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Summary:

The Priory of St John the Baptist was a small religious establishment which lay on the "island" in what is now the northern end of Bridge Street. It was in existence at least by 1232, and lasted for over 300 years until it was dissolved in 1547.

The priory was never very large, and as early as 1372 services were held only three times a week. By 1412 it was said to be "ruinous", and by 1421 it had been put to secular use. Over the next century services had dwindled to just a token mass once a year at the feast of St John the Baptist (24th June).

After the dissolution, the ex-priory properties were granted to Sir John Thynne of Longleat, who later leased them to various tenants. When Sir John Thynne died, the priory properties reverted back to the Crown, before being purchased c1576 by Anthony Hidden - Lord of the Manor of Hidden cum Eddington.

In 1740 a new road incorporating two bridges was built for easier access to town from Charnham Street. No trace of the priory buildings exists today, although its presence is reminded by the names of buildings in Bridge Street - Great Priory House and Little Priory House.

Photo Gallery:

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- The War Memorial in Bridge Street, 1921 showing the island on which the Priory of St John stood

- Part of Enclosure Map, 1819 showing Bridge Street and Bell Mead

- Part of Enclosure Map, 1819 showing St John's Priory land at Sanum Green

The more detailed history of the Priory:

(The following text includes significant abstracts from "The Priory of St. John" in Norman Hidden's "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford").

- The origins of the priory

- What is a Priory?

- The site of the priory

- The function of the priory

- Property associated with the priory

- How was the priory funded?

- What is known about the chaplains?

- Leading up to the dissolution

- The dissolution of the priory

- The priory properties today

The origins of the priory:

The exact date of the hospital's foundation is not known, but in May 1232 King Henry III, who was staying at Wallingford Castle at the time, issued letters of protection to "the house and brethren of the hospital of St John the Baptist in Hungerford" (Cal. Pat. 1225-32, p.475).

Six months later two further letters of protection were issued simultaneously by the king, one for Richard "chaplain of St John" and the other for "the leprous sisters of the church of St Lawrence". (Cal. Pat. 1225-32, p.475). It is thought locally that the King may have been encouraged to write these by Simon de Montfort V, who held the Manor of Hungerford at the time. Simon was actively developing Balteley Wood (now Hungerford Park) as his deer forest at the time, and Simon was married to the King's sister Eleanor.

In the Patent Rolls 9 Edw I (1281) there is mention that the hospital was endowed wih one carucate of land, two acres of meadow, and six cottages. This is repeated in 1 Henry IV (1399). [BRO D/Ex 246].

What is a priory?

A priory is a monastery of men or women under religious vows that is headed by a prior or prioress.

Many priories in England were formed as subsidiaries to the Abbey of Cluny, following the Benedictine ideals. Other priories followed the Dominicans, Franciscans, or Carmelites. The Priory of St John was originally under the Abbot of Bec, and later followed the Augustinian order.

The Priory of St John had other more descriptive names - see "Hospital, Priory or Free Chapel?"

Hospital, priory, or free chapel?

During the three centuries or more from its foundation to its dissolution the hospital was variously referred to as hospital, priory, and free chapel.

The establishment and organisation of a hospital was one of the usual functions of medieval religious orders; and because the hospital was run by members of a religious order it became a cell of that order and so entitled a "priory".

Having an existence independent of the parish church, and thus able to perform such functions as holding divine service within its own buildings or chapel, it was called a free chapel. Correspondingly the priest in charge was variously termed warden or custodian ('custos'), prior, chaplain, and incumbent.

As early as 1380 the institution was described as a free chapel (E Lodge and R Somerville, John of Gaunt's Register 1379-83 1 (London 1937) p.8) and in the documents of various appointments made thereafter we read of hospital and free chapel indiscriminately, likewise of warden and chaplain.

The terms prior and priory, however, seem to have dropped out of use except in such backward-looking phrases as "the free chapel, late the priory of St John" and "the free chapel of St John the Baptist, called a priory" (Berks R0: HM5/1; PRO: REQ2/163138). Ironically it was the title of priory which survived after the Reformation and which remains in certain local instances today.

The site of the priory:

The priory stood at the northern entrance to the town, "standing between the two waters coming from the Queen's Mill", that is, between the two arms of the River Dun at the lower end of the present Bridge Street (PRO: E17812848). The northernmost of the two streams is described as "compassing in the free chapel, late the priory of St John's" (Berks RO: HM5/1). At that time there was no road bridge over the Dun; indeed the present bridge was built virtually upon the site of the priory itself.

