A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.
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THE RELIGIOUS HOUSES OF WILTSHIRE
The religious houses of Wiltshire, even in the widest sense of the term, were not very numerous, and, with four exceptions, were of no more than local importance. Foremost among the exceptions must be placed the chapter of secular canons of the cathedral church of Salisbury. One of the first cathedral chapters to be organized on a large scale on a secular basis, it was the only one known to have a written constitution. Consequently in the 12th and 13th centuries it tended to be the model to which other cathedral chapters turned for constitutional precedents. In the later Middle Ages, moreover, the Use of Salisbury was pre-eminent among liturgical uses. Of the religious houses within the more limited meaning of the term, three were Saxon foundations. The Benedictine abbey of Wilton, whose abbess held her lands of the king in chief by knight service, ranked throughout its history as one of the greatest nunneries in England. Like the other great nunneries of Wessex— Shaftesbury, Winchester, and Romsey—Wilton had a quasi-college of secular canons attached to it. Malmesbury Abbey, also a Saxon foundation, was not one of the richest houses of the Benedictine Order, but many of its abbots played an important part in affairs outside the county. It had also the distinction of being the home and burial place of St. Aldhelm and of William of Malmesbury, the historian. The abbey of Amesbury, likewise of pre-Conquest origin, was at first a house for nuns following the Rule of St. Benedict. It was refounded in the 12th century and became one of the three double houses of the Order of Fontevrault in the country. Like Wilton, it had a long and close connexion with the monarchy and was the resort of aristocrats.
All the more important religious orders had houses in Wiltshire except the Carthusians and the Premonstratensians, who established only a temporary cell at Charlton (near Upavon). The reformed Benedictine Order of Cluny was represented by a priory at Monkton Farleigh, a dependency of the Priory of Lewes (Suss.). The Cistercians also had only one house, founded originally at Loxwell (in Pewsham) as a daughter house of the abbey of Quarr (Isle of Wight), but moved soon after its foundation to Stanley in Bremhill. Houses of Augustinian canons were established at Bradenstoke, Ivychurch, Longleat, and Maiden Bradley. There were two Gilbertine priories, both for canons only, one at Marlborough, the other at Poulton (now in Glos.). In addition, the rarer orders were represented by the Trinitarians at Easton Royal and the house of Bonhommes at Edington, which was the second and last house of that order to be founded in England. The Knights Templars had a preceptory at Temple Rockley and the Hospitallers at Ansty. Three out of the four great Orders of Friars were represented in the county: the Dominicans, who moved from Wilton to Salisbury towards the end of the 13th century, the Franciscans at Salisbury, and the Carmelites at Marlborough. Besides the nunneries at Wilton and Amesbury, there was a small house of Benedictine nuns at Kington St. Michael, and a house of Augustinian canonesses at Lacock.
There are some isolated references to pre-Conquest religious communities in Wiltshire about which almost nothing is known. (fn. 1) In addition to the community established at Bradford-on-Avon by St. Aldhelm in the 8th century, (fn. 2) Wintra, Abbot of Tisbury, occurs between 710 and 716, (fn. 3) and in 759 monks of Tisbury are mentioned. (fn. 4) According to legend, a house of monks had also been established before the Danish invasions at Amesbury, (fn. 5) and a community at Damerham (now in Hants) is mentioned in King Alfred's will. (fn. 6) No traces of these houses are found in the 10th and 11th centuries. At the end of the 10th century there appears to have been a community at Bedwyn, (fn. 7) for tithes were assigned for the maintenance of the 'servants of God' there. A bequest in a will of the same period suggests that there may also have been a monastery or collegiate church at Cricklade. (fn. 8) The large endowments recorded in the Domesday Survey for the churches at Netheravon and Calne also suggest that there may have been religious communities in these two places at an earlier time. At Netheravon the possibility is strengthened by architectural evidence, for there are traces of subsidiary buildings on either side of the pre-Conquest tower of the present church. Certain features in the church at Britford suggest a similar possibility. The author of the Eulogium Historiarum records a tradition that at an early date there was a community of nuns at Malmesbury, (fn. 9) but no other reference to it has been found.
There were but few hospitals within the county and nearly all of them were small and insignificant. The most interesting is that of St. Nicholas, Salisbury, which still survives as an almshouse after existing for over 700 years. It also claims the affection of Trollopians as the probable original of Hiram's Hospital in The Warden. Trinity Hospital, Salisbury, the hospitals of St. Giles, St. John the Baptist, and St. Mary Magdalene, Wilton, and the Hungerford Hospital in Heytesbury have also all survived until the present day (1953) as almshouses.
