Colleges: The Chapel-in-the-Fields, Norwich

Pages 455-457

A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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At some date prior to 1248 (fn. 2) an important hospital and chapel, dedicated to the honour of the Blessed Virgin, was founded in the parish of St. Stephen by John le Brun, priest. It stood at the time of its foundation in the open fields on the south-west of the city, and hence became known at an early date as the Chapel-in-theFields. In a short space of time, aided by various benefactions, the foundation became a collegiate church on a noble scale, consisting of a dean, chancellor, precentor, treasurer, and seven other prebendaries. To these there were afterwards added six chaplains or chantry priests, termed conducti, as well as other chantry priests and gild chaplains—not on the foundation. They had a common table and various ordinances similar in the main to other collegiate establishments.

The founder gave to the college the advowson of the church of St. George [Tombland] as well as that of St. Andrew. Of the latter church his brother Geoffrey, who confirmed the gift, was rector. His brother, Matthew le Brun, also gave the church of St. Mary Unbrent, Norwich.

The taxation of 1291 shows that the canons were then in receipt of £4 2s. 6d. per annum in small sums from no fewer than nineteen of the Norwich parishes, as well as 9d. in rent from Thurston and 7s. from lands in Earlham, giving a total of £4 10s. 3d.

On 16 July, 1341, Edward III gave leave for the appropriation of the churches of St. Andrew and St. George, (fn. 3) but episcopal sanction for these appropriations was not granted until 1350. (fn. 4) The same king granted licences for the appropriation of the church of Moulton and half the church of Fressingfield (Suffolk) in 1361, (fn. 5) and of Easton in 1374. (fn. 6)

In 1381 the college paid a fee of £20 in the hanaper for the alienation in mortmain of the church of Field Dalling, the gift of William de Walsham, chaplain, and four citizens of Norwich. (fn. 7) This appropriation was sanctioned by the bishop of Norwich in 1384, together with that of the church of St. Peter Mancroft. (fn. 8) In the same year 40 marks were paid in the hanaper for licence to hold the church of St. Peter Mancroft, saving to the abbot and convent of Gloucester a yearly pension of £4. (fn. 9) The other half of the church of Fressingfield was appropriated to the college in 1420. (fn. 10)

In 1374 Roger Middleton, rector of St. Peter Mancroft, gave the college £10 towards the building of their common kitchen and the precinct walls. Building was also in progress between 1377 and 1379, when the dean and canons received several bequests towards the building of their cloister. In 1428 £20 was given towards leading the quire of the collegiate church, and a like sum for a similar purpose in 1433. In 1458 William Martyn, notary public, left a considerable sum towards the rebuilding of the church, and Thomas Bachcroft, of Little Melton, gave the large sum of £40 in 1501 for the construction of a new rood loft. (fn. 11)

Among the numerous interments in the collegiate church of which there is record the following may be mentioned: Joan, widow of Sir Thomas de Gissing, 1388, to be buried by her husband's tomb; she bequeathed a vestment of red velvet and gold stars to the altar of St. Katharine. Sir Thomas Hemgrave, 1419, before the image of the Blessed Virgin in the quire. Richard Schyrlok, 1434, before St. John's image. William Fake, 1483, before the holy rood; he ordered four marble stones one foot square and twenty half-yard square to be laid as pavement by his grave, to give example to others to pave the whole church with marble. (fn. 12)

The bishop had the right of collation to the deanery and to the ten prebends. The different prebends were known by the names of (1) the Morning Mass, (2) the Chancellor's, (3) the Treasurer's, (4) the Precentor's, (5) the Provostship, (6) the Sacrist's, (7) the Chapter's Mass, (8) the High Mass, (9) the Lady Mass, and (10) the Great Mass. The six conducts were chantry priests added by degrees to the foundation for the souls of their several founders and benefactors. They were (1) Kyrkely's chantry, founded in 1331; (2) Appleyard's, in 1388; (3) Churchman's, 1391; (4) Kentone's, 1405; (5) Sedman's, 1411; and Wygenhale's in 1460. In addition there were two other chantries, Bokenham's, 1479, and Goldwell's 1520.

In connexion with this church were the gilds of Corpus Christi (fn. 13) and the Tailors' gild. (fn. 14)

The college was visited by Bishop Gold well in 1492, when nothing was found demanding reformation. The visitation was attended by the dean, John Neel, seven prebendaries, and six chantry priests. (fn. 15)

The visitation by Bishop Nicke. in 1526 was equally satisfactory, save that the college income was slender and insufficient; it was attended by the dean, Nicholas Carr, three prebendaries, and six chaplains. (fn. 16)

The last visitation was on 7 June, 1532, when Dean Spencer, six prebendaries, and five chaplains attended. Everything was satisfactory save that the steward reported that the income of the college was not sufficient for the burdens and expenses of the house. (fn. 17)

Miles Spencer, dean, Thomas Cappe, prebendary, together with six other members of the college, signed their acknowledgement of the king's supremacy on 30 July, 1534. (fn. 18)

