A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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43. THE COLLEGE OF HIGHAM FERRERS
Henry Chicheley, archbishop of Canterbury, who was born at Higham Ferrers, founded here a college for eight secular canons or chaplains, eight clerks, and six choristers, in the year 1422. One of the eight chaplains was to be master and responsible for the rule and governance of the college, one of the chaplains or clerks should be grammar-master, and another quire-master. It was dedicated in honour of the Blessed Virgin, St. Thomas of Canterbury, and St. Edward the Confessor. Divine service was to be celebrated daily for the good estate of the king, Henry V., and of the queen, Katherine, and of the archbishop, during their lifetime, and for their souls after death; and also for the souls of the king's father and mother, the parents and benefactors of the archbishop, and for all the faithful departed. The king granted 3 acres of land at Higham Ferrers, parcel of the duchy of Lancaster, in free alms for the erection of the church and chapel of the college, and for all the necessary buildings. At the same time Henry V. granted to the archbishop, and to William Chicheley, archdeacon of Canterbury, the suppressed alien priory and manor of West Mersea, Essex, as an endowment of the college. This priory had been a cell of the abbey of St. Ouen, Rouen, and had been granted by licence of Henry IV. to John Doreward and Isabel his wife for their lives; consequently the college did not come into possession until after the death of Isabel, which occurred in 1426. (fn. 1)
The preamble to the archbishop's formal declaration and ordination in the parish church of Higham Ferrers, 28 August, 1425, is of much interest. It recites the desire the archbishop had long felt to found a college in the place where he was baptized, and the sanction he had obtained from both pope and king. He appealed also for the sanction of the inhabitants and those connected with the church, stating that he had invited the dean and chapter of the new collegiate church of St. Mary, Leicester, the rectors of the parish church of Higham Ferrers, and also and especially the vicar and parishioners, to be present, that they might give their consent or otherwise to the foundation. The declaration, under seal of John Bolde, notary public, appended to the archbishop's letters, states that the dean of St. Mary, Leicester, attended in person, that the chapter were represented by two proctors, and that the vicar and parishioners in large numbers were also present. After the formal proposition for the foundation of the college and its objects had been duly set forth, and the letters of the pope and king read, those present were asked to express dissent or consent for their interests in common or severally. No one appeared to gainsay the proposition, and those present having consented with acclamation, the archbishop decreed that the foundation should proceed, and, by virtue of apostolic authority committed to him, as well as by his authority as ordinary in the voidance of the see of Lincoln, declared the college duly established, saving the rights of the parish church of Higham Ferrers, and appointed John Small, priest, as first master or warden, declaring the office perpetual and compatible with the perpetual vicarage of the parish church. The archbishop reserved to himself and his heirs the right of introducing chaplains, clerks, and choristers up to the appointed number, and endowed the master and college with the grounds of the college and all buildings built or to be built thereon, together with the alien priory of Mersea. Finally he placed a curse on those who should attack the foundation, and blessed those who should defend it. (fn. 2)
On 26 July, 1427, Henry VI. granted a licence to the college to acquire in mortmain lands and rents to the value of 40 marks a year; that the king, his heirs and progenitors, and particularly Henry V., might be specially mentioned in their prayers, (fn. 3) and in 1434 and 1435 the endowments of the college were augmented by the gift of the manor of Chesterton with 60 acres of wood in Huntingdonshire, 'Overdene' in Beds, and the manor of Barford by Newnham called Veysis, also a messuage called le Swan on the Hope, 60 acres of land and 10 acres of meadow in Higham Ferrers and Newenton, Northamptonshire. (fn. 4) Sir Robert Chicheley, a brother of the archbishop, Lord Mayor of London in 1411 and 1421, left by his will several houses in the parish of St. Antholin to the college of Higham Ferrers; he died in 1440. (fn. 5)
The college made formal acknowledgement of the king's supremacy on 31 August, 1534. The deed was signed by William Fauntleroy, Thomas Frear, Robert Goldson, Thomas Gamon, Thomas Mylys, and Thomas Pyck. (fn. 6) According to the Valor of 1535, Gilbert Gulson was entered as master; in another part of the return, however, he is rightly given as Robert Gulson (Goldson). His stipend was £30; that of Thomas Frear, the vice-warden, £16 19s. 2d.; Nicholas Stere, the grammar-school master, £21 11s. 3d.; Thomas Gamon, chaplain, £14 17s. 11d.; Thomas Pykkell, chaplain, £14 17s. 11d.; Roger Browne, chaplain, £13 11s. 3d.; and Hugo Garfett, £13 11s. 3d. (fn. 7) The annual sum of £19 15s. 5d. was paid at the rate of 1d. a day to thirteen poor persons daily praying for the soul of Henry Chicheley, the founder. The barber's annual fee for shaving the bedesmen was 6s. 8d., the oil for the lamp burning at night in their dormitory cost 5s., and other incidental expenses brought the expenditure for these pensioners to £23 19s. 1d. The clear annual value of the college was £93 1s. 9½d. (fn. 8)
The college was 'surrendered' to Henry VIII. on 18 July, 1542. The surrender deed was signed by Robert Goldson, Thomas Frere, and Thomas Graive. (fn. 9) On 7 August of the same year the whole of the college property was granted to Robert Dacres, a member of the king's council. (fn. 10) There was, however, a rent charge reserved on the property of the dissolved college for the maintenance of the pensioners of the bedehouse. In 1665 this rent charge was £25. John Willis, bedesman, was then commonly called the prior in respect of his seniority, but he had not been formally elected to that office, and received the same allowance as the rest. (fn. 11)
