Thetford, chapter 17: Of St. Mary's college, in Baily-End

Pages 80-83

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

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There was only one college in this town, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin, which was first a gild only, the brethren and sisters having a priest, which they called their chaplain, to whom they paid an annual stipend, to pray for the welfare of the members of the fraternity, while living, and their souls when dead, and to officiate for them at the general gild days, or annual feasts, or on the anniversaries or obit days of such brethren as settled sufficient on the fraternity, to keep them perpetually. At this time, and even to the Dissolution, it was sometimes called the Gild of St. Mary in BailyEnd. In this state it continued till Edward the First's time, and then it became a college, for a master and two chaplains or brethren, who had a convenient mansion-house, and a chapel by it, built and endowed by Sir Gilbert de Pykenham, senior, who gave the patronage or nomination of the master and fellows to the Mayor and Commonalty of the burgh, and also ordered, that the gild should be continued as formerly, and that the master and fellows for the time being should continually serve, and daily officiate for, the brethren thereof, and that all persons, both men and women, might be admitted into the society upon their being elected by the majority of the brethren, and entered into the gild book by the master and fellows, paying for such their admission, one quarter of barley, or more, (fn. 1) according to their ability, besides a fee in money; by means of which, this college greatly increased in revenues, the chief persons in the corporation being generally members of it, besides other persons of distinction in the neighbouring towns. In the year 1337, being the 11th of Edward III. I find by the Account-Roll of the house, (fn. 2) that it was endowed with lands and tenements to the value of 26l. 6s. per annum, viz. in rents issuing from divers tenements in Thetford, 13s. 6d. per annum, part of which viz. 4d. from the tenement of John Le-Goose, and 1d. from the tenement of Margaret de Stanford, and 20d. from Peter Le-Meysters, were given and settled particularly on the master to receive yearly, and expend in keeping the anniversary of the founder, with a wax taper, and a lamp burning in the chapel that whole day. They had a tenement in the Gress-Market, and about nine shops in Baily-End, and three in Nethergate-street, besides their college and new dove-house, and gild-hall, which was built this year. At this time, the admission fee was 3s. 4d. besides the barley. The yearly quitrent paid for their shops to the Earl Warren, then lord of the town, was 1s. 9d. and the master's salary 3l. 6s. 8d. and 13s. per annum, which the master paid to a poor woman annually by way of alms. Among the brethren admitted this year, I find these persons, who were clergy in the town, viz. Will. Hardyng, chaplain, Thomas Buchard, chaplain, Richard de Snyterton, brother John de Fordham, and Sir Reginald Purry, chaplain, and Edmund Caston, was expelled the society at the same time, which then consisted of about 36 members.

This house, at the archdeacon's survey in Edward the Third's time, was found to be in the archdeaconry of Norwich, and deanery of Thetford, but was not taxed for any of its revenues, it being founded since the taxation was made. (fn. 3) And this was the condition of the house at this time, which did not continue long thus meanly endowed, for in 1370, the Mayor and Commonalty obtained license from King Richard II. to purchase divers lands in Ashwyken, and settle them in mortmain, so that they did not exceed 10l. per annum. And in 1392, they were settled on the college, on condition the master founded a chantry (fn. 4) in the chapel of St. Bartholomew, in the gild-hall, which he did, and served it by the fellows of the college, who officiated for the welfare of the corporation, and the souls of the departed, which had been members of that body.

In 1416, the master accounted for the revenues of the college, as he was annually obliged to do; and it appears they amounted now to about 40l. a year; they had a house in Bridge-street, let at 10l. 13s. 4d. a year, and 4l. a year in Ashwyken, &c. There were 9 new members admitted, among which Margaret Camplyon, a nun, and Tho. Hogg, chaplain, were the chief, besides one John Crane, who lived at Ipswich, which shews it must be a noted society, or else persons so far off would scarce have sought for admission; but what confirms it more to be so, was the annual number of persons who left legacies at their deaths to this house, to have their names entered in the bead-roll, in order to be partakers of their prayers, as well as the brethren: for this year there were several entered in the roll, upon their executors paying their legacies, according to their wills; and besides this, there were many legacies given by other persons every year, which often much added to the settled revenues; among others, John Austin, rector of Wang ford, was buried this year in the chapel, and gave x. marks to adorn it, with a portifory, two board-cloths, and two towels to serve at the little (or low) altar, and also a coverbyth, to serve in the chapel, which was to be laid every year, on the day of his anniversary, over his grave; and also he ordered John Gylet, rector of West Wrotham, his executor, to pay the master of the chapel a legacy of 13s. 4d. (fn. 5) The master's stipend now was 6l. 13s. 4d. and the two fellows 9l. 6s. 8d. and the expenses at their annual feast, or great gild, amounted to 56s.

