A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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29. THE HOSPITAL OF ST. JOHN BAPTIST AND ST. JOHN EVANGELIST, NORTHAMPTON
The exact date of the foundation of this hospital, as well as the name of the founder, is uncertain. Edward I. in 1307 granted to the brethren of the hospital of St. John, Northampton an exemplification of a charter of Henry II., whereby they were licensed to hold whatever they had acquired or should acquire by gifts, purchase, or in frankalmoign. (fn. 1) It seems probable that the actual date of the foundation was about 1140. An inquisition in 1327 names Walter, archdeacon of Northampton, as the founder of this hospital for the reception and maintenance of the infirm. (fn. 2) This is probably a clerical error for 'William,' as there was no archdeacon of Northampton of the name of Walter about that period. Leland gives William St. Clare, archdeacon of Northampton, as the founder. (fn. 3) His name first occurs in 1144, but the date of his actual appointment as archdeacon is not known; he died in 1168. (fn. 4)
The Taxation of 1291 has one reference to this hospital stating that a pension of £2 was received from the rectory of Helmdon, held by the master of St. John's. (fn. 5) The pope in 1278 directed the collectors of the Holy Land tenth in England not to suffer the monks and brethren of the hospital for the poor of St. John, Northampton, to be molested, according to the general exemption of payment of such tenths granted by Pope Gregory X. to lazar houses, houses of God, and poor hospitals. (fn. 6)
The brethren received frequent licences to acquire land during the fourteenth century. In March, 1299, William de Brampton obtained a grant permitting him to alienate to the hospital lands and rents to the annual value of 100s. in Hartwell, Quinton, Courteenhall, and Piddington. (fn. 7) In 1330 William de Horkesle and Emma his wife obtained a licence to grant a messuage in Northampton which was held of the king by a service of 2s. yearly towards the farm of the town payable by the bailiffs to the master and brethren of the hospital of St. John to find a chaplain to celebrate daily in the church of the said hospital for the souls of the faithful departed. (fn. 8) A chantry for the souls of William and Emma was formally ordained in the church by the bishop of Lincoln in 1339. (fn. 9) In the following year another chantry for the soul of John de Duglington was ordained at an altar on the west side of the lady-chapel 'next the organs.' (fn. 10) Robert de Clendon, clerk, obtained permission in 1337 to grant a messuage and thirty-six acres of land in Piddington to the brethren to provide two wax lights to burn before the altar of the Blessed Virgin in their church on festival days whilst divine service was being celebrated, for the souls of him and his ancestors. (fn. 11)
The church of the hospital, towards the rebuilding of which in 1309 Bishop Dalderby licensed the brethren to beg alms, as well as for the maintenance of the poor flocking to the hospital, (fn. 12) seems to have been one of considerable size for an institution of this kind, as the diocesan in 1310 issued a licence for the dedication of four altars therein. (fn. 13) A burying ground, a very important part of a large hospital, was apportioned to the house in early days; according to one of the borough documents a vacant piece of land was conveyed to the brothers of St. John for enlarging their cemetery in 1286. (fn. 14) On two occasions Edward II. exercised the royal prerogative of imposing pensioners as on a house of the king's foundation or patronage. In 1314 Ela Druel was sent to the master and brethren to receive the allowance of a brother in their house, (fn. 15) and in 1325 they were enjoined to admit into their hospital and provide necessary food and clothing for William of the Hall, who had long served the king and his father, and was now wholly unable to work more. (fn. 16) In the same year the diocesan issued a mandate desiring the master and brethren to receive William, son of Walter Piddington, into their house as a brother. (fn. 17)
Various debts are recorded about this time. In July of the year 1325 John of Upton, master of the hospital, in conjunction with Thomas de Chellesfeld of London, and Richard of Ofton, dyer of London, acknowledged a debt of £100 due to Adam de Salesbury of London, and in the following August the master acknowledged another debt of 25 marks due to a merchant of Florence. (fn. 18) In 1334 the brethren appear as debtors to the amount of £16 10s. to the executors of the will of the late parson of Kislingbury, the enrolment of the debt being subsequently cancelled on payment. (fn. 19)
Towards the close of the century the condition of the hospital gave rise to complaint, and on 1 March, 1381-2, the bishop appointed a commission for the administration of the goods and temporalities of the house, having found at a recent visitation that the inmates were neglecting previous injunctions; that they were voluptuous both in food and clothing; and were dissipating the property of the hospital instead of providing for the poor and needy. (fn. 20) The master, John of Grafton, obtained a licence in 1387 on payment of a fine of £10 in the hanaper to acquire in mortmain lands and tenements of the yearly value of £10 in aid of the maintenance of poor people living upon alms of the hospital. (fn. 21) On John's death, in 1389, the bishop appointed Nicholas Goldsmith of Northampton to the custody of the hospital during the vacancy. (fn. 22)
