A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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31. THE HOSPITAL OF ST. THOMAS, NORTHAMPTON.
The hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr is usually said to have been founded about 1450 by the burgesses of Northampton. The authority for this statement is Leland, who wrote, in 1538:—'S. Thomas Hospital is withoute the Toune, and joinuth hard to the West (? South) Gate. It was erected within lesse then a hunderith yeres paste, and induid with sum Landes, al by the Citizens of Northampton.' (fn. 1)
It seems, however, quite possible that this was but the augmentation and rebuilding on a larger and more definite scale of an older foundation. St. Thomas à Becket was canonized in 1173; a special chapel in his honour was soon afterwards built at Northampton, which was confirmed to the priory of St. Andrew by Bishop Hugh of Lincoln (1209-1235). There was also a fraternity of St. Thomas the Martyr in the town in the reign of Henry III. (fn. 2)
From the middle of the fifteenth century the house was under the charge of the mayor and burgesses as trustees. It was founded for the support of twelve poor persons (men or women), who should receive a weekly allowance, with clothing, firing, and washing. The corporation records show that the earlier management was vested in two masters, or wardens. One of them was elected each year, his period of office being two years, during the first of which he was termed minor or junior master, and during the second senior master.
This arrangement was afterwards modified, and in Elizabethan days it became customary to choose one of the aldermen to be alderman of the house, in addition to the two masters. At the October meeting of the assembly in 1604 it was resolved that:—'Mr. Thomas Humfrey be alderman of the almeshouses or hospitall of St. Thomas, and that Mr. Hughe Coles shall contynue and be one of the masters of the said almeshouses or hospitall for one yeare next ensueing to wit thelder master, and that Mr. Abraham Ventris shalbe thother master for twoe years next also ensueing to wit the first yeare the younger master, and the second yeare thelder master, the saide masters to be accomptable either of them respectivelie, as hath been accustomed.'
Instead of a chaplain, as in pre-Reformation days, the inmates had to be content with the ministrations of a miserably-paid layman. Mr. William Browne, schoolmaster, who read daily prayers to the poor folk in St. Thomas's hospitall, had his annual stipend raised in 1617 from 16s. to 20s. (fn. 3)