Houses of Knights Hospitallers: Preceptory of Chippenham

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1948.

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'Houses of Knights Hospitallers: Preceptory of Chippenham', in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948) pp. 264-266. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

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Like Denney for the Templars, the preceptory at Chippenham was a hospital for sick Hospitallers, perhaps from its foundation. It was founded by William de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, in 1184, and received from him manorial rights and a comparatively small endowment of land. (fn. 1) The parish church at Chippenham was appropriated to Walden Abbey, (fn. 2) and was never in the possession of the Hospitallers. Most of the land which eventually came to Chippenham lay in Ashley and Silverley, and these possessions were, in 1338, accounted as forming a separate camera of the hospital. (fn. 3) A long series of grants went to endow the chapel of the infirmary, (fn. 4) and in Chippenham itself a third of the tithes was given by Maud, Countess of Essex, to maintain a light, (fn. 5) described in later gifts as being before the altar of St. Mary in this chapel. The special character of the house was well established at least by the second quarter of the 13th century, when the preceptory was the object of royal gifts of wine, (fn. 6) perhaps partly on that account. The foundation of two chantries for which the Order was responsible, one in the chapel of the infirmary at Chippenham, and one at Ashley, can be traced to about 1265-72. From about this time the profits of a number of small gifts of land (fn. 7) made by Reynold and Alexander Arsik, William Ranulf, Robert Gynes, and others in their own villages and in Moulton seem to have been consolidated with the chantry of Peter 'Balestarius', who endowed a chaplain to celebrate at the altar of St. Mary in the infirmary for himself, his father, and his mother. (fn. 8) During the reign of Edward I the gifts of the Arsiks to the lamp before this altar included families of nativi, and flocks of sheep, with common pasture for them; (fn. 9) a little later there was a donation for candles in the chapel, (fn. 10) and another for incense at Christmas. (fn. 11)

The chantry at Ashley was founded by William Ranulf, who gave 50 acres of land to endow it. (fn. 12) Soon after the enactment of the Statute of Mortmain licence was obtained to add a further 200 acres adjacent. (fn. 13) In Silverley the Master of Chippenham held in 1279 twelve score acres of the alms of the ancestors of Geoffrey Arsik, (fn. 14) who himself granted the whole of his 2 knights' fees there 'to the blessed poor of the holy Hospital of St. John' at Chippenham. (fn. 15) In 1299 the prior proved his manorial rights in Shingay, Chippenham, Snailwell, and Madingley, but claimed no such rights in Ashley or Silverley. (fn. 16) With the fall of the Templars certain property and rights in Isleham fen, which had been theirs, came to the Hospitallers, and about the same time other property was granted them at Lackford in Suffolk, and a messuage in Cavenham called Togrind, the gift of the Earl of Gloucester, with a water-mill, a fulling-mill held of Richard de la Cressoner of Ickleton, and other small pieces of land. (fn. 17) Gifts of real property petered out between 1317 and the Black Death. Until that time the lamp at the Lady Altar of the Infirmary chapel and its chaplain were the most frequent objects of generosity, but from time to time the phrases the 'blessed poor' or, more explicitly, the 'infirm brethren' or 'the benefit of the sick' occur. (fn. 18) On 17 April 1226, when he was at Ely, Henry III granted a Monday market at Chippenham to the hospital, (fn. 19) and in 1234 the grant was confirmed and extended to include a two days' fair annually at Michaelmas. (fn. 20) Henry frequently stayed at Chippenham, and seems to have made the 'house of the Hospital' there his stage between Barnwell and Ely on more than one occasion. (fn. 21) William, Earl Warenne, granted to 'St. John of Chippenham and the hospital there' freedom from all tolls on food, drink, and clothing passing through his town of Thetford, (fn. 22) by way of which traffic would come from Norwich, Lynn, and the other house of the Hospitallers in Norwich diocese at Carbrooke. In 1280 Edward I conceded to the prior right of free warren over all his demesnes in Chippenham. (fn. 23)

