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This article is from "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford" by Norman Hidden, 2009.

The Blessed Virgin Mary Chantry in Hungerford.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries there were two chantries in Hungerford, both located within the parish church of St. Lawrence. One was the chantry of the Holy Trinity, founded in 1325 by Sir Robert Hungerford. He provided for one chaplain to pray ‘for the souls of Robert and Geva his wife, their ancestors, and all the faithful departed’. Despite the inclusion of prayers for ‘all the faithful departed - a sine qua non required by the church - the Holy Trinity chantry at heart was a private memorial to the glory of the Hungerford family, sustained by income from the estates granted to it by that family.

In 1457 a licence was granted for the foundation in the parish church at Hungerford of the chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The licence reveals that the new chantry had very different origins and objectives from those of the Holy Trinity [1]. An abstract of the grant is as follows:- ‘1457 March 18 Westminster. Licence to John Norrys esquire, Cecily, late the wife of Thomas Dyne, John Tukhill and William Horshill burgesses of Hungerford, County Berks, to found in honour of the Virgin Mary & St. Lawrence a chantry of one chaplain to celebrate divine service daily at the altar of St. Mary the Virgin in the Church of St. Lawrence, Hungerford, for the good estate of the king & queen Margaret and the founders and other burgesses of Hungerford and for their souls after death and the soul of the said Thomas, to be called the chantry of the burgesses of Hungerford and the Chaplain to be capable of pleading and of being impleaded in any court and of acquiring possessions’. Licence also for the chaplain to acquire in mortmain lands, rents and other possessions not held in chief to the value of 12 marks a year.

The king is Henry VI and ‘the said Thomas’ is Thomas Dyne. The printed version of the Calendar of Patent Rolls in fact refers throughout to Thomas Dyve, but this is a mistranscription from the original document (v and n being particularly difficult to distinguish in manuscripts of this period). There is one further point which also needs explanation. The Victoria County History of Berkshire suggests that this chantry may have been a re-foundation of a former chantry of St. Mary, ‘as only one chantry of that dedication appears afterwards [2]’. This is indeed the case, and more solid evidence for its being a re -foundation exists than the Victoria County History was at that time able to adduce. The original chantry of St. Mary was of ancient foundation, and as no licence for it exists neither the date nor the details of its foundation are known. Certainly it must have been founded before Edward I’s Statute of Mortmain came into effect in 1279 which required a royal licence for lands to be alienated to religious uses. The Victoria County History of Berkshire gives as its earliest reference a date ‘early in the 14th century’ when John Barfot made a grant for celebration of mass in the chapel of St. Mary. In fact, there is an even earlier reference in an ancient deed dated 1273 which mentions John Blundel, chaplain of the Blessed Mary of Hungerford [3].

That the chantry was well supported in this early period is attested by two grants in frankalmoign which may be approximately dated late 13th century4. In one John Barefot granted to the chantry of St. Mary one half burgage in Hungerford; in the other Ralph de Waleton granted to Sir Peter, the perpetual curate of St. Mary’s, and his successors, one croft of land in Stocken Street in Hungerford. In 1329 a grant was made by Philip, ‘chaplain of the Blessed Mary of Hungerford’ in which he released to Peter Molton all his right in a messuage in Hungerford, presumably one of the chantry’s earlier holdings [5].

In 1405 the chaplain was William Golding and during Golding’s term of office it becomes apparent that a serious decline of standards had set in. Golding had been appointed chaplain of North Standen chapel in 1372 by John of Gaunt; he was also prior of St. John’s hospital in Hungerford, another appointment in the gift of the Duke of Lancaster; and in 1406 the manor of Hungerford which belonged to the Crown was leased to him by King Henry IV. Golding was a figure of much controversy within the parish. He was repeatedly accused of adultery or fornication and clearly clashed with the local vicar, Robert Napper [6]. A new chaplain was appointed to replace him in 1409; this was John Botiler who had previously (1406) been chaplain of the chapel in South Standen; and he was still chaplain on Dean Chandler’s Visitation in 1412. A survey at that time of the  chapel’s ‘ornaments’ recorded in the Register shows that it possessed a bare minimum, viz. a silver chalice, one missal, one pair of vestments coloured red and impressed with gilt whirls, which was in a ‘worn’ condition [7].

