Collegiate churches: Wallingford

A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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, 'Collegiate churches: Wallingford', in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2, (London, 1907) pp. 103-106. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Collegiate churches: Wallingford", in A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2, (London, 1907) 103-106. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Collegiate churches: Wallingford", A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2, (London, 1907). 103-106. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,

In this section


The college and church or chapel of St. Nicholas was situated in the south-east corner of the outer bailey of the castle of Wallingford. Leland, in the time of Henry VIII, wrote:—

There were a dean and prebendaries in the King's free chapel within the third dyke of the Castle here in the beginning of King John's reign—and probably before— which Edmund Earl of Cornwall (11 Edward I) endowed with lands and rents for the maintenance of six chaplains, six clerks, and four choristers etc. (fn. 1)

The charters of King John show that there were then two royal prebendal chapels at Wallingford; one of which is described as 'our chapel of Wallingford to wit the church of All Saints'; (fn. 2) whilst there are several later references to prebends in 'our chapel within the castle.' The last of these is of the year 1214, when William de London received the king's letters of presentation to the prebend which had been held by Master William de Pottern, 'in the chapel of the Lord the King in the castle of Wallingford.' Letters were at the same time sent to the canons of the chapel, and likewise to the bishop of Salisbury, 'if perchance that prebend may lie in his diocese.' (fn. 3)

Kennett records an inquisition of the year 1183, from which it appears that Miles Crispin was the founder of the Wallingford prebends. (fn. 4) Miles Crispin came in with the Conqueror, and died in 1107.

On 19 March, 1227, the king presented Hugh de Bathon to the rectory of StokesBasset, Oxfordshire, which was at that time a prebend of the chapel of St. Nicholas in Wallingford Castle, on the resignation of John de Wighenholt. (fn. 5)

In November, 1229, the king committed the custody of Wallingford Castle to his brother Richard, earl of Cornwall, together with the honour of Wallingford and its appurtenances; but it is expressly stated that the king reserved in his own hands the gift of the prebends of the castle chapel. (fn. 6)

This collegiate church of St. Nicholas was further endowed and re-established in 1278, on so important a scale, by Edmund, earl of Cornwall, that he was usually regarded as the founder. Edmund's foundation charter, together with another of the year 1280 extending the endowment, received royal confirmation at Michaelmas, 1283. (fn. 7) By this charter a college was founded in the chapel of St. Nicholas, consisting of a dean (Roger Drayton was the first appointment), six chaplains, six clerks, and four taper-bearers (fn. 8) (ceropherarii), with an endowment of £61 12s. yearly rental in Warborough and Shellingford. It is stated in the charter that Edmund founded the college for the salvation of his own soul, and of the souls of Richard, king of the Romans, his father, of Sanchia his mother, of the king of England, and of the souls of all the faithful who had died in the Lord.

In 1356 Edward III gave his licence for the appropriation of the church of Harwell, Berkshire, to the dean of the free chapel of St. Nicholas within Wallingford Castle, the gift of his son, Edward the Black Prince, for the sustenance of the six chaplains, six clerks, and four taper-bearers. (fn. 9) Five years later the college received the additional gift of the manor of Harwell. (fn. 10)

The dean and college or the king's chapel within the castle of Wallingford obtained licence in January, 1389, to appropriate towards their maintenance the church of All Saints, Wallingford, which did not exceed the value of 100s. a year. (fn. 11) The church of All Saints stood within 300 yards of the college; there was no special provision made for vicarage, but the church and parish were served by the clergy of St. Nicholas.

