Hospitals: Holy Cross, Stratford-on-Avon

Pages 113-115

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The manor of Stratford belonged to the bishops of Worcester from the days of Bishop Egwin to those of Edward VI. Licence was granted in 1269 by Bishop Giffard to the master and fraternity of the hospital of the Holy Cross of Stratford-upon-Avon to elect one of their number to administer the goods and alms of the faithful to the use of the poor of the said fraternity, and of other indigent persons of the town. At the same time the bishop directed a letter to his bailiffs of Stratford, stating that he had specially licensed the building in the town of a hospital in honour of the Holy Cross, the defence of which pertained to him as diocesan and patron, he therefore commanded the bailiffs to maintain, protect, and defend the hospital and its possessions whenever required by the master to do so. (fn. 1)

The register of Bishop Polton in the fifteenth century affords further information as to the founding of this hospital. It therein appears that Robert de Stratford and fifteen of the fraternity of the Holy Cross—a gild that was evidently in active operation some time before this application—petitioned the bishop in 1269 for leave to found a hospital and erect a chapel. The bishop consented, and appointed Robert de Stratford the first master, and appointed that the master and brethren should follow the rule and habit of St. Austin. (fn. 2)

The next year the bishop issued a licence to the brethren to collect alms throughout the diocese for the hospital, promising a remission or indulgence of forty days' enjoined penance to all penitents who should contribute. This document, addressed to the clergy and officials of his diocese, is of value as showing that the primary object of this hospital was the support of poor priests who were ordained by bishops of Worcester, without any certain title, and after that of other indigent persons. (fn. 3)

On 12 November, 1331, Edward III confirmed to the brothers and sisters of the fraternity of the gild of the Holy Cross a number of grants in mortmain of small rents in Stratford, the gift of a variety of private benefactors. (fn. 4) In 1359 Thomas de Otyngton granted to Thomas Mollyng, John Lucy, and the brethren of the gild a shop in Stratford. The deed is witnessed by John Wytsmith, then bailiff, and by the two 'cache-polls' of the town. (fn. 5)

Certain houses and lands in Stratford of the yearly value of 6 marks were granted by one Richard Fille to the fraternity at the beginning of the reign of Richard II, but no licence having been obtained for their alienation in mortmain, they were in 1383 forfeited to the crown. (fn. 6)

Among the gild returns of January, 1389, in the Public Record Office, is the full and interesting one made by Nicholas Sumer and Walter Golde, then wardens of this gild. They reported that the gild was begun at a time beyond the memory of man: that there are two wardens who manage and collect the rents, render an annual account, and see that the ordinances are kept; that the wardens are chosen by the members and hold office as long as the gild thinks fit; that many houses and rents pertain to the gild, the holding of which had been recently confirmed by a charter of Edward III; that each brother or sister pays 4d. a year; that out of these payments a great wax taper is made and kept alight in the church daily at every mass before the Blessed Cross; that on the death of any gild member the great wax taper and four smaller ones are kept alight before the body and carried to church, and afterwards set before the Cross; that the brethren, under pain of a halfpenny fine, follow every funeral of a gild member; that if any poor man dies, whether of the town or a stranger, without means to pay for a light before his body, the brothers and sisters find four tapers, a sheet, and a hearse cloth; that each member pays twopence a year for a feast at Easter for the purpose of cherishing brotherly love and peace; that every brother and sister brings to the feast a great tankard, which tankards are filled with ale and given to the poor; that before the ale is given to the poor, or the feast touched that is in the hall, all put up their prayers that God and the Blessed Virgin and the much to be reverenced Cross will keep them from all ills and sins; that only those of good behaviour are permitted to be gild members; that when a member dies, the officer summons a third part of the brethren, who watch near the body and pray for his soul throughout the night; that the affairs of the gild are managed by two aldermen and six assistants chosen by the members, absence from a meeting of this council being subject to a fine of 4d.; that anyone bringing a guest to the feast without leave of the steward incurs a halfpenny fine; that if any brother or sister has been robbed or fallen into poverty, then so long as he bears himself well and rightly towards the members, they find him in food and clothing, and what else he may need. (fn. 7)

Henry IV, on 8 June, 1403, granted letters patent to Thomas Aldebury, clerk, Nicholas Sumer, junr., and Thomas Compton and the brethren and sisters of the gild confirming previous grants, and licensing them to begin a new fraternity to the honour of the Holy Cross, Our Lady, and St. John Baptist, and to provide two priests to celebrate in their chapel. They were further empowered to choose eight aldermen out of the fraternity, who were to have the power of electing a master and two proctors to manage their lands and revenues.

Disputes having arisen between the master of the hospital or gild and the warden of the college, Bishop Polton determined the same by an ordination dated 27 September, 1430. It was then determined that the fraternity of the Holy Cross should pay the tithes of their gardens, orchards, and lands to the collegiate church, as well as all oblations; that, at the four great feasts, the master and chaplains and all the members were to attend the services at the collegiate church; and, further, in token of their subjection, they were to pay yearly to the college the sum of 4s. at the feast of the dedication. (fn. 8)

Hugh Clopton, of Clopton, a hamlet of this parish, a wealthy mercer of London, and Lord Mayor in 1492, was a great benefactor to Stratford-on-Avon. He began to rebuild or enlarge the chapel of this gild on a beautiful scale. By his will dated 12 September, 1496, he directed his executors to complete the gild chapel of the Holy Cross, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. On the north side of the chapel was a fair house of brick and timber, built by Hugh Clopton, where he ended his days. Hard by was the almshouse where the fraternity, mindful of the early charge of Bishop Giffard's hospital, maintained ten poor persons. (fn. 9)