The bedehouse founded at Higham Ferrers by Chicheley, in a building, though long disused for its original purpose, still standing to the south of the parish church and away from the college, was a part of the college foundation, and under the superior control of the master and his brethren, and is therefore not separately considered under the head of hospitals. In the bedehouse resided twelve poor men, with one woman to wait on them. One of them, sober and wise, was chosen to be their governor, and called the prior; any withstanding him was to be expelled. Every man chosen had to be 'sworne on a book that hath the Gospel in it' before the warden or subwarden that he would be true to the house and help to maintain it. Each of them received, as has been already mentioned, a penny a day. Pensioners were not to be under fifty years of age, and were under obligation to pray daily for the king, the founder, and their benefactors. They need not rise till seven in the summer and eight in the winter, when they should go to church, returning at nine 'to take such meat as God had sent them.' Each on being admitted to the house should bring with him a bedstead, a mattress, bolster and pillow, two pairs of sheets, a blanket, and a coverlet; also a brass pot of two gallons, a brass pan and pewter dish, and a saucer. Immorality entailed expulsion, and after the fourth warning brawling and disorder were similarly punished. There should be a box with a hole in the lid placed in the centre of the dormitory for well-disposed people 'to put in their charity'; the box should have two locks and two keys, the warden of the college to keep one and the prior of the bedehouse the other, and should be opened once a year, on St. Thomas's Day, when the contents should be equally divided among the inmates. Certain brethren were appointed at particular seasons to 'go abroad to gather up the devotions of the brotherhood.' At two o'clock in the afternoon the brethren went to the church and remained there till four, when they came home to supper. At six o'clock the bell at the west end of the hospital was rung for half an hour to call all the brethren together, and then every man knelt at his chamber door (i.e. the cubicles opening out of the hall), and there prayed for the king's majesty and all their well-wishers until seven, and at eight they went to bed. It was ordained that only those who were 'clean men of their bodies, without blotches, blains, or boils,' should be admitted, and if anyone contracted a disease noisome to the others he should go to his friends until cured. Every inmate might visit his friends for a week in the year and receive his daily wage, but if he tarried longer the daily penny was to be forfeited. Every Friday a barber attended to shave and dress their heads. A lamp was to be kept burning in the midst of the dormitory during the winter from six to eight, and then to be extinguished. Each brother on his admission, if he possessed no gown of his own, should have the best gown of his deceased predecessor, for which he should pay 3s. 4d., together with 4d. for the brethren to make merry withal, 6d. for oatmeal and salt, 2d. to the bedmaker, and 1d. to the barber. The woman chosen to be bedmaker and attendant was to be fifty years of age, of good name and fame, and ready to help the poor men if they fell sick. Each brother should buy his meat on the Saturday and bring it to the woman, telling her what portion she should cook for the morrow, and the remainder she was to 'powder up' (sprinkle with salt and pepper) against Wednesday. On Sunday she was to set on the pot and make them good potage, giving each man his own piece of meat and a mess of potage in his dish, and saving the rest for Monday's dinner. On Wednesday she was to set on the pot and give them potage and meat as on Sunday. On Friday she should go into the town and get barm to make them good bread. She should wash the men's clothes on Monday, and on that day and no other was she entitled to hired help. In the spring-time the poor men were to dig and dress the garden, those absent paying the dressers a penny a day. The woman should rise every morning and make a fire before the men rose, and set a pan of fair water and a dish by it for them to wash their hands. She should sweep the house daily and attend to any one who might be ill in the night. The wages were to be delivered to the prior on Friday by noon, and by him to be distributed to the men and the woman. The woman should have as much for her pains as any of the twelve men in every respect; she could be dismissed by the warden of the college and the prior if she did not keep the statutes. The men were not to wander abroad without leave from the prior, and they should always return home again at night to prayers. In addition to 7d. a week in wages to each of the thirteen, they were to have yearly as much black frieze as would make them a gown apiece at Christmas, including the woman; 5s. yearly for their lamp; 3s. for the barber; nine loads of wood delivered without charge, and 10s. for other fuel. (fn. 12)
The house seems to have been intended more for those in reduced circumstances, with no one to care for them, than for those only in great poverty; for men of moderate means were admitted on condition that they should after death bestow their land or tenements freely on the hospital for ever. Before the foundation of Chicheley's college, or bedehouse, there was a hospital dedicated to St. James at Higham Ferrers. All that is known of it are two presentations to the mastership made by Bishop Gravesend in 1258 and 1265. (fn. 13) The last three masters of the college, Richard Whellys, (fn. 14) William Fauntleroy, and Robert Goldson, were also vicars of the parish church. This was not, however, the church of the college, as mistakenly asserted in the extended Monasticon, and by Dean Hook in his Lives of the Archbishops. The collegiate church or chapel stood to the south of the college quadrangle. The remains of the college, the bedehouse, and the school, will be discussed in the topographical section.
Pointed oval seal of the fifteenth century taken from a cast at the British Museum (fn. 15) representing the Virgin and Child between St. Thomas on the left and St. Edward the Confessor on the right, standing in three canopied niches. In base a shield of arms per pale dex. See of Canterbury, sin. a chevron between three cinquefoils; Archbishop Chicheley, founder, between two cinquefoiled flowers. Legend partly defaced:—
. . . . . . . MARIE VIRG' . THŌE MĀHYRIS . ET . EDWARDI CONFESSORIS . DE . HEIGH.