Hitchin: Priory church and charities

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.

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'Hitchin: Priory church and charities', A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3, (London, 1912), pp. 12-21. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp12-21 [accessed 19 June 2024].

. "Hitchin: Priory church and charities", in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3, (London, 1912) 12-21. British History Online, accessed June 19, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp12-21.

. "Hitchin: Priory church and charities", A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 3, (London, 1912). 12-21. British History Online. Web. 19 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp12-21.

In this section


In 1317 the king granted to the Carmelite Friars in frankalmoign a messuage in the parish of Hitchin that they might build a church and house there for their habitation. (fn. 1) Other messuages and lands were given to this order by John de Cobham. (fn. 2) They built a small convent there which they dedicated to the Blessed Mary. This they held until the dissolution of their house in 1539. (fn. 3) In 1546 a survey was made of the priory and its whole estate. The buildings of the priory comprised a mansion house with a frater and dorter over the cloister, a church, the 'old hall,' the prior's lodging, and two little chambers for the brothers, also a kitchen, barn and other premises. There were also other tenements belonging to it in Bridge Street and Bull Street, which were leased out with the convent garden. Except the mansion-house, which had been repaired since the Dissolution, all the buildings were in a miserable state of dilapidation, being 'ruinous both in timber and tile,' and the gardens were like yards or waste places of ground. The church too was defaced, the steeple broken down and decayed by the weather, and all the lead, freestone, glass and bells gone. (fn. 4)

This survey was evidently made preparatory to a grant of the site in the same year to Sir Edward Watson, kt., (fn. 5) from whom it passed seven years later to Ralph Radcliffe, (fn. 6) who died in 1559, leaving his estates to his eldest son Ralph. (fn. 7) He left the property to his nephew Edward, son of his brother Sir Edward Radcliffe, kt., (fn. 8) and died without issue in 1621. (fn. 9) In 1660 Edward died also without issue and left as heir his nephew Ralph, (fn. 10) who was knighted eight years later. (fn. 11) His son Edward succeeded him in 1720, and held the estate until his death in 1727. (fn. 12) His three sons, Ralph, Edward, and Arthur, then held it in succession, and after the death of the youngest in 1767 the property was inherited by their nephew John son of John Radcliffe. This John died in 1783, when the priory passed to his eldest sister Penelope, wife of Sir Charles Farnaby, bart., of Kippington near Sevenoaks, who assumed the name of Radcliffe. (fn. 13) She died without issue in 1802. Her sister Anne, who married Charles Clarke of Ockley, co. Surrey, had issue John Clarke, who died in 1801 leaving no children, and Anne Millicent, heir to her aunt Penelope; she in 1802 married Emilius Henry Delmé, who on his marriage assumed the name of Radcliffe. His eldest son Henry Delmé Radcliffe having predeceased him, the priory devolved at his death in 1832 upon his second son Frederick H. Peter Radcliffe, captain in the Grenadier Guards, who was succeeded by his fifth but eldest surviving son Hubert Delmé Radcliffe, J.P. He died in 1878, and his brother Mr. Francis Augustus Delmé Radcliffe is the present owner of Hitchin Priory. (fn. 14)

Radcliffe of Hitchin. Argent a crosslet gules between two bends engrailed sable with a label azure.

Delmé. Or an anchor sable between two lions passant gules.

Radcliffe. Argent a crosslet gules between three bends engrailed sable a label azure and a quarter sable with a crosslet or thereon.

The present house, which stands on the south side of the town, incorporates part of the old house of White Friars. The original structure appears to have been of flint rubble and clunch, with the priory church on the south. No visible detail, however, is earlier than the 15th century, and the remains are confined to a part of the north, or frater, range of the west range. The house as it stands at present was almost wholly built in 1770–1 by John Radcliffe (fn. 15) of plastered brick, and stands about the four sides of a courtyard, which represents the old, small, cloister garth. The roofs are covered with tiles and lead. In the original building the church was probably to the south, the frater to the north, the dorter chapterhouse to the east of the garth. The walls of the courtyard have been much renewed, but in the north and west wings are many arches, now blocked, of the original cloister arcade, and part of the inner wall, showing the cloister to have been 9 ft. wide. The arches are two-centred and continuously moulded, with double ogees and chamfers, but the tracery is gone; the piers between them are 4 ft. 6 in. wide. One arch remains open, and forms the principal entrance of the house, but three at least are visible inside the wall of the north wing, and two in the west wing, and others are said to be bricked up and plastered. The north cloister is now represented by a loggia with an arcade of the late 17th century, set in place of the bricked-up arcade of the 15th century. The cellarage under the north wing represents that under the frater. The space originally occupied by the frater, on the first floor of this wing, is now divided into several bedrooms. The north elevation was completely altered late in the 17th century. The ground story has an open arcade of five semicircular arches with moulded imposts, and a frieze of rosettes between cable mouldings; the central arch, which is set in a slight projection, has strapwork in the spandrels, with a shield of the Radcliffe arms, the initials R R S, and the date 1679. The windows above the arcade and the moulded cornice, of which all the detail is of plaster, are of the 18th century. The arcade in the courtyard belongs to the same period of reconstruction as the south elevation. The north elevation is of the late 18th century, and is an elaborate Palladian design; the south wing was completely rebuilt about this time, and contains the principal rooms. The east wing, which contains the main staircase, a few rooms and some cellars on the ground level, presents an elevation patched and much repaired, like that of the west wing, which contains the domestic offices, and is much obscured by outbuildings of different dates. There is some early 17th-century panelling in this wing, and in a small north room is a plaster ceiling of the same date, with cable and foliate decoration.


St. Mary

The parish church of ST. MARY (fn. 16) stands to the north-east of the market-place and the churchyard is bounded on the east by the River Hiz. The church consists of a chancel, (fn. 17) nave and aisles, north and south chapels, west tower, north and south porches and charnel. It is built of flint rubble with stone dressings and has been heavily cemented. The tower incorporates some re-used Roman bricks, some 16th or 17th-century brick used in repairs, and also some later brickwork. The roofs of aisles, south porch and tower are of lead, those of nave and chancel are slated.