Certain of the more obscure houses mentioned by Dugdale and others have been omitted from the section which follows because their existence as religious houses has not been proved. A number of bequests to a house for lepers at East Harnham, Salisbury, in the 14th and 15th centuries have been noticed, (fn. 10) and there is a reference to a spittal house there in the 17th century. (fn. 11) There is a reference in 1269 to 'Merton' hospital, said to have been founded by one Warin. (fn. 12) This may refer to Marten in Great Bedwyn, where in the 14th century there is mention of a free chapel, (fn. 13) or it may refer to St. John's Hospital, Cricklade, founded by Warin, one of Henry III's chaplains. (fn. 14) A hospital of St. Lawrence at Chippenham was granted protection for one year in 1338, (fn. 15) but is not heard of again, and at Malmesbury there is a similar single reference in 1245 to St. Anthony's Hospital. (fn. 16) The full discussion of the evidence for the existence of these houses is left for the relevant topographical volumes.
De Vaux College, Salisbury, was an interesting and unusual institution. Founded in the 13th century as a house for 20 scholars, it invested Salisbury for a time with the main characteristics of a university city. Besides the cathedral church of St. Mary, there was one other collegiate church in the city—St. Edmund's. The only other collegiate church in the county was that at Heytesbury.
The six alien priories in Wiltshire were all, except possibly that at Ogbourne, small and unimportant cells, and there is little evidence of conventual life in them. Ogbourne, which belonged to the abbey of Bec, was for a time the administrative centre for all the English lands of Bec not definitely attached to one of the other English dependencies of the abbey. No evidence has been found for the existence of the alien priory at Stratton St. Margaret, to which Dugdale referred without much conviction. (fn. 17)
There are numerous references to hermits and anchorites in Wiltshire. One of the earliest is to the learned Irish monk Mailduib, who settled in a desolate spot on the edge of Selwood Forest, and whose disciples were the predecessors of the monks of Malmesbury. In the 13th century there is mention of two female recluses: Eve, known as the recluse of Preshute, who in 1215 received a grant of 1d. a day from the king, (fn. 18) and Joan, recluse of Britford. The recluse of Britford received royal gifts of oaks in 1226, 1231, and 1245, (fn. 19) and in 1237 the sheriff was ordered to see that the courtyard surrounding her house (hospicium) was enclosed with a stone wall. (fn. 20) In 1296 a hermit in Bentley Wood (Clarendon Forest) received 21s. and 2 qrs. of wheat. (fn. 21) There was still a hermit there in 1331. He was one John de Warwick, who was that year granted one year's protection for collecting alms. (fn. 22) Two years later he received a similar grant for himself and 'his men'. (fn. 23)
References to hermits dwelling in or near chapels in which they conducted services also occur. In 1317 licence was granted for the alienation in mortmain of 2 acres at Codford St. Mary to Henry de Mareys, chaplain and hermit, who was to build on this land a house and a chapel in which to celebrate divine service. (fn. 24) Dispensation was granted in 1348 to a hermit at Fisherton Anger to conduct services in the chapel there. In 1352 the place of the hermit had been usurped by a layman, who had assumed clerical dress, and the chapel was placed under an interdict by the Bishop of Salisbury. Some years later Bishop Metford restored the right to hold services to Thomas, hermit of St. Anne's Chapel, Fisherton Anger. In 1418 the bishop was again concerned with the hermit of Fisherton when he considered the request of one John to be shut up in a narrow place of hermitage at the end of the chapel of Fisherton. (fn. 25) There seems also to have been a hermitage with a chapel attached at Bradford-on-Avon, for in about 1397 40 days' indulgence was granted to the chapel or hermitage of St. Andrew there. (fn. 26) References to hermits in Bradford also occur in 1340 (fn. 27) and 1428. (fn. 28)
In 1337-8 at the hospital of St. James and St. Denis, Southbroom, (fn. 29) and in 1340 at St. Thomas's Hospital, Marlborough, (fn. 30) hermits were employed to gather alms for the two houses. A hermit is said to have tended the causeway at Chippenham, and there is mention of a hermit in that town in the 16th century, when it is recorded that he held 3 acres by the hermitage. (fn. 31) John Benton, ah anchorite in Marlborough in 1529, received 13s. 4d. from Katherine of Aragon's receivers. (fn. 32) A hermitage at Malmesbury was among the property granted to various persons upon the dissolution of the abbey. (fn. 33)
Leland commented upon buildings which he supposed to have been hermitages at Hazelbury and Edington. (fn. 34) The building at Hazelbury was the chapel called Chapel Plaister and thought by Aubrey to be attached not to a hermitage but to a resting-place for pilgrims. (fn. 35) Leland also referred to a hermitage in the 'Dike of the Towne' at the west end of the old parish church of Malmesbury, (fn. 36) and suggests that the Tory chapel, Bradford-on-Avon, was the chapel of a hermitage. (fn. 37) Aubrey (1626-97) records 'a very fine hermitage' at Stanton St. Quintin, (fn. 38) and suggests that there may have been hermitages at Yatton Keynell and Lydiard Tregoze. (fn. 39)