The Beks & the Hermitage


The link with the Hermitage and the medieval Royal Manor of Pleasley in the 13th century revolves around the Becks (also spelt Bek/Beke/Bec). However, searching through medieval references to the family reveals contradictions and confusion by historians probably because there were more Walters in the family than you could shake a stick at. The Becs begin with Walter de Bec one of the most distinguished knights at Hastings and subsequently rewarded with the Lordship of Eresby, Lincolnshire plus other estates. Fast forward about a 100 years skipping generations of Walter Beks and we have errr Walter Bek. This Walter had two sons, Henry Bek of Eresby and Walter of Lusby. Staying with this Walter of Lusby - his great grandsons were Antony Bek and Thomas Bek. Right, keep this pair in mind but forget about them if you know what I mean.

Going back to Henry Bek of Eresby - he had a son naturally called Walter who had 3 sons, John, Thomas & Antony. Are you still with me? Ok so lets give them their titles in order of influence & power before we move on:

Antony Bek - Bishop of Durham between 1284-1311(died) brother of-

Thomas Bek - Bishop of St David's, Pembrokeshire between 1280-1293 (died) related to-

Antony Bek - Bishop of Norwich between 1337-1343 (died) brother of-

Thomas Bek - Bishop of Lincoln between 1341-1347 (died)

After setting out the above record & dates of office, enabling the elimination of the later pair of Bek Bishops, some of the medieval references I have accessed concerning the Hermitage are incorrect. With that in mind the pair that we are concerned with are the Oxford educated Antony, Bishop of Durham and Thomas, Bishop of St David's. Antony participated in the 1270 crusade to the Holy Land where he attracted the admiration of Prince Edward, the heir to the throne. When Edward became King in 1272, Antony became one of his closest advisors and was also able to promote his brother into the King's circle. The Pleasley Manor was passed to Thomas Bek in 1280, the same year he became Bishop of St David's. The estate was gained through marriage of Thomas's neice (daughter of John Bek, Thomas's elder brother) to the Willoughby's. There are numerous mentions of Thomas Bek and his involvement in the Pleasley Manor including an intriguing reference to King Edward's overnight stay at Thomas's mansion at Pleasley on February 17th 1293, where the King and his entourage most likely indulged themselves in a few stags from Pleasley Park. The site of Thomas Bek's mansion in Pleasley is debatable though, with some medieval documents stating the mansion was overlooking Pleasley Vale and others having it north side of the river Meden on Pleasley Hill.

Ok, so lets go back to the Hermitage reference and we see records state the year 1302 when Thomas Bek enclosed the land at the Hermitage and leased it to Lenton Priory. However, Thomas Bek, Bishop of St David's died in 1293. A record also states ' in the reign of King Edward' so that puts it between 1272-1307. The liklihood is that the date is correct and that Thomas Bek from Pleasley, Bishop of St David's was the originator of the Hermitage and built it as a retreat for himself possibly because he liked to fish! Records also suggest that he was often begging King Edward's pardon for stealing the odd stag or two so maybe this was his hideout! However, after Thomas's death in 1293 his estate passed to his brother, Antony, the powerful Bishop of Durham and close advisor and envoy of King Edward who was obviously far too busy to be bothered with his disceased brother's estates as shown by the lack of related records in which he is named in local affairs. Here probably lyeth the mistake in the record. The Hermitage lease to Lenton Priory was made in 1302 no doubt but was made while in the ownership of Antony, Bishop of Durham. On the death of Antony in 1311, the considerable Bek estates were passed to his brother John's heirs, the Willoughby's but were eventually seized by the Crown after it was revealed that Antony had left huge debts. Another record dated 1446 states that the Hermitage, which was about 1 acre in size was owned by the Crown and yielded 1 shilling annual rent.