The general exterior character of the building is that of the 15th century, all the windows being of that date, and the tower, from which a small lead-covered spire rises, aisles and south porch, north and south chapels and chancel having embattled parapets. The aisles, chapels and chancel are buttressed. The fabric, however, ranges from the 12th to the late 15th century.

The nave, and at least the lower stages of the tower, are those of the 12th-century church, which probably consisted of chancel, nave and west tower only. The tower was probably completed about the middle of the 13th century, when the present tower arch was inserted and the stair-turret at the south-east of the tower built. About three-quarters of a century later first the north and then the south aisle was built and the arcades of the nave made. Either at the same time or slightly earlier the chancel was enlarged to about two-thirds of its present length and possibly to its present width. In the following century the chancel was still further enlarged, reaching its present proportions, and the foundation of the 14th-century east wall was made to form the west wall of the charnel, which was constructed at the same time.

The whole church underwent a thorough rehandling during the 15th century; in addition to the enlargement of the chancel and construction of the charnel the north and south chapels were added, and arcades inserted between them and the chancel with a clearstory over. The chancel arch was somewhat clumsily raised to a great height, the clearstory of the nave was added and the north porch built, while new windows were inserted throughout the church, which was largely re-roofed. Lastly, the elaborate south porch was added towards the end of the century. Later work on the church is limited to certain 17th and 19th-century repairs, mostly in brick.

The church is unusually rich in 14th and 15th-century timber and woodwork, which will be described in order of its occurrence.

The chancel has a much-restored 15th-century east window of five lights traceried in the head; the centre light is not crossed by the transoms, of which two divide each pair of side lights.

The north and south sides of the chancel are 15th-century arcades of four bays; the easternmost arch of each arcade is slightly wider in span than the rest and is four-centred of two moulded orders, the inner one springing off carved corbels, the outer one continuous. The rest are two-centred, of two moulded orders, and supported on columns with engaged shafts, with foliate capitals and moulded bases. The clearstory above the arcades is of the same date and has four modern windows on each side. The roof trusses rest on sixteen modern richly foliated corbels with embattled miniature parapets. There are some late 15th-century bench-ends in the chapels. The charnel beneath the east bay of the chancel is reached by a winding stair, now replaced by modern brick steps, and is entered through a moulded four-centred doorway in the west end of its north wall; it has been vaulted with brick in modern times, and has two barred mullioned windows and a third which is now a door on the east.

The chancel arch is an ugly piece of 15th-century alteration. The original mid-14th-century arch was supported on half-octagonal jambs, simply moulded at their heads. On these has been erected a high fourcentred arch with smaller shafted jambs. The outer order of this is continuous and the inner is stopped by the mean capitals of the shafts.

Plan of Hitchin Church

The chapels are separated from the chancel by the remains of 15th-century parclose screens. The north chapel contains the organ; it has an original traceried east window of five lights, and the five windows of three lights in the north wall are also original. A small 17th-century communion table is in the vestry. In the first column of the arcade is a tall moulded niche of the 15th century, with a low projecting bracket. This chapel also contains a 15th-century piscina. The roofs of both the north and south chapels are of the 15th century and have undergone considerable repair. They have moulded principals, purlins, wall plates, &c., and there are figures of angels at the foot of the principals, some holding shields. In the north chapel the roof is flat. In the south chapel the roof is ridged, with carved bosses at the intersection of the ridge and the principals, which run to the wall plates. The wall plates here rest directly on the moulded and carved half-octagonal corbels. Both north and south chapels have splendid 15th-century wooden screens inclosing them, in the arches leading to the aisles on the west. That of the north chapel has five two-light openings with elaborate tracery, three to the north and two to the south of a four-centred doorway, equal in width to two of the other compartments. The head of this doorway is continued up into an ogee with rich crockets, to the lowest string of the heavy moulded cornice, which has a Tudor-leaf cresting. On either side of the ogee is tracery similar to that in the remaining compartments, which are separated from one another and from the doorway by slender buttresses with crocketed pinnacles. Between the north shaft of the arch filled by the screen and the northernmost buttress of the screen is an extremely narrow space, with tracery at the head, fitted to the contour of the capital of the shaft. The panels below the middle moulding of the compartments have arches upon them with foliated spandrels, and cusped trefoils within the arches, with foliated points to their main cusps, all within a moulded frame. The two-leaved door of the screen reproduces this panelling in its lower, solid portion, but with two panels in each leaf, and has open lights with tracery above the middle moulding.

The screen of the south chapel is very much richer. It has two openings of two lights each on either side of a central doorway nearly equal in width to two of the openings. In each compartment the two lights are almost round-headed, containing cusped and foliated trefoils, the foliations being three- and four-petalled flowers with berry centres. The lights have a quatrefoil above and are continued into an ogee with florid crockets and a finial, with tracery of two cinquefoiled lights and a quatrefoil on either side. This scheme is bounded above by a very narrow embattled moulding, on which stands an arcade of three traceried two-light arches separated by extremely slender pinnacled and crocketed buttresses, and crowned by double ogee canopies with carved groining, each ogee being continued into a tall pinnacle heavily crocketed, with a third pinnacle of similar pattern between each pair, all reaching to the level of the lowest moulding of the cornice. The solid portion of the screen below the middle moulding consists in each compartment of a panel divided into two by a moulded frame, having in each subsidiary panel an ogee containing a re-cusped trefoil with foliated main cusps. The ogees have small cusps and finials, and there is tracery in the spandrels.

When the double doors in the centre compartment are closed their appearance is almost exactly that of two compartments of the screen. The four-centred head of the opening slightly interrupts the line of the two ogees, and there are two panels, instead of one, in the solid portion of each leaf of the door; while above the embattled moulding the small arcade consists of five traceried lights, instead of six, the centre one being slightly wider than the rest.

