A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.
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28. THE HOSPITAL OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, BRIDGWATER
The founder of this hospital is said (fn. 1) to have been William Bruer or Briwere, one of the guardians of the kingdom when King Richard was absent on the crusade, and the builder of the second castle at Bridgwater. Its foundation was probably before 1213, and was for a master or prior and some brethren who should maintain thirteen infirm persons besides pilgrims and religious who in their journey should pass through the town. (fn. 2) Bishop Jocelin of Bath confirmed the foundation in 1219, (fn. 3) and confirmed also to the hospital William Briwere's gift of the church of Isle (Brewers). Robert de Boyton obtained licence 9 July 1283 (fn. 4) to give to the hospital the church of Lanteglos (Cornw.), William Testard on 13 September 1284 (fn. 5) gave the church and some land at Wembdon and William de Moncketon 12 June 1285 (fn. 6) the church at Moorwinstow (Cornwall). As early as 1213 the hospital is entered as in possession of 5 acres at Bridgwater, and in 1214 as possessing the church of St. Mary, Bridgwater. (fn. 7) It had also lands at Toller Porcorum and at Bridport in the county of Dorset. On 10 May 1286 the master and brethren received licence to cut a channel through one of the bends of the River Parret to cleanse the privies of the hospital. (fn. 8) Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 (fn. 9) granted relaxation of enjoined penance to those visiting and making offerings in the chapel of the hospital on the festival of St. John the Baptist or within its octave.
Bishop Robert Burnell of Bath and Wells (1275–92) seems to have attempted to form a school out of a portion of this benefaction, for a bond was given in 1298 (fn. 10) to Bishop William of March, the immediate successor of Bishop Burnell, by the master of the hospital, promising to maintain six chaplains to celebrate daily in the hospital, the six to make a complement of thirteen besides the master, wearing the religious habit, i.e. a secular priest's dress with a cross on the breast: the corporate funds also were to maintain thirteen poor scholars living within the walls 'habiles ad informandum in grammatica,' who should be excused the full ritual that they might keep school daily in the town. The rector of the schools was to send seven of his mendicant scholars for daily pittances from the kitchen. These new objects, however, were not to abate the original duty of the house, which was for the sick and the stranger. The arrangement is stated to be in consequence of the appropriation of Wembdon, Lanteglos and Moorwinstow Churches.
This new venture was apparently unpopular, for in February 1325 (fn. 11) Bishop Drokensford appointed a commission to inquire into the truth of the prevalent rumours charging the hospital with wronging the wayfarers of the hospitality due to them. The commissioners were to examine the charters and ascertain the facts.
On 23 March 1327 (fn. 12) the master and brethren were pardoned for having obtained from Richard de Wiggebere without licence lands in Chilton Trinity and the advowson of that church. This pardon was repeated in 1344, (fn. 13) licence having been granted to the hospital to hold this property, 8 July 1336. (fn. 14)
In Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury's register (fn. 15) there is a deed of the master and brethren of the hospital June 1333, setting out the gift by Richard de Wiggebere of land and the churches and chapels of Chilton, Idstock, and Huntstile, for the foundation of a chantry in Wembdon Church for the founder's family, to be served by a priest paid by the master and brethren. They however were not to be compelled to keep the chantry chapel in repair.
In 1337 (fn. 16) the bishop assigned a sufficient portion for the vicar of Northover, the hospital having had the rectory appropriated to them.
On 10 July 1336 (fn. 17) the hospital was discharged for the future on account of its poverty from the payment of tenths, etc., and in February (fn. 18) 1338 it received licence to acquire land in mortmain to the value of 10 marks yearly. On 4 November 1343 (fn. 19) the hospital had licence to acquire land from John de Walesyngham, viz., 37 acres in Isle Brewers and a house; and two messuages and lands of Thomas Fole and Philip Godhale in Northover.