The deanery, as in so many similar cases, appears to have been often bestowed upon prominent pluralists who treated it as a sinecure. Richard Feld, who was appointed by the crown dean of the free chapel of Wallingford in November 1399, probably never saw the college of priests over whom he was supposed to preside; for at the time of his appointment he held the rectories of Ringwood and Cleeve, Worcester diocese; and was also prebendary of Alveley in the free chapel of Bridgnorth, prebendary of Cotton in the collegiate church of Tamworth, and warden of the free chapel of Tickhill, Yorks. (fn. 12)

Henry VI, in 1444, at the petition of Stephen Morpeth, the dean, granted to the college ten marks yearly out of the fee-farm of the town and honour of Wallingford. The letters patent of this grant mention that the stipends originally assigned were 40 marks to the dean and his substitute, 10 marks to each of the six priest chaplains, 7 marks to each of the six clerks, and 40s. to each of the four choristers, and that there were other considerable and heavy charges; but that the true annual value of the rents and possessions of the college had so materially diminished that the income, after paying for repairs and necessary burdens, barely left a balance of ten marks, so that either the number of ministers must be materially lessened, or the foundation ordinance set at naught. The king thereupon, in addition to the grant of ten marks, ordained that the dean and chaplains on festival days might procure extra boys from elsewhere, and only be obliged to support two choristers throughout the year. (fn. 13) The choristers were, however, ere long increased to the original number.

Dr. Underhill, who was dean of the college from 1510 to 1536, built a new west tower for the collegiate church. (fn. 14)

Leland, writing about 1538, states:—

The Deane afore Dr. London that now is built a fair steple of stone at the west end of the collegiate chapel, in making whereof he defaced, without license, a piece of the king's lodging joining to the eastward end of the chapel. The Deane hath a fair lodging of tymbre within the Castle, and to it is joined a place for the ministers of the chapel. (fn. 15)

The notorious Dr. London, of evil fame, one of Cromwell's monastic visitors, was dean of this college from 1536 until his final disgrace. On 23 February, 1538, John London wrote to Cromwell detailing the condition of the establishment over which he presided. After every man's portion (a dean, six priests, six clerks, a deacon, and four choristers) had been paid, there was very little left for other charges, 'wherbye such ornamentes as the noble founders gave unto that chapell do oonly remayne, very olde and dyvers of them past mending.' The Kinges Grace of hys most tendre benyvolens dydde within the viii yeres past bylde newly the hole Colledge, in maner all, as well the Deans as the Prests and Clerks lodgyngs.' London then proceeds to beg for the ornaments of the conventual church of Abingdon about to be dissolved, stating that they had 'very few copys, few vestments, and butt oon awlter clothe of sylk, and all thees very olde.' He proceeded to state that if the king granted them these Abingdon goods, he would be glad at his own charge to repair them, and to 'sett in every of them hys Grace is armys, with a scripture of memory that hys Grace conferyd such ornaments to that hys Grace is Colledg.' (fn. 16)

John London, one of Cromwell's favourite tools in the work of suppression, was richly rewarded. He was not only made dean of Wallingford, but was also dean of Oseney, warden of New College, Oxford, canon of York, Lincoln, Sarum, and Windsor, and rector of several parishes. With his wealth and promotion came the display of his dissolute nature. Archbishop Cranmer styled him 'that filthy prebendary of Windsor'; he was convicted of perjury and of the foulest form of adultery. His life and death were both evil. After riding through the public streets of Oxford, Wallingford, Windsor, and Wokingham with his face to the tail, and spending some hours in each town 'in a pillory where every voice might revile and every hand might hurl filth at him, he was thrust away into the Fleet Prison, where he miserably died' in 1540. (fn. 17)

The College and Chantry Commissioners of Henry VIII, of 1546, reported that the college of St. Nicholas in the castle of Wallingford was founded by the Black Prince for one dean, six priests, six clerks, and four choristers for daily divine service, 'whyche they do observe accordyngly.' The annual value was £155 4s. 1½d. The stipends of the six priests amounted to £40; of the six clerks, £28; of the four choristers, £8; and of the sexton, 26s. 8d. The wages of 'certayn manialls and servantes' amounted to £4 13s. 4d.; bread, wine, wax, and oil cost £5; £6 6s. 7d. was paid for certain obits, and 40s. as a pension to the church of All Saints, Wallingford. The remainder, after certain dues had been discharged, went ' towards the lyvynge of John Dune deane,' and for the repair of the houses and tenements. (fn. 18)

The commissioners of Edward VI, of 1548, stated that John Donne, the dean, bachelor of divinity, and subdean of the king's chapels, had £31 2s. 1¾d. as his annual stipend from this college, and that he had besides this £60 towards his living in other benefices. Of the four priests of the college, one, Richard Crane, aged 74, was bedridden; Richard Fotherby, aged 52, was unable to serve cure; William Donkeley, aged 38, and John de Ayshedale, 52, were also pronounced ' unable to serve cure,' which seems to mean that in the opinion of the commissioners they could not with success discharge the duties of an ordinary parish priest. Each of the four were drawing stipend of £6 19s. 10d., 'which is their only lyvynge.' The names of the six clerks and the four choristers are also set forth. One of the former was organist and teacher of the choristers.