At some date after this, local townsmen seem to have intervened, for the chantry of St. Mary is known to have been functioning as late as 1438 with John Farthingale, (called St. Mary priest) as chaplain and - most importantly - with three named stewards to oversee the chantry’s rents [8]. These stewards - Thomas Dyne, William Horshill, and Richard Boucher - were neither gentry nor clerics, but prominent and influential men of the tradesman class. The continuing state of instability and social decadence experienced by such men during these years could only have given impetus to the idea of a local organisation controlled more by townsmen and less by either manorial lord (the Duke of Lancaster) or by bishop. What was needed for this re-formation in particular was a source of substantial funding. The occasion which made it possible was a gift
of lands, messuages and tenements made by Thomas Dyne.

Dyne had inherited lands from his father in the town and fields of Hungerford, as well as in neighbouring areas such as Sandon, Inkpen and le Hulle. In one document of the period he is described as ‘draper’ and in a later one as ‘gentleman’. Dyne’s father was also named Thomas, and it is probable that the earlier reference to Thomas Dyne draper may have been to the father; and the later reference to the son, who inherited the business as well as the lands. In those days a role as draper was considerably greater than owning a small retail shop. Any and almost every activity of the cloth industry, retail and wholesale and entrepreneurial, might be involved. In addition, in small towns especially, the only source of loans for the small man tended to be the larger local business men; substantial townsmen therefore tended to become mortgagors and financiers to those whose characters and circumstances they knew well, on the security of land and property which they also knew well.

In January 1454/5, a few months before his death, Thomas Dyne with two of his fellow stewards of the original chantry of St. Mary made a grant of enfeoffment of all the lands, messuages and tenements which the grantors held in Hungerford, Sandon and CharIton to a new set of feoffees, with an impressive list of local dignitaries as witnesses. All this suggests that a new foundation was being prepared in which the objects of the chantry were to be differently defined and in which the burgesses of Hungerford were to play a leading role, in particular the town’s officials superceding the older chantry’s stewards. In this way it may have been hoped that greater continuity of control might be exercised and greater certainty as to ownership of the chantry lands maintained. There is no doubt that the foundation of a ‘chantry of the burgesses’ was part of a growing municipal spirit, itself the reflection of a growing prosperity.

Although the 1454/5 grant of enfeoffment did not specify details of the lands, messuages and tenements thus transferred it is possible to piece together the chantry possessions in the town of Hungerford and the fee of Sandon from a rental which was taken circa 1470 [9]. In the town these were one burgage, five separate half burgages, three separate part-burgages, and certain other part-burgages which seem to have been grouped together to make about 1¼ burgages; and in Sandon Fee an indeterminate but probably extensive area of land. Of these, one burgage, two separate half burgages, and that group of part-burgages which totalled approximately 1¼ burgages, together with the land in Sandon Fee were described as 'lately Thomas Dyne’s'. It may be presumed that the remainder of the chantry holdings detailed in the rental derived from the original foundation.

The list of chantry holdings is not complete because the rental does not cover lands or dwellings outside Hungerford and Sandon Fee; and Dyne is known to have had two messuages in Newbury, which accrued to the chantry [10], as well as lands in Inkpen and la Hulle.

Since the name Dyne died out in Hungerford and district after the death of Thomas, it seems clear that he and his wife Cecily had no children. All the property he had inherited or acquired he made over to the chantry. It is a substantial list and inclines one to reflect on the fact that this foundation, like that of the Holy Trinity chantry in Hungerford, owed its existence to a childless couple. The fact is that those who had children were rarely in a position to make such benefactions; the sense of family was very strong and there was little enough property to spare for other than offspring.

Dyne’s gifts which enriched the chantry, probably trebling its income, necessitated a licence for the alienation of the new lands. At the same time leading townsmen who were also feoffees of the chantry took the opportunity to re-define, in what they would have considered more modern terms, the status and function of the chantry as the ‘chantry of the burgesses’. They also needed to obtain for the chaplain and themselves as stewards of the chantry the right to represent the chantry at law and in the acquisition of possessions. The incorporation of a chantry in this way was a development or deviation from the practice of earlier centuries when chantries were being founded. By 1454, however, the burgesses of Hungerford clearly saw it as a matter of asserting their growing influence. It is interesting to note that they presumably asked for, certainly obtained, a licence for an income of up to £8 p.a. In those days an annual income of £5 was considered a good ‘average’ sum for a chaplain; £8 would have been extremely generous. Presumably, however, where building repair and dilapidation clauses were not part of a property’s lease some chantry income might be needed for this purpose. Also, a sum might be put aside for the furnishings of the chantry itself. The licence cost the burgesses £30, a not insignificant sum in those days [11].

