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The spoliation of Roche


A surviving account of the spoliation of Roche was written by a local priest, Michael Sherbrook, who was rector of Wickersley, some five miles west of Roche, from 1567-c. 1610. Sherbrook completed his account in the 1590s, but may actually have begun writing c. 1567.(1) Sherbrook was himself a child at the time of the Dissolution, but recounts the memories of his father and uncle who witnessed at first-hand the spoliation of Roche. His vivid account highlights the speed and scale of devastation, as well as the extent of self-interest shown by monks and locals alike.

.... and all things of value were spoiled, plucked away or utterly defaced, those who cast the lead into fodders plucked up all the seats in the choir where the monks sat when they said service....

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The monks, who had each been granted their cell, endeavoured to benefit in any way that they could, uncertain, no doubt, of what the future held. Indeed, Sherbrook’s uncle was approached by one of the monks whom he knew, and urged to buy the door of his cell for two pennies; he declined the offer having no use for such an item. Sherbrook’s father bought timber from the church and steeple, and when later questioned by his son as to why he had participated in this plundering replied that surely he should have profited from the spoils as others. Those who pilfered the site removed doors, service-books, windows and iron wall hooks; nothing was spared.

The official destruction of the abbey began with the church, the symbol of monastic life and the obvious target for the royal commissioners. They melted the lead from the roof, and a hole in the centre of the nave that was used as their furnace can still be seen; in fact, a quantity of lead ash was found in this cavity.

Lead piping from Kirkstall Abbey Museum
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Lead piping from Kirkstall Abbey Museum

The timber choir stalls were ripped out and burned, tombs were broken and defaced; it was a scene of devastation and brutal destruction. After the church had been laid to waste the abbot’s lodgings were destroyed, and thereafter the dormitory, refectory, cloister and claustral building. Little within the walls was spared, although the ox-houses and swinecoates that lay beyond the walls were treated less brutally than the church itself. Not everything, however, was pilfered immediately, for Sherbrook notes that he himself saw eight or nine bells that remained in the bell-tower for over a year after the Dissolution.

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