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Research Update - A View from the 16th Century

In conducting research of Keynsham Abbey, one of our members has come across two historical documents from the 16th century that provide an interesting view of Keynsham (spelt Cainsham at the time); as seen through the eyes of two important authors. The first being, John Leland, who was appointed by King Henry VIII to conduct a review of the libraries and religious houses of England between 1533-36CE. The second being William Camden who documented the antiquity and topography of Britain in 1577CE.

We have reproduced some of the text from both documents below as they appear in the translated documents (references to each article is included below).

The important take aways that our member has concluded from Leland is as follows:

  • Keynsham was spelt Cainsham by Leland and Camden

  • Before Keynsham Abbey was built, there existed a Priory - this is particularly important when researching the Anglo-Saxon and pre-conquest period. It has been hypothesised by many authors that Keynsham was an important religious location and was the burial place of the warrior Bishop Heahmund who was the Bishop of Sherborne until he was killed fighting the Vikings alongside King Æthelred in 871CE. At the time we also know Keynsham was within the diocese of Sherborne before the Abbey was built. Having a Priory at this location is an important and interesting fact that supports the thinking that Bishop Heahmund was buried at this Priory (Minster) in Keynsham (Cainsham!)

  • This Priory was repaired and built upon by William Earl of Gloucester for his son Robert. This became Keynsham Abbey. This may suggest that the Priory was built of stone and not the wooden construction that many Anglo-Saxon buildings were built from

The important take aways from Camden include:

  • His references to St Keyna and her turning serpents into stone (the ammonites that we know so well in Keynsham)

  • There existed a quary in Keynsham at the time where many of these 'stone serpents' were found

  • His notation of herbs and floral that existed at the time (this may be of particular interest to our volunteers who have planted the borders at Keynsham Abbey with plants that existed in the 12th century). This included the herb "Percepier" (could this be the 'water pepper herb' which has unique properties that enhance overall well being?)

To assist the reader, we have produced the translation and transcription from Leland as follows:

The extract from p.139 of The Itinerary of John Leland in or About the Years 1535-1543, ed. by Lucy Toulmin Smith (London: G Bell, 1907-10):


“Wylliam had 2. Sunnes, Roberte and Roger. Roberte dyed young. Roger was a preste and bishop. Whylliam caused his sunne Roberte to be buried at Cainsham then a smaule priory, and after he newly repayred and endowed it, making it an abbay of canons regular.

Wyllyam dyed yn Brigtestow Castel and wyllid to be buried by his father at S.James: but he was prively conveyed by night onto Cainsham and had given the hole lordship of Marschefel onto Cainsham and impropriate the benefice thereof onto S. James priory and the benefice consequently cam to Teokesyri.”

To assist we have produced the translation and transcription from Camden as follows:

The extract from p.94 about Somersetshire of William Camden, Britannia, or, A Chrorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland, Together with the Adjacent Islands (London: Mary Matthews, 1722):

“Upon the river Avon (which is the bound here between this County and Glocestershire) and on the weftern bank of it, is Cainfsham aforefaid, fo nam’d from Keina a devout Britifh Virgin from who the Keines of this County have thought themfelves defcended: and whom many of the laft age fave one, through an over-credulous temper, believ’d to have chang’d ferpents into ftones, becaufe they found in the quarries thereabouts, fome fuch little fporting miracles of nature. And I have feen a ftone brought from thence, like a ferpent, in a round, the head whereof, tho’ but imperfect, jetted out (as it feeded) in the circumference, and the end of the tail was in the center; but moft of them want the head. Indeed, many of them have rough and broken pieces of ftone iffuing from them beyond the moulded wreath at the broad end; which may lead one to imagine, that thofe pieces were imperfect heads; but really they are not fo. Such kind of fnake-ftones of all fizes, from about a foot to an inch or two diameter, are found frequently in their quarries. In the neighbouring fields, and other places hereabouts, the herb Percepier grows naturally all year round. It is a plant which hath been fuppofed peculiar to England; but Mr. Ray affirms, that the fame is often met with in foreign countries: One taftes in it a fort of tartnefs and bitternefs; it is never higher than a fpan, and grows in bufhy flowers without a ftalk. It provokes urine ftrongly and quickly; and there is a water diftill’d from it, of great ufe; as P.Pœna in his Mifcellanies upon Plants has obferv’d.”

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