The compartments of the screen are separated by slender pinnacled and crocketed buttresses with moulded bases, which run from the ground to the level of the lowest moulding of the cornice. This cornice has a very wide shallow moulding containing a beautiful frieze of twelve angels, with intercrossed wings, issuing from clouds and holding emblems of the Passion, except those on the north and south, which carry shields. Above them is a simple moulding.

There is a small space on the south side between the southernmost buttress of the screen and the shaft of the arch, but this contains no tracery.

In both chapels the arches towards the aisles are of two orders with shafted jambs, and the hood moulds have mask stops.

The arrangement of the windows in the south chapel is like that of the north chapel, except that the east window has only four lights. Towards the east end of the south wall, between the first and second windows, is a small doorway.

The nave is of four bays; the 14th-century two-centred arches with drop mouldings are of two chamfered orders, on octagonal columns with moulded capitals. Over the east respond of the north arcade is a blocked doorway, which formerly led to the rood loft, now destroyed, and over the chancel arch is a window of five lights. The 15th-century clearstory has on each side five windows of three lights. The roof is of 15th-century date, much repaired, and has moulded principals, tie-beams, wall plates, &c. Its wall-pieces rest on moulded corbels sculptured with figures of angels, all of modern workmanship.

The north aisle has four three-light windows with tracery, and one on the west, all of the 15th century, inserted in the 14th-century wall. The north doorway is of the same date as the wall and is of two chamfered orders. It leads to the north porch, which is of two stories, the upper story being reached by a polygonal stair turret which opens into the aisle by a four-centred door. The exterior entrance door of the porch is two centred, of two moulded orders. The lower story has two three-light windows, one on the east and one on the west, and the window in the north wall of the upper story is also of two lights. There are the remains of a stoup in a pointed recess in this porch.

The roof of this aisle, at the western end, is of the 15th century, of the same type as, but plainer than, those already described; but that of the eastern end is a very fine flat roof of 14th-century work; its dimensions tend to show that it was originally the roof of the 14th-century chancel, and was moved here during the general reconstruction of the 15th century.

The south aisle corresponds exactly in all its arrangement to the north aisle, except for a trifling difference in width, and the south door is of 15th-century date, contemporary with the south porch, the upper story of which is approached by an octagonal stair turret at the north-east angle. The doorway to the porch still retains its contemporary door with cusped panelling, but its pointed head has been sawn off and fixed.

The south porch is of two stories. The entrance arch is of two shafted orders, an arch inclosed in a square, with tracery inclosing foliate sculpture in the spandrels. On either side of the entrance is a deep shafted and cusped niche with a pedestal, and below them are cusped panels inclosing shields, one with a merchant's mark and another with a coat of arms. Small shafts with capitals at the same level as those of the entrance, but without bases, meet the framemoulding of the lower compartments of the scheme. On the east and west sides are traceried three-light windows, having an exterior hood mould with a mask stop at the southern extremity, and dying into a buttress on the northern. The ceiling of the entrance story is elaborately groined, and the interior walls are panelled below the windows. A string-course all round the three sides of the porch marks the level of the upper story, which is plain on the east and west, and lighted by a small three-light window on the south, with identical blind lights below, to the level of the string-course. On either side of these are pairs of niches with shafts and capitals supporting square heads inclosing pointed arches, with foliation in the spandrels. Moulded pedestals stand in the niches on low plinths rising from the sloping upper surface of the string-course. The whole scheme of windows and niches is inclosed in a square frame supported on six slender shafts with capitals and bases resting on similar plinths. Above is another string running round the three sides of the porch, with grotesques at the south-east and south-west angles. Pairs of gabled buttresses at right angles in two stages run up to the level of the upper string, at the south-west and south-east angles. Their upper portions are panelled, the gables are cusped, and they have small sculptured demi-figures in their heads. Identical buttresses stand on the east and west sides of the porch a short distance from the wall of the aisle. The sides of the central crenelle of the battlement on the south side are continued down to the upper string to form a panel with a four-centred head containing sculpture. There is a small shield above, and an iron cross inclosing a pierced stone. Above the buttresses are pinnacles with crockets and finials, and tête-bêche trefoiled panels on the outer faces.

Hitchin Church: South Porch

The west tower, which is of two stages, is approached from the nave by an arch of three chamfered orders, with half-octagonal responds, and moulded capitals and bases. On the north side is a muchrestored 13th-century lancet window. The upper stage is lighted by two pointed windows in each wall, all much restored with brick in the 17th and again in the 19th century. The west door is of the 13th century and is much decayed. The deep square buttresses, one—to the north—of the same date and four of the 14th century, are built against the remains of 12th-century pilaster buttresses, which were revealed during recent repairs. The stair turret at the south-east angle is also of the 13th century. It is built against the wall, without bonding, and rises above the parapet of the tower. The lower part is lighted by small lancets, and the upper part, which with its parapet has been repaired with 16th or 17th-century brick, has cross-loops.

The fittings of the church include a richly carved twelve-sided font, with defaced figures of saints under elaborate ogee canopies with crockets and finials, resting on sculptured corbels. There are small pinnacled buttresses on high moulded plinths between the figures. The tall cover of 15th-century style is modern.

The pulpit is an early 16th-century structure considerably restored.

The monuments in the chancel include a slab with the indents of a priest and a marginal inscription with roses at the corners, and the brasses of a merchant of the Staple of Calais, 1452, his wife, four sons and six daughters; the inscription containing the date is imperfect; there is one illegible shield, the indents of four others, and of four square plates; a late 15th-century brass of a priest with a brass of a wounded heart, and the indent of another, the indents of two inscriptions and a small plate, which was perhaps a symbol of the Holy Trinity; the brasses of the shrouded figures of a man and his wife, three sons and five daughters; a shield bears a bend in a border engrailed, and there are the indents of an inscription and four roses; a late 15th-century brass of a woman much worn, with the indents of a man and of an inscription; and an early 16th-century brass of a civilian and his wife, with the indents of an inscription and scrolls.

