The Hospital of St John the Baptist Bridgwater

HISTORY

During the reign of King John and for some years to follow, William Briwer or Bruer occupied the position of lord of the town, castle and manor. This brought Briwer considerable material wealth. As an act of charity, but mindful of his soul, he founded an institution for the care of “Christ’s poor” in Bridgwater. Such institutions were called hospitals. Their function in mediaeval times was to provide hospitality to poor travellers and, often, to care for the sick and needy.

Briwer dedicated his Hospital to St John the Baptist. He endowed it with 100 acres (40 hectare) of land in Bridgwater, together with the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, and parishes of Northover (near Ilchester), and Isle Brewers. So, from its founding, the hospital had adequate means for its purpose, yet duties of administering its lands and churches were placed upon it. Later, the hospital receive the income from further churches and chapels: Wembdon, Chilton Trinity, Idstock, Hunstile, Bovey Tracey; in Cornwall: Davidstow, Morwenstow, Lanteglos (Fowey); and other lands.

The Hospital abutted Eastover and the East Gate along where the blue line can be seen on this map. The full extent of the buildings and the grounds are not known.

The site of the hospital is known only approximately. It lay partly within the town and partly outside the East Gate, which spanned Eastover near The Cobblestones. A stone coffin was found in digging for the foundation of a house opposite some years prior to 1877. A mediaeval decorated tile of the late 13th century was discovered during the construction of the Broadway in 1956 and can be seen in the Archaeology Room of the Blake Museum. The remains of some of the hospital buildings are supposed to lie beneath the Broadway. Some of the stone walls in the area of Eastover, Monmouth Street and Barclay Street show traces of the mediaeval buildings. See below for more details on all these features.

We know that the chapel of the hospital was probably 112 feet (34 m) long. It had two doors (the “utterdorys”, or outer doors) to a street adjoining it. In addition to the chapel, there was the infirmary, the refectory, the dormitory, the chapter-house, the cloister, a parlour which looked out on the cloister, a stew or fish-pond and a graveyard. A path adjoining the churchyard gave free access to the outer court and east gate of the hospital. A stone wall, containing a door, adjoining the hall and parlour enclosed the fish-pond on its south side, and, later, a cob wall was required to be built to enclose the east side of the fish-pond.

In 1286, better sanitation became necessary. A channel was to be cut between the river “Pereith” and the hospital on the south side of “the great bridge” over the lands of others as well as those of the hospital. It was to be 3 feet (1 m) in breadth. It passed along the causeway on the north side, back to the river. The culvert was to be covered with stone and earth.

In 1219, William Briwer and Bishop Jocelyn of Wells set out the ordinance or rule of the hospital (see below). The hospital was to be largely self-governing: the rule was not severe. The brethren were to be obedient to the master. They were to wear a clerical dress with a cross of black or blackish colour on their cloaks or outer garments.

The brethren served in the chapel of the castle and the parish church of St Mary. One of their number had special charge and care of the poor, infirm and needy persons in the infirmary. An unusual practice at the time was to allow: “Two or three women, not noble but suitable and of good conversation and report, who are willing and able to serve the infirm poor, to be admitted by the master and brethren; and they are to stay by themselves in a cell or chamber in the infirmary near the needy and poor, and sleep there, and be maintained as the master and brethren think fit. They are to be watchful and ready, night and day, to help the infirm and to minister to them in all things, and they are not to turn aside to other acts or services, except the prayers which are due. Provided that not more than two or three women, whether sisters or others, be admitted to the house or maintained there in any case.”

Rich people were denied the free use of the hospital and infirmary. So were lepers, lunatics, pregnant women and suckling infants, those with a contagious disease, and “intolerable persons”. Persons who had recovered from their sickness were to be discharged “without delay”.

In 1298, the number of brethren was increased to thirteen (the number at the Holy Supper), plus the master. Soon after, the hospital extended its services to thirteen poor scholars living within. Later, seven poor children from the town were fed daily: a portion of a loaf of bread, a dish of porridge and a pittance: each boy was to be given a gallon of second ale (presumably to be consumed off the premises!).

The master and brethern of the hospital may have led a reasonably comfortable existence for much of the time. Income from the land and property of the hospital brought in a considerable sum. Even the horrors of the Black Death, which ended in Bridgwater by 1349, brought benefits through the gift of further properties in the town. The Master of the Hospital of St John became an important personage.