John Phillips was the first chaplain of the new chantry. We know this from a deed of April 1458 granting to him, and to his successors in the chaplaincy, 6 acres of arable land in CharIton. The ‘municipal’ character of the chantry is stressed by the fact that this deed is witnessed by John Tukhill, Constable, and by Richard Lange, bailiff [12]. It is also the first recorded use of the title Constable in relation to the town of Hungerford. One month later a grant of a further 2 acres is made and this time the deed is signed by all three officers, Constable, Reeve and Bailiff [13].

In February 1462/3 there seems to have been a new batch of burgess-feoffees, the two surviving feoffees granting to new feoffees all the lands and tenements which they had held, ‘the gift of Thomas Dyne in the towns and fields of Hungerford, Newbury, Sandon, le Hulle, Ingelode and elsewhere in Berkshire [14]’.

John Phillips was succeeded by Thomas Clydesdale who was in residence as chaplain on the Dean of Salisbury’s Visitation 2 July 1463 [15]. Clydesdale was still incumbent in 1465 as the following quit-claim shows: ‘1465 a.d., 19 June. Richard Abberbury of Newbury, gentleman, son and heir of Katherine Abberbury quit-claims to John Norris, esq., John Toghull, Thomas Toghull, Robert Toghull, John Wernewell, and all the other burgesses of Hungerford and Sir Thomas Clydesdale, priest of Hungerford chantry, and all of the stewards (procurates) of the chantry’. The property comprised two adjacent tenements, with gardens on the west side of Northbrook Street in Newbury. This property was, in fact, a part of Thomas Dyne’s gift, and some residual rights which may have at one time attached to the Abberbury family were here extinguished. The full history of the property may be deduced from deeds H/RTa 18-24 in the Berkshire County Record Office. The phrase ‘all the other burgesses’ once again emphasises that the re-founded chantry is their foundation. Presumably the named burgesses included the town’s officers and certain representative burgesses acting on behalf of ‘the others.’

After this date contemporary records relating to the chantry are scanty. Thomas Clydesdale was still chaplain at the time of the Decanal Visitations of the parish in 1480 and 1485. The 1480 Visitation records that he did not reside ‘super cantaria sua’ (over his chantry), as all his predecessors had done, and he is represented at the Visitation by Sir William Warnwell, another chaplain; in 1485 however he appears in person and presents his letters, which are accepted.

In 1519 Thomas Oxnell was chaplain and was still so in 1532; in 1538 Thomas Southwike was the chantry priest, having for two years been non-resident. He was still chantry priest in 1541, when he demised some of the chantry property in Newbury.

In 1547 an Act was passed by King Edward VI providing for the dissolution of chantries and the confiscation of their lands by the Crown. Eager to receive the assets previously held by these chantries, the Crown hastened to prepare a survey of the possessions of the Hungerford chantries, including those of the Blessed Virgin Mary - the ‘burgesses’ chantry’. The survey of BVM property, taken in 1548, breaks down into 3 components. First, the rental income deriving from the lands of Richard Bridges, Robert Brabant, Will Curre and Thomas Fuller, amounting to 5s.4d. p.a. Secondly, rent from 7½ acres of land held by Richard Booth, together with ten tenements numbered 1 - 10 and the rents for a piece of land in the tenure of Roger Togey and a garden in the tenure of William Cocks. These rents amounted to £4.16.8 p.a. The tenements numbered 1 - 10 are houses or buildings in Hungerford, in some cases accompanied by land in the common fields. The third section of the survey consists of details of three premises let out to farm with rents totalling £4.7.10 p.a. The three sub-totals amount to a sum of £9.9.10 p.a. One batch of the lands let to farm included one burgage and an adjacent cottage, 30 acres of arable land in the fields of Hungerford, Sandon and ‘le Hill’ field, one meadow called ‘Daysfield’ and one barn described as ‘Pyes’ barn. Daysfield may be a corruption of Daysville, derived from the name of the d’Aseville family, one of whom witnessed a chantry deed as far back as 1275.

