Lilleshall Abbey

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HISTORICAL/ONGOING

The Augustinian abbey of Lilleshall was founded in 1148 by a local landowner called Sir Richard de Blemeis. No expense was spared in its creation, and within 20 years a magnificent church of red sandstone around 228ft in length as well as impressive domestic buildings had been built. One of its most famous features is its processional doorway, which leads to the cloister. It is near the cloister that the ghost of the ‘Black Monk’ is seen. He is a recurrent apparition, and is said to be tall, middle aged and wearing the dark robes of the Augustinian order. One of the strangest things about this apparition is that this monk appears solid, with his feet on the ground as you or I, rather than being translucent. He appears kneeling with his head bowed, as if in prayer or contemplation. No sooner than you have seen this spectre, does he realise that you are there. He turns suddenly, lunging forward and asks directly ‘Have you found the secret?!?’ He stands for a moment or two, watching, trying to gage your reaction, then he disappears.

There is a great deal of speculation regarding what this secret is. Some believe the phantom guards a fabulous treasure, which was hidden away from the hands of King Henry VIII’s men. Other stories suggest this ghost was at the centre of a Medieval murder, with the finger of suspicion being pointed to Henry III- a very proud and stubborn king. In 1244, the king was desperately short of money. Like many English Kings, he’d spent all his wealth on luxury living and wars with the French. Thus, he began trying to think of ways he could raise more money- so the king went to Lilleshall abbey on a ‘Hunting trip’. This shows the abbey was an important building- important enough to be on the royal itinerary and considered to have enough status to host the king. Though I am in no doubt hunting happened, this whole trip was just an excuse to pilfer some money from the local area. So, the king came to Lilleshall, and made an announcement. He informed the area that he’d been given top secret news. This news was that the pesky Welsh were gathering at an alarming speed, for war. Because of this, the men of Shropshire would have to pay a tax, to provide ‘wages’ for the soldiers that would protect Shropshire. Only there was no tax, and no Welshmen gathering at the borders.

Despite this the king persisted, informing the Yeoman, Nobles, and notable men of the county the dire situation at their borders. But the Yeomen and Nobles refused to pay the tax. They said they were well equipped and skilled with their weapons, so they would do their own fighting. Lo and behold the day came, and they turned up fully armed at the doors of the abbey asking when the battle would be. The king, fearing insurrection told them that the Welsh had relented and gone home, as they feared they wouldn’t be able to win against the men of Shropshire. After his close call, the King decided a safer way to raise money would be to sell titles and appointments. So, he did so, with some success, until he decided to sell the title of sheriff. The problem with this was there was already a sheriff. When he found out he was stupefied and rode out to Lilleshall abbey to try and find out what on earth was going on. Perhaps he thought he could get his role back, or change the king’s mind, so the former sheriff entered the abbey. Unfortunately, the sheriff never left the abbey. It is believed that the ghostly monk is the abbot of the monastery, and the ‘secret’ is the sheriff’s murder. The abbot is said to have witnessed the murder and haunts the grounds still, perhaps he is trying to gain justice, or absolution for having been involved. One can be sure that such actions, even if he only witnessed the murder would be in direct opposition to the core tenants of his religious belief.

Submitted by Amy B

Lilleshall Abbey