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Registered Charity No 700273
The Wardens: Managing a Late Medieval Hospital
- Edited by Professor Alan Rogers
Published by Abramis Academic Publishers for the Stamford Survey Group with assistance from the Lincoln Record Society
Paperback: 368 pages - ISBN 9781845495992
This is the final volume in the series produced by Alan Rogers and the Stamford Survey Group on the
history of late-medieval Stamford. Readers of this review will be familiar with Browne’s Hospital as the
finest medieval secular building remaining in Stamford. They might be less familiar with the problems
associated with the administration of such buildings. These problems have been brought
painstakingly to life in this meticulously edited volume which comprises the hospital’s account book
covering the years from 1495 to 1518 along with a detailed introduction in which Professor Rogers
analyses the workings of the hospital’s estate. (Unfortunately, it can tell us little about the experience
of the hospital’s inmates).
The hospital was founded in 1475 by William and Margaret Browne, as both a gild hall for the gild of
All Saints, of which William Browne was Alderman for life, and an almshouse for ten poor men and
two women attendants. Therein lay a problem. The foundation fudged the issue of ownership, which
didn’t matter when Browne and his grandson and successor as Alderman of the Gild and Patron of
the Hospital, William Elmes, were alive, but which became an important issue after the latter’s death
in 1504. The Aldermanship of the gild passed to Christopher Browne and the office of Patron of the
Hospital passed to the vicar of All Saints, Henry Wykes. Readers of Professor Rogers’s study of William
Browne, Noble Merchant, will already be familiar with the awkward character of Christopher Browne.
The latter had, indeed, instituted legal proceedings against some of the Hospital’s tenants in 1502.
After 1504, there was a long-running legal dispute between Christopher Browne and the Hospital. Underpinning this dispute was
Christopher Browne’s claim that ownership of the Hospital should be vested in the gild of All Saints, which the Patron and the Warden
resisted. (As the Patron was the Vicar of All Saints and Browne was alderman of the parish’s gild, this suggests that relationships within
parochial administration must have been very strained, but this matter lies outside the scope of the Hospital’s accounts). This legal
dispute, which took place in both the Court of Chancery and the Court of Requests, as well as in the locally based court of the Queen
Mother, Margaret Beaufort, ate considerably into the Hospital’s assets and made it much more difficult for it to fulfil its charitable
functions, so that the number of bedesmen declined. This also had an impact on day-to-day administration, much of which dealt with
repairs to the estate, leading Professor Rogers to conclude that the warden’s lives were very stressful. Indeed, the most successful
warden, John Taylor, gave up the struggle and returned, doubtless gratefully, to pursue once again an academic career at Oxford.
As well as illuminating such issues, the accounts contain details of the Hospital’s estate, some of which lay in Rutland and will also
interest historians of the language, given the appearance of a number of obscure words of local dialect which appear in the book. We
are once again in the debt of Professor Rogers and the Stamford Survey Group for their considerable efforts in bringing this substantial
document, held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, to public attention.