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RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Reading hospitals chantries bridge maintenance widows abbey schools maladministration disputes

Subject: Decline in support for hospitals and chantries
Original source: British Library, Add. Ms. 6214, f.22
Transcription in: C.F. Slade, ed. "Reading Records (4)," Berkshire Archaeological Journal, vol.61 (1963/64), 51-52.
Original language: Middle English
Location: Reading
Date: Late 15th century


Once, as King Edward IV was passing through Reading en route to Woodstock, in 1480, complaints were made to him by the townspeople and country-dwellers against the abbot and convent of Reading, concerning certain dilapidated bridges, chapels, and almshouses not kept up or maintained as they ought to be and as they used to be in past times; they having, it is said, both lands and income sufficient for that purpose. First, a part of Caversham Bridge on which stands a chapel dedicated to the Holy Ghost. Also the High Bridge and other bridges throughout the town. Also a chapel at the west end of the town, dedicated to St. Edmund king and martyr, in which lie the bones of many Christian folk, and now it is used as a barn. Also there was outside the abbey gate a place called St. John's house in which resided and were supported certain religious women, widows living in chastity in the service of God, praying night and day for the king's health and for the souls of their founders and benefactors. In which there was a fine chapel dedicated to St. John Baptist, for those women to say their prayers at certain times of day and night, and where masses were also said many times in the year, as well as other divine services. These women were accustomed to receive each week from the abbey a certain [quantity of] bread and ale, as well as money; and, it is said, once a year certain clothing. This was set up for such women as had once been the wives of men who had previously held office in the town, but who in old age had fallen into poverty or did not intend to remarry, etc. Nowadays there are neither divine services or prayers, nor anyone left alive to perform them. Yet the abbot takes the revenues associated with it, but uses none for alms or good deeds. Moreover, there was another chapel there, on the east side of town, called the Chapel of Mary Magdalene, with income associated for the relief of sick people, such as lepers, as well as a house in which they could live, with good land attached. Whose revenues the abbot receives, but he has demolished the chapel and the house associated. With the result that it no longer provides relief for any poor people.

Not long after these complaints were made, King Edward IV commanded Richard Beauchamp, the then Bishop of Salisbury, to see that all these matters be corrected straight away, and that they be restored to the terms of the original foundation and arrangements. Notwithstanding those commands given by the king, the bishop came to the place during his regular visitation, with the intent of making the required examination and finding out more, so that he could determine how to proceed on these matters. Having continued his visitation until a certain day, he departed from the place highly dissatisfied not only in regard to the above but, it is said, as to many other things similarly badly managed within the place due to the wayward behaviour of the abbot and his assistants. A few days later he received a visitation – from God – and he died; and so all these matters have remained in limbo, uncorrected. Notwithstanding that my lord of Salisbury who lately died had said that whoever was bishop of Salisbury was one of the founders of the house of St. John, as he had evidence to prove. He had intended, had God let him live longer, that it should have been restored to supporting sisters, as it was in oldentime according to the terms of its original foundation. Which place the abbot has now transformed into a free school, telling his neighbours that he has made provision to pay a schoolmaster £6.13s.4d [annual salary] and an usher £3.6s.8d to teach grammar there at no cost [to students], etc.; adding that Master Robert Shorborne, now Dean of St. Paul's , has given him £40 for the project. Despite this, there is as yet no school, nor any man, woman or child assisted by it. Yet the place has been receiving the revenues from the same [almshouse] for the last 35 years and more.


This document is among a collection compiled ca.1500 as part of legal evidence in jurisdictional disputes between the merchant gild and the abbey of Reading; the burgesses of the gild likely saw this document as supporting their charges of maladministration against the abbot, John Thorne I (1445-86). The abbot has no opportunity to present his side of the story. Whatever that may be, the case of Reading provides one example of how some almshouses or hospitals were no longer able, for whatever reason, to pursue the aims of their founders, and their communities dwindled or the buildings were converted to other purposes.



The original simply gives the regnal year (19 Ed.IV); the editor appears to have had other information, attributing the complaint to November 1481.

"not intend to remarry"
Probably they had taken vows of chastity, or wished to lead such a life.

Under-teachers, i.e. assistants to schoolmasters; this usage is archaic.

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Created: March 14, 2003. © Stephen Alsford, 2003

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