Hospitals: St John and St Katherine, Heytesbury

Pages 337-340

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1956.

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The hospital at Heytesbury was founded in 1472 by Margaret, the widow of the 2nd Lord Hungerford, (fn. 1) in accordance, as she said, with the wishes of her father-in-law, Walter, Lord Hungerford, who had built an almshouse and a house for a schoolmaster there. (fn. 2) This foundation, which has remained substantially unchanged until the present day, was designed to consist of a chaplain, known as the warden, or custos, twelve poor men, and one woman. Its constitution was elaborated in 48 statutes dated 20 February 1472. (fn. 3) After the death of the foundress, the custos was to be appointed, as he still is, by the Chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral. He could, however, be removed by the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury if he misbehaved or failed to observe the statutes of the hospital. On admission he had to take an oath to observe these statutes, and he also had to make an inventory of the goods of the house. His duties included the administration of the hospital, the celebration of divine service both there and in the parish church of Heytesbury, daily 'when he is disposed', prayers for various members and retainers of the Hungerford family, and teaching grammar to the poor children of Heytesbury. He was not permitted to hold any other benefice, or to be absent from Heytesbury for more than a month at any one time.

In selecting the poor men, servants or tenants of the Hungerford family were to be preferred. No married man was to be admitted. The poor men and the woman were to live a common life in the almshouse and not to go away without permission. They had to pray daily for their benefactors, and if they did not know the prayers these must be taught them. If they had any goods when they entered the house, half of these were taken for the use of the house, and if at any time their income should exceed 4 marks yearly they were to be excluded. The woman had to look after them all, to do the washing, and to care for the poor men when they were sick. All were to be given two pairs of hose, two pairs of shoes, and two shirts each year. Every second or third year they were also to receive gowns and hoods of white woollen cloth with 'Jhu. Xrt' in black letters on the breast and on the shoulders. There was a weekly allowance for commons, varying with the price of wheat, and the woman was also to have 5s. a year to buy a kirtle and 13s. 4d. for her labours.

The hospital had a common chest for its money and records, and a common seal. Another chest in the parish church held its books. The original endowment consisted of the manors of Cheverell Burnell and Cheverell Hales (Great Cheverell), with 20 cartloads of wood yearly from Southleigh. (fn. 4) The steward of the manor of Heytesbury had to oversee the lands of the house, to hold two courts a year, and to pay the profits to the custos, who was to keep accounts of his expenditure. In addition to providing for the upkeep and commons of the hospital and for the issues of clothing detailed above, he took £5 for himself and made certain payments to Salisbury Cathedral. The Dean of Salisbury was requested to carry out an annual visitation of the hospital, either in person or by his commissary. Although St. Katharine was named in the foundation deed, the hospital was generally known as St. John's until the 18th century, when both dedications were occasionally used. (fn. 5)

Two accounts of the custos for the years 1498-9 and 1503-4 (fn. 6) show that for these years at least these rules were substantially observed. The visitation was duly made and an annual fee of 6s. 8d. was paid to the dean. The gross revenue of the hospital appears to have been £60 in the former year and £51 in the latter. Out of this £51 the custos spent £18 8s. 7½d. on food for the hospital, £3 11s. 9d. on necessaries, including a barber for the poor men, their offerings in church, and candles; £1 14s. 5d. on repairs, 12s. 6d. on the obit of the founder, £1 for the wages of the matron and washerwoman, £1 3s. 10d. for the steward's salary, and £11 for his own, as well as £1 on the tomb of Robert Hungerford in the cathedral at Salisbury.

