BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage
»BBC Local
Things to do
People & Places
Religion & Ethics
Arts and Culture
BBC Introducing
TV & Radio

Sites near Humberside

North Yorkshire
Nottingham South Yorkshire

Related BBC Sites


Contact Us


Actor dressed as 12th century nun
12th century living.

Forbidden love in Watton

Look North Reporter : Jenny Hill
Watton is home to one of the East Riding's saddest and most horrible of stories that today still sends a shiver down the spine.

Let me take you back to the  12th century and in a small village north of Hull a religious order called the Gilbertines have just established a new and unusual abbey. The Gilbertines was the only religious order which allowed men and women to live at the same site. 

"The young nuns wanted to punish her very severely, they want to burn her, they want to brand her."
Local historian. Dr. Barbara English

Watton Abbey was established around 1150 by Eustace Fitzjohn and was home to around 140 men and 70 women. The original house was 600 feet long, one wing was occupied by the nuns the other by the monks. In its time it was the largest house of its type in England. The Priory was dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII.

However, not long after it was built it was rocked by a gruesome episode that would taint the Order with scandal and horror. The story of what happened to them was so shocking, it has been remembered through the ages, even though nothing remains of the fabric of the abbey itself.

Historian, Dr. Barbara English.
Historian, Dr. Barbara English

The story concerns a young girl who was placed with the Gilbertines. Her name is not recorded but was said to have little enthusiasm for the religious calling. As the girl grew, she became friendly and then fell in love with one of the lay brothers. She became pregnant. Once the nuns discovered what had happened they acted quickly to deal with the situation as they saw fit.

Prisoner behind bars
The brother was imprisoned.

Local historian Dr. Barbara English takes up the story. "The young nuns wanted to punish her very severely, they want to burn her, they want to brand her. Eventually they settle for throwing her into solitary confinement, chaining her hand and foot and feeding her on bread and water."

Her young man was also to suffer for his 'sins'. Dr. English says of his fate: "The young man had run away and the men from the other side of the monastery caught him, brought him back and handed him over to the nuns for punishment and the nuns castrated him."

View video:
video Play video: >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

Although the events were documented at the time, the details of the fate of the young lovers in unclear. It's likely that the young man died from his injuries and the young women stayed at the convent for the rest of her life.

last updated: 09/01/06
Go to the top of the page

BBC News
Plant workers' 'uncertain future'
Workers outside Saltend plant Hundreds of workers face an "uncertain future" as an engineering contract is ended at the Saltend Chemical plant.

BBC Radio Humberside
Listen to the latest bulletin

Look North
Monday to Friday at 13:30, 18:30 & 22:25
Watch the latest edition
How to download RealPlayer

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy