A History of the County of Berkshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.
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17. THE HOSPITAL OF DONNINGTON
Up to the present time it has always been assumed that the hospital of Donnington was first founded in the reign of Richard II; (fn. 1) but its origin is of far earlier date, for it was evidently well established in the reign of Edward II, as confirmation was granted by Edward III in 1327 of the grant by the late king to John de Wodesford, king's clerk, of the custody of the hospital of St. John, Donnington, for life. (fn. 2)
John de Wodesford resigned in 1333, and the custody of the hospital was granted to Master John de Saresbers. At the same time a mandate was addressed to the constable of the castle of Donnington to induct him, and a writ de intendendo was directed to the brethren and sisters of the hospital. (fn. 3)
Sir Richard Abberbury, a leading man in the county, who was justice not only of Berkshire, but also of Oxford and Wiltshire, assigned considerable lands in 1365 to two chaplains to celebrate divine service in a certain chapel at Donnington which he was newly constructing, but it is by no means certain that this chapel had any connexion with either the priory or the hospital. (fn. 4) However, the same knight, who had been one of the guardians of Richard II during his minority, founded in 1393 a hospital at Donnington, which was almost certainly a reorganization and enrichment of the former hospital of St. John. He assigned to the poor of this hospital two acres of land of his manor of Donnington and the manor of Iffley, near Oxford. One of these poor brethren was to preside over the rest, and to be called the minister of God of the poor house of Donnington. The inmates were to pray daily for the good estate (and after death for the souls) of King Richard and Sir Richard Abberbury, and to attend mass at the adjacent chapel of friars. (fn. 5)
Confusion as to the actual founders of the smaller and less-known houses often arises from forgetfulness or ignorance of the fact that the term fundator was frequently used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in returns, as the equivalent of patron, and merely implied a descendant of the original founder, or even one who had purchased or inherited through marriage the first benefactor's estates. Thus Leland says that Donnington Hospital was founded by Thomas Chaucer, who died in 1434, whilst Dugdale describes it as founded by William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, who had married Chaucer's heir. (fn. 6)
Thomas Barrie, one of the almsmen of this hospital, was concerned in spreading a rumour (apparently well accredited) in 1538 of the death of Henry VIII; he was most barbarously punished, having his ears nailed to the pillory in Newbury throughout a market day, and at its close released by having his ears cut off. (fn. 7)
The commissioners of Henry VIII (1548) reported that the hospital of Walter Abberbury was founded for the maintenance of thirteen poor men,
every of them to have towards theyr lyvynge 1d. by the day, one chamber, and xijs.vjd. in themone(th) of corne money whyche they have accordyngly. The patron or donor thereof nowe ys the Kynges Majestie.
The hospital is described as adjoining the castle and half a mile distant from the parish church. The annual value was returned at £28 16s. 8d., whereof £19 5s. 5d. went as stipend to the thirteen poor men, and £8 2s. 6d. in corn money. The balance was used in repairing the tenements. There were then no ornaments or goods in the chapel, as it was served from the parish church.
The hospital revenues were among those confiscated to the crown, and so remained until 1570, when they were restored to their original purpose, on the petition of Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham, lord admiral. On its reestablishment it was termed
the Hospital of Queen Elizabeth at Donnington, in time past begun to be founded by Sir Richard Abberbury, Knight, and by Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, perfected and consummated.
The elaborate statutes and ordinances for the hospital drawn up by Charles Howard were confirmed in 15 James I by the archbishop of Canterbury, when Richard James, gent., was master. One of the rules provides that the almsmen were to attend service at the parish church, not only on Sundays and festivals, but also on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and there to give God thanks for their founders and benefactors. (fn. 8)