A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1903.
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26. THE HOSPITAL OF ST. JOHN BAPTIST, WINCHESTER
When Leland visited Winchester, about 1538, he saw near the east gate 'a fair Hospital of S. John, wher pore syke people be kept. Ther is yn the Chapelle an Ymage of S. Brinstane, sumtyme Bishop of Wynchester: and I have redde that S. Brinstane founded an Hospitale yn Winchester.' This supposition of so exceptionally early a foundation, though frequently copied as a fact into guide books and local histories, seems to have been a mere guess of Leland's suggested by the sight of the image of Bishop Brinstan.
The real history of the hospital begins with the foundation, about 1275, by John Devenishe, alderman of Winchester, of a hospital or hospice for the relief of sick and lame soldiers, poor pilgrims and wayfaring men, to receive there gratuitous food and lodging for one night or longer, according to their ability to travel. He endowed it competently, and furnished the rooms with bedding and other necessaries, and made the mayor custodian to regulate admission to its privileges. The founder attached a chapel to the house, and therein established a priest to celebrate for his soul and for all the faithful departed. About fifty years later one of the same name as the founder, probably his son, made a further bequest to the chaplain of the house, and added to his duties.
In January, 1332, licence was obtained by John Devenysh for the gift of 100s. of rents in Winchester and Little Somburne, to the master and brethren of the hospital of St. John, to find a chaplain to celebrate daily in the hospital for the souls of the king's progenitors, kings of England, and of the faithful departed. (fn. 1)
Mark le Faire, who was mayor of Winchester in 1408 and subsequent years, was a benefactor of the hospital, giving it a part of the George inn, the King's Head, and his own house. At this time the hospital was in the full control of the corporation, for in 1408 an order was made by the assembly that the house of St. John Baptist should be rebuilt during the year and roofed with lead. The cost was to be partly defrayed by voluntary contributions, for the gathering of which the assembly appointed two collectors. (fn. 2)
It appears from the Black Book of Winchester that town assemblies were frequently held here in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Trussell MSS. state, indeed, that this use of the hospital hall for municipal purposes was coeval with its foundation. 'Yt appeareth by the book of ordinances of this cittie (earlier than the extant Black Book) that in the time of Roger le Long, who succeeded John Devenishe in the place (as alderman), that there was an ordinance made that everye yeer, uppon the next Sonday after Midsomer day (except upon some extraord inane occacion hindered, and that not to bee allowed of but by a generall assemblee), the maior and his brethren and all thewhole corporation with their wives shoudd meet att this house at supper, whereat over and above the rate sett, the maior for the tyme beeing, and hee that was maior the precedent yeere, were to bestowe a couple of fatt capons; which love-feast and merry meeting was appoynted to revive the memory of the Devenishes. This meeting is observed to this daye.' (fn. 3) From the same authority we learn that Richard Devenish increased the endowments in the reign of Henry VI.
At an assembly held on 20 August, 1442, as chronicled in the Black Book, it was resolved that the chaplain of the fraternity of St. John was to receive meat and drink and sufficient cloth for a gown (toga) yearly from the steward of the fraternity, and four marks as a stipend.
The corporation in 1442 appointed William Wyke, clerk, as chaplain and keeper of the hospital, and caused the following indenture of the hospital's goods to be drawn up. From the provisions for bedding, it would appear that the house had not given up the exercise of nightly hospitality for wayfarers.
The present indenture bereth Wittness yt Petur Hulle mayre of ye Cite of Wynchester and All ye Commoners of ye same Cite hath delyvered to Sr William Wyke oure keper of oure hous of Synt Johns of Wynchester al oure goodes and catelles underrite, Firste viij corperas, iiij tuellis for ye autres in ye churche goode, and v holde, ij litel tuelles for ye lavytory olde, j paxebrede of silver and over gyld a j nother paxbrede, and a hede of Syn John ye Baptis of Alabastre, j Box of silver wt oute over gylde, ij chales of Silver wtynne over gylde, j chales of silver ye gylde w oute, ij ymages of Syn John ye Baptis of Alabastre, j ymage of oure Lady of Alabastre, v chopis (copes) of sylke and a litel pelow, viij proper vestements wt all ye apparell, ij surplis feble, j aube wt parurys, j Crystal stone, j Box wt dyvers reliquis, iij Missales, ij Antiphones, ij portions, vj sawters, ij legendes, ij Grayellis, j episteler, j marteloge, and vij other diverse bokes, iij sakeryng belles, iiij cruettes, ij lamps of brasse, j mettable (dining table) w ij trestallis, ij belles for ye churche wt j Trunke, pond' viijc, j forme, ij meteclothis conteynynge in lenthe xiiij yerdes wt a towell conteynyng in lenth iij yerdes and a halfe, ij Basonis and j laver, j litel morter of Brasse for Spices to pounde on weying xij lb., iiij bras pottes, j belle and j litel pomette, j hangynglaver, xj payre of Shettes, iij payre blanketts, xxiij keverlytes, j crowl, j spade, j shovell, j howe, j rake, j spytele, j Longpyke, j whelberewe, j bounde wt Ire, ij cofor in ye chambers wt munnimentes and chartes. (fn. 4)
The next entry in the Black Book, immediately following this inventory, is the record of a meeting of the assembly in the house of St. John Baptist on 31 August, 1485. Other meetings of the Corporation in the same hall are recorded in 1472, 1514, 1520 and 1523.