In 1420, John Banham, rector of Little Livermere was buried in the chapel, and gave two new antiphonars, and one gradual; and this year also, John Gylot of Thetford, chaplain (a member of this college, I suppose) late rector of West Wrotham, was buried in the chapel, and gave to the altar 3s. 4d. to repair it 6s. 8d. to every chaplain serving in it 12d. and small legacies to the religious houses in the town.

In 1422, John Olyver of West-Toftys was buried in the yard of this chapel, and gave a legacy to this gild, and another to the gild of Corpus Christi in Thetford. (fn. 6)

In 1473, Peter Benne, chaplain, was buried in the chapel, and gave a legacy to the painting the tabernacle of the Virgin Mary in it, and another to St. Mary's gild that belonged to it.

In 1499, John Fyshere, burgess, who is buried in St. Nichola's churchyard, gave them a legacy. It appears that John Chaa was a benefactor, of whose gift they had 9 acres in Croxton, 2 acres by St. John's hospital, and other barley rents: they paid annual small rents for their shops, houses, and lands, to the Priors of Bromhill, of the canons, and of the monks in Thetford. In 1446, the Mayor and Commonalty obtained another license to settle 10l. per annum more, in mortmain; and after this, (fn. 7) the rents became so considerable, that there were two chamberlains annually chosen by the fraternity, who received the rents and passed their accounts, before the Mayor for the time being; and by an account passed in 1541, it appears that the Austin friars held a tenement of them, by the rent of 12d. a year, and that the yearly profits were much enlarged; they had then a close and certain lands in Hocham, and one acre in the field there, held of that manor, by the rent of 4d. per annum, and also divers lands and revenues in Gislam, Rushmere, and the adjoining towns in the county or Suffolk, which added to the other revenues, made up the annual income of 109l. 7s. (fn. 8) which was the value of it at its dissolution in 1547, when it was resigned into King Edward's hands by John Gunnel, the last master, who had a pension of 5l. per annum assigned him for life, which was paid in 1555, and not afterwards, that I can find. which induces me to think he died in 1556. At its dissolution the chapel and college were entirely demolished, and the revenues which came to the King were divided the next year in the following manner: the site of the college and chapel, called Chapel-Yard, and 30 acres of arable land and pasture thereto belonging, with all messuages, &c. lying in Thetford and Croxton, and all rights thereto belonging, were given to the Duke of Norfolk, and by him forfeited to the Crown, and soon after granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and his heirs, (fn. 9) who laid the land (fn. 10) to Maison Dieu fold-course, and sold the site, houses, and curtilages, to Nicholas Hoode; but how it went after I cannot say, till the 7th of James I. 1608, and then the King, at the humble request of Sir William Rider, Knt. granted to Maurice Francis, Esq. and Francis Phillips, Gent. the site of the chapel, with divers tenements and curtilages belonging to it, all which were to be held of the Crown by him and his heirs, in free soccage, as of the King's manor of East-Greenwich, by fealty only; and from this time it hath been a private property, and as such continues, it belonging at this time [1738] to the son and heir of Robert Pierson, lately deceased. It stands near the river, directly behind the common gaol for the burgh, there being no ruins of any account.

The other revenues in Ashwyken, Gislam, Rushmere, &c. continued in the Crown till the 29th Elizabeth, and were then granted by that Queen to Edward Wymark, Gent. and his heirs, to be held by the rent of 3s. 4d. per annum.


  • 1. I find some paid 7 quarters, and some more, besides the fee in money, which was also in proportion to the condition of the person admitted.
  • 2. E Compot. Bonor. Capelle Beate Marie in Balliva Theford. Rot. penes T. M.
  • 3. Regr. Archid. Norw.
  • 4. It is called the Chantry of St. Bartholomew, by, and sometimes in, the gild-hall, and was an oratory or chapel where the burgesses, when they came to do business, performed their devotions.
  • 5. Regr. Hyrning.
  • 6. Regr. Hubbert, fol. 99.
  • 7. In 1511, Reb. Love, burgess, gave 5 marks to the repairs of this chapel, and Will. Berde welle was a benefactor.
  • 8. Weaver, fol. 828. Speed, &c.
  • 9. E Lit. Pat. dat. 3 E 6. 17 May.
  • 10. The lands, and every thing but the site, houses, and curtilages in the town, were conveyed by Sir Edward Clere to the Norfolk family, which now enjoys them.