Colleges: St Mary-on-the-Sea, Newton

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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'Colleges: St Mary-on-the-Sea, Newton', A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948), pp. 312-314. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

. "Colleges: St Mary-on-the-Sea, Newton", in A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948) 312-314. British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

. "Colleges: St Mary-on-the-Sea, Newton", A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2, (London, 1948). 312-314. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

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At Newton, in the extreme northern tip of the county; there was standing in 1400 an ancient chapel, the sole memorial of a village which had been devastated by floods and inroads of the sea. Here rumour said that mysterious shining lights were seen at night and other marvels; moved by which portents Sir John Colville rebuilt this chapel of St. Mary and erected houses for priests and a number of poor almsmen. (fn. 1) This chapel, in connexion with which there was a gild of men and women in 1403, (fn. 2) was at first under the governance of the rector of the new parish church of Newton, (fn. 3) but in July 1411 their relations were reversed and the church was united to the chantry, or college, of St. Mary on the sea coast and was to be served by one of its members. (fn. 4) The chantry had been established under a royal licence granted in November 1406 to acquire in mortmain lands and rents up to the yearly value of £40 and spiritualities to the value of £20. (fn. 5) Sir John accordingly bestowed on his foundation in 1408 about 100 acres of arable, with fen and fisheries in the neighbourhood and across the Norfolk border in Walsoken, Walton, and Emneth, said to be worth £5 10s. yearly; (fn. 6) and in 1446 he had licence to give another 100 acres round Newton and the manor of Sybton Hall in Thorpland (Norf.), of the total value of £8 16s. 11d. yearly. (fn. 7) In 1535 the rectory of Newton with the chapel of St. Mary was rated at £18 14s. 8½d. (fn. 8)

As so often happened in similar cases, the endowments proved insufficient for the original ambitious scheme, which seems to have included twelve almsmen, (fn. 9) and a modification of the founder's statutes was issued by Bishop Bourchier in 1454. (fn. 10) The master was to be nominated by the Bishop of Ely and was to find three chaplains, of whom one was to serve the parish church of Newton. He should also maintain three clerks who could read and sing the service, one of them acting as parish clerk and the other two serving the chantry; also three poor men and a woman capable of doing the washing, cooking, and other housework. Any vacancy left unfilled by the master after 20 days should be filled up by the bishop. The parish chaplain's stipend was to be £5 6s. 8d., the other two receiving £5 each; the clerks were to have 40s. 4d. each for food, clothes, and necessaries; but out of these sums each chaplain paid 53s. 4d. and each clerk 30s. for their food 'at the master's table'. The four poor persons lived in the 'Bedehouse' and might not be absent at night without the master's leave. Every Friday the master was to give them 6d. or the equivalent in food, and at Michaelmas each should receive 6 yards of white cloth called 'blankette', 1 yard wide. All the chaplains and clerks had to be present daily, either in the chapel or the parish church, for matins, mass, choir offices, and services for the dead, except the anniversary services for private persons, all being celebrated according to the Use of Sarum. The mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to be sung, with the collects Deus qui caritatis and Omnipotens Deus cui nunquam sine spe, except on great festivals or by special order of the master, for the souls of Sir John Colville (fn. 11) and Emma his wife, and of Bishops Fordham, Morgan, and Bourchier.

Little is known of the history of the college, but the chapel was evidently a popular place of pilgrimage, whose spiritual benefits were appreciated; for seven letters of confraternity issued by masters between 1448 and 1512 have survived. (fn. 12) The earliest of these was for Margaret Heryng and John her son, and the latest for Sir Gylpin Calthorp and Dame Joan. One issued in 1503 by William Thornburgh, Master of the Chapel of St. Mary in the Sea, to John Wanley and Agnes his wife is sealed with the seal confraternitatis nostre memorate capelle—a small round seal with a rather crude image of the Virgin and Child enshrined. (fn. 13) The exact relation between this confraternity, presumably equivalent to the gild mentioned in 1403, and the chantry or college is obscure, though the same individual was master or warden of each, and he seems to have acted on his own sole authority.