Injunctions were issued by Bishop Bokyngham in 1345 for the regulation of the house, to the effect that there was to be silence kept in the church and dormitory and also in refectory when there were no guests; the dress should be uniform, of one colour, and with a black cross on it; the brethren were never to leave the hospital save in the habit; there was to be a weekly chapter, when all sins and excesses should be confessed and redressed without respect of persons; brethren sent out to beg should give a full account of all money or contributions in kind within three days of their return; the constitutions of Bishop Grossetête should be read three times a year, and no novice was to be accepted unless he excelled in reading and was otherwise suitable. (fn. 23)
The means of the hospital lessened in the fifteenth century, and in 1433 Bishop Gray dispensed the brethren from the obligation of finding a secular priest to celebrate, as their funds were impoverished, and licensed one of the brethren to officiate in his place. (fn. 24)
Early in the sixteenth century Anne Wake, widow of William Wake of Hartwell, by her will dated 1504, left her body to be buried in the chapel of Our Lady in the hospital of St. John of Northampton. (fn. 25)
On 20 August, 1534, five signatures were appended to the deed acknowledging the king's supremacy, those of Richard Birdsall, the master, John Calcot, John Nyccolls, John Atkynson, and Edmund Curtes. (fn. 26) The clear annual value of the house according to the Valor of 1535 was declared at £57 19s. 6¼d.; (fn. 27) the return shows that at that time a certain number of aged poor, three men and five women, were maintained in the hospital, and were in receipt of 2d. a day. A certificate of this hospital, in 1546, describes it as founded to maintain a master, two priests, and eight poor people, and to exercise hospitality. The church of the hospital is stated to be no parish church, but only for the company there dwelling. (fn. 28)
An elaborate charter of Charles I. granted in 1631 purports to cite the original foundation deed, from which it appears that the practice of the sixteenth century (continued up to recent times) of using the funds for a master, for two co-brethren or chaplains, and eight resident alms men or alms women, was not part of the original scheme, which was to afford temporary entertainment and refreshment for the infirm poor, and for orphans who should be ministered to by resident brethren, whilst the languidi vel leprosi were excepted as likely to prove a permanent charge upon the establishment.
It was placed from the first under the immediate patronage of the bishop of Lincoln. Grave charges of mismanagement and monopolization of the funds by non-resident masters were made in pre-Reformation days, and this evil materially increased when the town, on the formation of the diocese of Peterborough, ceased to have any connexion with Lincoln. From that date the mastership of St. John's, Northampton, came to be regarded as a lucrative sinecure in the gift of the bishop of London. The evil first came to a head when Bishop Cooper, in 1573, presented Arthur Wake, M.A., to the mastership. Wake resided in the Channel Islands, and refused to return to England, notwithstanding the vigorous protests of various justices of the county and important townsmen who stated in a petition to the Privy Council, in 1584, that 'hardly the xxth part of the revenues were given to the reliefe of any impotent aged or feeble persons.' This is not the place to enter into the grievous post-Reformation abuses of this ancient charitable foundation, and of the constant litigation in connexion therewith, which continued down to the death of Richard Pretyman, one of the sons of Bishop Pretyman, the pluralist, who held the sinecure mastership from 1814 until his death in 1866. (fn. 29)
The master's house and garden together with the chapel were sold in 1870 to the Bedford and Northampton Railway Company, by whom the chapel was sold to Mr. Mullinger, who transferred it to the use of the Roman Catholic congregation. The hospital itself was refounded in 1876 at Weston Favell as a convalescent hospital, which at present accommodates 41 inmates. A chapel has also been erected, and a portion of the funds set aside to provide a weekly pension of 5 shillings for 8 'out-pensioners' over the age of 60. The master now discharges the duties of the two co-brethren. (fn. 30)
The hospital, save in a few special charters, appears simply as St. John's; occasionally it was described as dedicated to St. John Baptist, and more rarely as dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. But the correct dedication is the very unusual one of the conjunction of these two saints. Sherborne Hospital and the parish church of Groombridge, Kent, are the only other dedications to the two SS. John of which we are aware.