Similarly, Pye’s barn is a corruption of Preyes barn, deriving its name from the Praye family. Both these plots of land were at the southern extremity of the parish; a parish survey in 1573 mentions ‘a ground called Preyes’ as a boundary marker with the parish of Inkpen at a point between Nether Purres and Anvilles farmhouse. A second, smaller, group of chantry possessions let to farm contained the Dyehouse on the site of a former mill (presumably the fulling mill), together with a meadow called Well Close in Sandon Fee and another meadow called Rack Close. The third item comprised the tenements or messuages in Newbury.

At the dissolution in 1548 the chantry priest was Edward Ransford (Rainsford), about whom nothing further is known except that he appears in the 1552 draft lease of the chantry’s possessions as ‘late chaplain’ and resident of the ‘Chantry House’. Care was taken, it would seem, not to turn the former chaplain out onto the streets, but to pension him off, and it seems clear that Raynsford was provided with some local function to perform which justified his remaining at the Chantry House.

The survey was made by Edmund Twynho and to it was added an instruction by William Paget (later Baron Paget of Beaumont), a principal adviser of the late King Henry VIII and Comptroller of the Royal Household on the accession of Edward VI : ‘Make a lease of the premises to Roger Chaloner for 21 years beginning at Easter 1548, paying yearly at terms usual £9.9s.10d [16]’.

Chaloner’s interest in the B.V.M. chantry was acquired by Robert Brabant, keeper of the Bear Inn in Charnham. Street, an inn already ancient in 1548 and still in existence today. Brabant also acquired the lease of the chantry of the Holy Trinity. When he died, his interest passed to his widow Joan. She married Henry Edes and Edes was granted a 21 year lease from the Duchy of Lancaster dated 8 July 1566 for both the chantries [17]. When Edes died 10 May 1577 his widow Joan then married a third husband, William Curteys, and both leases came to him [18].

It might be thought that the history of the chantry ceased at its dissolution in 1548, but the secularisation of its properties, sold in haste to men keener on profits than on service, led to constant confusion and endless public quarrels for another hundred years or more. The burgesses’ dreams of a more social and perhaps a more equitable use of chantry resources were dissipated during this period in a way which affected the life of the entire community. This may be illustrated by the descent of the former chantry property purchased first by Henry Edes and then, some thirty years post-dissolution, by William Curteys [19].

In Easter 1578 William Curteys laid a Bill of Complaint against Nicholas Passion and others. According to this, Thomas Oxnell, chaplain of the chantry, together with Richard Washington, William Fowler, John Hedache, Richard Batesforde, James Kirton, John Clydesdale and Rafe Harrold, all of whom were feoffees of the chantry, had in 1519 leased to William Lovelake a burgage with a cottage adjacent and 31 acres of land. About 1554 Lovelake’s lease came into possession of Nicholas Passion, a local clothier. According to Curteys, Passion had refused to pay rent for many years and he had allowed the burgage ‘to be ruinous and fall greatly in decay as well for want of timber, tiling, walling, boarding and thatching as also to have pulled down and carried away the boards of the lofts, the portals, doors and glass windows’ at an estimated damage of 40 marks. This dwelling with its adjacent cottage was almost certainly Thomas Dyne’s ¼ burgage, and the quit rent on the lands which accompanied it equals the quit rent on Dyne’s lands in Sandon Fee.

As it is also the largest house of Dyne ’s several possessions it is likely that this had been his place of residence. William Lovelake is known to have died in 1532; his 61 year lease, therefore, must have passed to others, before it came into Passion’s hands, and in a town survey in 1552 the premises are shown to be in the hands of John Aley or a’Ley [20].

A generation later, in 1588, Nicholas Passion‘s son, Edward, and John Curre were at law over the same property. The description of the location of the burgage in this suit enables us to identify it with Thomas Dyne’s. We are also told that the feoffees who granted the lease to Lovelake ‘being burgesses of the said borough of Hungerford by the same indenture under their seals did ratify and confirm the same [21].