Thirty years later, in 1534, the custos was Robert Balfront and the revenue of the house was £40 18s. gross, or £37 11s. 4d. net, (fn. 7) but in 1545 it was slightly higher. In none of these years, apparently, were there any schoolmasters or scholars. (fn. 8) In 1545 the manor of Cheverell Hales, which was the principal holding of the hospital, was leased by the Crown to Walter Earle for 21 years; (fn. 9) but three years later it was reported that the revenue of the hospital, amounting to £42, was being taken by William Sharington, 'by what auctoryte we knowe not'. (fn. 10) Sir William Sharington still held it when he died in 1557. The old constitution of the hospital was then re-established at the instance of Cardinal Pole. (fn. 11) John Lybbe was appointed custos. Thus re-established the hospital has since continued without interruption. In 1592 Christopher Dugdale, then custos, accounted for £66 18s. 7d. as the total annual revenue. By this time there was also a separate schoolmaster, John Wigglesworth, who received £10 a year for performing the custos's teaching duties. (fn. 12) The same two men were still in office in 1607 when a commission inquired into the conduct of the charity. The custos had then received £597 during the preceding ten years, and had spent £85 of this in law charges in defending the hospital against Sir Walter Hungerford and others. The Dean of Salisbury had carried out his visitation three times during the ten years, and such of the original statutes as were still applicable seem to have been regularly kept. (fn. 13)

Probably as a result of this inquiry the hospital was reincorporated in 1610 by a charter of James I. (fn. 14) The general outline of the original constitution was maintained, and the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury were empowered to draw up new statutes. Besides the two manors already mentioned, property in Upton Scudamore, Calne, Stockley, and Warminster was confirmed to the hospital. However, it was not apparently until 1633 that the dean and chapter carried out this task. Apart from the modification of the religious duties of the custos and the poor men consequent upon the reformation of the English church, very little change was made. At this time there was a separate school-house, and the separate existence of the schoolmaster was formally recognized, his salary being raised to £15 a year. He was also empowered to act as sub-custos if the custos should prefer to live away. Thus provision was made for an absentee custos, which became the normal practice in the 18th century. The appointment of schoolmaster lapsed because the demand for instruction in Latin grammar had ceased, but the office of sub-custos went on. The poor men were still selected as before by the lord of the manor of Heytesbury or his steward, preference being given to servants of the Hungerfords, and one in four being normally selected from the parish of Great Cheverell. No man was admitted unless he could say the Lord's prayer. (fn. 15) A dispute in 1669 between the lord of the manor of Heytesbury and the custos led to a suit in Chancery whereby the constitution of the hospital was slightly modified; the custos must henceforth render annual accounts to the steward of Heytesbury manor, who was also steward of the hospital. He in turn rendered accounts to the Dean of Salisbury, without whose consent surplus funds might not be used. (fn. 16) The manor of Great Cheverell was retained by the hospital until 1863, and the customary court of the manor continued to be held in the name of 'the keeper, poor men and woman of the almshouses of Walter and Robert, his son, late lords of Hungerford and of Heytesbury'. (fn. 17) In 1768 and some later years an assistant to the woman was employed at a wage of 2s. per week, and in 1777 2s. 6d. was spent on making the woman's gown. About 1769 the hospital and other buildings in Heytesbury were burnt down, the eight poor men then resident were paid £2 12s. 2d. for the losses which they sustained, (fn. 18) and the present building, which forms three sides of a square two stories high, was then erected. Later additions have been made at the back. There is a common or diningroom, kitchen, and chapel, whilst each poor man has his own bedroom upstairs, and one wing provides a house for the custos.

Towards the end of the 18th century the cartloads of wood which had been drawn from Southleigh for over 300 years were converted into an annual rent of £14. (fn. 19) From 1795 the subcustos was David Williams, who became custos in 1812 (fn. 20) and continued in the office until 1836. The duties which he performed were 'to receive and pay all sums due to and from the hospital, to keep the accounts, fix the annual fines due to the hospital, read prayers in the chapel on Wednesdays and Fridays, maintain the buildings, provide necessaries for the almspeople, and pay the allowances determined by the trustees'. By this time the schoolmaster had long disappeared. The uniform had changed from the original white to the scarlet cloak, with a badge of I.H.S. in blue letters, which is still worn on formal occasions. The income was found by the Charity Commissioners in 1832 to be £1,372 17s. 8d., whilst the expenditure was only £565 9s. 8d. In 1903 these figures had risen to £2,354 4s. 6d. and £1,821 respectively. Additional property was bought and investments were made from time to time with the surplus of past years. (fn. 21)

