A Forgotten College of Oxford

R.W. Jeffrey

Of the many pedestrians who make their way daily along New Inn Hall Street, in Oxford, few, if any, glance at the ancient gateway that stands on the east side of the street.  Some may possibly note its antique appearance, but pass on without a thought for the old College, the site of which is marked on the exterior by this relic of the Middle Ages.  Here there once stood St. Mary's College, and all that is left of it is this gateway of the style of the year 1440, together with a few remains of groining on the side of this entrance, a small piece of the wall to the north, and possibly some reputed relics in the cellars of Frewin Hall a few yards to the south. -1

  As early as the reign of Henry V the Augustinians had come to the conclusion that an establishment for the instruction of their younger members should be built in Oxford, where they could obtain all necessary teaching ; and where they could imbibe the atmosphere and carry thence to the to different parts of the kingdom the learning they had acquired. In 1421 the Black Canons showed the King that other religious bodies had colleges and halls within the University of Oxford for their members to continue their studies in the schools there, but that the Augustinians were without any such centre of learning.  They then stated that the Bishop of Exeter had found a messuage and four tofts of land for sale on the Candiche near to the Monks of Durham outside the walls.  They therefore prayed the King to grant them without fee and that they would then build a house for study at their own cost.  The pious victor of Agincourt seems to have been persuaded of the value of this proposal, but unfortunately "the said King's will being not fully performed the canons for that time were frustrated of their designs". For many years the idea of founding an Augustinian College was allowed to slumber.  The minority of Henry VI and the absorption of Bedford and Gloucester in affairs of state militated against any such scheme.  At last, however, in 1435, the Abbots of Waltham and Leicester, and the Priors of St. Trinity in London, of St. Oswald at Nostell, of Twynham, of Hexham, and of Carlisle petitioned Henry VI "that the work which had slept for many years might again be revived".

That a sovereign should be the patron and even the benefactor of a college was no uncommon thing both before and after; but the true founders had to be discovered, and it was not long before they were produced by the zealous canons in the persons of Thomas Holden and Elizabeth his wife. All speed was made and by Letters Patent the founders were empowered to give and assign to the Prior of St. Trinity in London, on behalf of the rest of his order, "one messuage with gardens there unto belonging lying in the parishes of St. Peter's in the Baylye and St. Michaell's at North Gate". Thomas Holden, apparently, laid the foundation stone of the chapel himself; and it is known that he was filled with an ambitious desire to build over the chapel a fine and noble gallery to serve as a library for the youthful Augustinians.  Unfortunately he died on 17th August 1440, before he could complete his schemes, but he did not forget his new offspring, for he bequeathed not only a sum of money for the continuation of both chapel and library, but also "a vestment for the priest with a cope or whood loyned with red satyn, on which he would have both his and his wive's armes worked thereon ; and after the death of his said wife they should have forevre his better vestment and ornaments for the chapell as also 20l. to be bestowed upon books for the Library there". The building was not, however, entirely dependent upon Thomas Holden, for the Abbots of Leicester and St. Osyth, in Essex, together with the Prior of "Gisburg", in Yorkshire, were bound by obligation to meet the expenses of building, and for this reason they paid 103 6s 8d.  The actual construction was evidently very slow, for as late as 1452 the Priory of Bicester subscribed 6s 8d towards the building fund; but that the chapel had been completed or almost completed when Thomas Holden died may be surmised from the fact that he and his wife were buried within its walls "under a faire marble stone with their images curiously cut on brasse and an inscription underneath".

To found a College of the type of St. Mary's was not quite so serious an undertaking as the foundation of a College of secular character.  No gift of estates scattered through the length and breadth of England was necessary, because the maintenance of the college did not depend upon land, but upon the generosity of the great abbeys and priories of the Augustinian Order.  From the very outset these made themselves liable for the support of the scholars, who "when they were graduated were taken home to teach their fellows, and others put in their places", for whom, in turn, the abbeys "became suertyes for the payment of their battles".  Besides these scholars there were the seculars who were "commoners and battlers", and who "if the college was full had their habitations in lay men's houses in the towne".  For the security of the institution and its inmates the abbeys agreed on 20 May 1443 to maintain St. Mary's College as a College for Canons Regular of the Augustinian Order, entering into a bond that there shall be neither change nor alienation of the site or purpose of the institution.