The Valor of 1535 enumerates as spiritualities the four Norfolk rectories of Field Bailing, Moulton, Bowthorpe, and Easton, the three Norwich rectories of St. Peter Mancroft, St. George, and St. Andrew, and the Suffolk rectory of Fressingfield, valued at £63 7s. 3d. per annum. The temporalities in Norfolk and Norwich were valued at £47 13s. 7d. The pensions and fees due from the college were considerable, so that the clear annual value is only returned at £86 12s. 8d. At this time Dr. Spencer was dean and received a stipend of £16 16s. 8d Thomas Pellis was chancellor, Edmund Stewarde, precentor, Richard Taillor, treasurer, William Hedge, prebendary of the first stall on the north side; Thomas Cappe, prebendary of the second north stall; Richard Redmayne, prebendary of the first south stall; and John Bury, prebendary of the second south stall. The return states that none of these prebendaries received any stipend on account of the insufficiency of the endowments. The dean made a like return with regard to the other inmates of the college; but as there was a balance in hand of £69 16s. after the payment of his own salary, it is difficult to understand why the prebendaries and others did not draw their share.

The surrender of the college was signed on 29 January, 1544. The only signatures are those of the dean and the bishop of the diocese. (fn. 19) Dean Spencer cunningly persuaded his colleagues to resign on small pensions, and on 22 April following the surrender he obtained from Henry VIII a grant of the site of the college and its whole possessions for himself and his heirs at a nominal sum. The grant contemplated the immediate destruction of church and college by its late dean, for it specified the timber, iron, glass, tombs, and stones of the church, chancel, cloisters, and other buildings, with all the lead on the roofs and about the cisterns and conduits. (fn. 20)

Spencer was a shameless pluralist. He was rector of Helvingham and Redenhall, Norfolk; vicar of Soham, Cambridgeshire; archdeacon of Sudbury; and vicar-general of the diocese. He lived to the age of ninety, and was buried in the cathedral church. (fn. 21)

Deans of Chapel-in-the-Fields College, Norwich (fn. 22)

John le Brun, 1260

Richard de Ringstead, 1305

Walter, 1309

Walter de Ditchingham, 1321

Simon de Cley, 1326

William de Hemenhall

Robert de Nythcote, 1340

Richard Ive, died 1637

Adam de Cringlewood, 1367

John Hennye, 1369

John Bronn, 1374

John Cleneans, 1383

Henry de Well, 1401

John Rekincall, 1436

Thomas Ringstede, 1440

Simon de Thornham, 1459

Robert Popy, died 1467

John Neel, 1467

Nicholas Goldwell, 1498

Robert Honywood, 1502

Freeman, died 1513

Thomas Hare, 1513

Nicholas Carr, 1526

Miles Spencer, 1532

The thirteenth-century oval seal of this college (13/8 ×1 in.) simply bears an ornamantel fleur-de-lis. Legend:—

+ DE CACIS . NOV . VIRGO . DEDIT . ADD . ET . OMĒ (fn. 23)

The fourteenth-century second seal (21/8 in. × 13/8 in.) has the crowned Virgin standing under a canopied niche with Holy Child on left arm; in base, profile of kneeling figure (the dean). Legend:—

+ DE . CAMPIS . NOM . EN . V'GO. DEDIT. ADDAT . ET OMEN (fn. 24)


  • 1. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iv, 169-83; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1459; Taylor, Index Monasticus, 48.
  • 2. In that year John Bond bequeathed a rent of 6d. A year to the hospital of St. Mary in the Fields.
  • 3. Pat. 15 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 27.
  • 4. Norw. Epis. Reg. iv, 9.
  • 5. Sanctioned by the bishop (ibid. iv, 33).
  • 6. Pat. 26 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 24; 39 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 26.
  • 7. Ibid. 4 Ric. II, pt. iii, m. 15.
  • 8. Norw. Epis. Reg. vi, 343.
  • 9. Pat. 7 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 7.
  • 10. Norw. Epis. Reg. viii, 137; Pat. 1 Hen. V, pt. iv, m. 12.
  • 11. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iv, 180-1.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. Coll. and Chant. Cert. Norf, 91a.
  • 14. Ibid. 84a.
  • 15. Jessopp, Norw. Visit. 10.
  • 16. Ibid. 208.
  • 17. Ibid. 270.
  • 18. Dep. Keeper's Rep. vii, App. 2, p. 295.
  • 19. Ibid. viii, App. 2, p. 35.
  • 20. Ibid. x, App. 2, p. 275.
  • 21. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iii, 633; iv, 171.
  • 22. The list of deans, slightly amended, is taken by the Norfolk historian from the diocesan registers (Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. iv, 170-1); he also gives long lists of the prebendaries from the same sources, 171-4.
  • 23. B.M. xxxv, 239; Blomefield, Norf. iv, 578.
  • 24. Add. Ch. 15889; Ackn. of Supr. (P.R.O.), 94**.