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

The Priory of St. John or The Hospital or Priory or Free Chapel of St. John the Baptist in Hungerford.

Early documentary evidence refers to the hospital of St. John in Hungerford, sited on an island on the borders of Wiltshire and Berkshire. Changes in the usage of this institution and its decline and fall as a self-supporting unit are traced. Consideration is given to the nature of its chaplaincy appointments. The history of its lands and tenements following the dissolution is detailed, with particular reference to the site of the priory itself Nothing of the original building now remains, but archaeological exploration might reveal more information.

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 Sandon 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 [1].

In this sprawling and complex parish, spanning the two counties, there were in the Middle Ages a corresponding number of religious places or institutions in addition to the parish church of St. Lawrence. These places included two chapels in rural North and South Standen respectively, two chantries within the parish church itself; and on the very northern edge of the town, as the main road led out to turn westwards along Charnham Street in Wiltshire was the hospital of St. John the Baptist.

The date of the hospital’s foundation is not known, but in May 1232 King Henry 111 issued letters of protection to ‘the house and brethren of the hospital of St. John the Baptist in Hungerford [2]’. 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 [3].

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 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, in the later years of its existence especially, 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 [4] 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 [5]’.

Ironically it was the title of priory which survived after the Reformation and which remains in certain local instances today. The function of the hospital was to provide lodging for ‘poor sick and infirm persons [6]’. In this sense it represented an important aspect of medieval welfare. King, local manorial lord, and the religious 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. The greatest local magnate was Simon de Montfort and it is possible that he may have been responsible for the original foundation of the hospital; whether this was so or not, he was its earliest known large benefactor. We know this only in a retrospective way for, after his death, the hundred rolls of 1275/6 record his omission to have obtained from the Crown a licence to alienate to the hospital certain of the lands, viz. half a carucate of land in Sandon, which he held of the king in capite [7]. In 1281 Prince Edmund, Simon’s successor to the manor of Hungerford, issued a charter ratifying ‘the grant in frankalmoin made by Simon de Montfort to the hospital and fraternity of St. John in Hungerford .... of half a virgate of land formerly held by William le Broddere of him in villeinage in Sandon, with a meadow of his demesne near his stank [= fishpond] on the north side of Hungerford [8]’.

An entry in the Dean of Sarum’s register of 1405 states that the hospital (‘domus’) of St. John is 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 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 [9]. 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 [10].

From the description given in this grant together with more detailed later references it is possible to identify the landholdings in question and also the site of the priory. - As to the latter we have various evidences that it was at the 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 [11]. The northernmost of the two streams is described as “compassing in the free chapel, late the priory of St. John’s” [12]. Thus the hospital stood between the two waters just before their confluence. 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. Travellers wishing to cross the Dun had to do so by means of the ford at the point of confluence. Going out of town this was from Hungerford into Charnham Street, from Berkshire into Wiltshire.

Thus the hospital was sited on an island of some two acres or so of meadow. Immediately to the south of the hospital, on the town side of the river’s arm, was the town mill, where today a building on its site is named The 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 [13]’. 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.[14] 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.

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 [15]. It consisted of 2 acres and was described as Priory Close , a name to be found as late as the 1676 town rent roll [16].

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 Sandon 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 [17]. 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 [18].

These priory closes in Sandon Fee are quite clearly all, or part of, the half carucate or the virgate of land in Sandon 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 Sandon 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 [19]. 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 [20]. 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 Sandon priory closes).

At the dissolution of chantries and hospitals in 1547 the entire bloc of lands of the chapel of St. John was acquired on lease from the Crown by Sir John Thynne [21]. In the 1552 survey of Hungerford, therefore, the former St. John’s property is listed in his 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 [22], see p.110.

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 [23]’. 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 hears ‘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 Sandon Fee; iv) land within Hungerford, viz. 3 acres in the Everlong, ½ 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 Sandon Fee in some six common fields there. Altogether Curr details some 60 acres of land, including arable, pasture, and meadow. The income from these lands formed the basis of the chaplain’s stipend. In 1547 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 [24].

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 [25].

Bearing in mind that whereas £4 p.a. may have been an adequate income in the midthirteenth century, this amount would have been considerably eroded by inflation two centuries later and even more so by the mid-sixteenth century. The question thus arises as to 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 [26], 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 [27]. 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 [28], subject of course to the rights of its patron.

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 secondof 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 [29]. There is also an entry in Latin in the extent of Ogbourne 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...[30]’.

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 [31]. 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. 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 [32]. 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 [33]. 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 [34]’.

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 [35]. 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 [36]. 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 [37]. 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 [38]. 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 [39]. 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 [40]. In 1483 John Pennyngton was appointed by Richard III [41]. 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 lll 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 [42]. 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 [43].

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 [44]. This was when Joan Sowter instituted a suit in the Court of Requests against Robert Heyward [45]. 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 [46]’. 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 Robert Heyward [47]. The King’s Chapel is presumably that of St. George’s, Windsor, which had acquired the spiritualities of the Abbey of Bec in 1421 [48]. 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 [49] 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; 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 [50]’. 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 or furnishings [51]. The chapel was accordingly dissolved and its property passed to the Crown. The Crown immediately leased it to Sir John Thynne (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 [52].