From the very first the young canons were under the control of a prior ; but it appears that he had but little authority in the early days of the College, for there were numerous quarrels which ultimately led to the students removing their head, for "which misdemenour" it was thought essential by the abbots of the Order that statutes should be drafted for the better governance of the place. These statutes were thoroughly discussed at "St. Jeamses", near Northampton, in 1446.  The outcome of the conference was a rough draft which was handed over to Thomas, the Abbot of Osney, who after two years produced the complete code under which the College was regulated for the rest of its brief existence.  These statutes were much the same as those existing at that period for all the halls and colleges within the precincts of the University. The young "monks were to be trained in logical exercises" ; they were to attend chapel with due regularity and non attendance was to be atoned for by fine : there was to be high mass on such solemn days as the festival of St. Augustine, or dedication day, or the day of the commemoration of the founder. The service of the chapel was to be duly performed according to custom : a sacrist was to superintend the vestments, missals, and altar utensils, while a precentor was to give notice of prayers and settle the hymns and the service.  His duties were so multiple that on high days both seculars and battlers were "to be at his command in the offering of wax and francincense and blowing the organ".  The seculars were not to attend the chapel on ordinary occasions, but as they lived out in the town they were "to goe to the parish church wherein they lived". As in all other colleges during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a student must always use Latin in conversation in Hall ; and each day one of the students would read a Latin chapter while his colleagues partook of their meal.  Dining in Hall was compulsory and no member of the college was to dine in his chambers without the consent of the prior.

The list of the priors of St. Mary's College is very incomplete.  It is not known who was the first prior, and Anthony Wood, by a curious chance, omits Richard Charnock, the most celebrated of all. William Westkarre or Westekarie, probably "Magister Willelmus Westcare, sacre pagine professor, Prior prioratus, ecclesie gloriose et individue Trinitatis de Monteffonte, ordinis S. Augustini, Wyntoniensis diocesis" is the earliest prior known, being mentioned in 1448, but he was certainly not the first.  He was a doctor of divinity "et saepe Commissarius Universitatis tempore Henrici VI". According to the "liber statutorum huius collegii", on 10th January 1465/6 Westkarre was succeeded by Richard Leycester, who, after some few months, was succeeded in turn by "Dominus ... Cerne" or "Carne".  How long this man held his position is not known.  Wood infers that his successor came into office in the first year of the sixteenth century ; but as he thus omits Charnock, who was undoubtedly prior in the last years of the fifteenth century, it can only be surmised that Cerne and Charnock divided the last thirty three years between them. John Hakborn, Bachelor of Divinity, became prior in 1501, and after 8 years left Oxford to take the more lucrative post of Abbot of Cirencester.  Another Bachelor of Divinity, named Thomas Beel, was elected prior in the first year of Henry VIII.  Having proceeded to the degree of Doctor of Divinity he was appointed to the important post of Prior of St. Mary Spittle without Bishopgate and escopus Lident. Beel was probably followed by Hugh Whitwick, who is first mentioned in 1518, but whether this was the date of the actual election is not now discoverable. About 10 years after he retired to the Priory of Hexham, handing over in 1528 the government of St. Mary's to John Rasey.  He, no doubt, watched with anxiety the dark storms that were brewing, but was hardly capable of imagining what was soon to happen to his beloved College.  Nothing is known of his work, nor of that of his successor Thomas Massey, who was prior in 1532, and "detrusus fuit per Canonicos ibidem" in the same year.  Two years later his name again occurs as prior and once again in 1538.  He seems to have something of a pluralist for "fuit curatus ecclesiae S. Georgii Oxon. et Canonicus Regularis de Ousney".  He was also a disciplinarian of some strength, as he "punished one of Merton Abbey for studying in Canterbury College "contra Statuta"". The "ultimas rector vel prior" was Jarvis Markham, appointed , according to the statutes, in 1541 ; but the doom of the monasteries had already been pronounced, and seminaries in connexion with them were not destined to survive.  After a century of existence, and presumably of good work, St. Mary's College for Augustinians in Oxford was dissolved some weeks before the beginning of Michaelmas term 1541.