Dr. William Thornburgh was still master when he made his will on 4 August 1525. (fn. 14) He desired to be buried outside the chapel 'before the window in which looks out the image of the most blessed Virgin Mary'. To the chapel he left certain lands and furniture, on condition that the next master should not make any demands for delapidations; also a chalice 'that my name is wrytten upon', a vestment of green velvet, and 'a booke imprynted', to remain for ever in the chapel. Further he had given 'in the manner of an Agnus dei that hynges abowte our ladyes necke of sylver and guylte wt certen reliques therin'. He mentions 'my too pryestes Sir Robert and Sir Henrye'; but the absence of all reference to the clerks or bedesmen suggests that these members of the original foundation were no longer maintained.

In the Act for the suppression of chantries and colleges passed in 1547 a few establishments were specifically exempted, one of these being 'the parishe churche commonlye called the Chappell in the Sea in Newton within the Isle of Elye'. (fn. 15) Probably by this time all traces of its collegiate or chantry origin had been lost. As late as 1572 a terrier of the rectory mentions 'the site and building called the Chappell on the Sea . . . conteyninge 3 acres', (fn. 16) but whether it was still used for service is not indicated.


Thomas Blowyk, occurs 1448, (fn. 17) died 1452 (fn. 18)

Richard Rudhale, D.D., collated 7 Oct. 1452 (fn. 19)

Robert Ippeswell, died 1495 (fn. 20)

William Plome, M. A., collated 31 Dec. 1495 (fn. 21)

William Doughty, resigned 1498 (fn. 22)

William Thornburgh, LL. D., collated 19 June 1498, (fn. 23) died 1525 (fn. 24)

Edmund Page, collated 12 Oct. 1525, (fn. 25) resigned 1535 (fn. 26)

William Lorde, collated 8 May 1535, (fn. 27) resigned 1537

Nicholas Walpole, collated 1538, (fn. 28) last master

The seal shows the Blessed Virgin and Child under an ornate canopy. The legend is destroyed. (fn. 29)


  • 1. Cal. Papal Letters, vi, 24–5.
  • 2. Ibid. v, 565.
  • 3. Ibid. vi, 25.
  • 4. Ibid. 290.
  • 5. Cal. Pat. 1405–8, p. 265.
  • 6. Ibid. 388.
  • 7. Ibid. 1441–6, p. 403; Ely Epis. Reg. Bourchier, fol. 7 v.; E.D.R. (1902), p. 163.
  • 8. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii, 500. The fact that the rectory of Newton was valued at £40 in 1291 (Tax. Eccl. 265) emphasizes the devastation that occurred between that date and 1341, when it was reported that 620 acres of the old parish had been drowned or destroyed by the digging of peat and making of sewers: Inq. Non. 203.
  • 9. Cal. Papal Letters, vi, 25.
  • 10. Ely Epis. Reg. Bourchier, fol. 50; E.D.R. (1903), p. 244.
  • 11. He seems to have died in about 1446: Blomefield, Norfolk, ix, 124.
  • 12. Archaeologia, lxxix, 215–16. The date of the earliest is there printed wrongly as 1408.
  • 13. Exch. K. R. Eccl. Docts. file 6, no. 65.
  • 14. Gibbons, Ely Episcopal Records, 218–19, from Epis. Reg. Goodrich, fol. 77.
  • 15. Statutes of the Realm, iv, 28.
  • 16. Gibbons, op. cit. 233.
  • 17. Archaeologia, lxxix, 216; Stowe Chart. 604.
  • 18. Ely Epis. Reg. Bourchier, fol. 32; E.D.R. (1903), p. 89.
  • 19. Ibid. He was Archdeacon of Hereford 1446–76: Venn, Alumni Cant.
  • 20. Cole MS. iv, fol. 107 v. He was also rector of Tydd St. Giles: Venn, op. cit.
  • 21. Cole MS. iv, fol. 107 v. Rector of Terrington, 1496–1504; died 1505: Venn, op. cit.
  • 22. Cole, loc. cit. Chancellor of Ely 1490; rector of Wisbech St. Peter 1494; rector of Elm and Emneth 1500: Venn, op. cit.
  • 23. Cole, loc. cit. Chancellor of Ely 1503; rector of Over in 1506 and of Walpole in 1525: Venn, op. cit.
  • 24. Ely Epis. Reg. West, fol. 34; E.D.R. (1911), p. 28.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ely Epis. Reg. Goodrich, fol. 124; E.D.R. (1912), p. 36.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid.
  • 29. Exch. Eccl. Docts. 6/65.