In the north chapel is a 16th-century slab with the indents of an inscription and a shield, reused in the 18th century as a gravestone. There is also here an early 15th-century Purbeck marble tomb, with quatrefoiled panels in the sides. In the top slab is the indent of a marginal inscription, and a later brass of John Pulter, with a marginal inscription and the date 1485. In the floor is a slab of the 14th century with an incised marginal inscription to Sir Robert de Kendale. This is found not to be a floor-slab, having its edges moulded to a hollow chamfer. An indent of William Pulter, 1549, has a brass inscription and a shield. An altar tomb of c. 1500 is of clunch, with panelled sides, having a slab with a contemporary brass of the shrouded figures of a man and his wife. A late 15th-century altar-tomb has panelled sides with shields inscribed G. A. and T. A., and a slab with the brasses of a civilian and his wife. The mural monuments are those of Edward Docwra, 1610, John Skinner, 1669, and Ralph Skinner, 1697.

The south chapel contains a large 17th-century monument to Ralph Radcliffe, 1559, Ralph Radcliffe, 1621, Sir Edward Radcliffe, 1631, and Edward Radcliffe, 1660, as well as other monuments to members of the same family.

In the floor is the indent with the brass feet remaining of John Pulter, 1421, and his wife Lucia, 1420, with a square plate, worn smooth, a much worn and imperfect inscription, and the indents of two roundels; the half-figure indent of John Parker, 1578, with a square plate and brass inscription; the indents of a civilian and his wife, and inscription brasses of four sons and four daughters of the late 15th century, partly covered by pews; and the brasses of a shrouded woman with four sons and four daughters, with indents of an inscription and seven scrolls, undated.

In the two easternmost window sills of the north aisle are the Purbeck marble effigy of a knight wearing a mail hauberk with a coif, mail chausses and a long surcoat, of mid-13th-century date, and the late 14th-century effigies of a knight and lady, much defaced.

At the west end of the nave are the mid-15th-century brasses of a civilian and his wife, and in the tower the indents of a woman and two men, and of a man and a woman, with an inscription, a scroll, and four roses, of the late 15th century, and much worn.

There is a ring of eight bells, seven of which are by Joseph Eayre of St. Neots, 1762, and the eighth by Edward Arnold of St. Neots, 1784.

The plate includes patens of 1625 and 1634, a salver of 1635, and two cups and two flagons of 1705.

The registers are in eight books. The first book contains baptisms, burials and marriages from 1562 to 1653. The book of the civil register from 1653 does not now exist. The second book contains all entries from 1665 to 1680. On 8 November 1667 William Gibbs, vicar of Hitchin, and nine other persons certified that 'the registry for Christenings, Marriages and Burialls in the Parish of Hitchin . . . through the carelessnes and neglect of former Regesters is wholly lost for the space of seventeen years and upwards last past, from Feb. 1, 1648/9 to Aug. 1, 1665.' The third book contains all entries from 1679 to 1746, and duplicates the second for about a year. The fourth includes baptisms and burials from 1747 to 1800 and marriages from 1747 to 1753. The fifth has baptisms and burials from 1801 to 1812, the sixth, seventh and eighth contain marriages from 1754 to 1776, 1776 to 1811, and 1811–12 respectively.


The church of Hitchin is described in the Domesday Survey as the minster (monasterium) of Hitchin, and to it belonged as much as 2 hides out of the 5 hides at which Hitchin was assessed. The exact significance of the term minster is not clear, but it would perhaps seem to imply something more than an ordinary parish church, and the very large amount of glebe attached to it is suggestive of this. There is no evidence that there was here an early monastery, but there can be little doubt that ecclesiastically, as well as temporally, Hitchin was the head of a large district. It was the head of a deanery, and, as appears from later evidence, was the mother church of the two Wymondleys, which formed one chapelry, and of the chapelries of Dinsley and Ippollitts.

At the time of the Domesday Survey the church probably belonged, like the manor, to the king. (fn. 18) In the 12th century the church was said to have been given to the nuns of Elstow by the Countess Judith, niece of William I, founder of that house, and charters to that effect from the countess, William I and William II were produced by the abbess. (fn. 19) The countess's endowment of the monastery, however, took place before 1086, for the lands in Bedfordshire (Elstow, &c.) which she granted to them are said in the Domesday Survey to be held by the nuns of her grant, (fn. 20) whereas the church of Hitchin is not mentioned in connexion with Elstow until the time of Henry II, who by charter confirmed the lands granted by the Countess Judith, and granted also the church of St. Andrew of Hitchin. (fn. 21) The evidence, therefore, points to the grant by the Countess Judith being fictitious. (fn. 22) The abbey held the advowson till the dissolution of this house. Early in the 13th century a vicarage was ordained, to be supported by the altarage of the high altar, 2 acres of land and a suitable house. Out of the stipend the vicar was to pay 13 marks to the monks, but they were to entertain the archdeacon, while the vicar paid the synodals. It was said that two chaplains were necessary for the parish at this date. (fn. 23)

After the Dissolution Henry VIII granted the advowson and rectory of this church with that of Ippollitts (q.v.) to the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, (fn. 24) and they have held it ever since. (fn. 25)

In 1301 the belfry of the church was in such a bad state as to be dangerous, and the parishioners were ordered to repair it (fn. 26); sentence was then passed against some persons who appropriated some of the goods left to the church and some of the fabric, which hindered the restoration. (fn. 27)

In the 15th and 16th centuries many bequests were made to this church. Thomas Pulter (fn. 28) and Agnes Lyndesey (fn. 29) in 1464, Laurence Bertlott in 1471, (fn. 30) left gifts for prayers to be said for their souls. Agnes Lyndesey also gave 3s. 4d. to the great window in the chapel of St. Edmund, (fn. 31) and Laurence Bertlott desired that cloth should be hung about his sepulchre in the church. (fn. 32) John Pulter in 1487 left 26s. 8d. for repairs and lights before the crucifix. He also made the following bequest: 'I bequeath to the paynting of the Ile of the north side of the seid paroch church of Hicchen which I did doo to make after the deceese of my fader on whoes soule Jhu doo mercy iiijli to have the sowles of my moder Dame Alice Pulter and Isabel Rych my sister praid for and remembered in the same werke.' He also left various books to the church. (fn. 33)