On 7 October of that year an inventory was made "of the goods and implements" within St. Mary's; and from this it may well be inferred that either the authorities, having seen the storm coming, had lightened the ship and taken away anything of value, or that St Mary's College had never been well provided with this world's goods, and that the graduate and undergraduate members had lived the most ascetic of lives. The Hall seems to have had for its only ornament "a greene hanging of say" ; besides this there was nothing in the room except a couple of tables and some benches.  In the twelve chambers there were a few tables and tressels and boards and shelves: but between the twelve there were only five bedsteads, two presses and one "studdy" or writing desk.  "The stuff belonging to the Kitchen" was equally exiguous.  There were very few pots and pans, only one "greedyron", one frying-pan, two saucers, three platters and five dishes of "tymber".  Strange though it may seem, there were only two "Kitchin knives, a greate and a small".  The Buttery contained four barrels, a tub, a "cuphorde", a salt, a basket, and "2 tabell clothes one iiii ells the other 3".  Such an inventory denotes either poverty or fraud.  If we incline to the former the number of students must have decreased in the early years of the sixteenth century, for it is evident from the statutes that the college was regarded as being likely to overflow, and the system of "licensed lodgings" seems already to have been in existence. 

It may be presumed that, for whatever cause, St. Mary's College at the time of the dissolution was not in a fit state to take over as a working concern.  For six years, therefore, the collegiate buildings remained empty until once again, as a University Hall, they were used for educational purposes, first under John Bury, who was appointed in 1547 ; and later under Mr Alexander Elcock, of Christchurch, in 1556.  There is little or no evidence to prove that under his rule there were any students, and in a very short time St. Mary's College ceased for ever as an institution of learning.

The students of St. Mary's College may possibly have never been very numerous, and it is equally possible that the life they were obliged to adopt after leaving their Alma Mater prevented them from making a name in the world.  It is, however, at least curious that, in a college that existed for a century, only two names are handed down as those of men of note.  One was merely a guest within those ancient walls, the other was a student proper. 

Concerning the guest, the words of Anthony Wood should never be forgotten.  "Though this College" he says "had but a small continuance yet it hath left sufficient memory behind it which was from the entertaining of Erasmus".  This illustrious stranger came to study at Oxford in 1497 or 1498 and, as became a regular canon, took up abode in the College particularly set apart for the Augustinian Order.  Here it was that he became acquainted with Colet, to whom he was introduced not only by letters from mutual friends in Paris, but also by Richard Charnock, Prior of St. Mary's "one of the most cultivated scholars then resident at Oxford".  Colet, as soon as he heard of the arrival of Erasmus at St. Mary's, wrote to him ; and Erasmus replied in one of those graceful epistles he knew so well how to write.  The letter is remarkable for its modesty ; its tone is that of deprecation and shows a desire to reject the praise that Colet had exhibited in his complimentary letter.  From this small beginning there sprang a deep and lasting friendship which was only broken by Colet's death.  What a wonderful literary coterie it was to which Erasmus had been admitted.  How much indebted he must have felt to his friend, Lord Mountjoy, in removing him from his enemies in Paris and starting him as it were upon a fresh page of life.  Mountjoy had introduced him to More, then a brilliant youth of twenty ; it was Mountjoy, too, who had written to Colet, the lecturer who was now electrifying his audiences in Oxford ; and Grocyn, who was teaching Greek despite the opposition and obloquy of the old fashioned.  It was of such friends that Erasmus wrote "when I listen to my friend Colet I seem to be listening to Plato himself.  Who does not admire in Grocyn the perfection of his training? What can be more acute, more profound or more graceful than the judgement of Linacre.  What disposition has nature ever fashioned more gentle, more endearing or more happy than that of Thomas More?" On another occasion he wrote that with two such friends as Colet and Charnock he would not refuse to live in remote Scythia.  Or again, he wrote to Mountjoy, "I am delighted with Colet and Charnock.  Everything is so much brighter than I looked for".  Above all he gave a picture of a dinner at Oxford, possibly, if not certainly, within the walls of St. Mary's College.  "You will ask how our party was composed.  Listen and be sorry that you were not one of us.  First there was the Prior Richard Charnock ...Colet was in the Chair, on his right the Prior, on his left a young theologian to whom I sat next ... and ... several other besides.  We talked over our wine, but not about our wine.  We discoursed on many subjects ... Colet beat us all down.  He spoke with a sacred fury.  He was sublime and as if inspired." Colet, indeed, had an immense effect upon Erasmus while he stayed in St. Mary's College, and it was while there that the lecturer induced the Augustinian to abate his reverence for the authority of Thomas Aquinas.  In this end and in other ways during his stay Erasmus was a learner rather than a teacher, and even when Colet urged him to lecture he modestly declined.  It is not at all clear when Erasmus left St. Mary's, but probably at the beginning of 1500, proceeding almost at once from Oxford to Paris.

