A History of the County of London: Volume 1, London Within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1909.
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9. ST. THOMAS OF ACON
The hospital of St. Thomas of Acon was founded in honour of St. Mary and St. Thomas of Canterbury for a master and brethren of the military order of St. Thomas the Martyr by Thomas Fitz Theobald de Helles, whose wife Agnes was sister of the murdered archbishop. (fn. 1) The earliest grants of which anything is known, beyond the founder's gift in frankalmoign of the birthplace of the saint in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch for their church, (fn. 2) were those of Geoffrey Fitz Peter, earl of Essex, (fn. 3) who gave them the custody of the hospitals of St. John the Baptist and of St. John the Evangelist at Berkhampstead early in the thirteenth century, and of Margaret de Tanton, who made over to them her manor in Coulsdon, co. Surrey, shortly before 1235. (fn. 4)
In 1239 they also obtained a rent from some houses in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch, and then or shortly afterwards they received from Robert Herlizun tenements in the parishes of St. Giles without Cripplegate, St. Michael Bassishaw, and St. Mary Aldermanbury. (fn. 5)
From Henry III they acquired a messuage between the church of St. Olave and their house in 1268, (fn. 6) and in 1269 they received some houses in Ironmonger Lane from Richard de Ewelle in exchange for two mills at Wapping (fn. 7) obtained by them from Terric de Algate early in the century. (fn. 8) Ewelle returned the mills to them five years later as the endowment of a chantry in their church (fn. 9); and in 1282 the reversion of a house in the parish of St. Stephen Walbrook was left them by Richard de Walbrook to maintain another chantry. (fn. 10) The church of St. Mary Colechurch, the advowson of which had been bought by the master and convent in 1247–8, (fn. 11) appears to have been appropriated to the hospital by Pope Alexander IV in 1257. (fn. 12)
There is very little early information about the house beyond the history of these acquisitions. The conventual church was probably begun in 1248, when the brothers had leave from the pope to erect a chapel. The episcopal licence for the consecration of a cemetery dates from about the same time. (fn. 13) At this period the community cannot have been very large, for twenty years later there are said to have been only twelve brothers. (fn. 14)
The house in 1279 was engaged in a contest with Archbishop Peckham as to his right of visitation, (fn. 15) and while still in disgrace it incurred the archbishop's anger on a fresh score. One of the brothers, Robert Maupoudre, seems to have run away, for the archbishop in August ordered him to be restored to the hospital without delay. (fn. 16) As he did not return, the master, Robert de Covelee, took the law into his own hands, and seized him and another priest, Thomas Carpenter, as they were about to celebrate divine service in St. Clement Danes and kept them imprisoned. The archbishop, in October, directed the dean of Arches to command the master to set the prisoners at liberty within two days, and summon him and his accomplices. (fn. 17) What happened exactly it is difficult to say; all that is certain is that the brethren were absolved on 30 November from a sequestration following on their refusal of visitation, (fn. 18) nothing more being said about Maupoudre's case.
About the end of the thirteenth century the Templars claimed the custody of the hospital in virtue of an agreement with the chief master of the order of St. Thomas of Acon. The brethren had no desire to become subject to another monastic body, and at their request Edward I interposed, (fn. 19) and as if the house were vacant (fn. 20) appointed a warden to take charge of it during his pleasure. (fn. 21) When this warden, Henry de Durham, died, the king in 1304 gave the post to his clerk, Edmund de London, for life. (fn. 22) Edward II, however, soon after his accession forced Edmund to resign and gave the custody to the rector and convent of Ashridge, co. Herts. (fn. 23) The brethren now found themselves in the very position they had tried to avoid, and laid their case before the pope (fn. 24) and also before the king's council, who decided in 1315 (fn. 25) that if the rector were allowed to hold the hospital the wish of the founder would be rendered of no effect, and accordingly annulled the grant, and appointed Robert de Bardelby, king's clerk, to be warden until the return to England of Richard de Southampton, who had formerly been elected master. Independence was thus restored to the house, not, however, much to its benefit. Henry de Bedford, (fn. 26) who succeeded Richard (fn. 27) in 1318, was either careless or rapacious, (fn. 28) and under his rule not only were the chantries neglected, but the house was reduced to great poverty, so that in 1327 outside intervention was again necessary, and the custody of the house was entrusted to the mayor and commonalty (fn. 29) of the City, who were empowered to amend whatever they saw amiss in its state. A few months later the church was broken into, and robbed of silver plate, books and vestments, and at the manor of Coulsdon some cattle were taken away. (fn. 30)
This connexion with the City probably accounts for the marked interest taken in the house by London citizens, as shown by the many bequests to the place and the number of chantries established there. In 1339 tenements and rent in Shiteburnelane (Sherborne Lane) and Candelwyk Strete (Cannon Street) were left by Matilda, widow of William de Caxton, to found a chantry, (fn. 31) and an annual rent of 7 marks from a 'seld' in the parish of St. Mary le Bow was bequeathed by Walter de Salyngg (fn. 32) for the same purpose; John Godchep provided for the maintenance of two chantries by the bequest of a tenement in the parish of St. Mary le Bow; (fn. 33) and chantries were established under the wills of Thomas de Cavendych, mercer and draper, 1348, (fn. 34) and of Simon de Benyngton, 1368. (fn. 35) There were also numerous legacies to the fabric and the work of the church. (fn. 36) The hospital did not depend, however, entirely upon its fixed income. Like the Templars, the brothers of St. Thomas had papal indulgences to collect alms in churches once a year, (fn. 37) and this may have been a profitable source of revenue, especially after the suppression of the older and more popular order, (fn. 38) though it had the disadvantage that adventurers and cheats sometimes forestalled the collectors (fn. 39) and reaped the harvest. The relaxation of penance granted by the pope in 1365 to those who on the principal feasts of the year during the next ten years visited the chapel of Holy Cross in the church of St. Thomas, (fn. 40) was either intended to repair the losses of the house consequent on the Black Death or to raise money for the rebuilding of the church, which does not, however, seem to have been begun until 1383. (fn. 41) This must have been a long and costly undertaking, for it was a large and beautiful church with choir, nave and side aisles, (fn. 42) and several chapels. (fn. 43) The pope in 1400 came to their aid again, and offered the indulgence of the Portiuncula to penitents who, on the feast of St. Thomas the Martyr, visited and gave alms for the conservation of the church. Many must have been expected to take advantage of it, for the pope gave an indult to the master and six other confessors deputed by him to hear the confessions. (fn. 44) The rebuilding operations appear to coincide with the increased importance of the house in Cheapside, which from 1379 was the principal house of the order. (fn. 45)
In 1444 the brothers seem to have felt the necessity of putting the house on a more secure footing. What was the immediate cause of their uneasiness does not appear, for the destruction or loss of title deeds mentioned was evidently not of recent date. In answer, however, to their petition to the king in Parliament, (fn. 46) it was ordained that the house should be reckoned a corporate body with powers to implead and be impleaded and to purchase, and should have a common seal; that the brethren on a vacancy might elect a master without first asking leave of the king, and without any obligation to grant the king a pension or corrody out of the hospital, seeing that there never was one granted before.
In 1454 James, earl of Wiltshire and Ormond, made over to the hospital the manor and the advowson of the church of Hulcott and a croft called 'Lytull Milne Hamme,' (fn. 47) co. Bucks, to endow a chantry in the church where his mother was buried, (fn. 48) and the house must have derived great benefit from grants in London, (fn. 49) for it continued to be a favourite with the citizens. (fn. 50) Yet when John Yong became master on the removal of Richard Adams in 1510, he found it burdened with a debt of over £718. (fn. 51) Yong seems to have had a gift for finance, as he not only paid this off, but within the eight years following met all but £80 of expenses, amounting to £1,431 1s. 8d., for repairs to houses, mills, and other buildings in ruins, for walls by the Thames, (fn. 52) and for new buildings (fn. 53) within and without London—no easy task considering that the annual expenditure of the house exceeded its revenues by £117 4s. 2d. Some of the credit of this fortunate result is undoubtedly due to the Mercers' Company, whose relations with the hospital had long been of the most cordial kind, (fn. 54) and became even closer in 1514, when the master and brethren accepted the company as their defenders and advocates. (fn. 55) Under this arrangement the master of St. Thomas had to give an account of his administration every year before the wardens and assistants of the society, and when the mastership was vacant the company chose two or three of the convent, from whom the brethren had to elect a master within eight days. Rights such as these doubtless implied responsibilities, and the Divine Providence to which the writer of the account attributes the payment of the debt (fn. 56) probably took the form of the Mercers' Company.
It is evident that the convent acquiesced quietly in the religious changes: they acknowledged the king's supremacy in 1534, (fn. 57) and though objection was taken to the windows of their church where the story of St. Thomas of Canterbury was displayed, (fn. 58) nothing was said against the brothers. The difficulties of which the master, Laurence Copferler, complained to Cromwell (fn. 59) in 1535, seem to have been caused by some business quite unconnected with the house, apparently his employment on a commission 'de walliis et fossatis,' such as preceding masters had served on. (fn. 60)
The house was surrendered 20 October, 1538, (fn. 61) and Sir Richard Gresham's petition that the work done there in aid of the poor and sick might continue under the rule of the City Corporation was unheeded, (fn. 62) the place being let to Thomas Mildmay. (fn. 63) The brothers, who had numbered twelve in 1444, (fn. 64) and nine in 1463, (fn. 65) seem in 1534 to have been reduced to six. (fn. 66) The deed of surrender was signed by two only, both of whom received pensions, the master £66 13s. 4d., (fn. 67) and Brother Thomas Lynne £6. (fn. 68)
The revenue, in 1291 estimated at £46 16s., (fn. 69) was in 1535 reckoned to be £332 6s. gross, and £277 3s. 6d. net. (fn. 70) Of this the greater part was derived from lands and rents and the rectory of St. Mary Colechurch in London, (fn. 71) and the rest from the manor of Harrow-on-Hill, and lands in Stepney, Wapping, and Bromley, co. Middlesex, the manor of Hulcott, and tenements in Buckingham, co. Bucks, the manor of Plumstead in Kent, the manor of 'Tawnton' in Coulsdon, co. Surrey, lands in West Ham in Essex, and rent in Northampton. (fn. 72) The hospital of St. Thomas also held a hospital at Berkhampstead. (fn. 73)
Masters of St. Thomas of Acon
John (fn. 74)
Vincent, no date (fn. 75)
Henry de Neville, occurs 1243–4 (fn. 76)
Ralph Waleys, occurs 1244–5, 1248 (fn. 77)
Ralph, occurs 1249 (fn. 78)
Adam, occurs 1253 (fn. 79)
William de Huntyngfeud, occurs 1267, (fn. 80) 1269 (fn. 81)
Robert de Covelee, occurs 1273–4, (fn. 82) 1279 (fn. 83)
Richard, occurs 1285–6 (fn. 84)
Roger de Baggishouse, occurs 1289 (fn. 85)
Richard de Southampton, occurs 1317 (fn. 86)
Henry de Bedford, occurs 1318, (fn. 87) and was deposed 1327 (fn. 88)
Nicholas de Clifton, occurs 1327 (fn. 89)
Ra'ph de Combe, occurs 1330 (fn. 90) and 1332 (fn. 91)
Bartholomew de Colecestre, occurs 1333, (fn. 92) 1340, (fn. 93) and 1344 (fn. 94)
William Myle, occurs 1347 (fn. 95)
Thomas de Sallowe, occurs 1365 (fn. 96) and 1366, (fn. 97) died 1371 (fn. 98)
Richard Sewell, elected 1371 (fn. 99)
Richard Alred, occurs 1391, (fn. 100) died 1400 (fn. 101)
William Bonyngdon, elected 1400, (fn. 102) occurs 1419 (fn. 103)
John Neel, occurs 1420, (fn. 104) 1426 or 1427, (fn. 105) 1439, (fn. 106) died 1463 (fn. 107)
John Parker, elected 1463 (fn. 108)
John Hardyng, occurs 1478, 1485, (fn. 109) and 1492 (fn. 110)
Richard Adams, occurs 1505, (fn. 111) removed 1510 (fn. 112)
John Yong, S.T.P., elected 1510, (fn. 113) died 1527 (fn. 114)
Lawrence Copferler, elected 1527, (fn. 115) surrendered the house 1538 (fn. 116)
The thirteenth or fourteenth-century seal (fn. 117) shows St. Thomas the archbishop seated on a throne, holding in the right hand a large cross ornamented with a cheveron-like pattern on the left side, and in his left hand a crosier or long cross. On the left is an ecclesiastic, half-length, in prayer. Legend :—
The seal of John Hardyng, master 1478, (fn. 118) shows St. Thomas standing in a carved panel.