The organization of Chippenham as an infirmary for the whole priory in England is made very clear in the report of Philip de Thame. The expenses of the house in 1338 were reckoned as for 'the preceptor and three brethren and two secular chaplains in the hall; the household staff (familia) and guests from time to time; and for seven brethren and three servants in the infirmary, with provision for other brethren, according to the number of cases of sickness in the Priory'. (fn. 24) The whole priory supported 80 corrodarians; 'Some of these are chaplains who serve our churches, others seneschals, others janitors; others again are farm-workers who take divers corrodies according to the terms of their charters.' (fn. 25) Of these five are found at Chippenham, where there was also one less usual resident, a donatus. (fn. 26) In all England there are said to have been three donati, a kind of lay brethren who had given themselves and their property to the Order but had not taken the vows. The only donat named in the report is John Brex, the brother of William Brex who was probably Preceptor at Yeveley (Derbs.) in 1328. (fn. 27) The brothers were to receive 26 marks between them for their joint lives, and John was to have 10 marks after William's death. (fn. 28) John Brex had an allowance of 22s. 8d. at Yeveley in 1338, but had the right to eat at the table of the brethren at Chippenham and had a horse and groom at the charges of that house, besides an annual allowance of 40s. (fn. 29) One corrodarian at Chippenham was Thomas Honyman, seneschal of the house; a second, Richard le Port, was probably porter of the house; (fn. 30) the remaining three were William le Ferour (probably a shoeing-smith), John Frere, and John Anketil, all appointed by Larcher. (fn. 31) They had their maintenance at the servants' table and the first had 10s. and the other two 6s. 8d. in addition. The secular chaplains were not corrodarians at Chippenham, for they had their chantry and stipend; each received 20s., and one appears to have been the priest of Balestar's chantry at the altar of St. Mary. There were two chapels, one perhaps the considerable church to which frequent reference is made and the other, attached to the infirmary, that in which the Lady Altar, the lamp, and the chantry were established. The wine, wax, oil, 'and other necessaries' for both cost 13s. 4d. a year.

In the report the accounts concerning corrodarians are followed by those for the familia of superior servants. The claviger, baker, and cook were given clothes which cost 8s. a year for each and had each a stipend of 5s. The preceptor's two grooms had 9s. each for clothing and wages and 40 quarters of oats at 1s. a quarter allotted for his horse and the horses of chance guests. Brother Alan de Hetherington, preceptor at this time, was a chaplain, and there was another chaplain a member of his preceptory, an unusual circumstance: the remaining brethren in aula were Roger de Tothal, a knight, and Richard de Gotham, servitor. Six brethren in the Infirmaria are named: (fn. 32) 3 were servitors, 2 priests, and 1 a knight. The knight, Robert de Somerdby, had signed the preliminary report sent to the Grand Master, Elyas de Villanova, in 1328, as Preceptor of Clerkenwell. (fn. 33) The invalids were waited on by three servants, paid 5s. each, as was the clerk of the preceptory church. The clothing account for the preceptor and 11 brethren amounted to £11 for habits, £3 13s. 4d. for mantles, and £4 8s. for other necessaries. The report puts the whole of the expenses of the house, including alms in kind, a small pension to the vicar of Chippenham, and £3 for the prior's annual visitation, lasting 3 days, at £94 16s. 6d. The receipts of the 'bailey' in its profit-making aspect amounted to £110 16s. 9d., leaving a balance of £16 0s. 3d. for transmission to the treasurer at Clerkenwell, with a further sum of £18 13s. 4d. from the camera at Ashley. Ashley was charged with 5 marks for the stipend of a chaplain, as provided by the founders of the chantry there, and with £1 6s. 8d. pro roba et necessariis suis for Roger de Dalton quondam frater Templi, custos ibidem (fn. 34) —the young Templar of 30 years before. (fn. 35)

The Peasants' Revolt began in East Anglia at Sudbury on Wednesday, 12 June 1381. On 14 June, while the attack on the abbey at Bury St. Edmunds was in progress, John Harras of Herringswell broke into the Hospitallers' house at Chippenham and stole a sack of malt, which he sold. There was no personal violence on this occasion, and he and his accomplice, William Hilgrave of Dalham, were subsequently pardoned. (fn. 36) On Saturday 15 June, however, Robert Tavell of Lavenham, one of the leaders in the great riot at Bury, came into Cambridgeshire and, with William Cobbe of Gazeley, attacked the preceptory in force, carrying off property and driving away cattle. (fn. 37)

Little has been found relating to Chippenham in the 15th century. The reorganization of the hospital during the sojourn of the Knights at Rhodes, and the modifications made in the method of appointing both the great officers of the convent and the preceptors in England, (fn. 38) may have had repercussions at Chippenham, for towards the end of the cartulary there are traces of closer connexion with, possibly of subjection to, Carbrooke, (fn. 39) and later, the infirmary, as such, having ceased to exist, Chippenham was administered as a 'member' or manor, of the Norfolk preceptory. Apparently this was the case in 1527, for on 3 June of that year Chippenham was 'dismembered' from the Norfolk preceptory, and the rent was given to Mark Piallete, a Rhodiote who 'followed the Order', apparently as a lay official, after the fall of Rhodes; but in May 1537 Chippenham was restored to Carbrooke, the joint preceptory being charged with a pension of £6 13s. 4d. to Piallete. (fn. 40)