The present constitution of the hospital was drawn up in 1857, (fn. 22) and modified in 1880 and 1895. The charity is now governed by a body of eight trustees, including the lord of the manor, the Chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral, the custos, and the two churchwardens of Heytesbury. The other three members, Wiltshire residents, are co-opted when a vacancy occurs, but must be approved by the Charity Commissioners. They are empowered to make money grants in place of the old issues of clothing, and if there is a surplus of income to maintain additional persons, and to pay pensions to people residing outside the hospital. One of the poor men may be paid to act as porter, and they may also employ a clerk and a receiver, and, since 1895, a nurse. Otherwise the old arrangements persist. The custos is now required to reside, and to read prayers in the chapel each morning. He must take two services each Sunday in the chapel, if he is required so to do by the Dean of Salisbury, unless he is also the Vicar of Heytesbury. For the office of custos has at times during the last 150 years been combined with that of vicar, but the custos of 1954, who has held the office since 1937, does not hold the living of Heytesbury. He is a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral. In 1903 the poor men were each allowed 1 lb. of meat per day, 8 lb. of bread per week, 1½ pints of beer a day, and 2s. 6d. per week for other food, apart from vegetables, which they were expected to grow in their own garden. The allowance of bread and meat was found to be excessive, with the result that they gave some away, or sold it outside. In 1954 the number of poor men had fallen to three, and the future of the hospital was under discussion.

The Custos of Heytesbury Hospital

Robert Stephens, appointed 1472. (fn. 23)

John Lucas, occurs 1498-9. (fn. 24)

William Ravyn, occurs 1503-4. (fn. 25)

Robert Balfront, occurs 1534. (fn. 26)

John Lybbe, appointed 1557. (fn. 27)

Richard Chaundler, appointed 1559, (fn. 28) occurs to 1582. (fn. 29)

Christopher Dugdale, appointed 1582, (fn. 28) occurs to 1607. (fn. 29)

Thomas Hyde, appointed 1609. (fn. 28)

John Barnston, appointed 1609 (fn. 28), occurs to 1644. (fn. 29)

Thomas Mason, appointed 1646. (fn. 28)

Horatius Franklyn, occurs from 1648 to 1655. (fn. 31)

James Hely, occurs 1660. (fn. 31)

Thomas Hill, appointed 1660, (fn. 30) occurs to 1671. (fn. 31)

Richard Watson, appointed 1671, (fn. 30) occurs to 1679. (fn. 31)

Joseph Kelsey, occurs from 1687 to 1709. (fn. 31)

Richard Adams, appointed 1710, (fn. 30) occurs to 1734. (fn. 31)

John Talman, appointed 1736. (fn. 30)

Caleb Calton, appointed 1737. (fn. 30)

Walter Kerrish, appointed 1785. (fn. 30)

Thomas Eyre, died 1812. (fn. 30)

David Williams, occurs from 1812 to 1836. (fn. 32)

John Knight, appointed 1836, died 1883. (fn. 33)

W. J. Swayne, appointed 1883, died 1911. (fn. 34)

A. D. Clutsom, appointed 1911, died 1937. (fn. 34)

R. E. P. Gorringe, appointed 1937. (fn. 34)

The Sub-Custos

John Wigglesworth (schoolmaster), occurs 1592 and 1607. (fn. 35)

Anthony de la Court, occurs from 1660 to 1664. (fn. 35)

Henry Gough (schoolmaster), occurs 1664. (fn. 35)

Robert Hearne, occurs 1695. (fn. 35)