The gild of Our Lady was founded in the church by licence of King Edward IV in 1475. (fn. 34) It was to consist of a master, two wardens, brethren and sisters, and was to provide two chaplains to celebrate mass for King Edward IV, Queen Elizabeth and the brethren and sisters of the fraternity. At the same time a grant was made to the brotherhood of two annual fairs of three days' duration each, one to be held on the Wednesday in Easter week and the other on the feast of the Translation of St. Edward the Confessor and the days preceding and following each of these. (fn. 35) At the time of its dissolution in the reign of Edward VI the gild apparently found two priest, one to serve the chantry and the other to serve the church in conjunction with the curate. (fn. 36) It owned a tenement called le Swanne, five stalls in the marketplace, a Brotherhood House and other property, also the profits of the fairs. (fn. 37) In 1548 the king granted the gild and Brotherhood House, the Swan and the fairs to Ranulph Burgh and Robert Beverley. (fn. 38) The chantry house was granted the next year to Thomas Stevens. (fn. 39)

Ruins of Minsden Chapel, Hitchin

In Minsden are the remains of a chapel which has long been in ruins. (fn. 40) The earliest mention of a chapel here is in 1487, when John Pulter left 3s. 4d. to the chapel of St. Nicholas. (fn. 41) The only other record is of 1517, when a like sum was left to this chapel. (fn. 42) A marriage is said to have been celebrated in it in 1738. (fn. 43)

There was also a chapel at Preston in the manor of Dinsley which is said to have been included in the grant of the church of Hitchin (to which it was appurtenant) to the Abbess and convent of Elstow. (fn. 44) After the manor of Dinsley came into the hands of the Templars an agreement was made by them with the Abbess of Elstow by which the nuns were to find a chaplain to hold service in the chapel on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, unless it should happen that feast days fell on other days in the week, when these feast days should count among the three days. The Templars were to continue to pay tithes from any lands cultivated by them from which the church of Hitchin or the chapel of Dinsley had been used to receive them. The duty also of finding two chaplains to celebrate mass for the donors of their lands was obligatory on the Templars by their tenure, (fn. 45) and afterwards on the Knights Hospitallers. Among the expenses of the latter enumerated shortly before their suppression is that of wax for a light in the chapel and the wages of a chaplain to celebrate divine service daily. (fn. 46) The obligation of the Abbess of Elstow seems to have been then commuted for a pension of 14s. 4d. (fn. 47) In 1540 John Docwra, farmer of the estate, had to find a chaplain to celebrate in this chapel. (fn. 48) After the suppression of the Hospitallers the rectory of Dinsley was granted to Ralph Sadleir with the manor (q.v.).

Holy Saviour

The church of HOLY SAVIOUR (fn. 49) in Radcliffe Road was built in 1865 after the designs of William Butterfield and at the cost of the late Rev. George Gainsford, the incumbent. A district chapelry formed out of the parish of Hitchin was assigned to it. Almshouses in the Radcliffe Road, built in 1870, were made in connexion with this chapelry.

The Roman Catholic chapel of our Lady Immaculate and St. Andrew, a plain building of red brick, was built in 1901.

The first record of Dissent in Hitchin dates from 1666, when 'unlawful meetings' were held in a private house. (fn. 50) In 1672 licence was given to Presbyterians to hold their meetings, (fn. 51) and under the Toleration Act many places were certified for worship for various dissenting sects. (fn. 52) An Independent chapel was built in Back Street in 1690, (fn. 53) which is now represented by one in Queen Street. The Baptists began to meet in Tilehouse Street in 1669, (fn. 54) and built a chapel there in 1692, (fn. 55) which was rebuilt in 1838. (fn. 56) In the middle of the 19th century the Particular Baptists built Mount Sion Chapel in Park Street (fn. 57) and Bethel Chapel in Queen Street. (fn. 58) In 1850 a dwelling-house was used by the Baptists, (fn. 59) and in 1869 they built a chapel in Walsworth Road. (fn. 60) About the same time Salem Chapel was built for this same denomination. (fn. 61) There are other modern churches and chapels in the parish.

The first record of Quakers in Hitchin, where they now form an important part of the community, is of 1657. It is said that they then held a firm footing in the town. (fn. 62) John Bunyan used to preach in Wain Wood, where there is still a dell known by his name, and a service has been yearly held at this spot in commemoration. (fn. 63)


Educational Charities: The Free School founded by John Mattocke and subsidiary endowments, (fn. 64) the Girls' Charity School, (fn. 65) the Charity School in Back Street. (fn. 66)

Elizabeth Ann Lucas's Educational Charity, founded by will proved at London 8 June 1860, consists of £187 14s. 5d. Bank stock and £3,156 12s. 6d. India 3 per cent. stock, held by the official trustees. By a scheme of the High Court (Chancery Division) 8 August 1894 the income, amounting to £112 a year, or thereabouts, is applicable in the advancement of the education of children, in exhibitions and prizes, in providing evening classes, and in subscriptions for the benefit of a public elementary school. See also under the Eleemosynary Charities.

Hailey's Educational Foundation, founded by will of Elizabeth Hailey proved at London 7 January 1864, consists of £878 Great Western Railway 4½ per cent. debenture stock, in the names of trustees, producing £39 10s. a year, which is applicable for the education of children residing in or near Walsworth. See also under Charities for Nonconformists.

In 1894 Robert Curling by a codicil to his will, proved at London 21 March, bequeathed £454 London and North Western Railway 3 per cent. debenture stock (with the official trustees), the dividends amounting to £13 12s. 4d. to be applied in gifts for children attending St. Andrew's School for good conduct.