In 1535, Chippenham ranked as part of the preceptory of Carbrooke, of which the temporalities were only a little more valuable in Norfolk than in Cambridgeshire—£36 1s. 1½d. as against £33 13s. 4d. (fn. 41) The reeve and the chantrypriest still lived at Chippenham, but the manorhouse was no more a religious house than any other manor owned by a community; even its church had passed into secular hands. When, in 1540, the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England was suppressed, among its possessions granted to Sir Edward North were the manors of Chippenham and Ashley-cum-Silverley; in each case a church with its 'stuff' was reserved. The furnishings of the chantry-chapel at Ashley were simple, and included no more than was necessary —a missal worth 2s. 8d., a silver chalice and paten weighing 8 oz. and worth 26s. 8d., two sets of vestments, a super-altar, two altar-cloths, a cruet, brass stoup, sacring-bell, and one corporal. At Chippenham the reserved church furniture was in a very different category, but the stuff had been 'sold to Mr. Boulls 15 yeres past as he saieth'. (fn. 42) In 1540 the manor was still let to John Boules for £33 6s. 8d. a year, and the '15 yeres past' would take his purchase back to a time shortly before Chippenham was dismembered from Carbrooke in favour of Piallete. Both the allotment of the manor to the Rhodiote official and the sale of the handsome fittings of the church may have been part of an effort to raise every penny available in this country for the prosecution of the war against the Turks.

Masters or Preceptors (fn. 43) of Chippenham

Hugh Pippard, occurs c. 1245. (fn. 44)

William de Sywardby, occurs 1256. (fn. 45)

Roger Marescall, occurs 1262. (fn. 46)

Philip de Colham, occurs 1279. (fn. 47)

Nicholas de Accombe, occurs c. 1290. (fn. 48)

William de Brex, occurs 1326. (fn. 49)

Alan de Hetherington, occurs 1338. (fn. 50)


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 801; Cartulary of Chippenham (Cott. MS. Nero C. IX), fol. 29.
  • 2. Mon. Angl. iv, 149.
  • 3. Larking, Hospitallers in Engl. (Camd. Soc.), 121.
  • 4. Nero C. IX, passim.
  • 5. Ibid. fol. 30.
  • 6. Cal. Lib. R. 1240-5, pp. 128, 206, 210, 295, 327; Great Roll of the Pipe, 26 Hen. III (Yale Hist. Pubns.), 324.
  • 7. Cf. Palgrave Deeds, copied in Cole MS. xviii, fol. 120.
  • 8. Nero C. IX, fol. 107 v.
  • 9. Ibid. fol. 54-5.
  • 10. Ibid. fol. 102.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 93v.
  • 12. Ibid. fol. 51 v, 71.
  • 13. Ibid. fol. 65 v.
  • 14. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii, 589.
  • 15. Nero C. IX, fol. 59v; Feud. Aids, i, 139, 142.
  • 16. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 99.
  • 17. Nero C. IX, passim.
  • 18. Ibid. fol. 85.
  • 19. Litt. Claus. (Rec. Com.), ii, 106.
  • 20. Cal. Close, 1231-4, p. 380.
  • 21. Cal. Chart, R. i, 164 (1232), 196 (1235), 336 (1248); Cal. Pat. 1232-47, pp. 39 (1234), 139 (1236), 278 (1242); Cal. Lib. R. 1240-5, pp. 245, 295.
  • 22. Nero C. IX, fol. 148.
  • 23. Cal. Chart. R. ii, 247.
  • 24. Larking, op. cit. 78.
  • 25. Ibid. 214. There was a distribution of peas and beans to the poor three times a week at Chippenham: ibid. 79.
  • 26. Ibid. 214.
  • 27. Ibid. 215.
  • 28. Ibid. 207.
  • 29. Ibid. 44, 79.
  • 30. Five corrodarians called 'Le Port' occur in the report: one each at Buckland, Garway, Dinmore, Chippenham, and Shingay.
  • 31. Ibid. 79.
  • 32. Ibid. 80.
  • 33. Ibid. 215.
  • 34. Ibid. 121.
  • 35. See above, p. 261.
  • 36. André Réville, Soulèvement des Travailleurs d'Angleterre en 1381 (1898), no. 121.
  • 37. Powell, Rising in East Anglia, 44.
  • 38. A. Mifsud, Knights Hospitallers of the Venerable Tongue of England in Malta, 153, 154.
  • 39. In the cartulary, written early in the 15th century, most of the witnesses to the last charters are described as 'de Kerebroc'.
  • 40. Mifsud, op. cit. 158, from MS. 955, Malta Public Library, fol. 104.
  • 41. Valor Eccl. iii, 340.
  • 42. P.R.O. Particulars of Grants, 812. The inventory includes 2 chalices, 1 gilt, 7 sets of vestments and a cope of black silk with gilt moons and stars, 8 gilt images, a number of crosses, 4 missals, 3 antiphonars, and other service books, various hangings, &c.; the two bells, weighing 16 cwt., were valued at £16, as was the lead on the roof.
  • 43. The first four are styled Master, the last three Preceptor.
  • 44. Nero C. IX, fol. 146v., 148.
  • 45. Ibid. 106v.
  • 46. Ibid. 97.
  • 47. Ibid. 101.
  • 48. Ibid. 65v. In 1305 John Fychet locum tenens preceptoris occurs: ibid. 65.
  • 49. Add. Chart. 11225.
  • 50. Larking, op. cit. 80.