Colleges: College of Malden

Pages 128-129

A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1967.

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The great Walter de Merton, Chancellor of England, Bishop of Rochester, and founder of Merton College, the celebrated foundation at Oxford, whose charter of incorporation was obtained in 1264, was memorable as being the first in this kingdom to incorporate a body of persons for purposes of study, and to attempt to raise the condition of the secular clergy by bringing them into close connection with an academical course of study. (fn. 1) This, however, was not the primary form of the great founder's intention; but, as for a few months Surrey had the honour of being the first seat of the munificent educational scheme of the learned Chancellor, some mention must be here made of the brief-lived experimental foundation initiated at Malden, and continued for ten years further on administrative lines.

Among the Malden title deeds in the Merton muniment room is a document assigning that manor, together with Chessington and Farley, for the sustentation of John de la Clythe and seven other nepotes, who are termed scholares in scolis degentes, and are stated to be living under an ordinance approved by the king, by the feudal lord, by the Bishop of Winchester, and by the Chapter of Winchester. This charter bears no date, but Bishop Hobhouse, with much ingenuity, has shown that it is of the year 1263, and probably of the month of September. From this document we learn that Walter de Merton placed eight of his nephews in his manor house of Malden, under a warden and chaplains, binding them down to a life of study and rule. It was intended to be perpetual in its benefits, for the vacancies as they occurred were to be filled up by relatives (consanguinei), or in default by others, who were to be nominated during his lifetime by the founder. Richard, Earl of Gloucester, his feudal lord, commended the institution to the protection of his successors. (fn. 2)

In the original ordinance Walter reserved to himself and his household the occasional use of the manor house of Malden and of the two other manors so far as was consistent with the shelter and support of the scholars.

There has been considerable discussion as to the nature of this ordinance and to what purpose the house at Malden was devoted at the outset and subsequently. As Manning puts it: 'It seems, by all the expressions used in the several charters and other instruments, that there was a house at Malden for the use of the foundation in some respect; but it has been much questioned whether the founder first settled his scholars here, and afterwards removed them to Oxford, or whether it was for the ministers only who resided here to take care of the estates, whom he afterwards sent to Oxford to form one body with the scholars.' (fn. 3) On the whole the latter theory seems to be the soundest, and is that which has been adopted by the latest historian of Merton College. (fn. 4) At all events it is clear that when 1264 is reached, the domus scolarium de Merton was not to afford lodging for a band of scholars on the manor of Malden, but to find perpetual sustenance for twenty exhibitioners at Oxford or some other university, and to sustain two or three ministers of the altar of Christ, residing at Malden. The foundation, according to Mr. Henderson, fell into two halves. The domus was at Malden in Surrey, where lived the custos or warden of the property, certain brethren of the foundation, and the ministers of the altar; but the congregatio or societas of the scholars was at Oxford. Once in the year some of the scholars visited the Surrey domus, for on every recurring feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, eight or ten of the older and more discreet of the scholars were to come to the house at Malden, to inquire into the administration of the estates by the warden. If the scholars thought that the warden had failed to guard the property as though it was his own, they could appeal to the Bishop of Winchester. The election of the warden rested with the twelve senior of the twenty scholars.

When Walter de Merton published his second code of statutes in 1270, the domus at Malden still existed. The Malden house had its warden then elected by the thirteen senior scholars with the advice of the brethren (seu œconomi), who resided there and helped in the administration; its other inmates were the chaplains or ministers of the altar, then described as three or four, and the young scholars, parvuli, waiting for their promotion to Oxford. The senior member of the congregation of scholars at Oxford still annually visited Malden in July for administrative and audit purposes.

The final code of statutes, put forth in 1274, brought to an end the duplicate government of the house of trust and maintenance at Malden and the house of learning and literature at Oxford. The society had at that date property distributed in many parts of England; it was found that it could be administered as well from Oxford as from Surrey, and the Malden establishment came to an end. (fn. 5)


  • 1. Bishop Hobhouse's Life of Walter de Merton (1859), 9.
  • 2. Hobhouse's Life of Walter de Merton, ii. See also Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. vi. 545-9.
  • 3. Manning's Surr. iii. 3, 4.
  • 4. Merton College, by Bernard W. Henderson (1899), 2-5.
  • 5. Brodrick's Memorials of Merton College, 31740; Henderson's Hist. of Merton College, 17-20.