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The Hospital is also said to have a piece of land at
Maddox Tree, in the Parish of Thorne Falcon, of 6 acres
and 36 poles customary measure, but the Report is silent
as to the source from which it was obtained.^

Although it would appear from the foregoing names and

* Proceedings of Somers. Arch. Soc, vol. xj., p. 169.

t Charity Commissioners' Report, vol. 11, pp. 492, 493.

X Ibid, p. 493.


situations of the lands, from which the present income of the
Charity is mainly derived, that most of them are the bene-
factions of more recent times, I think there are evidences
that some of the ancient gifts w^ere permitted to remain
without alienation. The Commissioners' Report before cited
asserts that the House is and has long been entitled to three
small closes in the immediate neighbourhood — indeed it
would appear from the Certificate of 1548 that these small
parcels of land and that mentioned subsequently were then
its sole possessions, — a "field next the Turnpike-gate,"
another "field next the Spittal," and another "field next Mr.
Glover's," amounting in all to 3i acres, which certainly may
be those to which reference was made in that document ;
while the Hankridge Farm, called in the Charity Report
" North Anchorage,''^ near the high London Road, from
which a yearly payment of £2 still derived, can hardly
be any other place than the two acres with appurtenances in
Hanecrich, which, as we have seen, was the property of
the Hospital before the year 1280 — six hundred years ago.
With the exception, therefore, of localities which Religion
has more than ordinarily identified with Herself as the
site and scene of Her special ministrations, it would be
difficult if not impossible to point to a spot in the County
of Somerset which has for so long and continuous a period
been associated with pious uses as the humble abode whose
history 1 have endeavoured to rescue from the undeserved
oblivion into which it had fallen.

To bring down that history to our own time, I would
add that from the year 1612, when the Court of Chancery
regulated the government of the Almshouse, the place has
been uninterruptedly devoted to its present use. In 1 750
there were six residents, and the number has usually been
the same. Here for century after century have many


who deserved well from those able to help spent the last
days of a life of labour, and have gone down to their
graves, neither dishonoured nor disregarded by their con-
nexion with the place or its associations. More than one
of the old inmates I have known in days when I lived
in their neighbourhood, and the remembrance of them is
the very reverse of painful. Within the last few days
also I have made the acquaintance of the present residents,
seven in number, and I have never seen seven consecutive
tenements more eloquent of home and home comfort.
Every one of them with its cheery fire, its shelves full of
old china and glass, its gay prints of occurrences in Sacred
Scripture, and its bright array of culinary adjuncts and
well-worn furniture, is a charming picture of a poor
woman's abode. I am informed, however, by the same
gentleman to whom I have already expressed my obliga-
tions, that " the only advantage the inmates derive from
the Charity is that they live house-rent free, but they are
all recipients of Parish Relief. As a quid pro quo, the
Overseers receive the rents of the various lands, amounting
at present to £45 10^,, which rents are regularly credited
in their yearly accounts passed by the Union Auditor, and
go into the general fund in aid of the Poor Rates. The
Overseers out of their funds keep the ' Spital ' in repair.^'
Such is the history of S. Margaret's Hospital, so far as
existing Records have enabled me to present it to the
reader, from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. From
an use which by God's great, mercy has ceased to be
necessary, it has passed to be a quiet and not unhappy
refuge of venerable old age ; and still, seven hundred years
and more after its first foundation, through medijeval to
modern England, appeals, humble though it be, to sympathy
and kindly interest, as the home of some whose very help-


lessness constitutes their power, and breathes to us, from

every open door in its old cloister, the consolatory truth

that even here may happiness be found, and that even

such as these,

' ' of native strength possess'd,
" Though very poor, may still be very bless'd."