However, the townspeople began expressing their discontent with the conduct of the master and brethren. In 1380, an armed mob attacked the hospital, broke the doors and windows of the chapel, destroyed documents, stole food and £20 in money, and occupied some of the hospital buildings. A year later, in June 1381, there was more widespread dissent throughout the country, which expressed itself in the Peasants’ Revolt. In Bridgwater, on Wednesday June 16th, Thomas Ingleby, assisted by Adam Brigge and abetted by the supposed vicar, Nicholas Frompton, with an attendant angry crowd, broke into the hospital and detained the master, William Cammell. The master obtained his release by paying over £133 (in excess of £50,000 in today’s money). The trouble spread. Two houses were burnt, and two murders committed, with the heads of the victims being displayed on the town bridge for all to see. The chief participants were later pardoned.

During the middle of the fifteenth century, some corruption and laxity entered the brethren. In July 1463, the Bishop of Bath and Wells sent his Chancellor, Hugh Sugar, to the hospital with a set of twenty injunctions to be applied, upon penalty, to ensure proper obedience to the rule. The master is to stop seeing Alice Gye in the hospital, on penalty of dismissal; the brethren are not to invite women into their chambers or “other private or suspicious place”. The brethren are “not in future to be idle”, or “to play publicly at ball” or to have “a special laundress”; they are not to swear or “to use insulting, opprobrious, scandalous, or dishonourable language” under penalty of silence for a fortnight. A dungeon was to be built, “with suitable stocks and fetters for the correction of the brethren”. Injunctions were placed upon the master to improve the security of the hospital and its buildings. A “chest with three locks and three keys” is to be obtained for the storage of documents – perhaps this was later passed over to the townspeople, and is today present in the Blake Museum?

The Corporation Chest, possibly Reclaimed from the Hospital

It is unclear how effectively Hugh Sugar’s stern disciplinary injunctions were applied. By 1525, some relaxation in the routine of three hundred years took place, with the first mass of the day being moved from 5 am to 6 am. This small change would be insignificant twelve years later.

In 1536, the hospital received a Visitation from emissaries of Thomas Cromwell, the vicar-general, a man credited with “a great superiority in the art of management”. The supression of the monasteries was well under way, and the lesser houses were generally surrendering without protest. Such it was at the Hospital of St John.

At its dissolution in 1536, the hospital yielded an income of over £120 per year (approximately £36,000 at today’s purchasing equivalent), of which over £32 was given out for charitable purposes.. The hospital owned 69 tenements and gardens in Bridgwater, and property in London, off Fleet Street, all of which were sold off to the benefit of the Crown. The master, Robert Walshe, received an annual pension of over £33 (equivalent to £12,000 today); the seven remaining brethren received lesser pensions. A bell from the hospital was sold together with glass from the infirmary. Buildings were stripped of their fittings and stones, so that no trace above the surface remains.

From Archbold W A J, Somerset Religious Houses, Cambridge Historical Essay No. VI, CUP, 1892, p 129

A reckoning of the income from property once owned by the hospital in Bridgwater was made on 16th May 27 Henry VIII (1536). “The Rente of lxix (69) Tenementes or Burgagez wth there Appurtenances lyeing within the Towne or Borough of Bridgewater in the Countie of Somersett parcell of the possessions of the late priore or hospitalle of Seinte Johns in Briggewater ys by the yere xxjli iijs iiijd” (£21 3s 4d; worth approximately £157,000 in 2010) [Archbold vide supra p201]

Requests for Grants to purchase were generally made much later.

Northoverfarm of the manor, with lands in Kington and CharletonExchanged to John Leigh15 June 35 Henry 8
Londonfarm in the parish of St John the Baptist Fleet StreetThomas Bocher1 Aug 36 Henry 8
Ilbruersrents in the parishJames Bowreman of Hemeck5 Feb 36 Henry 8
 Woods belong to the HouseHumphrey Colles
 farm of SiteSir Arthur Darcy2 July 37 Henry 8 sec 3
Rysmorefarm inSir John Fulforde and Humphrey Cooles12 Mar 35 Henry 8
More Winslowrectory ofSir Richard Graynfeld27 July 27 Henry 8
Bridgewaterrents in the town ofWm. Hodges, senior and junior24 Feb 36 Henry 8
Gotehurst and Charylinchfarm inAlexander Popham and William Hally13 Dec 36 Henry 8
Durleigh, Gotehurste, Northpetherton, and Bridgewaterfarm inWm. Porteman and Alexander Popham6 July 36 Henry 8
Bridgewaterrents in, and farm of the manor of Durleigh &cJohn Smyth27 Apr 35 Henry 8 sec 1
Bovy Traceyerents inJohn Tregonwell and John Southcot25 Oct 36 Henry 8
[Archbold vide supra p205-6]

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS

There is a reference to the finding of a stone coffin within the precinct of St John’s Hospital at Eastover.
Parker, G The Ancient History of Bridgwater 1877 Bridgwater: E T Page p 10 Footnote (h)
“The site of St John’s Hospital was at the end of Eastover, and in digging for the foundations of a house near the present Queen’s Head Inn some years ago was found a stone coffin.” [Repeated on p 48]

A supporting account is in Jarman, SG A history of Bridgwater 1889 London: Stock p21
“At the time of the formation of the Bristol & Exeter (now merged into the Great Western) Railway, a few high mounds marked the site of the hospital, and in the course of building operations in that neighbourhood many interesting “finds” were brought to light, includings numbers of human bones, military weapons, a stone coffin, and a variety of other relics.”

We can trace these accounts in the local newspapers. Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 1 August 1838: Some men, in digging a cellar on the premises of Mr J,W, Sully, grocer, of Eastover, in Bridgwater, discovered a stone coffin, which was afterwards got out in a perfect state. No inscription was visible, but on the lid being removed, a skeleton of a grown person, supposed to be a male, was discovered. The remains were doubtless those of a person of distinction interred some ages back in a vault belonging to the ancient Church of St John, which formerly stood on, or embraced within its precincts, the site now occupies by Mr Sully’s premises.

A broken stone font in the north porch of St Mary’s church. Brakespear reordered that church in 1850-54, and it is possible that the font was transferred from its site of discovery in Eastover to its position in the parish church.
A broken piece has been inverted and set above the font. The octagonal base is typical for an early medieval font.
A Purbeck marble coffin with finely ashlared sides covered with a slab with a delicate foliate cross in relief lying in the middle tomb recess, south aisle, St Mary’s church. The small incised Lias slab on top is from a separate tomb.
Medieval tile found on the site of St John’s Hospital Blake Museum BWRAB : 1959/32

ALSO SEE DILK’S HISTORY OF THE HOSPITAL HERE

ORDINANCE OF THE HOSPITAL

Hospital of St John the Baptist Bridgwater Ordinance
From Bishop Bekynton’s Register Somerset Record Society vol 59 entry 1062
Bishop Jocelyn August 1219

Ordinance and foundation of the hospital of St John Bruggewater

Whereas William Bruer lately founded the said hospital and established clerks as brethren to serve God there, and granted them certain lands, possessions and rents for the sustenance of themselves and Christ’s poor, and promised to give and procure for them more, the bishop, at the request of the said William and other friends, and with the assent of the chapters of Bath and Wells, appropriates to the said hospital and brethren the churches of Bruggewater, Northovere and Ilebruer, together with the chapel in the castle of Brugg’; and has thought fit, with the unanimous consent of the said William and the brethren, to lay down the following rules to be observed in the said house for ever, to wit:-

1 The hospital is to be a free, pure and perpetual Domus Dei for Christ’s poor only, and is in no wise to be beholden to others, as rich persons.

2 The house and brethren are to have such liberties and customs as any house or brethren of a hospital or similar religious order have, and are to be absolutely quit of all episcopal charges, procurations, expenses and other charges, and also of extraordinary charges.

3 The brethren are to have full power to elect a master or warden from their own body, who, with the concurrence of the brethren, should dispose of all offices whatsoever belonging to the house.

4 The master, with the consent of the brethren, may freely dispose of all things, offices and bailiwicks, internal and external, pertaining to the house

5 The brethren are to wear a clerical habit and garments, such as brethren of a hospital or a similar religious order ought to wear, but with a cross of black or blackish colour impressed on their cloaks and outer garments.

6 They are to keep before their eyes the approved rule, observances and constitutions, and act in accordance with them.

7 They are to cause the parish church of Brugg’, which they hold appropriated, to be served by one of themselves and by a suitable secular chaplain.

