Monastic life: the working day
According to St Benedict, all monks had to work for some six hours a day They also had the charitable duty of aiding travellers and those in need. The Priory community was self-sufficient, providing for all its needs. Surplus produce was sold locally and in Liverpool.
The monks’ main activity was farming. They worked in their fields growing crops and tending livestock. Timber came from the woods on their land. Flax was grown to spin into yarn. They also owned a dove cote. Doves were an important source of food, kept for their eggs, flesh and dung.
Fish were caught in ‘fish yards’. These were wicker structures, staked to the Mersey shore, which trapped the fish at high tides. The prior, as lord of the manor, had the right to a proportion of all the fish caught and claimed all fish caught on a Sunday. Oysters were also important and oyster shells have been found at the Priory.
Other monks had domestic duties; working in the kitchen or the infirmary, tending the gardens, brewing beer or maintaining the buildings. Some would write books by hand on parchment.
As Benedictines, the monks were obliged to provide food, drink and accommodation to travellers. They tended the sick and gave alms to the poor. This became very expensive for a poor monastery and after 1318; the monks were allowed to charge travellers for food and accommodation. New lodgings were built apart from the main buildings, so that the noise did not disturb the religious life. Important visitors were housed in the guest hall within the priory walls.
As well a charging for hospitality, the monks could now levy tolls for the ferry. These were quite expensive and sometimes the Prior was accused of excessive charging. In 1357, the tolls were:
- For a man on foot on market days, 1d. On other days of the week, 1/2d
- For a man on foot with a pack, 1d
- For a man and a laden horse, 2d. For a man and an unladen horse, 1d.
- For a quarter of any kind of corn, 1d and no more