts Produced

In 1425 the Crabhouse nuns paid 26 marks for two antyphons (Religious Women in Medieval East Anglia: History and Archaeology c. 1100-1540., 53).

Conversi/ae and servants

At the fourth count there were more than 4 female servants and 2 men.

Admin. Notes

This note orig. under Benefactors: (none entered ) 28 WHAT????

Mary McLaughlin; Marilyn Oliva
Contributors Notes

Crabhouse had careful administrators in their Prioresses particularly during the period of building expansion from 1315 to 1344 and then again from 1420-44.

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