8 The brother or the secular chaplain who is on duty (in statu) in the chapel of the castle of Bruggewater is to celebrate one mass daily, and when the lord of the castle is there and demands ministration he shall minister in the canonical hours.

9 The master and brethren are to have in full without dispute all proceeds and oblations, wherever in the castle they may be made; and the lord thereof, for the time being, is to provide and maintain the books, vestments, vessels, lights, and all other necessaries for the said chapel.

10 A suitable brother shall, under the direction of the master, have special charge and care of the poor, infirm and needy persons in the infirmary, ministering to them according to the estate and means of the house and his own ability;

11 Two or three women, not noble but suitable and of good conversation and report, who are willing and able to serve the infirm poor, are to be admitted by the master and brethren; and they are to stay by themselves in a cell or chamber in the infirmary near the needy and poor, and sleep there, and be maintained as the master and brethren think fit. They are to be watchful and ready, night and day, to help the infirm and to minister to them in all things, and they are not to turn aside to other acts or services, except the prayers which are due. Provided that not more than two or three women, whether sisters or others, be admitted to the house or maintained there in any case.

12 No lepers, lunatics, or persons having the falling sickness (morbum caduum) or other contagious disease, and no pregnant women, or suckling infants (infantulus lactens), an no intolerable (intolerabilis) persons, even though they be poor and infirm, are to be admitted to the house; and if any such be admitted by mistake, they are to be expelled as soon as possible. And when the other poor and infirm persons have recovered they are to be let out (licentientur) without delay.

13 Inasmuch as it is unworthy and contrary to reason that goods contributed by the faithful of Christ for the sustenance of Christ’s poor should be turned to other uses, the bishop forbids that any things, possessions or rents granted for this most pious work, or acquired by the ability, industry or forethought of the master and brethren, be turned to any other uses than those of Christ’s poor.

14 The possession of the house are not unduly to be sold, alienated, or perpetually mortgaged (obligentur).

15 No corrodies, liveries, lodgings, pensions or chantries in the house are to be sold, or granted for money or favour.

16 No perpetual charges, whether internal or external, which charge or bind the brethren or house, are to be allowed or granted unless possessions and perpetual rents sufficient to bear the said charges have been granted, assigned and specially bound for the same, and the urgent and manifest advantage of the house demands it, and then only with the assent of the diocesan and the patron of the house for the time being. Anything done in contravention of the above is to be considered utterly void, and anulled altogether by the diocesan and patron without any delay.

17 No rich men or powerful, not even diocesans or ordinaries of the place, or the patrons of the house, or their ministers or bailiffs, are to lodge or stay in the hospital at the charge of the house or brethren; nor are they to burden the house by frequent visits or by lodging their horses or other persons there; nor are they unlawfully to extort or carry off any goods from the brethren of the house, or inflict, or procure to be inflicted, any damage or hardship on them, or to strive to injure them under any pretext, on pain of anathema and the divine vengeance. The diocesans and patrons are to be the special conservators and protectors of these ordinances, and helpers of the house and brethren, maintaining all and singular the premises, promptly restoring to its due estate anything done in contravention thereof as soon as it is brought to their notice, and punishing and repressing by all means any persons who are contentious, contemptuous, or rebellious in regard to these ordinances.

Bishop Joscelin, together with William Bruere, founder of the hospital, ratifies and approves the above with the consent of the chapter of Wells; and at the special request of the master and brethren and other friends his seal and the seal of the said William are alternately appended to this indented or divided writing.

1463 INJUNCTION

The 1463 Injunctions upon the hospital of St John the Baptist Bridgwater
From Bishop Bekynton’s Register Somerset Record Society vol 59 entry 1514
Injunctions laid by the bishop on the master and convent of the hospital of St John the Baptist, Brugwater, to be administered and delivered to them by Master Hugh Sugar, the bishop’s chancellor.

1 All the brethren are to attend in the choir at times of divine service, day or night, and not to absent themselves without special licence of the master on account of infirmity or for some other reasonable cause, under penalty of having 1d deducted from their yearly pension on every occasion.

2 All the brethren, unless excused by the master, are immediately after compline to repair to their dormitory and remain there in silence until matins, under penalty of abstinence on bread and water on the following Friday.