Before I conclude I wish to make a few observations on a
subject which could hardly fail to be suggested to the reader
during the latter part of the previous Memoir, and to illus-
trate the same by means of two documents which cannot
but be of considerable interest to Tauntonians in general.
It must have struck him as a thing of unsurpassed enormity
that Chapels and Hospitals, institutions of general utility
and whose office was commensurate with the needs of
human nature at large, should have been as summarily and
unconcernedly dispossessed of their means of imparting
benefit, as though there were none to require their aid or
they themselves were unwilling to supply it. It is well
known that I am entirely opposed to the feeling, but I
can so far throw myself into the minds of others as to
understand some of the grounds of dislike to monastic
institutions and of a desire for their suppression. These
grounds are in my judgment based on modern prejudice,
and ignorance of that which the malign ers revile. But
even these are absent when we endeavour to understand
the causes of the aggression on the Chapels and Hospitals.
The deduction is inevitable that at the time when these
establishments were suppressed in England, hostility to
them was based far more on a robber's reason than on any
other. The rents rather than the religion of the JNIonas-
teries gave the impulse to men whom it would be simple
absurdity and a clear proof of ignorance of history to
regard in any other light than as the basest, most infamous,


and abandoned of mankind. The whole of what we know
of their lives, both public and private, forbids any other
conclusion. For widely different reasons from those by
which these miscreants were actuated many of the moderns
look with favour on the result at which they arrived. They
have in many instances little or no sympathy with them in
the greed which urged them forward in their horrible work,
while they regard that work from a point of view of which
the actual perpetrators of the wrong had very little if any
idea. The one look at the matter from what they imagine
the point of morality, the other from that of self-aggran-
disement. And the fate of the Chapels and Hospitals
proves to demonstration the accuracy of my view. Here
was money to be appropriated, but no abuses to be I'ectified;
and as money and not abuses was the real consideration,
the Chapels and Hospitals were doomed. To us their
suppression appears unaccountable, simply because we have
been taught to regard the movement in a false light and
have not mastered the characters of the actors. Their
one object was to " take possession,^'' like the tyrant of
older date. And if the death of the owners and the total
cessation of spiritual blessings throughout whole neigh-
bourhoods were the result of the appropriation, it gave
them no manner of concern.

It would seem indeed a curious kind of benefit which
should summarily remove the means of grace from places
where they had been abundantly offered, religiously ap-
preciated, and heartily and gratefully enjoyed. It would
appear a singular way of promoting the illumination of
the people to turn Churches and Chapels into dwelling-
houses or farm buildings, and to convert their ornaments
into coverings of chairs and tables,* and other ordinary

* Heylin, Hist, of Edw. VI. p. 134.


adornments of secular abodes. Without extending his
view to the neighbourhood, and to say nothing of the
country at large where the same atrocities were visible at
every turn, let my reader confine his attention to Taunton,
and ijicture to himself the loss which religion must have
sustained by the suppression — not of the Priory, for on
that I am not now employed, calamitous as I most firmly
believe that suppression was, but — of the various Chapels
with which every part of the town was furnished. There
was, to give precedence to that which has been the subject
of the present investigation, S. Margaret's Chapel, at the
eastern end of the town. Not far from the Conventual
Church was Nethewayes Chapel. S. Mary Magdalene's
Chapel was near the Church of the same name ; S. PauFs
Chapel near the present Church of St. John, and S.
Leonardos Chapel in Northtown — the very localities, I beg
the reader to remark, where either similar edifices have
been erected by the munificence of later times, or the con-
tinued absence of which is pronounced by common consent
a thing to be deplored. Granting that religious worship
and priestly direction are valuable, which is no very great
concession, the suppression of these places can be regarded
in no other light than as an outrage done to religion in
general, and a return, so far as the perpetrators could effect
it, to the heathenism from which in earlier and better times
the system of which they were a part had blessedly rescued
the land. Nor must it be forgotten that the individuals to
whom these consecrated places were thus summarily dis-
posed of, as so manyj common tenements and fields, were
bound by the purchase to no acts of piety, kindness or
charity to the neighbourhoods from which the benefit was
taken. The bell ceased to summon the worshippers to
prayer, the priest was no longer at hand to do his sacred


function, the thousand influences for good which a House of
God can originate — all were gone, and in their place was
some godless grantee who cared for nothing but his pelfj
and to elevate a family which until those days of rebuke
and blasphemy had never so much as been heard of. The
result was soon conspicuous. Irreligion, immorality, a
disruption of the ties that bind society together, lack of
spiritual direction, absence of education for the young and
of charitable aid to the sick, the desolate, and the poor — -
such were the precious fruits of the new system of things,
the weeds which indicated the nature of the soil on which
they grew. Taunton soon discovered the change from the
old days when what she had lost was possessed and en-
joyed, and yearned after blessings which were beyond
recall. She first poured forth her complaint in a request
to the Commissioners for the sale of Chapels and Chan-
tries in 1548, and thus states her requirements in one
of the particulars to which I have referred : —

