Hospitals: Ilchester and Langport

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Hospitals: Ilchester and Langport', in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, (London, 1911) pp. 156-158. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

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A house of lepers was established outside Ilchester some time before 1212, in which year Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, made a bequest of 3 marks to them. (fn. 1) The brethren received royal protection in 1235, their house being then called St. Margaret's Hospital. (fn. 2)


Between the years 1217 and 1220 William Dennis (Dacus) of Sock Dennis (fn. 3) gave his house of Whitehall in Ilchester, with lands, for the purpose of founding a hospital to the honour of the Blessed Trinity for the reception and entertainment of poor travellers and pilgrims.

In addition to the house called Whitehall he gave two houses close by and both mills which he possessed in Ilchester, with the arable land belonging to those mills, and various other tenements in the neighbourhood, together with lands near the house of the lepers at Ilchester.

The reason of his foundation was for the good of the soul of Richard Toclive, Bishop of Winchester, who was born at Sock Dennis, and for Adam of Ilchester, Dean of Salisbury, and others. He reserved to himself and his heirs the right to present the warden of the hospital to the Bishop of Bath, in whose protection the hospital was.

The names of witnesses attached to his deed, among which are Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, show that it was made between the years 1217 and 1220.

About 1237, (fn. 4) William, Abbot of Cerne, gave the advowson of the church of St. Mary the Less in Ilchester to this hospital, and Bishop Jocelin in 1241 sanctioned its appropriation to the hospital in order that the inmates might have close at hand a chapel for divine service instead of being compelled, as previously, to go through the streets on their way to the parish church. Bishop Jocelin in his appropriation speaks of the brethren and the sisters of the hospital, who, leaving the world for the service of God and the poor under the habit of poverty have taken there the habit of monachism and religion.

The foundation therefore was at first a hospital in charge of the brethren and sisters.

In 1281 (fn. 5) we find it described as a priory, and the inmates as the prioress and nuns of 'la Blanchesale' of Ilchester.

On 13 December 1313 (fn. 6) Bishop Drokensford issued a commission of inquiry as to the length of the vacancy in the office of prioress, and as to the fitness of the lady proposed for that post.

Alice Atteyerd seems to have been appointed prioress, but in the following year we find her deprived for incompetence and unfitness, but appealing to the archbishop against the bishop's action. (fn. 7)

Alice Clithorne or Chilthorne, probably one of the sisters of the house, seems to have been appointed prioress by the bishop and the patron, but sympathy with the expelled prioress had induced the sisters at Whitehall publicly to beg alms for their late head to the great reproach of their house as Bishop Drokensford thought, and he therefore wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him to make some provision for the sisters. The prioress was charged with extreme severity towards her sisters, ejecting them from the house and compelling them to beg for their daily bread. (fn. 8)

The prioress seems not alone to be blamed. John de Draycote and Walter de Wouburn, who had been wardens of the house, had greatly neglected their duty, and the property of the hospital had been wasted to such an extent as called for the interference of the Crown, so that in the previous year the bishop had appointed William de Modiford, rector of Tintinhull, and William de l'Isle, rector of St. Mary Magdalene, Ilchester, to administer the affairs of the hospital. (fn. 9)

The appointment of Alice Clithorne, or Chilthorne, was objected to by the escheator of the Crown, because, as it was asserted, the patron, Sir Nicholas de Boleville, had accepted her as prioress before he was of legal age to do so. This difficulty was ended by judgement of the Crown (28 June 1316). (fn. 10) The prioress appointed, however, seems to have been quite unfitted for her post, and on 18 September 1323 Henry de Birlaunde, rector of Stoke, and John de Herminal were appointed to take charge of the house and its revenues, for the prioress was charged with incontinence and immorality with John de Passelawe the chaplain, and with wasting and alienating the goods of the house, so that the sisters again lacked maintenance and were compelled to beg. (fn. 11)

On 29 January 1324 (fn. 12) the bishop issued a commission to his official, and to the rectors of Stoke and Tintinhull, to inquire carefully into these charges, made against the prioress, and gave them power to act. Discord certainly existed there, and the prioress appears to have defied the bishop and the patron. On 28 March 1324 (fn. 13) the chapel of the hospital had to be reconciled since it had been polluted by effusion of blood. Meanwhile the prioress was resisting the action of the commission and refused to be turned out. An appeal 26 June, 1324 (fn. 14) was made to the Crown against the conduct of the commissioners and the patron of the house who apparently had endeavoured to take possession of it and expel her by force.