The Parochial Charities have under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, 19 June 1908, been consolidated under the title of the United Charities.

I. The almshouse Branch comprises:—

(a) The almshouses, founded by will of John Skynner 4 June 1666, consisting of eight houses in Silver Street, erected on land known as Benn's Mead given in 1670 by Sir Thomas Byde, and endowed with certain lands producing £80 a year or thereabouts.

In 1675 Ralph Skynner gave £82, which was laid out in land known as Benn's Mead. The official trustees also hold £50 consols.

In 1743 Sarah Skynner Byde by deed conveyed to trustees 6 a. 2 r. in Hill Grove Field, the rents to be divided between these almshouses and the almshouses founded by Ralph Skynner. The land is let at £5 a year.

In 1768 Richard Tristram by deed gave land in Ippollitts, the rents to be divided between the same two almshouses. The land was sold in 1904 and the proceeds invested in £221 12s. 2d. consols.

In 1755 John Whitehurst by deed gave land at Hexton, the rents to be divided between the inmates of J. and R. Skynner's Almshouses and the Girls' Charity School. The land has been sold and the proceeds invested in £1,617 5s. consols, of which one moiety, £808 12s. 6d. consols, belongs to the Girls' Charity School.

In 1788 Hannah Wilson by will bequeathed £100 for the poor of Hitchin, now £100 consols, applied for the benefit of the almshouses of J. and R. Skynner.

In 1794 John Davis bequeathed £300 for the augmentation of the same two almshouses, now represented by £450 consols.

In 1802 Dame Penelope Farnaby Radcliffe, by will proved in the P.C.C., 24 July, bequeathed £200 for poor widows, now £235 4s. consols, applied for the benefit of the same almshouses.

In 1824 Elizabeth Whittingstall by will bequeathed £1,000 stock, now £1,000 consols, to be equally divided between John Skynner's, Ralph Skynner's, and Daniel Warner's almshouses.

(b) The almshouses, founded by will of Ralph Skynner 19 May 1696, consist of eight almshouses contiguous to John Skynner's almshouses, and are endowed with 39 acres in Kelshall producing £27 15s. a year.

In 1794 John Pierson by will bequeathed £100, now £133 6s. 8d. consols, for these almshouses.

In 1795 Joseph Margetts Pierson by deed gave £100 consols, the dividends to be applied in repairs.

For other land and stock given for the joint benefit of John and Ralph Skynner's almshouses see above.

(c) The six almshouses near the churchyard known as Daniel Warner's almshouses, originally parish houses, were rebuilt in 1761 by Daniel Warner 'for the warmer and better comfort of the poorer widows or ancient couples of his town.' These almshouses were endowed by the before-mentioned John Pierson with £200 consols, by Joseph Margetts Pierson with £940 consols, and with £333 6s. 8d. consols under the will of Elizabeth Whittingstall (see above).

(d) The scheme further provides that the building known as 'The Biggin' (see Joseph Kemp's Charity below) should, together with two cottages in Tilehouse Street, be used for the residence of almspeople being members of the Church of England. See also Elizabeth Simpson's almshouses under Charities for Nonconformists.

II. The Eleemosynary Branch, &c.:—

In 1591 Simon Warren by will charged two houses in Tilehouse Street with £1 a year.

In 1609 Mrs. Elizabeth Radcliffe purchased land for the poor, which now consists of 2 acres at Standhill Common and 2 acres called Cromer's Close, producing £7 a year, and £61 16s. 2d. consols, representing accumulations of income.

In 1613 Thomas Whittamore by will left £20 for the poor, which was laid out in 1619 in the purchase of 2 a. 3 r. 6 p. called Pierwell Field, of which 24 p. was sold to the Great Northern Railway Company, and the proceeds invested in £70 4s. 4d. consols. The land produces £8 13s. 6d. yearly.

In 1625 Edward Radcliffe gave two houses in Tyler's Street for the poor.

In 1635 James Huckle by will devised his house and land in Winkfield, Berks., for the poor. The trust property now consists of three tenements and pasture land in Winkfield producing £55 a year, and £1,237 2s. 11d. consols, representing sale of land in 1867 and accumulations of income.

In 1653 William Guyver by his will gave a perpetual annuity of £4 out of land at Hitchin for putting apprentice a poor boy. This charity also possesses £49 14s. 7d. consols, representing accumulations of income.

Joseph Kemp, M.A., schoolmaster, of Hitchin, by his will dated 17 July 1654, devised his manor-house, commonly called 'The Biggin,' and his copyhold and freehold land in Hitchin for ten disabled women, apprenticing, and other charitable uses. The trust property now consists of 'The Biggin' (directed by the scheme to be used as an almshouse), and 51 acres and eight cottages in Biggin Street, of the annual rental value of £150 or thereabouts, and £959 0s. 6d. consols, arising in part from sale of land and in part from accumulations of income.

In 1660 James Carter by will bequeathed certain leasehold houses in Houndsditch, London, with the rents of which a house and land at Starling's Bridge were purchased. This property was sold in 1870, and the proceeds with accumulations are represented by £285 7s. 6d. consols.

In 1673 William Chambers by his will gave two cottages for the poor, now three cottages in Queen Street, producing £21 yearly.

In 1693 Joseph Kinge by his will left £25 for bread for the poor, which was laid out in 1716 in the purchase of 2 acres at Kelshall now let at £1 10s. a year.

In 1697 Edward Draper by his will devised a perpetual rent-charge of £5 out of a messuage in Angel Street—now Sun Street—20s. thereof to be paid to the minister for a sermon on Easter Monday in commemoration of benefactors of Hitchin, twenty poor to receive 2s. 6d. each and a 6d. loaf, and 20s. for a dinner to the trustees.

In 1705 Ralph Skynner Byde by will charged his lands and tenements within the precinct of Walshoe and Walsworth with an annuity of £5 4s. for the poor in bread.

In 1713 Sir Ralph Radcliffe by will charged his land in Ippollitts with 40s. a year for bread.