Masters Of St. John The Baptist And St. John The Evangelist, Northampton
Warner, (fn. 31) temp. Henry III.
John of Oxyndon, (fn. 32) temp. Henry III.
Richard, (fn. 33) occurs 1245
Richard, (fn. 34) occurs 1280
William of Cottesbrok, (fn. 35) resigned 1291
Richard of Helmdon, (fn. 36) appointed 1291, died 1323
John of Upton, (fn. 37) appointed 1323
William of Piddington, (fn. 38) occurs 1334
John of Boketon, (fn. 39) died 1349
John of Whatton, (fn. 40) appointed 1349, died 1376
John of Grafton, (fn. 41) appointed 1376, died 1389
Thomas Aldyngton, (fn. 42) appointed 1389
Edmund Buckingham, (fn. 43) died 1406
Henry Pilton, (fn. 44) appointed 1406
Richard Cole, (fn. 45) resigned 1475
Richard Sherd, (fn. 46) appointed 1475, resigned 1498
Thomas Parmenter, (fn. 47) appointed 1498, resigned 1514
William Atkynson, M.A., (fn. 48) appointed 1514
John Aras, (fn. 49) resigned 1530
Richard Birdsall, (fn. 50) appointed 1530, resigned 1544
Arthur Lowe, LL.B., (fn. 51) appointed 1544, resigned 1569
Arthur Wake, M.A., (fn. 52) appointed 1569, deprived 1573
Robert Condall, (fn. 53) appointed 1574
William Wake, (fn. 54) occurs 1625, resigned 1638
William Boswell, (fn. 55) occurs 1630
George Wake, D.D., (fn. 56) appointed 1638, died 1682
John Skelton, M.A., (fn. 57) appointed 1682, died 1704
Joseph Gardiner, M.A., (fn. 58) appointed 1704, died 1732
Anthony Reynolds, M.A., (fn. 59) occurs 1733, died 1751
John Kerrick, M.D., (fn. 60) appointed 1752, died 1762
Robert Dowbiggin, B.A., (fn. 61) appointed 1762
George Hubbard, (fn. 62) appointed 1795
Richard Pretyman, B.A., (fn. 63) appointed 1814, died 1866
Nathaniel Thomas Hughes, M.A., (fn. 64) appointed 1871
Pointed oval seal taken from a cast at the British Museum. The impression, which is a fine one, represents on the right St. John the Baptist, partially covered with his raiment of camel's hair, holding a staff in the right hand, and pointing to the Agnus Dei on a plaque with the left hand; on the left St. John the Evangelist turned to the right holding a book in his right hand. Over the head of the former the inscription, B A C T I; over the head of the latter, 10 Ew A . Between the saints a slender shaft supporting two round-headed arches, and an early roof and turret with lines representing thatch. In base a crescent, enclosing an estoile of eight points.
The seal which has been used since the time of Charles I. is oval, bearing a badly executed figure of St. John the Baptist seated, partly draped, his left hand resting on a lamb to which he points with his right hand; resting upon his right shoulder is a cross, above his head clouds and rays of light, in the distance on the left a tree.