In July 1350 (fn. 20) Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury offered an indulgence to all who should contribute to the rebuilding of the hospital ' in quo pauperes Christi debiles et infirmi undique confluentes recipiuntur et recreantur.'
On 6 February 1380 and again on 14 July 1380 (fn. 21) a commission was issued of oyer and terminer to hear a charge against certain people who had attacked the master and brethren, broken in the door of their church and held them prisoners and refused permission to the master and brethren to enter either the church or the hospital. The trouble seems to have arisen from an effort on the part of the master and brethren to absorb the vicarage of Bridgwater as well as the rectory. The prior is called in both commissions the master and parson, and on 14 April 1380 (fn. 22) William Camel the master and the brethren of the hospital obtained a special protection touching the controversy between Thomas Cadecote the late master and the commonalty of Bridgwater which was not yet settled. Cadecote had only resigned in the previous year. (fn. 23)
On 15 February 1382 (fn. 24) Nicholas Frampton, a chaplain in Bridgwater, was pardoned his outlawry which he had drawn upon himself by fleeing from justice in that he had surrendered to the Marshalsea prison, and on 28 March 1383 a much more notorious popular leader of discontent, Thomas Engilby, was also pardoned. (fn. 25) He had broken into the Hospital and had seized William Camel the master and compelled him to deliver up certain bonds of the men of Bridgwater which he held and to release all his rights and profits to Nicholas Frampton and pay 200 marks for the safety of himself and his convent. Engilby had also been into other houses in Bridgwater and burnt writings and court rolls, tearing off the seals, and had beheaded Walter Baron and had gone to the gaol at Ilchester and taken out Hugh Lavenham and had him beheaded and had placed his head on a spear and carried it to Bridgwater and there fixed it with that of Walter Baron on the bridge.
These three entries suggest a forced resignation of Cadecote, and a contested election for the mastership between Frampton and Camel.
In 1423 (fn. 26) royal licence was granted to Walter Eston the president of the Augustinian Hospital of St. John the Baptist, Bridgwater, and to the brethren there to select a master in room of the late John Wemedon deceased. The hospital was declared to be of the foundation of the Earl of March and of the Lord de la Zouche, who was then a minor and a royal ward.
In 1463 Bishop Beckington issued orders for the better organization of the hospital. (fn. 27)
In the Valor of 1535 (fn. 28) the possessions of the priory are valued at £120 19s. 1d.
The hospital was surrendered by Robert Walshe the master, 5 February 1539. (fn. 29) There were then seven brethren in the hospital and all received pensions, Robert Walshe £33 6s. 8d., and Thomas Coggyn, Richard Kymrydge, John Colde, John Wyll and Robert Fyssher £4 each, and John Wood and John Mors £2 each. The names of Kymrydge, Wyll, Fyssher, Wood and Mors occur in Cardinal Pole's pension list, 1556.
Priors of Bridgwater Hospital
Geoffrey de Mark, 1297 (fn. 30)
Henry de Stanford, appointed 1315. (fn. 31)
John de Walsham, appointed 1334 (fn. 32)
Thomas de Cadecote, 1349–79 (fn. 33)
William Camel, occurs 1380 (fn. 34)
John or William Pathul, died 1416 (fn. 35)
Thomas Pulton, appointed 1416 (fn. 36)
John Wembdon, died 1423 (fn. 37)
John Holford, appointed 1457 (fn. 40)
Robert Walshe, elected 1525, (fn. 43) surrendered 1539
The 13th-century seal of the Priory of St. John Baptist at Bridgwater (fn. 44) is a vesica, 25/8 in. by 1¾ in., showing Our Lady with the Child on the parapet of a four-arched bridge over a river. St. John Baptist holding Agnus Dei on a roundel stands on the left, and St. Paul with sword and book on the right. The whole design is enclosed in a niche with triple canopy, and what remains of the legend runs:—s' COMUNE HOSPITALIS SANCTI [IOHANNI]S BAPTISTE DE . . . . . ALTERA.