The celebrated student of St. Mary's College was a lesser luminary than the guest, though Robert Ferrar won for himself a martyr's crown, whilst the guest almost accepted a cardinals hat.  Since Luther himself was an Augustinian it is not altogether surprising that one of the order should have become a protestant in Oxford.  So pronounced, indeed, were the views of Robert Ferrar that John Longland, Bishop of Lincoln, advised his punishment in 1527 with two other "perilous men".  The next year however the Bishop petitioned Wolseley to grant Ferrar absolution before Easter.  On an appointed day, therefore, he with another member of St. Mary's College, and several more of the Lutheran community at Oxford, went in a solemn procession from the University Church of St. Mary's to St. Frideswide's, carrying a bundle of faggots as a sign of the awful fate he had escaped, and as he passed the Church of St. Martin at Carfax, like his companions, threw the book from which he had obtained his erroneous teaching into a fire which had been lighted for the purpose. Robert Ferrar was fortunate in his escape as a heretic on this occasion.  Just twenty years later, when Edward VI's reign had inaugurated a period of more Protestant rule, Ferrar was promoted to the see of St. David's, and here he remained until Queen Mary re-enacted the statute "de heretico comburendo".  Towards the end of 1554 Ferrar was deprived of his diocese and, on March 30 of the following year, was burnt at Carmarthen.  "Of whom", says Wood, "the reader may see more in Master Fox his book of Martyrs".

By the time of the martyrdom of Ferrar the glory of his old college had passed away, and the history of the building for the next hundred years is one of dispute, degradation and destruction. When Alexander Elcock was Principal, the College is described as already in a state of ruin and desolation.  So much so, that Lord Williams, by what right is unknown, sold in 1556 "timber and slatt from hence to the city by Mr Wayt". This Mr Wayt, or Waite, at one time member of Parliament for the city, afterwards Mayor of Oxford, seems to have been the evil genius of the place.  In this case however, his apparently nefarious dealings were stopped, for, on 8 October 1556, "the bargayne of tymber and slatte bought by Mr. Wayt in Saynt Mary Colledge shalbe no bargayne allowed for the body of the Citie". On the very same day, again without any clear right at law, John Fettiplace gave and confirmed to the University for ever "all his tenement called by the name of St. Mary's College and which before was known as Besill's Place".

After this gift to the University, for which there is little reason to think there was any justification, Principal Elcock continued to rule the College for a short time on the distinct understanding that he should restore the premises to Cardinal Pole for the use of the Augustinian Canons should the Archbishop require him to do so.  During this short period Elcock paid to the University the sum of 13s 4d per annum as rent.  This, however, in no way checked the schemes of Mr. John Wayt, who, after "being prysoner yn Bocardo wtin the Citie for dett" still "pretended that he had an interest [in St. Mary's College] and that he was lord of the same".  The city became so exasperated with the high handed and avaricious conduct of Wayt that, on 30 April 1557, he was "dysmyssed bothe of the number of eight, and also out of the Counsaill house".

In the meantime a fierce quarrel was going on between the City and the University concerning St. Mary's College, and is shown by the accounts of William Tresham.  This worthy official of the University undertook, on 22 April 1556, a journey "at the request of Congregacion, who promised me to paie half my expenses for me my servauntes and horses, for the saving of Sainte Marie Colledge against Jhon Waite who then began to spoile it".  The sum claimed by Tresham on this account was 5 18s 1d.  On 3 November he again went to London "to my Lord Cardenall ... In which journey I taried 3 daies longer against Jhon Waite with Mr. Elcocke by request of my Lorde's Grace".  Tresham, on this occasion, went as far as to retain a lawyer, Mr Weeche, "against Jhon Waite", paying him the fee of 5s.  About the same time he paid 4s 6d "for one paire of gloves of mertine given to Mr Jhon Phetiplase who grawnted his interest of Sainte Marie Colledge to the Universitie for ever under his seale of armes".  Soon after he expended 5s on "the same Mr Phetiplase in wine and wild fowle what tyme he sealed to me and delivered to me his deede of gifte of the said Colledge".

