A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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36. THE COLLEGE OF BABLAKE, COVENTRY (fn. 1)
The collegiate church of St. John Baptist, Coventry, owes its origin to one of the earliest trade gilds of the city. The gild of St. John Baptist was founded on 6 October, 1342. (fn. 2) On its first establishment, one of the objects for which it obtained its licence was the founding of a chantry for six priests to sing daily mass in the two great churches of St. Michael and Holy Trinity. But in 1344 the dowager Queen Isabel, who held for life the manor of Cheylesmore, granted to the gild of St. John a parcel of land called 'Babbelak,' 117 ft. long, and varying in breadth from 40 ft. to 33 ft., on which to build a chapel in honour of God and the Baptist, for their own services, but stipulating for a chantry of two priests to sing daily mass for the royal family. (fn. 3)
The eastern portion of this chapel was ready for consecration on 2 May, 1350. (fn. 4)
Particular efforts were made seven years later to finish this chapel. The master and brethren of the gild entered into an agreement in 1357 with one William Walshman, a valet of Queen Isabel, who acted as her Coventry bailiff, to aid them in completing the work by adding thereto a new aisle, and increasing the endowment so as to support four additional priests, making six in all, for the services of the chapel. It was also agreed that all the stone and timber belonging to an unfinished chapel of St. Mary in Cheylesmore should be taken down, and the materials used for the chapel at Bablake.
At the same time the queen sought the special aid of the pope. Innocent VI, in May, 1357, granted relaxation of a year and forty days of enjoined penance to penitents who visit the chapel of Bablake in the parish of Holy Trinity, founded by Queen Isabella, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, St. Anne, and St. John the Baptist, on the feasts of Christmas, Easter, Whit Sunday, and St. Peter and St. Paul of that year. This was in response to a petition of the queen, who had, however, asked for the unusual period of three years and forty days. (fn. 5)
In 1358 Edward the Black Prince came into possession of Cheylesmore, and in the following year he gave a parcel of land 60 ft. by 40 ft., adjoining the chapel, for further enlargement. It has been conjectured that the future Bablake Hall was built on this piece of land; but Mr. Fretton surmises that this plot adjoined the west end of the chapel and served for the erection of the tower and transepts.
Attached to the original chapel was an ankerhold or hermitage for a recluse. In 1362 the bishop of Lichfield licensed Robert de Worthin, a priest, at the request of Queen Isabel, to become a recluse or anchorite in a building erected for that purpose adjoining the chapel of St. John. Baptist. (fn. 6)
Between the years 1365 and 1369 William Walshman, and Christian his wife, conveyed the adjacent city property called 'the Drapery' to the united gilds of St. John, St. Mary, and St. Katherine, for the making of a chapel within the chapel of Bablake in honour of the Holy Trinity and the three saints of the three gilds. This probably took the form of extensive rebuilding or additions to the chapel.
In 1392 the gild of the Holy Trinity was united to those of St. John Baptist and St. Mary, and under the joint name (though more usually styled Holy Trinity) had licence to purchase lands for the maintenance of nine priests to sing mass daily in the chapel of Bablake for the good estate of Richard II and his queen and his uncles. Shortly after this the united gilds received various benefactions for this purpose as detailed by Dugdale. (fn. 7)
A grant by John Percy and others in 1393 enabled the number of priests to be raised to nine, one of them being appointed warden.
In 1457 the payments to the Bablake priests by the Trinity Gild, according to Mr. Fretton's extracts from the Leet Book, amounted to £79 8s., John Norton being the warden. The number of priests, as is stated by Leland, reached to twelve in the early part of the sixteenth century; the payment made to the priests of this college in 1520 amounted to £86 4s. 2d.; but it had dropped to £67 4s. in 1536. These sums, however, must have also included the stipends of the clerk or singing men.
The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual value of the Collegium voc' Babelak as £45 6s. 8d. Robert Glasmond was then warden of the college. There was paid to him as his annual stipend at the hands of the master of Trinity Gild £8; and to each of the seven other chaplains of the college £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 8)
The survey of gilds and colleges of 1545 mentions the stipend of the warden as £6 13s. 4d., of eight priests £37 6s. 8d., of the master of the grammar school £6 13s. 4d., of two singing clerks £8, and of two singing boys £4. The same return states that it was the duty of the gild to maintain the full number of nine priests to serve the chapel, each of whom had their separate chamber in the precincts worth 4s. a year. Though the priests or fellows had each their separate lodging they had a common hall.
The college was dissolved in 1548; the priests were pensioned in sums varying from £5 6s. 8d. to £2 13s. 4d. Five of these pensioners were living in 1555.