The History of Bourne Abbey

Bourne Abbey was founded in 1138 by Baldwin FitzGilbert, who was the castellan of Bourne at that time. Having built the castle, he turned towards providing the town with a religious house which would double as the parish church. It is quite possible that the Abbey that he had constructed was built upon the earlier foundations of a Saxon church.

Baldwin decided to invite the Arrouasian branch of the Augustinian Order to provide the religious foundation of the Abbey. The Augustinians were unique in that they always built their monastic buildings to north of their abbey; also, they provided one of their number to be the parish priest to minister to the needs of the parish.  This would explain why the Abbey was not demolished after 1536, when the monastery was dissolved on the order of King Henry VIII.  Although the monastic buildings were largely taken down, the nave of the Abbey remained virtually untouched, and became the parish church of Bourne with a secular priest taking over the parochial duties from his Augustinian predecessor.

With the demise of the Abbey the provision for educating the children of the town came to a halt. It wasn’t until the next century that a new Grammar School was built in the Churchyard to the south of the Church. This building continued to serve the educational needs of the town until the first years of the twentieth century.  

In the same way, the provision of local health care suffered when the Abbey closed. The monks had a hospital in the original part of the building just to the west of the Abbey over the stream which flowed through the Abbey grounds. This house is now known as Bourne Eau House, and is probably the oldest in the town.

Looking East, the Pochin family bought the land upon which the monastic buildings were situated and also became lords of the one of the two manors of Bourne. They extended and adapted the Prior’s lodging and it became their dwelling house. Today, there is nothing left to see of this house or any of the monastic buildings.

After the Civil War, it seems that the fabric of the Abbey was allowed to deteriorate. The earliest drawings of the west front indicate that by the early nineteenth century, the incomplete north tower of the western front had become roofless, and the northern door was bricked up. It took two major restoration schemes in 1869 and the 1880s to restore the Abbey to something of its pre-Reformation glory.

Interesting individuals associated with the Abbey and town

It is said that Hereward the Wake is buried within the Abbey. This is unlikely, but it is almost certain that he would have known the town as he was associated with Crowland Abbey a few miles to the south-east.

Robert Mannyng (c.1275–c.1337), the first to bring order to the spelling of English (albeit an East Midlands dialect), was a monk here for a time in the fourteenth century. He had close connections with the original Gilbertine Abbey nine miles north of Bourne at Sempringham.

Looking west, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, twice Secretary of State (1550–1553 and 1558–1572) and Lord High Treasurer from 1572, was born here in what is now known as the Burghley Arms. He built Burghley House a few miles away to the south-west at Stamford.

Charles Worth, the founder of the House of Worth in Paris, was born in the town. He pioneered haute couture, and his name lives on with perfumes still available today.

Raymond Mays brought great engineering success to Bourne from the 1930s to the 1970s, with the pre-war English Racing Automobiles (ERA), and his post-war  Formula One team, British Racing Motors (BRM), which won the constructor’s championship in 1962 in the same year that their driver, Graham Hill, won the driver’s title.