Curre argued that the lease to Lovelake was invalid, since none of the grantors were patrons of the chantry, the right of patronage lying elsewhere. In this he may have been confusing the procedure of the B.V.M. chantry with that of the Holy Trinity where, as we have seen, the bishop of Salisbury claimed the right of patronage. Certainly the town survey of 1573 stated that the lease Nicholas Passion held had been ‘confirmed by the ordinary the Patron and incumbent [22]. Curre also claimed that the lease had been determined as a result of the death of Oxnell, presumably the longest surviving feoffee. The point is a good illustration of the weakness of the feoffee system where clear arrangements did not exist for new feoffees to replace those who died, though it must be admitted that in this particular case the dissolution, which occurred in 1548 had put an end to any further function the chantry feoffees may have had.

A further complication which also may have contributed to later generations’ confusion, derives from a bequest to the church by William Warnewell, who was probably the B.V.M. chaplain c.1500. As ‘Sir William’ his name appears in several local wills, along with those of Sir John Sharpe, the Holy Trinity chaplain, and Thomas Whitamer (or Whitemore), the parish priest, either as joint beneficiaries or joint witnesses, a proximity which suggests close and amicable co-operation. Apparently, on his decease Warnewell left certain tenements whose rents were to be administered for the benefit of the church, viz. 40 shillings p.a. for the maintenance of the church itself and 13s.4d. as an obit to be distributed among the poor. In a dispute which followed the dissolution, these tenements were said to belong to ‘the town and church’. The town, however, had no corporation and the earliest references are merely to the ‘church’ lands. Inclusion of the ‘town’ may have come from the close relationship of the town’s officials and the church vestry members, who each year elected a ‘town’ churchwarden as well as a parishioners’ churchwarden. The churchwardens were responsible for collection of the rent and obit. Certainly the benefaction was an unusual one, and prompts the question why Warnewell did not bequeath his property to one of the chantries, especially that of the B V M. of which we suspect he was chaplain. One can believe that his alleged choice of the parish church was dictated by a feeling that church, chantries, and burgesses should no longer be considered distinct entities in the performance of their work. Belief that the burgesses’ chantry was in some way closely connected with Warnewell’s gift may be derived from a curious incident which arose in 1573 when a law suit followed from the loss of certain ‘charters’ (including a copy of Warnewell’s will) which had been in die safekeeping of the town’s officers [23]. One of the two defendants accused of having stolen the charters, John Lovelake, was alleged to have feared that Henry Edes, the fee-farmer of the chantry lands, wished to get his ‘lease’ from him. As Lovelake’s lease was said to have been of one of the ‘church’ tenements, it is difficult to see how this could have occurred, unless Edes had some evidence linking the ‘church’ tenement with one of the chantries. Such circumstances can only add to the general picture of confusion which developed concerning church, chantry and ‘town’ properties in the years following the dissolution.

One might have expected the particulars, or details of the chantry property rents, drafted in 1548, when the Crown acquired the chantry properties, to be definitive. In fact, however, omissions and inconsistencies occur in them, weaknesses which may have arisen from the haste in which the particulars were obtained. Thus, in 1548 the rent of the Chantry House is included among the rents of the chantry of the B V M. and the chantry priest Edward Raynsford has the tenure of the house24. In the town rental of 1552, however, the Chantry House is ascribed to the chantry of the Holy Trinity, and Edward Raynsford, cleric, is tenant of the neighbouring dwelling which belonged to the chantry of the B.V.M. In the 1573 town survey it is described as the ‘Chantry House of Our Lady’, and in later surveys in 1591 and 1609 also it is ascribed to the B.V.M. chantry. One may consider therefore that the 1548 particular was correct and that the entry in the 1552 town survey is an aberration.

A somewhat similar problem is posed by the Cross House. This house was presumably located at the site of the old market cross, itself situated at the crossing in the centre of town of roads running North-South and East-West. It is known that this house, like the town hall, was located in the middle of the street, or market place centre. Since the surveys at this date ran up the east side of the High Street and returned down the west side, the Cross House did not fit into this pattern and there was a tendency for it to be placed differently in different surveys. It is likely that its ground floor consisted of one or more shops for which an individual rent was paid and that the first floor chambers above this ‘shopping arcade’ were rented separately; and it was the resident tenant of these chambers who appeared in the survey. This, however, is conjecture. What we do know is that although the 1470 rental ascribes the Cross House to Holy Trinity Chantry, there is no mention of the Cross House in the 1548 particulars of either chantry. In 1552, it is said to belong to the Holy Trinity chantry, quit rent 1d.; but in 1573 it is ascribed to the B.V.M. chantry quit rent 2d. and this is repeated in 1591.