" Memor''. Thenhabitaunt^^ of the towne of Taunton
aforesaide, the vj''^ Daye of Aprill an° Regis E. vj'^. ij''°. make
humble request vnto the comyssiono''s in man^r and fo'^me
followinge. Wher ther is w*in the said towne of Tawnton,
beinge the greatest, and best market towne in all that shire,
scituate in a verray holsome good, and plentyfull Soyle a faire
large and goodly howse, new buylded erected and made for a
Schole-howse about xxv yeres nowe past. Wherin was a
Scole Mr, and an Vssher founde the space of xij or xiiij yeres,
for the vertuouse educacon and teaching of yewthe, aswell
of the saide towne of Taunton, as of the hole contrye, to
the nombr of vij or viij score Scolers, by the devocon of one
Roger Hill of the same towne m^rchaunt nowe deceased, a
great Relief also to the same towne of Taunton. And now
sythe the deathe of the same Roger Hill the saide Schole-



howse standyth voyde, w'out either Mr, Vssher, or Scolers,
to the great pr^iudice hurte and discomoditie of the comen
Welthe of the saide Shire. Whervppon the saide enhabi-
taunt^j make most humble sute vnto the King^j ma"^ that
yt maye please his highnes to graunte, and assigne suche
landes and tenementes in p^rpetuytie as shalbe thought mete
vnto his grace and his most hono'^able counsaile, to the
maynten^nce and finding of a Maister and Vssher, to teach
in the same Scolehowse, w'^'^ no doubte is most bewtifuU
and most necessarie place of all that shire."*

I am afraid that the records of the College School will
not present a very favourable account of the answer to
this petition.

As an evidence of the decline of religious duty which
presently ensued on the removal of the ancient means of
grace, I may add from the already quoted Certificate that
after a short declaration of the value of the vicarage,
name of incumbent, &c., occurs the following : — " Par-
takers of the Lord's Holy Supper there MMMM (4,000)
persons.'^ After the lapse of more than three hundred
years, with all their accessions of so-called progress, can
Taunton show the like number now ? I leave the Clergy
to answer the question.

The second document which I will give, and with which
my Memoir shall conclude, is copied from an original paper
of the time of Queen Elizabeth, for which I have to
thank a friend in London. Of Taunton Clergy, School,
and Poor the MS. thus bears its unhappy testimony. The
impoverished town had indeed found out its great and
irremediable loss. There was all the difference in the
world between "now and then.^'

* Certificate of Chantries, No. 42. n. 20.


" There is w*in the towne of Tanton a pi^rishe of the
greateste Cure w*in the countye of Som^rs' w'^'^ was wonte
to be discharged by the Pryor, and now thallowance out
of the vicarag is but eightine pounde by yere, Soe that the
towne besides theise eightine poundes doethe Supplie all the
reste of the maintenance for a Preacher and a Curat w'^''
they alwaies there maintein.

" It'm there is in Taunton a great Scoole wherein ar
comenlie taught two hundred scollers and but twentie mark^j-
be longinge vnto it, so that the reste above that toward^'j
the maintenance of a Scoolemaster and Vssher w*^*^ they haue
alwais there the towne doeth supplie of his owne Charge.

" It'm there ar w'^in the towne and parishe of Tanton
xliiij"'' almshowses full of poore people where vnto there
was certen Lande belonginge w*^*^ by the Suppression of
Chaunteries was taken awaie, Soe that now thinhabitaunt^j-
doe beare the whole burden them selves.'"

Endorsed : —

" Som^rs

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Online LibrarySomersetshire Archaeological and Natural History SProceedings (Volume 18) → online text (page 16 of 24)