The commissioners added to their report that:—

A vicar is to be endowed, or a preste must be allowed to serve the cure of Allhallowes without the Castell Gate, forasmoche as by impropriation the deane was both parson and vicar, unles it shall stande with the Kings Majisties pleasure to unite and annexe the same unto Saunte Maries or some other parishe within the Towne. Within whiche parish of Allhallowes be of howslyng people lx. (fn. 19)

The Church Goods Commissioners of the same year estimated that the lead on the chapel, tower and cloister amounted to ten fodders, at 15 ft. sq. to the fodder; and there were four bells. (fn. 20) The college was suppressed in 1548, and the site granted to Michael Stanhope and John Bellew. From them it was purchased in the same year by the dean and canons of Christ Church, Oxford, as a place of retirement in times of sickness. In 1552 the clerk's lodgings and other premises were leased to Thomas Parry, but on condition of his quitting the entire premises, save one chamber, at eight days' notice, in the event of the plague or other serious visitation occurring at Oxford. (fn. 21)

The pension roll of Philip and Mary, 1554, shows that the members of the dissolved community were treated liberally. Two of the chaplains who then survived were receiving £6 a year, being only 19s. 10d. less than their former salary, whilst all the clerks were in receipt of the income they had previously drawn less a single shilling, viz. £4 16s. 8d. (fn. 22)

Deans of Wallingford

Ralph de Norwich, presented 1216 (fn. 23)

Roger Drayton, presented 1283 (fn. 24)

Richard Feld, presented 1399 (fn. 25)

Stephen Morpeth, occurs 1444 (fn. 26)

Dr. Berworth, 'late dean' in 1534 (fn. 27)

John Underhill, 1510-1536 (fn. 28)

John London, presented 1536 (fn. 29)

John Donne, occurs 1546 (fn. 30)


  • 1. Leland, Itin. ii, 40.
  • 2. Chart. R. 2 John, m. 24.
  • 3. Pat. 16 John, m. 15.
  • 4. Kennett, Par. Antiq. i, 130.
  • 5. Pat. 11 Hen. III, m. 8 bis.
  • 6. Close, 14 Hen. III, m. 23.
  • 7. Chart. R. 11 Edw. I, m. 2.
  • 8. The four boys are termed choristers in the earlier charter, at the Bodleian, of 1278; the dean is therein termed master.
  • 9. Pat. 30 Edw. III, m. 15.
  • 10. Ibid. 35 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 15.
  • 11. Ibid. 12 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 29.
  • 12. Ibid. 1 Hen. IV, pt. ii, m. 29.
  • 13. Ibid. 23 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 14. Hedges, Wallingford, ii, 296.
  • 15. Leland, Itin. ii, 40.
  • 16. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. i, 341.
  • 17. Froude, Hist. iv, 296.
  • 18. Coll. and Chant. Cert. Berks. 51.
  • 19. Ibid. iii.
  • 20. K.R. Ch. Gds. 8 / 23;.
  • 21. Hedges, Wallingford, ii, 315–16.
  • 22. B.M. Add. MS. 5806.
  • 23. Pat. 1 Hen. III, m. 13.
  • 24. Chart. 11 Edw. III, m. 2.
  • 25. Pat. 1 Hen. IV, pt. ii, m. 29.
  • 26. Ibid. 23 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 27. Tanner, Not. Mon. xxxviii.
  • 28. Ibid. Hedges, Wallingford, ii, 296.
  • 29. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii, pt. i, 341.
  • 30. Coll. and Chant. Cert. 3 and 51.