These two properties Chantry House and Cross House are so distinctive as to be readily identifiable from one survey to the next. Most of the other former chantry tenements have no such peculiar identifying characteristics, other than the name of their tenant, the amount of their quit rent, and their order in the pattern of the survey’s route. The confusion and consequent dissension concerning many of the former chantries’ properties existed not only in relation to their lesseeship but also to the responsibility for obit rentals due from them. In 1573 the Duchy requested a town survey or presentment which paid special attention to such rentals. This inquiry reveals on the one hand the determination of the Duchy officials to obtain the maximum sum from their lands and on the other hand the tendency for these payments to slip away from them over the years.

The survey jurors reported that there was due to Holy Trinity chantry 4 shillings from the tenement of Chok and Langfield in Charnharn Street. This is an item which appeared in the 1548 particulars. It did not appear in the 1552 town survey because it was located not in Hungerford but in Charnham Street. Nevertheless the obit or rental charge was investigated in the 1573 town survey on those properties which lay within the town or in Sandon Fee in order to comply with the Duchy’s specific request. Thus, to give a single instance only, typical of others, Roger Cannon swore to the existence of an obit on the house of the late Francis Elston, now in the hands of Robert Mills (who had married Elston’s widow). The obit consisted of 4 bushels of wheat in 2 obits ‘for the soul of Richard Jennings’. It is clear that this obit was not being collected and could not have been charged for some time.

The great majority of the collecting was undertaken by Henry Edes who not only held the fee-farm of the 2 chantries but seems to have collected on behalf of Sir John Thynne rentals from the also disssolved local priory of St. John, as well as the ‘church’ rents, though in what capacity is not certain. The collector was bound to incur some unpopularity, particularly in such a confused situation, when both the locals and the Duchy officials were unsure of their rights. Some of the hostility shown to Edes may be reflected both in the survey accusation that he had enclosed some acres of Helmes Heath, and in the attempt to smear him made by John Yowle in the latter’s deposition in the ‘missing Charters’ case of that same year where it was alleged that he was trying to get one of the church leases for himself25. In view of Edes collecting all the rents and obits on behalf of all the institutions in the town, the maintenance of the separate identities of these institutions became less and less possible. Nothing is known of any obits due to the St. John’s priory.

What its lands actually comprised was in doubt so that in 1576 a special commission was set up by the crown to find out. Other matters dealt with in the 1573 presentment were:

(1) the existence of a small plot of meadow in Charnham Street (about 1 rood) which belonged to the Holy Trinity Chantry;

(2) ‘a barn decayed that was leased by the chantry priest and the townsmen of Hungerford’. What was the connection of the townsmen with this barn? The reference to the chantry priest, would seem to indicate the ‘townsmen’ to be those ‘burgesses’ who had founded the B.V.M. chantry. This then could be the chantry barn which (rebuilt, no doubt) occurs regularly in quit rent rolls from 1676 onwards and perhaps also the Chantry barn referred to in the will of Vincent Smythe;

(3) a right of way through the lands of George Essex, viz. the manor of Hopgrass or Charleton (which included Charnham Street).

That some gain accrued to the Duchy from this inquiry may be seen from the existence of a grant (10 January 1576) to John and William Mershe of London of various lands claimed to have been previously concealed from the crown and including ‘one in Hungerford, given by Jennyns for an obit and light in Hungerford Church [26]’.

Nevertheless some rentals escaped the Duchy’s net and continued to do so. Nearly a hundred years later, in 1665, Duchy officials were still chasing missing revenue [27]. A special commission was set up in that year to investigate rents due from ‘certain obit lands in Speen and Newbury and who occupieth and possesseth the said obit lands and in whose occupation have they been for these 60 years last past, what yearly rent have you known or heard to be paid out of the said obit lands to the king’s majesty in right of his Duchy of Lancaster?’