It can only be imagined that Tresham's visits to London were ineffective, for in the early years of the reign of Elizabeth the University lost possession.  This may be due to the fact that it was "agreyd at a Cowncell holden the 27 of Januarye [1561/2] that Mr. Mayre and Mr. Wood shall goo to London a bowt the suete of Saynct Mary Colledg" ; not that these two city representatives obtained permission for the Corporation, but at least they had the satisfaction that the University had lost.  The owners were apparently the Earl and Countess of Huntingdon, and they certainly held possession in 1562.  Almost immediately after Katherine, widow of Francis, Earl of Huntingdon, together with Earl Henry, her son, granted and enfeoffed John Wayte, Mayor of Oxford, and others of all the site of St. Mary's College.  The actual transferees were the President of Magdalen and a certain Mr Westfallyng, to whom the City gave a "brekefast" when "they gave possession of Saynt Mary Colledge to the Toune for ye use of pore people".  About the same time the City paid 6s "to Ashley for iij payre of gloves wch Mr. Flaxney carried to my Lord of Huntingdon when he dyd pay for the writyngs of St. Mary Colledg".

The premises had now, indeed, fallen on evil days, for the City took them over to use as a kind of "workhouse" in which there were to be maintained and educated ten poor children ; while at the same time ten poor persons were "to be set on work" and so St Mary's College became a combination of a charity school and almshouse and was given the appellation of Bridewell.  No time was lost in doing all this, for on 19 June 1562 James Atwood, Thomas Wynkley, and, Garbrand Hacks were appointed by the Town Council, "the mastres of the hole doers towching the government of the new erected hospytall here in Oxford".  Such a "hospital" needed funds and, on 20 April 1563, it was decided "that the howse of the pore shall have owte of the coffers so moche money as the rent of the newe Bocher Rowe, and also the rente of Crypley, and the rente of the water bytweene the Castell mylls and the newe brydge shall yerelye amounte unto, from the feast of Annunciation B.V.M now laste paste before the date hereof, untyll suche tyme as the Citie shall provyde otherwyse for the same".  "Suche tyme" apparently arrived on 11 July 1564, when it was enacted that the hospital should be supported by weekly payments, from the mayor 6d, from each alderman 4d, from each bailiff 3d, from each chamberlain 2d, and from every member of the Common Council 1d.  Five weeks later the sums were slightly altered, and every quarter the mayor was to pay 3s 4d, the alderman 3s, the bailiffs 2s, the chamberlains 1s 4d, and the common councillors 1s.  Before a year had elapsed this was found to be quite inadequate, and the City, on 28 June 1566, was obliged to "taxe all men accordinge to their discrescions" for the maintenance of the Bridewell another year.  Wood states that "what became of their maintenance afterward I knew not neither do I find any more mention of it" except occasional sums left by will, as for example in 1579 when Richard Williams, who was twice mayor "did leave to them 4l towards their apparelling - who alwayes were habited with blew coates". But even before this date the Bridewell was breaking up.  As early as 19 January 1575/6, "Yt ys agreed att thys Counsell that thure shall not be any more putt into Brydewell to be theire founde from hensforth but by specyall consent of thys house". About a month later the city granted several leases of portions of the property.  It was agreed that Mr. Tarleton "shall have a lease of the pece of the cloyster of Brydewell", and "that Mr. Richard Williams and hys wyffe shall have a leas of the great garden behynd", and that Mr. Bernard Arche[r] should have "a leas of that garden ground and a pece of the cloyster".  The inevitable Mr Wayte had his lease renewed, but his temporary friendship with his fellow citizens was soon to be ruptured, for on 31 July 1578, "Hit ys agreed at this counsell that from henceforth Mr. Wayte whoe hath taken the priveledge of the Universitie and for saken to be justified by the mayor and Bayliffs of this Towne, shalbe quyte disfraunchised and be taken as one not free of the corporation".  Many years after, it was hinted that Wayte had deserted the City in its struggle to hold St. Mary's College.  It is possible that this is the reason he forsook his old friends and became a privileged member of the University.

It is at this point in the history of St. Mary's that Brasenose College becomes interested in the building.  Wood records that he intended to ask Principal Yate how it was that the college came into possession of the site.  He occasionally refers to the "leiger book" of the College as his authority for his statements, but these are so inaccurate and so brief that it would seem that Principal Yate was not so anxious to show the College documentary evidence of possession as Wood was to see it. 