At an assembly held in the gildhall on 6 January, 1524, there was 'granted to my lord Suffrygan Seynt Johns house wt the garden for time of his lyfe yeldying yerely for the seid house xvjs. viijd. and for the garden xs.' Ten years before his death, which occurred in 1528, Bishop Fox suffered from blindness. Much of the diocesan work was discharged by John Pinnock, Bishop of Syene, who also acted as suffragan Bishop of Salisbury.
At an assembly held in St. John's Hall on 2 March, 1531, it was ordained that 'from hensforthe every Maire in his tyme shall examyn the Inventory of all the churche goodes of Saynt Jonys and all other goodes belongyng to Seynt Jonys hospitall wtin iij months next after the feist of Seynt Michell tharchangell upon payne of forfeture of vjs. viijd. to the use of the Citie.'
At an assembly held on 23 April, 1535, 'hit is granted to Richard Frankelyn, servant of the seid Citie, to have the oversight and kepying of Seynt Jonyes house and the hospitall there as long as it shall please the meare and the Citie to admyt hym.'
The assembly of 8 August, 1546, decided 'yt the supper accustomed to be kept at Seynt John's house shall frome hensforthe yerelye be kept there the Sonday next following the Natyvyte of Saynt John the baptist in as ampel maner as it hathe byn here to fore And every of the beinche shall paye at the same supper xiid., and every other of the xxviij, xd. apece, and of thother franches man viiid. a pece, and that whether thei be present there at the supper or not. And the mayor for the tyme beinge to fynde a capon at the same supper and thalderman of the Highe Strete another capon.'
At the dissolution of such institutions in 1546, this hospital fell into the hands of Henry VIII., but it was not altogether suppressed, and was by him regranted to the corporation, the hall to be used by them for municipal elections and the like purposes. At that time the hospital revenue was but 100s. a year, 30s. of which was for the priest's stipend.
In 1558, Ralph Lamb bequeathed £400 to the master and brethren of this hospital, for the purpose of adding to it as many poor as the rents of the lands purchased with the bequest would maintain, who were to be called 'The Almsfolk of Ralph Lamb.' An estate was purchased at Amesbury, Wilts, as well as some small properties in Winchester, and six poor and needy widows were estabblished in as many almshouses in a court on the north side of the main building.
In the charter which was granted by Elizabeth in 1588 to the corporation, this hospital, with the addition of the Lamb almshouses, was confirmed to them as its keepers.
In an old account book of the corporation, beginning about 1688, the Charity Commissioners (in 1824) found an entry, under the title of 'The poor of St. John's hospital weekly,' of the names of twenty-two persons, men and women receiving 6d. a week each, and of six others receiving 1s. 6d. each per week, the latter being probably the almspeople appointed under Lamb's gifts. (fn. 5) At the time of the Commissioners' visit, there were no other almsfolk nor any doles to the poor save those on Lamb's foundation.
In 1811 a suit was begun against the corporation for mismanagement and abuse of this and other charity trusts. After almost continuous litigation for nearly twenty years, the corporation surrendered, and in 1829 resigned their powers and responsibilities to the trustees appointed by the Court of Chancery.
After the Reformation, when the chaplain's stipend was appropriated, the chapel was disused. It was rescued from its ruinous condition in 1710, and turned into a schoolroom for sixty poor children. It was used as a school until 1838, when it was repaired and restored to its original use.
St. John's House, with its fine hall and chapel, still stands at the east end of the High Street, and behind it are twenty-one commodious almshouses.