In 1716 John Turner charged his messuage in the churchyard with 30s. a year for the poor.

In 1729 William Dawes by will charged land in Great Wymondley with an annuity of £5 for poor housekeepers.

In 1735 Robert Tristram by his will, proved in the court of the archdeaconry of Huntingdon, devised 10s. yearly for the poor, payable out of tenements and land at Great Wymondley.

In 1739 Mrs. Mary Arriss by will charged land at Hitchin with £5 yearly, to be applied as to £4 for poor housekeepers, 10s. to the minister for a sermon on the day of her death—2 September—and 10s. to the trustees. In 1780 Mary Godfrey, testatrix's niece, by deed gave the lands charged to the poor, which consist of 12 acres or thereabouts, let at £10 18s. a year. This charity is also possessed of £493 9s. 8d. consols, arising from sale of land in 1900 and accumulations of income.

In 1780 Elizabeth Ewisdin left £50 for the poor, which was invested in the purchase of 3 r. 13 p. situate in Burbushes, which is let with the property belonging to the preceding charity.

The parish is also in possession of half an acre at the south end of the town let at £3 3s. a year, the donor of which is unknown.

In 1813 John Crabb by his will directed his executors to purchase so much Government annuities as would produce £5 a year for fuel for the poor. The legacy is now represented by £105 consols standing in the names of trustees.

The official trustees also hold £30 17s. 11d. consols arising from accumulations of income of this charity.

In or about 1837 Mrs. Frances Leckie by will left a legacy for the poor, now represented by £217 10s. consols.

Elizabeth Ann Lucas's charity for the poor (see also under Educational Charities) consists of £187 14s. 5d. Bank stock, £3,156 12s. 6d. India 3 per cent. stock, and £185 8s. 2d. consols, producing in the aggregate £117 a year or thereabouts. The several sums of stock, unless otherwise stated, are held by the official trustees.

The scheme for the United Charities provides, inter alia, that a sum of not less than £30 a year out of the income of the charity of Elizabeth Ann Lucas shall be applied in aid of any dispensary, hospital, or institution; that the yearly income of William Guyver's charity, and £20 yearly out of the income of Joseph Kemp's charity, shall be applied in apprenticing; that the residue of the income of Lucas's charity and a yearly sum of £100 shall be provided out of the remaining charities in augmentation of the endowments of the almshouses; and that the remaining income (after satisfying the trusts for ecclesiastical purposes) shall be applied for the benefit of the poor generally, including subscriptions to provident clubs, outfits for children, in maintenance of a reading-room or working-men's club, &c., or in pensions.

The almspeople are entitled to receive not less than 5s. per week.

In 1720 Jacob Marson conveyed a messuage in the market-place to trustees upon trust that the profits should be applied in putting out poor fatherless boys apprentices to freemen of the City of London. The said messuage, which is now a public-house called the 'Rose and Crown,' is let for £40 a year, and there is a sum of £601 18s. 2d. consols with the official trustees producing £15 0s. 8d. a year. The charity is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners 19 October 1909, whereby the trustees of the United Charities are appointed the trustees. The premiums are to be not less than £10 or more than £25, payable in not less than two portions.

Ecclesiastical Charities not included in the United Charities:—

In 1696 Ralph Skynner by his will bequeathed £200 in augmentation of the benefice, which sum was invested in a rent-charge of £9 payable out of land in Ickleford.

Oliver Clement by his will (date unknown) gave a rent-charge of £6 13s. 4d. yearly out of houses in the parish of St. Nicholas, London, in augmentation of the vicarage. The annuity is received from the Clothworkers' Company.

William Joyce gave a rent-charge of £2 10s. charged on a house in Cock Street, Hitchin, to the vicar for preaching six sermons annually in the church on the six Sunday mornings next before the feast of St. Michael. (See also under the United Charities.)

In 1901 George Brown Collison by will left £50, the interest to be applied in repair of the churchyard of Hitchin, and the testator expressed a hope that his grave would be maintained in good order. The legacy was invested in £57 14s. 4d. consols with the official trustees, producing £1 8s. 8d. yearly.

Nonconformist Charities: The almshouses in Biggin Lane, founded in 1773 by Elizabeth Simpson for five poor persons being Protestant Dissenters attending the Independent Meeting House in Back Street, and endowed by the founder's will proved in the P.C.C. 3 January 1795, are endowed as follows:—

£448 12s. 1d. consols, Elizabeth Simpson's gift. £300 consols, bequeathed in 1815 by will of Nathaniel Field. £400 17s. 6d. India 3 per cent. stock, derived under the will of Mrs. Elizabeth Harley, proved at London 7 January 1864. £450 stock of the Hitchin and District Gas Company, derived in 1876 under the will of Mary Carter. The trustees also hold a sum of £79 9s. 4d. Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway stock, producing in the aggregate about £55 a year. In 1908 each of the five inmates received £8 10s. and 1 ton of coal.

The above-mentioned Elizabeth Simpson likewise bequeathed a sum for the minister of the Meeting House in Back Street and £300 for poor members of the congregation. William Crawley likewise by his will dated in 1788 bequeathed £200 for the minister. The three legacies are now represented by £1,115 7s. 6d. consols in the name of the trustees, the annual dividends of which, amounting to £27 7s. 8d., are applied proportionately between the minister and the poor of the congregation.

The trustees of the Meeting House also hold a sum of £407 11s. 2d. India 3 per cent. stock and £80 15s. 10d. stock of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway Company, derived under the will of Mrs. Elizabeth Harley, proved at London 7 January 1864, the annual income of which, amounting to about £15, is applicable for the minister. The same testatrix bequeathed £150 for the Meeting House and school at Walsworth. The legacy is now represented by £173 14s. 3d. India 3 per cent. stock and £34 8s. 8d. stock of the same Indian railway, producing £6 10s. a year or thereabouts. Any part of the income which in any year is not required towards the expenses of a Meeting House at Walsworth is to be applied for the benefit of the school at Walsworth. The same testatrix further bequeathed £350 for pensions for the poor. The legacy was invested in £307 Great Western Railway 4½ per cent. stock, producing £13 16s. 4d. yearly, which is applied in the payment of £1 14s. a quarter to two pensioners.

