Hospitals: St John Baptist, Basingstoke

Pages 208-211

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1903.

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The great Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester, and founder of Merton College, Oxford, was a native of Basingstoke. His parents were buried in the church, and his mother had inherited property in the town. There was in the town, by an early foundation of unknown date, a small hospital, dedicated to St. John Baptist, for the accommodation of sick folk and wayfarers. Walter de Merton, in the midst of other works of extraordinary munificence, remembered this small house, extended its area, rebuilt both house and chapel, and then took steps to insure its permanence by placing it under the protection of the Crown, and became its re-founder between 1230 and 1240. For its rule, he appointed a warden, with a chaplain and clerk to carry on divine worship, and made it primarily a place of retirement for aged and infirm priests, though it was still to exercise hospitality towards 'the wayfaring poor of Christ.' After the death of his parents, he bestowed on the hospital the whole of his Basingstoke estate, charging the benefaction with the perpetual maintenance of wax lights at the Lady altar of the parish church, which lights his parents had been accustomed to offer. In Walter's lifetime, the hospital received other bequests. For instance, about 1250, the prior and convent of the Cluniac house of Brbmholm, Norfolk, granted 'to God arid the Brethren of the Hospital of St. John Baptist at Basingstoke' 6s. 8d. of annual rent in Basing, to maintain a lamp to burn day and night before the rood in their chapel.

The muniments at Merton College afford information with regard to an early corrody at the hospital. An agreement, circa 1240-50, was made between Thomas le Forester and the warden and brethren of the hospital, whereby Thomas granted them all the tenements in Basingstoke held by him of the chief lord, on their paying him yearly during his life eight quarters of wheat, two of maslin, and two of barley in equal portions at Michaelmas, Christmas, Easter and St. John Baptist's Day; two loads of oats on the feast of the Purification; 6s. 8d. at Michaelmas; and also to find him a fit and competent place to live in within the hospital, namely the upper room (solarium) on the north side of the hall. Also if Joan his wife should survive him, the warden and brethren were to pay her yearly a moiety of the grain. (fn. 1) It does not seem clear from this whether or not Joan was an inmate of the house as well as her husband; but in all probability this was the case. Many of the deeds pertaining to this hospital, from 1240 to 1270, speak of 'the warden, brethren, and sisters.'

The instrument whereby Henry III. took the house under his special protection and made it a royal hospital was dated in 1262; and in 1268 the chapel was exempted from episcopal control by the papal legate, Cardinal Ottobon. The college at Oxford was specially enjoined, by each of its successive codes of statutes, dated respectively 1264, 1270 and 1274, to maintain and encourage the Basingstoke hospital, and special provision was made for the members of the college having the privilege of residing there if need should arise. Henry III. also granted the hospital perpetual exemption from taxation and payment of subsidies. When the taxers and collectors of the tenths and fifteenths for Hampshire infringed these rights in 1336, the Crown, on complaint, at once interfered, and letters were addressed to the county officials, citing the perpetual freedom from all secular service and exaction granted by Henry III. and ordering the immediate restitution to the wardens of all that they had levied. (fn. 2)

Walter de Merton died on 27 October, 1277. To this hospital he bequeathed the large sum of 450 marks, as well as 100 marks towards providing a chaplain to celebrate divine service for ever in its chapel. In February, 1284, licence was granted to Peter de Abingdon, warden of Merton College, to convey to the master and brethren of the Basingstoke Hospital one messuage, 150 acres of land, 6 acres of meadow, and 4 of pasture with appurtenances in Basingstoke, and 16 acres of land in Iwode. (fn. 3) This purchase of property at Basingstoke and Iwode for the hospital was no doubt done in accordance with the terms of the will, wherein it was provided that if land was not bought within four years after his death with the 450 marks, the college was to take the money and pay to the hospital in its stead an annual pension of £20. (fn. 4) The 100 marks for the chaplain was intended for the endowment of the definite chantry founded within the hospital chapel, and sanctioned by a charter of Henry III. in 1253.

The Hundred Rolls of the beginning of the reign of Edward I. furnish the name of the hospital's warden in 1273-4, when the jury returned that Henry Cardeyf, the warden of St. John's Hospital, had encroached on the king's highway to the extent of 10 perches in length and 3 feet in breadth. (fn. 5)

In 1336 Edward III. confirmed to the warden of Merton College the mastership of the hospital, to be held for ever in right of his office. (fn. 6) However in May, 1344, Edward III. (probably through some blunder of a Crown official) granted the wardenship to John de Hamelton, then vacant, alleging it was of the king's donation. The warden and scholars of Merton College naturally resisted this obvious infringement of their rights, with the result that the appointment was cancelled in the following July, the Crown admitting its error and removing John de Hamelton from the wardenship.