Soon after the revision and re-establishment of this gild by Henry IV, a register was begun for the enrolment of members, and for the entry of the gild ordinances and expenses. This most interesting volume extends from 1406 to 1535. (fn. 10) The payments to the gild, or fines on admission, were of much diversity; when made in money the fine varied from 20d. to 20s. As at Knowle and other large gilds whose records are known, it was customary for surviving relatives or friends to enter the names of the deceased persons to secure the gild prayers. In 1531 six deceased persons, all the children of John Whityngton of Stratford, were enrolled for the sum of 10s. When Thomas Decon, of Stamford, pewterer, died, seven pewter dishes and seven pewter saucers were given to the gild for his admission. The members all wore a livery hood on special occasions, particularly at their annual feast.

A large number of the members compounded for their admission fine by payment in kind. In 1414 John Overton, cook, of Warwick, and his wife were received into the gild, on consideration of his being cook at the yearly feast during his life, taking nothing of the gild but his hood and expenses on coming for the gild's service. Two years later John Prynce of Warwick, master cook of the household of the earl of Warwick, and his wife were admitted in a like fashion, on his promise to be always ready to give his counsel and assistance at the common feast. John Smytht was admitted in 1415, on a promise to make a clock for the gild and keep it in order for four years without any wage; In 1426 one John Sturge gave for admittance four cart-loads of plaster of Paris and six days' labour. John Uske, the warrener of Warwick, was admitted in the same year on a promise to furnish eight couple of rabbits yearly. Some Bristol merchants were made members in 1449 on presenting a hogshead of red wine. Others gave as entrance fines silver plate, vestments, and various other goods. The most complex admission payment was that of John Porter in 1416; he handed over to the fraternity a great pot for frumetty, a broad dish of 'mascolyn,'one basin, one 'bord-cloth, and one towayle.'

An entry of 1426 helps to prove that the original foundation of the hospital of the Holy Cross for the poor was not forgotten, Thomas and Alice Elmys, of Berston, were at that date admitted; but, inasmuch as they were weak and infirm, it was agreed that they should occupy one of the almshouses as long as they lived, and that after their death all their goods should belong to the gild.

The revised constitutions and ordinances of the gild, as set forth in 1443, provided, inter alia, for four daily masses at the hours of six, seven, eight, and nine; the priests were to have a common table, and to be in their chambers by seven o'clock in the evening in winter, and eight in summer; the priests to attend the parish collegiate church at the four principal feasts in copes in the procession, and in surplices in quire, 'savynge that on pryst abydyth at home to do dyvyne servyce to the pore pepull and impotent'; and all the brethren and sisters with the priests and cross and banner were to fetch the master to church from his house in procession on the feast day 'yef the wedir wol schape.'

The most eminent member of the gild in point of rank was George, duke of Clarence, the king's brother, who was admitted in 1477, together with Isabel his wife, Edward, earl of Warwick, his son, and Margaret their daughter, for which they paid a fine of 5 marks. Among those who joined in 1479 were Robert Pate, prior of Worcester, Sir Thomas Littleton, the celebrated author of the Tenures, and the prior of Studley. In 1518 the abbot of Evesham and the prior of Alcester became members, and in 1522 Thomas Skirvington, bishop of Bangor.

The commissioners for gilds and colleges in their survey of 1546 gave the full annual value as £51 19s. 8¾d. They reported that:—

The gelde was founded by kyng Henry the iiiith, by the name of a Mr. ii proctors, and one alderman, and to elect as many prests as the revenues of the same wyll extend unto; and there be at thys present tyme V prests, whereof one, a Scolemaster of Grammar and celebratyng dyvyne Servyce within a Chappell stondyng in the mydds of the same towne for the great quyetnes and comfort of all the Parisyoners there, for that the parysshe churche stondythe oute of the same towne dystante from the moste parte of the seyde parysshe halffe a myle and more, and in tyme of syknesse as the plague and suche lyke dysseses doth chaunce within the seyde towne, then all such infectyne persons, with many other impotent and pore people, dothe to the syd Chappell resorte for there dyvyne servyce. And in the same towne there ys a Market wekely kepte and havyng in yt aboute M.D. houselyng peoples together with vii lyttyll hamlets thereto belongyng and whyche hathe no other resort but only to the same chapell and Parysshe Churche. (fn. 11)


  • 1. Giffard's Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 36.
  • 2. Worc. Epis. Reg. Polton, fol. 149.
  • 3. In 1838 Mr. J. G. Nichols published a set of plates illustrative of the remarkable wall paintings of the Gild Chapel, uncovered by Mr. Fisher in 1808. This fine folio volume also included many facsimile plates of the early documents and register of the gild, including one of this indulgence of 1270.
  • 4. Pat. 5 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 12.
  • 5. Nichols, op. cit. pl. 1.
  • 6. Pat. 7 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 23.
  • 7. Toulmin Smith, English Gilds (1870), 212-19.
  • 8. Worc. Epis. Reg. Polton, fol. 149b.
  • 9. Leland, Itin. iv, fol. 167.
  • 10. In addition to the large number of extracts reproduced in Mr. Nichols's work of 1838, Mr. T. Fisher contributed two articles on this register to the Gent. Mag. which appeared in Feb. and April, 1835. This register is now in the possession of the Corporation of Stratford.
  • 11. Chant. Cert. Warw. No. 45.