Hitchin St. Saviour's: The Almshouses and Orphnnnge was founded by the Rev. George Gainsford, by deed 14 August 1869, whereby 3 roods of land were conveyed to trustees for the purpose of building thereon almshouses and an orphan home for girls. In 1879 the founder transferred to the official trustees a sum of £1,000 consols for the support and maintenance of the institution, which was subsequently augmented by gifts of Francis A. D. Radcliffe, Mrs. A. E. Moreton and Mrs. Burbidge and others. The endowment fund now consists of £1,307 16s. 1d. consols, producing £32 13s. 8d. yearly.

The Orphanage is supported by voluntary contributions, which, with the dividends on the stock, amount to about £300 a year.


  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1313–17, p. 662. The king had obtained the messuage from Adam le Rous of Hitchin.
  • 2. Inq. a.q.d. file 303, no. 12 (25 Edw. III).
  • 3. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. viii, 1571; L. and P. Hen. VIII, v, 751.
  • 4. Rentals and Surv. Herts. portf. 8, no. 29.
  • 5. Pat. 38 Hen. VIII, pt. iv, m. 40.
  • 6. Plac. de Banco Hil. 6 & 7 Edw. VI, m. 15.
  • 7. V.C.H. Herts. Fam. 15; Feet of F. Herts. Mich. 17 & 18 Eliz.
  • 8. Chan. Inq. p.m. (Ser. 2), dclxxxiv, 25.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. V.C.H. Herts. Fam. 16.
  • 11. Shaw, Knights of England, ii, 243.
  • 12. Burke, Landed Gentry.
  • 13. Recov. R. Trin. 35 Geo. III, rot. 382.
  • 14. V.C.H. Herts. Fam. 15–16; Archaeologia (Soc. of Antiq.), xviii, 447–8.
  • 15. MS. in Herts. Co. Mus. marked 'Hitchin.'
  • 16. As late as 1521 the dedication was to St. Andrew.
  • 17. Dimensions: chancel, 71 ft. 6 in. by 19 ft. 6 in.; north chapel, 22 ft. 6 in. wide; south chapel, 21 ft. wide; nave, 74 ft. 6 in. by 22 ft.; north aisle, 20 ft. wide; south aisle, 19 ft. 6 in. wide; tower, 21 ft. by 20 ft. 6 in.; north porch, 11 ft. 6 in. by 9 ft. 6 in.; south porch, 14 ft. by 11 ft.
  • 18. V.C.H. Herts. i, 272, 302a.
  • 19. Abbrev. Plac. (Rec. Com.), 8.
  • 20. V.C.H. Beds. i, 353.
  • 21. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. iii, 413.
  • 22. In the 13th century William II was the reputed donor (Assize R. 323, m. 46d.).
  • 23. a Liber Antiquus Hugonis Wells, 28.
  • 24. Information from Senior Bursar of Trin. Coll. Camb.
  • 25. See Inst. Bks. (P.R.O.).
  • 26. Linc. Epis. Reg. Dalderby, fol. 44 d.
  • 27. Ibid. fol. 166.
  • 28. Wills P.C.C. 8 Godyn, 3 Wattys.
  • 29. Ibid. 6 Godyn.
  • 30. Ibid. 3 Wattys.
  • 31. Ibid. 6 Godyn.
  • 32. Ibid. 3 Wattys.
  • 33. Wills P.C.C. 8 Godyn, 3 Milles.
  • 34. Cal. Pat. 1467–77, p. 542.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Chant. Cert. 20, no. 72; 27, no. 17.
  • 37. Ibid. For bequests to the gild see the following P.C.C. wills: 46 Milles, 2 Moone, 18 Dogett, 19 Vox, 7 Ayloffe, 13 Maynwaryng, 33 Bodfelde, 31 Hogan.
  • 38. Pat. 2 Edw. VI, pt. iv, m. 27.
  • 39. Ibid. 3 Edw. VI, pt. iv, m. 17.
  • 40. Herts. Gen. and Antiq. ii, 288a–96; V.C.H. Herts. i, 302a.
  • 41. P.C.C. Will, 3 Milles.
  • 42. Ibid. 31 Holder.
  • 43. a North, Ch. Bells of Herts. 200.
  • 44. Assize R. 323, m. 46 d.
  • 45. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vii, 819.
  • 46. Mins. Accts. bdle. 865, no. 13.
  • 47. Cf. Misc. Enr. Accts. L.T.R. no. 18, m. 51.
  • 48. Mins. Accts. 31 & 32 Hen. VIII, no. 114, m. 36 d.
  • 49. This perhaps took the name from the Gilbertine Priory of St. Saviour which stood near here (Cal. Papal Letters, iv, 349; Index to Lond. Gaz. 1830–83, pp. 825–6).
  • 50. Sess. R. (Herts. Co. Rec.), i, 183.
  • 51. Urwick, Nonconformity in Herts. 640; Cal. S. P. Dom. 1672, p. 292.
  • 52. Urwick, Nonconformity in Herts. 643–4.
  • 53. Ibid. 649.
  • 54. Baptist Handbook, 1908.
  • 55. a Urwick, op. cit. 646.
  • 56. Index to Lond. Gaz. 1830–83, p. 825.
  • 57. Urwick, op. cit. 855.
  • 58. Ibid.; Index to Lond. Gaz. 1830–83, p. 825.
  • 59. Sess. R. (Herts. Co. Rec.), ii, 460.
  • 60. Baptist Handbook, 1908, p. 70.
  • 61. Urwick, Nonconformity in Herts. 855.
  • 62. Ibid. 637–8.
  • 63. Ibid. 641.
  • 64. See article on Schools, V.C.H. Herts. ii, 94.
  • 65. Ibid. 100.
  • 66. Ibid. 101.