3 The brethren are to have a laundress in common to wash their linen, and not to take special laundresses as in past times, under penalty of keeping to the cloister, the refectory and the dormitory for a fortnight.

4 No brother is to invite or receive a woman, especially a suspected one, into his chamber or any other private and suspicious place of the hospital, or to eat or drink with one, without special licence of the master, under penalty of imprisonment for eight days on the first occasion, the penalty to be doubled for each succeeding offence.

5 The brethren are not in future to be allowed to be idle, but each of them is to be put by the master to some good and virtuous work, according to his capacity and disposition at such times as he is not engaged in divine offices.

6 The brethren are at all times and places to show due reverence to the master and their seniors and not to use insulting, opprobrious, scandalous, or dishonourable language against the master or any of their fellows, under penalty of observing silence and keeping to the cloister for a fortnight.

7 The brethren are not henceforth to swear by the limbs of Christ or play publicly at ball ( pilam ) with lay persons, under penalty of fasting on bread and water on the following Friday.

8 No brother to go outside the bounds of the hospital, even into the street called Estover or the town of Brugwater, or the garden called the uttergardeyn (outer garden) without licence of the master, under penalty of keeping to the cloister for a month.

9 The master is to cause the two doors giving entry to the chapel of St Mary the Virgin of the said hospital from the street adjoining the said chapel, commonly called utterdorys (outer doors), to be kept shut every day from immediately after high mass until the hour of vespers, and from immediately after vespers until the hour of the first mass celebrated in the chapel, under the penalty of disobedience and contempt.

10 The master is to cause the path adjoining the churchyard of the hospital, whereby free exit is given nowadays from the said churchyard to the outer court and east gate of the hospital, to be closed and walled up before the Assumption next, under the same penalty.

11 The master is to cause the stone wall adjoining the hall and parlour of the hospital and enclosing the fishpond on its south side to be made straighter and higher, and the door now existing therein to be closed and walled up, before the Nativity of the Virgin Mary next, as was lately enjoined on him by Master Hugh Sugar, doctor of laws, the bishop’s chancellor, under penalty of suspension from the administration of the spiritualities and temporalities of the hospital.

12 No brother is to reveal the counsels or secrets of chapter without just, reasonable and lawful cause approved by the bishop, under penalty of observing silence and keeping to the cloister, the dormitory and the refectory for a month.

13 The master is to make before Michaelmas next, a cob ( luteum ) wall of a suitable height enclosing the east side of the fishpond and extending from the aforesaid stone wall as far as the wall of the churchyard of the hospital, under a penalty of 10 shillings to be distributed among the poor inhabitants of Brugwater.

14 The master is to cause a dungeon, or prison, to be made before Michaelmas next in the place lately appointed by the aforesaid Master Hugh, with suitable stocks and fetters, for the correction of the brethren, under the same penalty.

15 The master is not in future to receive Alice Gye in the hospital, or to hold converse with her in the hospital or any other private or suspicious place, in accordance with an oath already taken by him in this behalf, under penalty of being deprived of his office.

16 The master is not in future to alienate the goods of the hospital to the said Alice, or her husband, by pretext or gift, or sale, or by any pretext whatever, under penalty of suspension from the administration of the temporalities of the hospital.

17 The master is to produce to the bishop before Midsummer 1464, an inventory of the state of the hospital and the jewels and other silver things thereof, with a description of the latter and a statement of their weight, under the penalty of disobedience and contempt.

18 The master is once a year at least to render an account of the receipts and expenses of the hospital before his convent or certain brethren appointed by the convent to represent them, under penalty of 20 shillings to be levied from him and applied to the fabric of Wells cathedral.

19 The master is to deal with difficult and important matters in the chapter-house, and to act in accordance with the advice of his convent when it seems expedient to do so, under the penalty of disobedience and contempt.

20 The master is before Michaelmas next to cause the common seal and the more important evidences of the convent, to be deposited in a chest with three locks and three keys, whereof one is to be kept in the custody of the master and the others in the custody of two brethren, to be appointed by the convent, under the same penalty.

The master is to cause these injunctions to be read aloud once a month at least to all brethren assembled in chapter and to have them observed so far as he can, under the same penalty.

Wells palace 1 July 1463

Dr Peter Cattermole 1-3 September 2012