In 1379 the college began the unhappy principle of leasing the hospital. It was in the first instance leased for a yearly rental of 57s. to John Underwood and his wife for their lives jointly and separately, or for forty years as a term. In 1395 it was leased for twenty-five years to John Carter, vicar of Basingstoke, who was to reside there with his own servants, and to receive once a year one of the Merton fellows, with his servant and three horses for a day and two nights. At his entrance the vicar received a missal and breviary, a chalice, vestments, and apparel for the altar, all of which he was to answer for at the end of the term.

Soon after this, attention was drawn to the highly unsatisfactory state of the hospital, and Henry IV. ordered an inquisition as to its actual state. The statement of the jury, sworn at Basingstoke on 30 November, 1401, was to the effect that the hospital was founded to maintain a chaplain, a clerk and two poor people, as well as the poor and sick scholars of Merton College; that during the past six years there had been no clerk nor the two poor people maintained there, and this by default of the warden of Merton, who was ex officio warden of the hospital; that the clear yearly value of the hospital was £5 6s., and that the profits and issues had been and still were received by the warden. On the delivery of this verdict, the revenues of the hospital were seized by the Crown in order to secure the fulfilment of its rights and burdens; they were not restored until 1405.

In 1434 the college again leased the hospital, the holder of the lease being bound to reside there with his servants, to provide a chaplain to celebrate in the chapel, if he was unwilling or unable to celebrate there himself; to keep the houses and enclosures in repair; to reserve fit chambers (cameras honestas) for the two poor people or others sent there according to the statutes on account of sickness; to allow any thus sent to serve the chapel if they wished, and if there are several priests sent they are to have portions of the stipend allowed; not to cut down trees or make waste save that which is required for repairs, for fences and for fuel; and to entertain the bursar or another member of the college at his own expense each year for a day and two nights. The college was to pay 40s. towards the building of the great barn and for the repairs of the house within three years, and after the three years 13s. 4d.

A lease for seven years made in 1455, at a yearly rent of 13s. 4d., provided that in case of the re-building of the mansus hospitalis, lately destroyed by fire, the rent of it was to be added to the 13s. 4d. A lease of 1479 has endorsed upon it an inventory of the chapel goods. They included a missal, chalice, corporal and two cases, two dalmatics, one green and the other blue, an albe and an amice, three altar cloths, two cruets, a brass vessel for holy water and a brass handled sprinkler, and a blue coloured stole.

The 20s. yearly stipend due to the chaplain out of the farm of St. John's was claimed by the Crown in 1551, the office of the chaplain being probably of the nature of a chantry priest. Merton College opposed, and by a Chancery decree of November in that year, the college was exonerated from the yearly payment of this sum to the Crown. The leases of the hospital throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, down to one entered into with Elizabeth Knight at £4 rental, for twenty-one years, in 1695, all provide for maintenance of the chapel; but no lease after 1543 says anything about a chaplain.

William Sherwin, fellow of Merton, visited the hospital on 16 June, 1697, and reported at length to the college, chiefly as to their lands and woods, which he valued as at least worth £80 per annum. As to the fabric he says:—

The house is but low, ordinary and mean, but it is kept in tenantable repair and that is all, though there has lately been some money laid out upon it. The place reserved for such fellows as are distract is separate from the chief house, is extremely dark and fit for none but persons in that condition. There is a sort of chapel near, in which formerly there was preaching once a month and the tenant paying the curate, and was on that account exempted from all tithes. It would be a mighty improvement to our estate, and the tenant would be glad to pay a curate could the custom be revived, but I am afraid it has been disused too long.

In letters written by Dr. Warton (son of the vicar of Basingstoke), poet laureate and an antiquary, to the bursar of Merton College in 1772 and 1773, it is stated that part of the chapel of Walter de Merton's hospital still remained, built of flint, with one or two stout-mullioned Gothic windows built up; it had a semicircular ceiling of boards in small panels, with the founder's arms on little shields at some of the intersections. The dimensions given are extraordinarily small, namely 'about twelve feet long and five broad within the walls' but it must be remembered that at its best this was a very small foundation, merely two resident poor brothers in addition to chaplain and clerk. When Dr. Warton wrote, the little chapel was divided into two floors, a bedroom above, with a kitchen; it is described as standing on the banks of the Lodon, about 200 yards north-east of the church.

In 1778 the old hospital house gave way to new brick buildings, but some remains of the chapel were still standing in 1819.


  • 1. The statements in this sketch are, in the main, taken from the admirable History of Basingstoke, by Messrs. Baigent & Millard, published in 1889. Where references are given in footnotes, the authorities named have been consulted at first hand.
  • 2. Hist. of Basingstoke, p. 598. This agreement is not only sealed by all the parties to it, but also with the seal of Walter de Merton, the founder. The extracts relative to this hospital from the Merton muniments occupy pp. 593-650 of the appendix to the history.
  • 3. Close, 10 Edward III. m. 29.
  • 4. Pat. 12 Edw. I. m. 16.
  • 5. Hobhouse's Life of Walter de Merton, p. 48.
  • 6. Hundred Rolls (Rec. Com.), ii. 222.
  • 7. Woodward's Hist. of Hants, iii. 226.