Mary Kelsey, renders accounts Mich. 1709 to Mich 1710. (fn. 36)

Abraham Clavey, died 1765. (fn. 35)

Henry Williams (deputy-keeper), occurs from 1789, died 1795. (fn. 35)

David Williams, occurs from 1795 to 1812. (fn. 35)

A much damaged seal, unattached to any document, is among the hospital deeds at the Wiltshire County Record Office. (fn. 37) This is illustrated by Hoare, (fn. 38) who identifies it as the seal used after 1633. It is a pointed oval and shows St. Katharine beneath a canopy holding in her right hand a sword and in her left a wheel. Above the canopy are the letters I.H.S. The legend reads:


Hoare also illustrates a seal used by the hospital before 1633. (fn. 39) This is an oval bearing a cross paty and the legend:



  • 1. Cal. Pat. 1467–77, 306. The Records of Heytesbury Hosp. (W.R.O. acc. no. 251) were not received by the W.R.O. soon enough for them to be used more than superficially here. They comprise annual accounts (1572–1834); weekly housekeeping accounts (1561–1686 and 1765–95); estate records and deeds, including the foundation deeds, 1472, and the will of Lady Margaret Hungerford, 1476.
  • 2. In her will: Dugd. Baronage, iii, 207–10; Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Heytesbury Hund. 102.
  • 3. J. E. Jackson, 'Ancient Statutes of Heytesbury Almshouse', W.A.M. xi, 289–308.
  • 4. Cal. Pat. 1467–77, 306.
  • 5. R. M. Clay, Med. Hospitals of Engl. 270; Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Heytesbury Hund. 127, 130.
  • 6. SC 6/Hen. VII/1697–8.
  • 7. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 103.
  • 8. E 301/56/8 and 59/8.
  • 9. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xx, (i), p. 299.
  • 10. E 301/58/88.
  • 11. Sar. Reg. Capon, f. 76.
  • 12. W.A.M. xliv, 257–9.
  • 13. Salisbury Cath. Mun. Collections.
  • 14. C 66/1808, m. 4, quoted in Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Heytesbury Hund. 134–42.
  • 15. Endowed Char. Wilts. H.C. 225, pp. 741–4 (1834), xxi.
  • 16. Ibid. p. 744.
  • 17. W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Gt. Cheverell Court Bks.
  • 18. W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Acct. Bk. 1765–95.
  • 19. Endowed Char. Wilts. H.C. 225, p. 745 (1834), xxi.
  • 20. W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Annual Accts.
  • 21. Endowed Char. Wilts. H.C. 225, pp. 739–55 (1834) xxi; ibid. H.C. 267, pp. 500–33 (1903), xlviii. These reports give full details of the hospital's property at different dates.
  • 22. Rules and Regulations approved by the Court of Chancery, 1857, quoted in Endowed Char. Wilts. H.C. 267, p. 523 (1903), xlviii.
  • 23. Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Heytesbury Hund. 131.
  • 24. SC 6/Hen. VII/1697.
  • 25. SC 6/Hen. VII/1698.
  • 26. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), ii, 103.
  • 27. Phillipps, Wilts. Inst. i, 219.
  • 28. Hoare, op. cit. 276.
  • 29. W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Annual Accts.
  • 30. Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Heytesbury Hund. 276.
  • 31. W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Annual Accts.
  • 32. Endowed Char. Wilts. H.C. 225, p. 745 (1834), xxi; W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Annual Accts. He had been sub-custos at least since 1795.
  • 33. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, 1751–1900.
  • 34. Clergy Lists, and Crockford.
  • 35. W.A.M. xliv, 257–9; Salisbury Cath. Mun. Collections; W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Annual Accts.
  • 36. W.R.O., Heytesbury Hosp. Quarterly Accts.
  • 37. Ibid. She was possibly the widow of Joseph Kelsey.
  • 38. See first note of this article.
  • 39. Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Heytesbury Hund. 128.
  • 40. Ibid.