Hospitals: St John the Baptist, Malmesbury

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

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, 'Hospitals: St John the Baptist, Malmesbury', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956) pp. 340-341. British History Online [accessed 26 May 2024].

. "Hospitals: St John the Baptist, Malmesbury", in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956) 340-341. British History Online, accessed May 26, 2024,

. "Hospitals: St John the Baptist, Malmesbury", A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 3, (London, 1956). 340-341. British History Online. Web. 26 May 2024,

In this section


The date of the foundation of this hospital is unknown, but it apparently incorporated an ancient chapel said, according to tradition in 1389, to have been established and endowed by the citizens of Malmesbury in recognition of King Athelstan's charter. (fn. 1) In a late 13th-or early 14thcentury rental of Malmesbury Abbey the hospital of St. John was said to lie in 'Nethwalle', and to pay 2s. 8¾d. for its site, which comprised lands apparently formerly belonging to William Aldune and Thomas Purs and a parcel called De Profundis. (fn. 2) In 1247 the master, brethren, and sisters acquired 2 messuages in Malmesbury from Walter and Emma Bodmin, and received the donors and their heirs into all spiritual benefits of the house. (fn. 3)

In the mid-13th century the Vicar of St. Paul's, Malmesbury, whose parish included the hospital, accused the master and brethren of encroaching upon his rights. Bishop Walter of Salisbury (probably Walter de la Wyle, 1263-71) referred the complaint to his official, Constantine of Mildenhall, and later confirmed Constantine's award: the hospital was to remain subject to the vicar and the members of its unhabited household (familia) were to be in the same position as other parishioners; no parishioner was to be admitted to the sacraments at the hospital; the prior, brethren, and sisters, wearing their habit and 'signs', might worship in their chapel, but they were to pay their oblations and lesser tithes to the church, and 3s. 4d. and ½ pound of wax yearly to the vicar; the priors were to swear in the vicar's presence to observe this award within eight days of institution. (fn. 4)

The king granted the 'chapel' in 1344 to one of his clerks (already incumbent of a church in Dorset), and in 1345 he granted it to Robert of Frome. (fn. 5)

In June 1410 the Bishop of Salisbury gave an indulgence of forty days in favour of the hospital. (fn. 6)

Leland, in 1540-2, found a 'poore hospitale' outside the town on the road to Chippenham; (fn. 7) the chantry commissioners of 1545 and 1547 did not mention any hospitals at Malmesbury. It is recorded that the property was confiscated; that during Elizabeth's reign John and William Marsh of London gave their share to John Stump, who bought the rest from John Herbert and Andrew Palmer of London and transferred the whole to the corporation in 1580 for £26 13s. 4d. (fn. 8) In 1616 a meeting of the borough court was held for the first time at the hospital, where it continued thereafter to meet. (fn. 9)

The hospital existed, as an almshouse, in 1622; in 1623 the aldermen and burgesses accepted responsibility for repairs and maintenance, and in 1629 they allocated individual payments amounting to £20 to a schoolmaster and the 'five poor pepell' at St. John's. (fn. 10) By Letters Patent of 1697 (fn. 11) the 'Hospital or Almshouse' was confirmed to the aldermen and capital burgesses, with a direction to pay £10 to the schoolmaster and £10 to the five poor persons 'according to ancient custom'. Mr. Moffatt wrote in 1805 that the site of the priory was then charged with £20 a year towards the support of a free school and an almshouse, perhaps established in 1629. (fn. 12) The Charity Commissioners found in 1834 that the property had been held from time immemorial by the aldermen and capital burgesses as an almshouse, and in 1904 that six widows of freemen were in residence. (fn. 13) The widows remained in occupation until 1948. (fn. 14)

The Court House, the almshouse, some cottages, and the gasworks lying at the foot of the hill on the road from Malmesbury to Chippenham now occupy the hospital site; and a blocked doorway, of perhaps about 1200, (fn. 15) reset, with a tympanum and lower jambs, survives from the medieval frontage. Above it is an arch of medieval stones framing an inscription which records that in 1694 Michael Weekes gave an additional endowment of £10 a year.


Walter, occurs 1247. (fn. 16)

William of Tauton, appointed 1344, resigned 1345. (fn. 17)

Robert of Frome, appointed 1345. (fn. 18)


  • 1. C 47/46/443; W.A.M. xxix, 122; W.A.M. R. H. Luce, 'St. John's Almshouse, Malmesbury', liii, 119. Athelstan's charter twice confirmed and twice recited was probably itself a forgery: Wilts. Borough Records (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), 29.
  • 2. Reg. Malmesburiense (Rolls Ser.), i, 119.
  • 3. CP 25(1) 251/15/42.
  • 4. Reg. Malm. (Rolls Ser.), ii, 75–78. The document is followed in the register by one dated 1261. Constantine was a member of the chapter in 1271, and apparently Archdeacon of Sudbury in 1268 and 1273: John Le Neve and T. D. Hardy, Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae, ii, 490. His name does not appear in Fasti Eccl. Sar. ed. Jones.
  • 5. Cal. Pat. 1343–5, 214, 259, 476.
  • 6. W.A.M. xxxviii, 31.
  • 7. Leland, Itin. ed. L. Toulmin Smith, i, 133.
  • 8. J. M. Moffatt, History of Malmesbury, 122.
  • 9. W.A.M. liii, 123.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. C 66/3382/11.
  • 12. Moffatt, Hist. of Malmesbury, 122.
  • 13. Endowed Char. Wilts. H.C. 273, pp. 672, 683 (1908), lxxx.
  • 14. Ex inf. High Steward's office; cf. W.A.M. liii, 124.
  • 15. Checked with Min. of Works (Anc. Mon. Dept.). The doorway was illustrated by Canon Jackson in 1854 (W.A.M. i, 142) and by R. H. Luce (W.A.M. liii, 120), who suggests a date about 1185.
  • 16. CP 25(1) 251/15/42.
  • 17. Cal. Pat. 1343–5, 259, 476.
  • 18. Ibid. 476.