09 June 2022

Chantries and hospitals
in Buckingham that
survived the Reformation

Barton’s Chantry and Hospital on Church Street, Buckingham, was founded in 1431 by John Barton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing last week (1 June 2022) about Buckingham’s oldest building, the Chantry Chapel of Saint John the Baptist, which has had many uses over the centuries, including hospital, chapel, school and, more recently, second-hand bookshop and coffee shop.

But Buckingham has two other former chantries or hospitals dating from the 13th to 15th centuries and that survived the Reformation, Barton’s Chantry and Hospital on Church Street and Christ’s Hospital on Market Hill.

Barton’s Chantry and Hospital is about 100 metres south of the parish church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and close to the site of the original parish church in Buckingham. It was founded by John Barton in 1431. Families in Buckingham such as Barton and Fowler often acquired their wealth in London, in the law or in trade, but spent their new-found wealth in Buckingham, showing a strong sense of civic responsibility and endowing local charities.

John Barton was a lawyer, Recorder of London and MP for Buckinghamshire in 1397-1414. He paid for rebuilding the parish church, endowed a town charity, and built a row of almshouses in Church Street is known as Barton’s Chantry and Hospital.

Barton died on 7 February 1432. His will included a provision to pay a priest 10 marks a year for daily prayers, and supported the foundation of the group of almshouses later known as Barton’s Hospital) for six poor persons, each of whom was to receive a groat every week. Immediately after Barton’s burial in Saint Rumbold’s aisle in Saint Peter’s Church, Buckingham, 4,000 Masses were to be said on his behalf at a cost of £16 13s 4d.

The chantry was suppressed at the Tudor Reformation in the 16th century. But the hospital survived as almshouses that included six units or apartments.

The almshouses were rebuilt in 1701 and again in 1862. The present building dates from 1913, but a stone reset in the wall reads: ‘This hospital was founded in the year 1431 by John Barton. Rebuilt a second time in the F[ir]st year of the reign of His Majesty King George V 1910.’

Christ’s Hospital on Market Hill was built on the site of the early 13th century Hospital of Saint Lawrence, a leper hospital founded in 1227. The first Christ’s Hospital was founded on the site in 1312.

The present hospital was founded in 1597 by Queen Elizabeth I to house ‘36 unmarried and maimed soldiers dwelling in the town.’ The building was of Tudor design and the plot extended down to the River Ouse.

By 1665, the ‘36 unmarried and maimed soldiers’ at Christ’s Hospital had been replaced by ‘seven ancient women.’

The income of Christ’s Hospital was derived from the profits of two fairs held annually in the town, together with the profits of the local wool markets. But clearly the money was insufficient and by the late 19th century the building had become very dilapidated and insanitary.

When Christ’s Hospital was rebuilt in 1897, the almshouses housed unmarried women. It was decided to replace it with what is now the present block which was built at a cost of £843 7s 9d or roughly £100,000 in today’s money.

These almshouses were built in 1897 of red brick in Flemish bond with some stone dressings, a half-hipped slate roof with ornamental ridge tiles, and brick internal stacks. It is a two-storey, three-window range, with plank doors that have panel mouldings and segmental-arched heads, York stone steps and round-headed arches. A stair leads to the continuous balcony along the front of building on timber posts with a wrought-iron balustrade. There are sash windows, a double bay window and York stone sills.

The chimney stack nearest the centre is larger than the other and bears a large limestone memorial tablet with a shaped pediment and a refurbished memorial tablet that gives a potted history of the building ‘Founded / AD 1312. Refounded by / Queen Elizabeth / AD 1597 / Rebuilt / in the 60th year / of the reign of / Queen Victoria / AD 1897.’

Buckingham Almshouses and Welfare Charity has administered the almshouses for many years. By 2006 or 2007, it was apparent that Christ’s Hospital was falling into disrepair. It was no longer fit for purpose and needed extensive refurbishment and modernisation.

A survey in 2008 confirmed the actual work needed. The project took six years and half a million pounds to complete, and was completed on 14 February 2014, with the first residents returning a couple of weeks later. It was opened officially in March 2015 John Bercow, then Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for Buckingham.

Christ’s Hospital on Market Hill, Buckingham, stands on the site of the Hospital of Saint Lawrence, a leper hospital founded in 1227 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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