The next year, 1325, (fn. 15) Bishop Drokensford notified to the patron, Sir Richard de Boleville, that this prioress, Alice, was deprived. Cecilia de Draycote was chosen as prioress, but on 1 September 1334 (fn. 16) we find Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury writing to the rectors of Limington and St. John's, Ilchester, informing them that he had sequestrated the possessions of the church and commanding them to take charge of them, supplying the sisters and servants with necessary maintenance only until they should receive further instructions. The prioress was clearly incompetent, and he commissioned Agnes Champflour and Agnes de Wynterbourn, sisters of the house, to act with her in the administration of affairs, forbidding the prioress to do anything without the advice and consent of these other two sisters.

We hear of this prioress, Cecilia, again in an action concerning a corrody which she is said to have granted to Simonis the wife of Gilbert Passeware. (fn. 17) The terms of the corrody were that she was to have a place 30 ft. by 15 ft. in which she was to build, at her own expense, a room for her living, that she was to sit daily at the table of the prioress, and be attended on by the servants of the house, and wear the habit and veil of the sisters for the term of her life.

In 1370 (fn. 18) we hear of Mary, the prioress of 'the Nywe Halle,' a change in name which possibly may have been caused through a rebuilding of the house.

In the clerical subsidy of 1377, (fn. 19) Matilda the prioress of Whitehall is mentioned with one sister, and in 1423 we again have mention of the house as consisting of the prioress, Cristina, and one nun and co-sister, Joan Whyttock. What happened afterwards does not appear, but on 3 September 1463 we find in the list of chaplains and their cures in the archdeaconry of Wells the name of John Bonez of Ilchester, chaplain. Between these two dates the priory of nuns seems to have been changed into a free chapel with residence for a permanent chaplain, and in 1485 (fn. 20) a successor is described as following the late John Boney or Banys chaplain of Whitehall, Ilchester; and on 30 August 1519, (fn. 21) John Moyne was admitted as chaplain of the perpetual and free chapel of Whitehall.

Again in the Valor of 1535 (fn. 22) mention is made of Walter Cokkes or Cocks as chaplain of the free chapel of Whitehall, and the endowments were at Ilchester, Taunton, and Sock, i.e. the endowments of the former nunnery, and were worth £18 13s. 8d.

Prioresses of Whitehall, Ilchester

Alice Atteyerde, 1315 (fn. 23)

Alice de Chilthorne, 1316 (fn. 24)

Cecilia de Draycote, 1325 (fn. 25)

Mary, 1370 (fn. 26)

Matilda, occurs 1377 (fn. 27)

Margaret, 'Marjory,' 1377 (fn. 28)

Christina, occurs 1423 (fn. 29)


In January 1311 Bishop Drokensford (fn. 30) ordered that the proctors of the lepers of St. Mary Magdalen of Langport should be allowed access to the churches of the diocese on festivals to collect alms, and a similar expression of goodwill was made on their behalf by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury in 1337. (fn. 31) John Mucheldever in 1403 left 18d. to the hospital by Westover in Langport; (fn. 32) the lazar-house of Langport was remembered in the will of Elizabeth Speke, 1537, (fn. 33) and as late as 1549 in that of John Walton. (fn. 34) The almshouse of Langport Westover continued in use down to the time of the Civil War. (fn. 35)


  • 1. Cal. Wells D. and C. MSS. i, 432.
  • 2. Cal. Pat. 1232–47, p. 115.
  • 3. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 68; Somers. Arch. Soc. Proc. xiii, 21–118.
  • 4. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 68.
  • 5. Exch. Rolls, 9 Edw. I, no 79 Appendix iv.
  • 6. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 68.
  • 7. Ibid. 115.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 93.
  • 10. Cal. Pat. 1313–17, p. 505.
  • 11. Ibid. 115.
  • 12. Ibid. 228.
  • 13. Ibid. 232.
  • 14. Cal. Pat. 1321–4, p. 455.
  • 15. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 245.
  • 16. Ibid. ix, 177, 240.
  • 17. Somers. Arch. Soc. Proc. xiii, 115; xxxviii, 17, 18; Assize R. 1502, m. 82, 91.
  • 18. Ilchester Almshouse Deeds, no. 26.
  • 19. Cler. Subs. bdle. 4, no. 1, m. 6.
  • 20. Wells Epis. Reg. Stillington, fol. 30.
  • 21. Ibid. Wolsey, fol. 7.
  • 22. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.) 199.
  • 23. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 93.
  • 24. Ibid. 115.
  • 25. Ibid. 245.
  • 26. Ilchester Almsh. D. no. 26, App. no. 9.
  • 27. Cler. Subs. bdle. 4, no. 1, m. 6.
  • 28. Cal. Pat. 1405–8, p. 306.
  • 29. Ilchester Almsh. D. no. 11–98, App. xii.
  • 30. Somers. Rec. Soc. Publ. i, 37.
  • 31. Ibid. xi, 301.
  • 32. Ibid, xvii, 63
  • 33. Ibid. xxi, 39.
  • 34. Ibid. 108.
  • 35. Ibid. xxiii, 336.