In particular, attention was directed to certain lands which the Duchy ascribed to the free chapel of Hungerford and to land in Pidden field formerly occupied by William Butler. Despite questioning witnesses aged 74, 76, 77, 79 and even 82, none could (or would) give any answer, except that they remembered that, about 60 years or so ago, ‘one William Butler hanged himself’ in Pidden Field. The jury accordingly presented ‘we cannot by evidence neither do we know of our own knowledge any yearly rents paid or to be paid out of or for any obit lands.’

It is possible that this unfortunate and unhappy William Butler’s lands may have been among those held by the priory of St. John in Hungerford; but we have no other record of this. Whereas we do have a record of a chantry rent to ‘Butler’ in 1548, and also in 1573 several such rents to a William Butler the elder. The latter died in 1576. The Butler who ‘hanged himself’ may have been William (the younger) who was buried 1611, but the parish register makes no reference to the manner of his end.

The difficulty of distinguishing between lands of the former chantry and those of the former priory, shown in this enquiry, had been present for so many years that one wonders how distinct their possessions had been even before their dissolution. A crown grant in 1576 is supposed to relate to the priory; but in fact the text clearly describes lands leased to Richard Mayle and John Lovelake, the so-called ‘church’ lands which were neither priory nor chantry [28].

A number of factors undoubtedly contributed to the confusion and some of them have already been indicated - the efforts of tenants to escape obits or other ancient charges, loss of documentary evidences such as long-term leases, disappearance or death of local chaplains and feoffees, the fact that for so many years after 1548 the property of both chantries was leased to a single farmer, whether he were Chaloner, Brabant, Edes, or Curteys. In addition there was the continual problem of property decay and collapse or renovation. At the time of the great expropriation in 1548 the chantries had already had notable casualties among their property. When a new draft lease for Henry Edes was being prepared a postscript was added: ‘Memo: there is six of the tenements belonging to the chantries burned, whereof consideration must be had for their new edifying, [and] the reparation of all the rest, because this value standeth much by candle rent, which to be remembered [29]’. Candle rent was a term used to describe rent that was continually decreasing, like a candle which burns itself down. In taking over these properties the Crown had taken upon itself the responsibility for their upkeep, which had formerly been the chantries’. Indeed, the commissioners’ certificate states specifically, in the case of the Holy Trinity, that the sum of the rents is to be employed ‘as well towards the fynding [ = maintenance] of the chauntry priest there as also towards the repairing of the houses to the said chauntry belonging [30]’. In the case of the BVM chantry the sum was stated unambiguously to be employed ‘towards the living of Edward Raynsford, chantry priest there’. What Raynsford’s living was worth thus may have been the sum total of the chantry’s rents; certainly it would not be less than the £6 p.a. pension which he was granted by patent under the seal of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1549 (and was still being paid in 1552).

To have taken over these ‘candle rents’ could have been no great bargain for the Crown. A further note (in another hand) on Henry Edes‘ draft lease instructed ‘make a note of the premises to Henry Edes upon surrender of the former lease for 21 years in consideration that at his only [=own] cost he shall re-edify the houses of late burnt and decayed and that he shall maintain all the reparations of the premises during the said term [31]’.

In 1598 a warrant was issued by the Duchy’s Surveyor of Woods for 40 tons of timber for the repair of the ‘chantry’ properties, to be provided from woods growing in Sandon Fee, Helmes Heath, North Standen, East Garston, and Aldbourne [32]’. It had been reported that the houses of the two former chantries required a hundred tons for ‘they are growen ruinous and in such great decay as that a hundred ton of timber will but suffice ’ for their repair. A certificate listing the requirements of 26 houses and one barn presented only 3 tenements and the barn as not requiring repair. One tenement was said to require as much as 16 tons of timber; the others ranged from 1 ton apiece to 6 tons.

The report noted that ‘the market house is but unsafely repaired and yet better than the rest that are in decay and we estimate this allowance to be with the least that may be given to every tenement’.

In 1602 a jury presented that 20 trees in Sanham Down had been felled, ‘whereof divers of them had been felled for the repairing of the Queen’s Majesty’s chantry houses [33]’. The cost of repairs was always high in proportion to income. Thus in 1552 from the £8.19s.10d collected from the B.V.M. chantry properties a sum of £2.3s.2d was spent on repairing just two of them.