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 [53]. On 19 July 1574 there was a grant in fee simple by the Crown to Drew Drewrye and Edmund Downinge 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 [54]’. Drewrye and Downinge were London middlemen whose function was to convey various parts of the grant to local purchasers. After further transactions the reversion of the lease of St. John’s on Thynne’s death was acquired by Anthony Hidden of Great Hidden farm in or about 1576 [55].

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 [56], but this sale fell through, to be replaced by one to a London businessman, Thomas Price [57]. 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 Sandon Fee; the second entry is for property on the west side [58] 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 supra p.103) 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 Roger 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 p.103 supra) 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 [59]. 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 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 [60].

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 [61]. There are today three dwelling 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 eighteenth century nos. 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 [62]’.

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.

Nevertheless, it seems most probable that a footpath ran from what is now High Street direct into Charnham Street, crossing the southern stream at or near the mill by means of a wooden bridge and crossing the northern stream at the rear of the Bear. Any such footpath would presumably pass by the Priory tenements. It cannot however be asserted unequivocally either that the footpath ran exactly along the line of the present day Bridge Street or that the early priory tenements stood precisely where nos. 3, 3a and 4 Bridge Street now stand.

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 [63] 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 a War Memorial now stands.

As one of Hungerford’s most fully documented ancient areas the site of the hospital or chapel or priory of St. John might be considered well worth some archaeological exploration.


1 Victoria County History, Berkshire, Vol. 4, ed. W Page and PH Ditchfield (London, 1924), pp. 183-4
2 Cal. Pat. 1225-32, p.475
3 Ibid
4 E Lodge and R Somerville, John of Gaunt‘s Register 1379-83 1 (London 1937) p.8
5 Berks. R.0.: HM5/1; P.R.O.: REQ2/163138
6 Cal. Pat. 1272-81, p.436
7 Rotuli Hundredorurn 1 (Record Commission, 1812) p. 19
8 Cal. Pat 1272-81, p.436
9 T C B Timmins, The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury
1404-1417 (Devizes, 1984), p.83
10 Wilts. R.0.: D1/216 f.140
11 P.R.O.: E17812848
12 Berks. R.0.: HM5/1
13 P.R.O.: £17812848
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Berks. R.0.: H/FR 1
17 Berks. R.0.: TIM109
18 P.R.O.: E17812848
19 P.R.O.: D431114
20 St. George’s, Windsor, MS XV.31.61
21 P.R.O.: REQ2/163138
22 P.R.O.: DL421108
23 P.R.O.: E17812848
24 P.R.O.: E301151
25 Timmins, op. cit., pp. 247, 377
26 Sir William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum V1 (2) (London 1830), p.753
27 M Morgan, The English Lands of the Abbey of Bec, 2nd edn. (Oxford 1968), p 139
28 Ibid.
29 B L: Harl. MS 50.1.46
30 B L: Add. MS 6164
31 V C H Berks. IV, 194
32 Sir A Armitage -Smith, John of Gaunt‘s Register 1372-76 (London 1911) p. 432
33 Lodge and Somerville, op.cit., 1, pp 8, 427
34 Cal. Pat. 1396-99, p.570
35 Cal. Pat 1399-1401, p.5
36 Timmins, op. cit., p.463
37 Cal. Papal Letters 1404-1415, V1.300
38 Cal. Papal Letters 142-47, VIII. 588
39 Salisbury Cath. Newton Registe r, f. 149-150
40 R Somerville: ‘Duchy of Lancaster Presentations 1399-1485’, Bull. Inst.. Hist. Rsearch 18 (1940), p52
41 B L: Harl MS 433
42 Salisbury Cath. MS 189ff. 46, 97b-f
43 P.R.O.: E178/2848
44 P.R.O.: SP46/45 f.71
45 P.R.O.: REQ 2/10/196
46 P.R.O.: PCC PROB 11/19
47 P.R.O.: C1/571 f.38
48 Cal. Pat. 1416-22, 441
49 P.R.O.: PCC PROB 11/21
50 P.R.O.: E301/51
51 Ibid.
52 P.R.O.: E318/2338
53 P.R.O.: REQ2/163/38
54 P.R.O.: C66/1111 m.42;Cal. Pat. 1572-75, p.232
55 P.R.O.: REQ2/163/38
56 P.R.O.: C2/142/6
57 P.R.O.: CP25(2)/272/East 8 Jas 1
58 Berks. R O: H/M8
59 Berks. R O: H/TQ2
60 Deeds pene Methodist Church, Newbury Circuit
61 P.R.O.: PCC PROB 11/182
62 Deeds pene Owner of 3 & 3a Bridge Street, Hungerford
63 W H Summers, The Story of Hungerford (London 1926) p.150

See also:

- Aspects of the Early History of Hungerford

- The Priory of St. John