The priory was therefore sited on an island of about two acres of meadow. Immediately to the south of the priory, on the town side of the river's arm, was the town mill ("Queen's Mill", now "Mill Hatch"). Immediately to the north and west, above the northern arm of the stream, was - and still is - the Bear Inn in Charnham Street, then in the manor of Hopgrass and in the county of Wiltshire. Eastward lay Eddington bridge over the River Kennet. It was in this area at the extreme northern end of the town that Simon de Montfort's meadow and fishpond lay, so conveniently for the hospital and its inmates.

Deponents in an inquisition in 1576 stated that there were three tenements belonging to the chapel, each with its own backside and garden, lying "between the two waters" which came from the Queen's Mill and are "against Charnham Street".

To these tenements were attached three half acres of meadow "shooting east and west, the Queen's [mill] pound to the south" (PRO: E17812848).

One of the tenements had been destroyed by fire and the other two were occupied by Edward Collins, a local clothier, and 'one Whityng'.

One deponent in the inquiry referred to the chapel house, and another stated that he could remember the chantry priest saying mass there some fifty years previously. Yet another stated that "he hath known the said chapel these forty years past" and described it as being in Hungerford and in Charnham Street (PRO: E17812848). It is not clear, however, when the deponents refer to the chapel whether they are referring to a particular building or to the tenements as a whole.

For many centuries the parish of Hungerford in the diocese of Sarum lay partly in Wiltshire and partly in Berkshire. Until 1895 the entire tithing of Charnham Street was in the county of Wiltshire, including the rural manors of South Standen, North Standen, and Hopgrass as well as the thriving urban portion of Charnham Street itself which is today an indistinguishable part of the town of Hungerford. In addition small sections of the southern tithing of Sanden Fee including some land in the vicinity of Bagshot were also in Wiltshire. These areas were transferred to Berkshire in 1895. In the transfer of 1895 Leverton, which had always belonged to the Wiltshire parish of Chilton Foliat, was transferred to the civil parish of Hungerford, but remained in Chilton for ecclesiastical purposes (Victoria County History, Berkshire, Vol. 4, ed. W Page and PH Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 183-4)

The function of the priory:

The function of the hospital was to provide lodging for "poor sick and infirm persons" (Cal. Pat. 1272-81, p.436). In this sense it represented an important aspect of medieval welfare. King, local manorial lord, and religious institutions all played their part in providing this service for the folk of the vill. The royal letters patent were not only pledges of 'protection' against molestation, damage, or harm to the institution, but they also urged local magnates to contribute generously to the support of the hospital.

Religious institutions, such as this "Hospital of St John", also provided "hospitality" - ie board and lodging, to travellers. They provided the service that we now associate with hotels, inns and B&Bs. Traditionally they offered travellers a free "dole" of bread and ale, such as can still be obtained at St Cross in Winchester. As the adjacent Bath Road became more frequented, more accommodation was required for this "hospitality", and it is likely that the adjacent Bear Inn began its life providing additional accommodation for the priory.

Property associated with the priory:

The "letters of protection" of 1232 may well have been at Simon V de Montfort's persuasion. He was the greatest local magnate at the time, and it is possible that he may have been responsible for the original foundation of the hospital prior to 1232; whether this was so or not, he was its earliest known large benefactor. We know this only in a retrospective way, as Simon V de Montfort appears in the Court Rolls several times in respect of Hungerford.

It is recorded (after his death in 1265) in the hundred rolls of 1275/76 that Simon de Montfort had omitted to have obtained from the Crown a licence to alienate to the hospital certain of the lands, viz. half a carucate (about 60 acres) of land in Sanden, which he held of the king in capite (Rotuli Hundredorum 1 (Record Commission, 1812) p. 19). [in capite: by the laws of England, one who holds immediately of the king. According to the feudal system, all lands in England are considered as held immediately or mediately of the king, who is styled lord paramount. Such tenants, however, are considered as having the fee of the lands and permanent possession.]

In 1281 Prince Edmund, Simon's successor to the manor of Hungerford, issued a charter ratifying "the grant in frankalmoigne made by Simon de Montfort to the hospital and fraternity of St John in Hungerford .... of half a virgate (about 15 acres) of land formerly held by William le Broddere of him in villeinage in Sanden, with a meadow of his demesne near his stank [= fishpond] on the north side of Hungerford" (Cal. Pat 1272-81, p.436). The half virgate in Sanden probably relates to the land recorded on the Enclosure Map 1819 as owned by St. John's Priory, at Sanum Green, near the site of the modern John o' Gaunt Community College. The meadow near the fishpond on the north side of Hungerford probably relates to the meadow called "Bell Mead" on the Enclosure Map. ["grant in frankalmoigne" is a tenure by which a religious corporation holds lands given to them and their successors forever, usually on condition of praying for the soul of the donor and his heirs; -- called also tenure by free alms.]

An entry in the Dean of Sarum's register of 1405 states that the hospital ('domus') of St John was established there and its high altar in the chapel was dedicated to St John the Baptist. The warden of the hospital received poor persons going out of town or coming into town in times of necessity. Mass was said thrice weekly.

The hospital had one carucate (60 acres) of glebe land, 2 acres of meadow and 6 cottages which provided a rent of 40 shillings p.a., as well as the oblations of St John the Baptist's day (24th June) (T C B Timmins, The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404-1417 (Devizes, 1984), p.83). These oblations were encouraged or supplemented by the issue of occasional indulgences, such as that recorded in Bishop Mitford's register (2 May 1399) which promised 40 days' indulgence to all who contributed of their possessions to the maintenance of poor folk in the hospital of St John the Baptist in Hungerford or to the repair of its chapel (Wilts RO: D1/216 f.140).

In addition to the three island tenements which certainly by the sixteenth century, and probably a great deal earlier in fact, were being leased to bring in rental income, the chapel had other lands which provided it with income.

One valuable piece of land, being water meadow, lay between the Dun and the foot of Eddington bridge (PRO: E17812848). It consisted of 2 acres and was described as Priory Close, a name to be found as late as the 1676 town rent roll (Berks RO: H/FR 1).

This Priory Close at the northern end of the town, however, is not to be confused with four other priory closes which lay beyond the southern end of the town in Sanden Fee. All deponents in the 1576 inquisition agree that these closes were 'in several'; that is, individually rather than communally farmed, each piece being enclosed rather than in strips. The land was arable and there was a wood alongside the hedgerows of the land. As one witness deposes that these priory closes were 'at Sanpits', it is interesting to note that sand pits are marked on the Enclosure Award map of 1819 at the junction of the Inkpen and Sanham Green Roads (Berks R0: TIM109). On the same map two large enclosures there are marked as St John's Priory lands. Estimates given by four witnesses in 1576 as to the total area of these lands vary from 11 acres to 16 acres (P.R.O.: E17812848).

These priory closes in Sanden Fee are quite clearly all, or part of, the half carucate (30 acres) or the virgate (15 acres) of land in Sanden Fee, which Simon de Montfort granted for the hospital's maintenance. From these closes the modern mansion there called The Priory took its name. It is a tribute to the strength of local tradition that lands at opposite ends of the town possessed by the vanished priory should thus retain their name for so many centuries.

The existence of lands or other tenements owned by the priory may also be traced through a series of town rentals and surveys from c.1470 onwards. These documents concern themselves only with properties in the town and in Sanden Fee; thus they do not include some priory properties lying outside this area. On the other hand they do indicate burgages and their buildings owned by the priory which lie along the town's main street. The earliest of these rentals (which internal evidence suggests as c.1470) lists the 'prior or warden' of St John's as holding three tenements in the town, consisting in each case of three-quarters of a burgage (P.R.O.: D431114).

Lands of the priory which fall outside the rental or survey are indicated in part by incidental references in a 1513 terrier of the rectory of Hungerford. There are six occasions in this terrier on which priory lands are mentioned as bordering on rectory lands (St George's, Windsor, MS XV.31.61). These priory lands adjacent to rectory lands are to be found in or near Pidden field (two references), Shortcroft, Woodmarsh, the Everlong, Inkpen field, and bounding on some land of William Curr (this latter would seem to be one of the Sanden priory closes).

How was the priory funded?

The income from these lands formed the basis of the chaplain's stipend. In 1546-7 (when the priory was dissolved), this amounted to £4. 8s. 0d. (the amount had probably remained fixed through the centuries) which after payment of 8 shillings as 'the king's tenth' gave an annual sum of £4 net (PRO: E301151).

From this sum repairs also had to be deducted, a burden which led to complaints about the prior's neglect of the defectiveness of the chapel roof in 1409, a fault clearly not seen to for in 1412 it is reported that the whole chapel was ruinous and the chaplain an absentee (Timmins, op. cit., pp. 247, 377).

Bearing in mind that whereas £4 p.a. may have been an adequate income in the mid thirteenth century, this amount would have been considerably eroded by inflation two centuries later and even more so by the mid-sixteenth century.

What is known about the chaplains?

The modest income of £4 raises the question of the viability of the chaplaincy and the nature of the appointments to this post. Who appointed the chaplains, and what kind of men were they?

Although Dugdale's Monasticon lists the hospital under the Augustinian order (Sir William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum V1 (2) (London 1830), p.753), the chapel is known to have been in its early days under the peculiar jurisdiction of the Abbot of Bec in Normandy.

This alien Abbey had been granted lands in Hungerford by Robert Earl of Leicester and his son Waleran in the early part of the twelfth century. Its estate included the parish church of St Lawrence, along with the rectory manor, together with chapels in Standen and Shalbourne. All these came under the jurisdiction of the Abbey's proctor who was prior of Ogbourne (M Morgan, The English Lands of the Abbey of Bec, 2nd edn. (Oxford 1968), p 139). As rector the Abbey presented its own nominee to the vicarage of Hungerford, and it is likely that this occurred also with the chapel of St John (M Morgan, The English Lands of the Abbey of Bec, 2nd edn. (Oxford 1968), p 139), subject of course to the rights of its patron.

The Abbey of Bec:

The Abbey of Bec lies between Rouen and Bernay in Normandy. It was founded as a Benedictine abbey in 1034 by Herluin, a Norman knight, and it went on to become one of the most influential abbeys of the Anglo-Norman kingdom of the 12th century.

The followers of William the Conqueror supported the Abbey of Bec, enriching it with extensive properties in England, including locally the church of Hungerford, the rectory manor, along with chapels at Standen and Shalbourne. [Tooting Bec is so named because the abbey owned the land].

The abbey was largely ruined in the French Revolution, but was re-settled in 1948 by a group of Olivetan monks as the Abbaye de Notre-Dame du Bec. The buildings have been partly restored, and are well worth visiting.

More about the chaplains:

Indeed one may suspect that the early Vicars of Hungerford may also have doubled up as chaplains of the hospital. This may have happened as early as 1232, for the second of the letters of protection refers to Richard "chaplain of St John" and we know that there was also a Richard who was vicar of Hungerford during the period 1220-1238 (B L: Harl. MS50.1.46).

There is also an entry in Latin in the extent of Ogboume Priory which records income from tenements and land in respect of 'the cantarist in the free chapels viz. Nicholas Gaudin perpetual vicar of Hungerford prior of St John of Hungerford...'(B L: Add. MS 6164). Whether these three posts were held by one person or more may depend, however, on an interpretation of the non-existent punctuation of the entry!

This extent was drafted at the command of the king who, in view of the war with France, wished to take into his control the possessions of all alien priories. From 1294 onwards a series of royal confiscations of alien priories occurred during the Anglo-French wars and the prior of Ogbourne was allowed to retain the Abbey's property only on payment of a large annual farm or rent. At the same time effective communication between the mother house of Bec in Normandy and their proctor in Wiltshire became less and less possible. In these circumstances control of the hospital of St John and its appointments virtually passed from the Abbey's hands and settled in those of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The earliest patron, as we have seen, was Simon de Montfort; and this patronage descended with the manor of Hungerford through the Earls of Leicester to the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1327 the manor of nearby North Standen also became a part of the Duchy (V C H Berks. IV, 194). There was a free chapel in North Standen and from this time on the incumbencies of the priory and of the North Standen chapel, were frequently held by the same priest.

There is evidence that in 1372 services were held in the chapel on three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday). A letter dated 25 June 1372 from John of Gaunt in London to his local steward deals with the chapel of North Standen and is valuable for the light it casts on appointments (Sir A Armitage-Smith, John of Gaunt's Register 1372-76 (London 1911) p.432). The following is a more or less literal translation from the Norman French in which it was written:

'John by the grace of God etc. to our well-beloved Walter Haywood our steward in the counties of Wilts and Berks greeting. Whereas of our special grace and love we have given to our well-beloved William Goldyng the wardenship (la garde) of the chapel or chantry of our manor of Standen, which is vacant and in our gift, and to have the wardenship of the said chapel or chantry with all the rights and appurtenances belonging thereto as in our letters patent is more fully set forth; and because we do not properly know if the said chapel or chantry be under the jurisdiction of the bishop of these parts or not, we wish and command that you make enquiries concerning the truth of this; and if you should find that the jurisdiction of the same chapel or chantry as to institution and induction belongs and should so belong to the bishop, that you certify us of this under your seal, returning to us these our letters with the certificate aforesaid; and if you should find that the right belongs to our officers and servants in these parts and is our gift to put the one who will have the wardenship of the said chapel or chantry in possession thereof, that then the said William be put in full possession of the aforesaid chapel or chantry without further delay; and all this provided always that the chaplain who by the said William will be found shall sing each week on Sundays Tuesday Fridays and Saturdays in the said chapel of Standen and the remainder of the week in Hungerford. Dated at the Savoy 26 June 1372'.

The letter reveals the uncertainty that existed concerning the rights of the bishop of Salisbury in relation to the chapel (an uncertainty due perhaps to the claims of the Abbey of Bec which held a peculiar jurisdiction as far as both North Standen and Hungerford were concerned). It is of interest too that the roles of warden and chaplain are so clearly revealed. As to the prospective chaplain having to sing in Standen on Sundays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and in Hungerford on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, this seems to indicate that his appointment would include both chapels.

Certainly this was so in 1380 when William Goldyng resigned as warden of St John's in Hungerford and his successor was appointed by John of Gaunt to act as warden of both the chapels in that same year (Lodge and Somerville, op.cit., 1, pp 8, 427).

In 1399 in the last months of the reign of Richard II, John Frank, who was a king's clerk, was appointed to the chaplaincy of 'the house or hospital of St John' and in another appointment of the same year as 'parson or warden of the free chapel of Standen' (Cal. Pat. 1396-99, p.570). A king's clerk was a clerk employed by the king in some department of the administration or household, and beneficed by the king.

Frank's double appointment was clearly a sinecure. Because Frank had been presented in March 1399 by letters patent of Richard II, Richard's fall in September of that year necessitated ratification of his appointment by letters patent of Henry IV dated 14 October (Cal. Pat 1399-1401, p.5). It is clear, however, from the issue of the patent under the royal seal that Richard had taken over the Duchy's right of presentation. This had been restored to the Duchy by 1408.

In 1408 following the resignation of John Frank, John Orum was presented by the Duchy of Lancaster to the chaplaincy of both the free chapel of St John and that of Standen (Timmins, op. cit., p.463). John Orum was the archdeacon of Barnstaple who in 1411 received a papal dispensation enabling him to hold various offices including 'the wardenship of the hospital of St John, Hungerford, and the free chapel of Standen, which are without cure', for seven years (Cal. Papal Letters 1404-1415, VI.300).

In similar fashion in 1436 John Lane 'who is chaplain and continual member of the household of John, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Chancellor of England', received a dispensation to hold several offices, including that of 'the free chapel of Hungerford', for a period of seven years, the value [of the chapel] not to exceed £5 p.a (Cal. Papal Letters 1432-47, VIII. 588).

In 1458 the Chancery Rolls of the Duchy of Lancaster record the grant of the wardenship to John Crecy. That this appointment too was a sinecure, is revealed by the Dean's Visitation of 1463, at which prior John Crecy did not appear (Salisbury Cath. Newton Register, f. 149-150). It was therefore decreed that he should be cited to appear at Salisbury to show his title and to justify the rents and profits of the hospital in the light of its ineffectiveness and on account of its need for repair.

In 1467 Thomas Gray was presented to the chapel of St John by the Duchy (R. Somerville: 'Duchy of Lancaster Presentations 1399-1485', Bull. Inst .Hist. Research 18 (1940), p52).

In 1483 John Pennyngton was appointed by Richard III (B L: Harl MS 433). This latter appointment does not appear in R Somerville's 'Duchy of Lancaster Presentations 1399-1485'.

Somerville, who lists in this period Orum, Crecy, and Gray, makes the point that their presentations were made under the Duchy seal and since they were not strictly speaking Crown presentations, therefore they did not appear on the Crown patent rolls. It would seem, however, that in his presentation of Pennyngton Richard III followed the precedent of his earlier royal namesake.

There is no reference to the hospital or to its chaplain in the Visitations made by Dean John Davidson in 1480 and 1485 (Salisbury Cath. MS 189ff. 46, 97b-f). It is possible that after 1485 the post was not so much an old fashioned sinecure as something which had become merged with one of the local chantries; this may have been the case with John Sharpe, Holy Trinity chantry chaplain from 1490 to 1544, whom one elderly deponent in 1576 remembered as having said mass in the priory chapel some fifty years earlier (P.R.O.: E178/2848).

Leading up to the dissolution:

The decay of the functions of the one-time hospital is well illustrated by a court case which followed the death in 1516 of Edmund Wilkinson, a former rector of Ham in Wiltshire (PRO: SP46/45 f.71). This was when Joan Sowter instituted a suit in the Court of Requests against Robert Heyward (PRO: REQ 2/10/196). Sowter was the niece and executrix of the last will and testament of Sir Edmund Wilkinson 'late incumbent of the hospital of St John's in Hungerford' (PRO: PCC PROB 11/19). In the course of the suit she claims that Wilkinson at some time before his death let the chapel for his own lifetime to Robert Heyward. Heyward had paid the rent for the premises and on Wilkinson's death duly handed them over to Joan Sowter. The question at issue concerned dilapidations, both parties claiming the other to be responsible, the new incumbent having claimed 42 marks for this purpose from widow Sowter, who in turn claimed from Robert Heyward. The claim for reparations included not only the chapel itself but also 'all houses, barns, stables and other offices' belonging to it.

The suit also appeared in the Court of Chancery where it was stated that the lease had become the property of Robert Hakins, a gentleman of the King's Chapel, and the Dean of the Chapel had claimed the cost of the reparations, which Joan Sowter paid and was now claiming from (P.R.O.: C1/571 f.38). The King's Chapel is presumably that of St George's, Windsor, Robert Heyward which had acquired the spiritualities of the Abbey of Bec in 1421 (Cal. Pat. 1416-22, 441). Along with the rectory and tithes of Hungerford, the Dean and Chapel of St George's, Windsor, acquired under their jurisdiction the chapel of St John.

Robert Heyward was a local Hungerford merchant (PRO: PCC PROB 11/21) and in his acquisition of a lease to the property, including the chapel, we see to what secular uses the chapel was being put, even prior to dissolution.

It no longer existed as a hospital; and it no longer had any cell of religious attached to it. Divine service which, as we have seen, by 1372 had been reduced to thrice weekly, in the sixteenth century had dwindled to a token mass once a year on St John the Baptist's day (24 June); and even this, we are told, at the time of the dissolution was no longer observed 'by reason that one John Thynne a layman is incumbent there' (P.R.O.: E301/51).

Another indication that the chapel was not in use at that date (1547) is the fact reported by the commissioners that it possessed no ornaments nor furnishings (P.R.O.: E301/51).

The dissolution of the priory:

It is said that in 1536 the church owned 40% of the country's wealth, and monasteries owned one third of all land. The Act of Supremacy of 1534 made Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church in England, and the First and Second Acts of Suppression (1536 and 1539) empowered him to begin his Dissolution of the Monasteries, including priories, convents and friaries. He appropriated their income, disposed of their assets.

In the three years between April 1536 and April 1540, Henry VIII dissolved all the monasteries, priories and abbeys in the country – about 825 in all.

However, there is some doubt about the exact date that the Priory of St John was handed over. It is some interest that the priory was possibly not dissolved until very near the end of Henry VIII's reign.

Norman Hidden states that it was in 1547 that the entire property and land belonging to the chapel of St John passed to the Crown. The Crown immediately leased it to Sir John Thynne (PRO: REQ2/163138) (who had already had his foot in the door so to speak) for the term of his life, reserving a yearly rent of 12 shillings to the Crown (PRO: E318/2338). (The dates of these references need checking.)

Bailey et al (Hungerford – A History, p. 57) record that it was on "26th December 1546 when the Court of Augmentation headed by Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Court, accepted it from John Thynne, the last incumbent of the chapel".

Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547, and was succeeded by his son Edward VI, who was aged only 9 years. The country was led by a Regency Council, led by Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. Sir John Thynne was steward to Edward Seymour.

In the 1552 survey of Hungerford the former St John's property is listed in Sir John Thynne's name rather than that of the priory. It consisted of a close by the river containing one rood and tenanted by Robert Brabant, keeper of the Bear Inn; one tenement, with 'le poke' (that is, a pocket of land) next to the mill pound; two market stalls; and a tenement late in the tenure of one Jennings (PRO: DL421108).

Some suspicion must have existed that the full extent of Thynne's property had not been revealed, for in 1576 the Crown appointed a commission to 'inquire into the lands, tenements and hereditaments and their annual value belonging or pertaining to the free chapels of Chalfield and St John's in Hungerford within the counties of Berks and Wilts, viz. where, how, and in what place or places in particular they are their size and boundaries, and in whose tenure and occupation they are' (P.R.O.: E17812848).

Among the various depositions, some of which have already been quoted briefly, that of Richard Curr is the most comprehensive and the most detailed. Aged 70, he declared that he had known the chapel for forty years 'for that [his] father had occupied the same for many years'. From his evidence the lands may be itemised as follows:

i) three tenements (one destroyed by fire) and their gardens, one and a half acres of meadow adjacent to them, these tenements and meadow located within the two arms of the river, as already described;
ii) an enclosed meadow plot of about two acres stretching from the Dun to the foot of Eddington bridge;
iii) the four 'priory' closes in Sanden Fee;
iv) land within Hungerford, viz. 3 acres in the Everlong, 1/2 acre in Church Croft 'under the parsonage hedge', and three half acres in Woodmarsh;
v) land in Charnham Street and Hopgrass;
vi) six acres in Inkpen field;
vii) lands in Sanden Fee in some six common fields there.
Altogether Curr details some 60 acres of land, including arable, pasture, and meadow.

He granted a sub-lease to Robert Brabant of Charnham Street in 1560 at a rent of £5 p.a.

On Brabant's death the sub-lease passed to his widow who married Henry Edes, and after Edes' death in 1577 to William Curteis, all in Thynne's lifetime (PRO: REQ2/163/38).

On 19 July 1574 there was a grant in fee simple by the Crown to Drew Drewrye (als Dru Drury) and Edmund Downinge als Downing) of the reversions and rents of a miscellaneous list of properties scattered all over the country, including 'the free chapels of Chalfield and St John's in Hungerford' (PRO: C66/1111 m.42; Cal. Pat. 1572-75, p.232). Drewrye and Downinge were London middlemen whose function was to convey various parts of the grant to local purchasers.

In 1575 William Stoning and Alexander Rosewell were dealing with it, but it was again granted to Drury in 1577–8.

After further transactions the reversion of the lease of St John's on Thynne's death was acquired by Anthony Hidden (als Clidesdale) of Great Hidden farm in or about 1576 (PRO: REQ2/163/38).

Thynne died in 1580 and the lease reverted accordingly to Anthony Hidden, who died in 1591.

In 1610 Roger Hidden, youngest son of Anthony, was offered £400 for the property (PRO: C2/142/6), but this sale fell through, to be replaced by one to a London businessman, Thomas Price (PRO: CP25(2)/272/East 8 Jas 1).

In the Hungerford town survey of 1609 there are two entries detailing this property:
- The first entry states that the free chapel and its lands (50½ acres, viz. 16 acres pasture, 4½ acres meadow, the residue arable) were held in the tenure of Henry Windsor at a quit rent of 22d.
- The second entry states that Henry Windsor held from Robert Roberts two tenements with one acre of meadow in the backside, paying as quit rent for them 5d; also 4d. for a plot behind the mill; and 2d. for 'the marsh'. The first entry is among those on the east side of the town and represents the meadow plot there near Eddington bridge together with the lands in Sanden Fee; the second entry is for property on the west side (Berks R. O.: H/M8) and represents the tenements on the 'island'.

There is a third entry for the remaining tenement south of the island (that which was formerly tenanted by Jennings, see above) tenanted by Henry Atkins, 'parcel of the priory from Robert Roberts' quit rent 6d'.

There can be little doubt that all three lots at this time belonged to or were being held in trust for Roger Hidden, whose stepfather Robert Roberts of Salisbury seems to have managed the property for him during his minority. The authoritative foot of fine in the Robert Hidden-Thomas Price transaction described the property as consisting of three messuages, 42 acres of [arable] land, 6 acres of meadow and 20 acres of pasture.

Although this is larger than in the 1609 survey, it corresponds more or less with the evidence given to the 1576 commission. The reason for the apparent difference is that the town survey does not include items v and vi (see above) since these were outside the area covered by the survey.

Price may have been acting on behalf of Dr Thomas Sheaff, rector of Welford and, later, canon on St George's, Windsor. Sheaff played an active part in the affairs of the town and may have had some idea of using the property, or at least a part of it, for the benefit of the townsmen. Certainly he gave to the town the ½ acre of 'priory' land in Church Croft as a site for the building of a school house (Berks RO: H/TQ2). It is possible, though not proven, that the two acres of meadow on the east side near Eddington bridge may have been given to the town also, perhaps to provide an income for what became known as Sheaff's charity.

In 1611 Roger Price and Alice his wife sold it to Dr. Thomas Sheaf.

In 1612 Sheaff sold the separate priory tenement (nowadays the site of no. 9 Bridge Street and the Methodist chapel attached to it) to Henry Atkins the sitting tenant, a local glover. From that date on the history of house may be traced through its existing deeds. Although the major part of an earlier building was demolished to allow for the building of the Methodist chapel in 1864, a portion of the earlier building remains as No. 9 Bridge Street (Deeds pene Methodist Church, Newbury Circuit).

The remaining priory tenements, i.e. those which had existed on the island between the two arms of the River Dun, seem to have remained in Sheaff's possession until his death in 1640 when they descended to his son Grindall (P.R.O.: PCC PROB 11/182).

The priory properties today:

There are today three houses which stand on the probable site of these tenements, nos. 3, 3a, and 4 Bridge Street, where a stone bridge crosses both the island and the two arms of the river. In the 18th century 3 and 3a constituted one building, being converted into two dwellings in 1812. The deeds of this building (or these dwellings) go back to 1723 and include an indenture of 1745 which describes the building as "Little Priory house"; and they refer to a house on the building's south side (=no.4), occupied by Thomas Pike, as the "Great Priory house" (Deeds pene Owner of 3 & 3a Bridge Street, Hungerford).

The reasons for these appellations are not known. Certainly today no. 4 is smaller in size and structure than the combined nos. 3 and 3a. Nevertheless some special distinction seems to have attached to the house on the site of no 4, for in the town survey of 1753 it is this house, occupied by Thomas Pike, and not its neighbour, which is called 'the Priory house'. It is likely that rebuilding occurred early in the eighteenth century, which resulted in the erection of houses today numbered 3, 3a and 4 Bridge Street. Whether the rebuilding included any portion at all of the pre-existing buildings is not known, not indeed whether they are on the exact site of them. At this period of probable rebuilding there was no stone bridge and no carriage road where Bridge Street now runs; the carriage route in and out of the town swerved eastwards along the southern arm of the Dun to the streams' confluence where carts splashed through the water over a gravel-bottomed ford.

The picture is further confused because at some time in the eighteenth century a stone bridge was built to continue the old High Street across the two streams. This section became known as Lower High Street and later as Bridge Street. W H Summers suggests (W H Summers, The Story of Hungerford (London 1926) p.150) that the stone bridge was built in 1740, basing this on an entry in the Constable's Accounts of £27. 3s. 3d. "for building a cart bridge next to Charnham Street". It seems therefore from the reference to 1723 in the deeds of 'Little Priory House ' that the priory buildings along the line of present day Bridge Street existed before the stone bridge; and that to be on this line there must have been an existing footpath which was served by two footbridges. We therefore may feel reasonably confident that in looking at the houses nos. 3, 3a and 4 on the west frontage of Bridge Street we are looking at the most likely site of the old priory. It is not known whether any priory buildings or activities (other than cultivation) occurred on the small triangle of land on the east side of the bridge where the War Memorial now stands.

The Victorian house called "The Priory", which stood off Priory Road (near the present John of Gaunt School), half a mile south of the town, derives its name from the Priory Closes which adjoin it, and which were probably some of the lands belonging to the hospital.

See also:

- "Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford", Norman Hidden, 2009

- "The Hospital or Priory or Free Chapel of St John the Baptist in Hungerford", by Norman Hidden, in Wiltshire Archeological and Natural History Magazine, vol. 83 (1990), pp. 96-104.

- Priory of St John - further notes

- Little Priory House - 3 & 3a Bridge Street

- Great Priory House - 4 Bridge Street

- 9 Bridge Street

- War Memorials

- The Chantry of the Holy Trinity (dissolved 1548)

- The Chantry of the Blessed Virgin Mary (dissolved 1548)