In this situation, involving a need for reparation of the equivalent of a housing estate (including in its total we may suspect the desirable in addition to the necessary) and an attempt by the authority concerned to reduce it not to what may be either desirable or necessary but to what it calculates it can afford, we can see some analogy with contemporary procedures. The existence of a stock of housing, 25% of the total freeholds in the town, held by institutions of one sort or another and let on a variety of terms, short, medium and long term, and in a variety of manners, is also of interest to us today who are familiar with council houses, housing associations, trusts etc. The analogy here, however, really is superficial, for there was no interest on the part of the chantries in providing these houses for the poor or needy nor in reducing their rents according to circumstances. This was not an experiment in the municipalisation of housing. Chantry properties were regarded from the start as revenue producing not as the instruments of social welfare. Only the priory hospital from its foundation and in its earlier years seems to have had a welfare function, and even this became dissipated with the passage of time until it no longer existed at all.

In a sense whatever the chantries may have originally tried to achieve that was different from their surrounding social environment they gradually lost until in the end they became absorbed into that environment. Even the attempt by the burgesses to refound the chantry of St. Mary so as to make it a ‘burgesses’ chantry’ did not result in anything very different occurring. The sheer weight of ecclesiastical practice and diocesan power undercut the burgesses’ independence, and the diocesan authority  exercised through the parish priest seems to have reduced all activity to an approved uniformity.

The chantries were not rich, nor did they possess or need rich ornaments, since their services were held within the parish church, and they did not therefore have a separate building to maintain. The rents which were due to them were adequate for the chaplains’ salaries; but if in addition to salary the chantry was expected to provide for additions to or replacement of chantry goods, and the necessary repairs to its properties, and perhaps to provide some minimum poor relief, then the circumstances can only be regarded as insufficient. Many obits required distribution of special sums or goods (mainly goods or comestibles) to the poor. The frequent gift in wills and obits of so many bushels of wheat, including the annual rent of 5 quarters of wheat from Hopgrass Manor to Holy Trinity, suggests that this was a fluctuating and rather haphazard form of
poor relief. Nevertheless, while these gifts continued there was probably felt to be little need for any further action.

All in all the chief value of the two chantries in Hungerford was probably to provide an additional pair of priests to assist the vicar in a parish which otherwise would have been too large for him to manage competently alone. And this value in turn depended on the quality of the chaplains, their willingness to serve and their ability to guide their flock. These are qualities which documents rarely show and our history of the chantries is the poorer for lack of such knowledge. Some were sinecures; some of their chaplains lived scandalous lives, but there were others, whether chaplains (like Warnewell) or burgesses (like Dyne) who seem to have been good and caring men; and it is these we should like history to allow us to remember, rather than the greedy and quarrelsome speculators who came after them.


1 Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry VI 1452-61 p. 191
2 V.C.H. Berks, vol.iv, p. 198
3 Hastings Ms. 1176
4 Berkshire R.O.: H/RTa 32 & 33
5 Hastings Ms. 1181
6 Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1406-17, ed. T.C.B.Timmins, 1984
7 ibid
8 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 40
9 P.R.O.: DL43/1/4
10 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 29 & 39
11 Cal. Pat. Rolls 1452-61 p.366
12 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 28
13 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 29
14 Berks. R.O.: H/RTa 41
15 Salisbury Cathedral: Newton register, folio 149
16 P.R.O.: DL14/6/42
17 P.R.O.: DL29/723/11795
18 P.R.O.: DLI/106/C14
19 ibid
20 P.R.O.: DL42/108
21 P.R.O.: DL1/147/12 or DLI/167/12
22 Berks. R.O.: HM5/1
23 P.R.O.: DL4/15/6)
24 P.R.O.: DL14/6/42
25 P.R.O.: DL4/15/6
26 Cal.Pat.Rolls 1575-8 no. 206
27 P.R.O.: DIA4/1221
28 P.R.O.: C66/1138/15
29 P.R.O.: DL14/55/2
30 P.R.O.: E301/51
31 P.R.O.:: DL14/55/2
32 P.R.O.: DL42/98 ff. 329-330
33 Berks. R.O.: H/M 10

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford

- Chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary