A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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73. THE HOSPITAL OF ICKBURGH
In the reign of Edward I William Barentun granted to Henry Scharping and his heirs, for the health of his soul and the souls of his parents, 145 acres of land, and a fair on St. Lawrence's Day, for the maintenance of a chaplain to celebrate in the chapel of St. Mary of ' Newbrigge.' This chapel stood on the north side of the River Wissey, in the parish of Ickburgh, by a bridge that led to Mundford. This considerable grant was confirmed in 1323 by John, son of William Scharping, cousin and heir of Henry, at which time there was in conjunction with this chapel of St. Mary a leper hospital for a master and brethren. (fn. 1)
A lazar-house, dedicated to St. Mary and St. Lawrence, was, in all probability, in existence long before the founding of the chantry in the adjoining chapel in the reign of Edward I. The patronage of this house and chapel was transferred by John Scharping to John de la Bokele, who in 1373 became a considerable benefactor to the extent of upwards of 59 acres of land with other rights and privileges. (fn. 2) Pope Gregory XII in 1409 granted to this lazar-house exemption from tithes for all their lands. The bull was addressed to the master and brethren of the 'domus leprosorum de Novo Ponte de Ykeburgh.' (fn. 3) This privilege of exemption from tithes was confirmed by Pope Nicholas V in 1449, by which date the rule of the house had apparently been conferred on the Friars Eremite, or Austin Friars. This latter bull was addressed to the master, wardens and ' fratribus heremitis domus olim leprosorum de Novo Ponte de Ykeburgh.' In this case, however, it seems scarcely possible that ' fratribus heremitis' can be understood as implying the Austin Friars, for they were a mendicant order, and incapable of holding property such as belonged to this house.
The confusion that caused this equivocal expression to find a place in a papal bull (or its transcript) and which has led writers to make mention of a priory of Austin Friars at this place, probably arose from the fact that there was an old hermitage attached to this bridge. The hermit of ' Newbrigge,' Ickburgh, was doubtless, as elsewhere, responsible for the repairs of the bridge and its ' causeys,' and sought alms from travellers for the purpose, undertaking to pray for a safe journey.
In course of time, during the first half of the fifteenth century, the office of bridge hermit became united to that of chantry chaplain of the hospital. Leprosy was extinct in the neighbourhood, and therefore the duty of the inmates in general became connected with the wayfarers using the route which led them over the bridge from Suffolk into Norfolk. Hence, as seems probable, came the somewhat misleading phraseology of the bull of 1449, wherein they are termed ' hermit brethren,' which did not imply in this instance any kind of friars.
The diocesan registers of the fifteenth century record several institutions to the joint office of ' hermit and chaplain of Newbrigge,' as is expressed in each appointment. Richard was instituted as hermit and chaplain in 1446; John Batti a few years later; William Dane in 1481; John Canon in the time of Henry VII; and John Lyster in the days of Henry VIII. (fn. 5)
John Lyster, hermit, by will of the year 1526, left his body to be buried in the neighbouring church of Mundford, bequeathing 16 acres of land and the West Close to that parish —an impossibility if he had been any kind of friar. (fn. 6)
The Valor Ecclesiasticus enters the annual value of what the commissioners termed the Free Chapel of ' Newbrigge' as only £3 7s. This estimate, however, could merely have applied to some special part of the endowment of the chapel, as separate from the house or hospital. In 1548 the whole estates were annexed by the crown and sold for £900 to Osbert Montford of Feltwell and Thomas Gawdv of Shotesham. (fn. 7)