The first document dealing with the history of St. Mary's College, possessed by the Principal and Scholars of Brasenose, is a certificate of the burial of the Lady Katherine, Countess of Huntingdon, who "was interred in our church of Ashby de li souch the 17th. day October 1576, and is so entered in our church regester Book".  This is signed by "Ant. Watson Minister" and "Thomas Rist, I being the Clarke". Presumably the College had obtained this document knowing that the Lady Katherine, in her lifetime, had been one of the lessors to the City.  It is now impossible to say at what date this certificate was obtained ; but it is more than likely that it would have been at the same time as Henry, Earl of Huntingdon's letter of attorney, dated 1 February 1580.  This letter is of very considerable importance with regard to after events.  "I said the saide Earle together with Dame Katherin my mother did convey the House and scite of the late dissolved Colledge called St. Marye Colledge in Oxford with orchards and all the buildings therein with the appurtenances [to the] citizens or Inhabitants in or near the cittye of Oxford to certain uses and Intents which be not performed of the parte of the said feoffees, have by theis presents constituted authorized and in my place appointed ... W. Leche and Robert Harrison M.A. or either of them my trewe and lawful Attorneys jointly and severally ... to enter into the house and scite of the College of St Marye in the parishes of St. Michael and St. Peter-le-Bailey, and into one orchard and all the Houses &c belonging to the late dissolved College, to take possession and seisin of the same for the use and behouffe of me the said Earle my heirs and assigns".

At this point it should be noted that Brasenose College was indebted to two benefactors of the name of Port.  The first, Sir John Port of Etwald in Derbyshire and a friend of William Smith, the episcopal founder, bestowed on the College a piece of land abutting on its southern edge in 1516.  His son, a second Sir John Port, was a Fellow of the College, and "having heard that his great uncle Dr. William Fitzherbert meant during his life to have endowed a Scholar, gave in 1555 an annual rent of 3l to come from his estate at Dale in Derbyshire". This rent charge was made the means of a transference of property.  The Earl of Huntingdon, descendant of Sir John Port in the female line, on 11 February 1580, conveyed to the Principal and Scholars of the "Royal Hall .... of Brasennos", in consideration of the annual payment of 3 and 27 arrears issuing "from the late dissolved monastery of Dale all the house and scite lately of the dissolved College of St. Marie in Oxon".  It was therefore in this way that the King's Hall and College of Brasenose became the possessor of the ancient Augustinian house of learning.

The purpose of the College was to make their new possession pay, or at least to receive from it, the equivalent of the rent charge resigned in exchange for it.  For this reason a tenant was found in the person of the second Principal of Jesus College, who, as a married man, probably required quarters more suitable for the estate of matrimony than could be found within the walls of his college.  Even before Brasenose had entered upon legal possession a lease had been drawn up between the "Kinges haule and Colleadge of Brasin Nose" on the one side and "Gryffithe Lloyd L.L.D., Principal of Jhesus Colleadge" on the other on 2 June 1582.  In exchange for 100 marks and 3 p.a. payable on St. Michael's Day Brasenose conveyed the site of St. Mary's College "with all landes growndes, buyldings, orchards &c for thrittye yeares" to the Principal.  It is somewhat curious that this lease should have been signed, for it was not until 15 April 1584 that Brasenose College, in the person of Thomas Singleton, took possession and received "for us in our name seisin .. of St. Marie's College". The day after a counterpart of the lease was signed by "Gr Lloide" wherein "in consideration of a certain sum of money the college demise grant and let to farm to the Principal of Jesus College all the site of St. Mary's College between the Back Lane out of the parish of St. Peter by Newe Inn unto the parish of St. Michael on the North and West and the lane sometimes in use cawled [blank] on the south, and certain garden grounds and backsides occupied by Thomas Cogan and others on the East part with all ways easements and appurtenances .. Provided that the College may dig up all Foundations and pull down any materials which belong to the premises and have no roof at present" and also "the vaute or seller there and the little thatched house near the Back Gate, and to employ in building or repairing the stones of the same foundation walls, vaute or little house".  At the same time it was agreed that the Principal Lloyd might alter and of the rooms or partitions at his discretion. 

Two interesting conclusions may be drawn from this lease.  The one is that by the year 1584 a great part of the buildings of St. Mary's College was in a very ruinous condition.  The other that, as early as the date of this document the College already had a scheme for using the building material for improving their own edifice - a scheme which was afterwards realized. 

It has already been said that the later history of St. Mary's College largely consisted of a series of disputes.  One of the earliest of these was when "Anna Lloyde" the widow of the Principal, complains, on 30 June 1587, that whereas Brasenose College was properly seised of a messuage, tenement, and divers gardens and outplaces in Oxford, known as St. Mary's College, now in the tenure of Anna Lloyde, and that the college had leased these to her husband for a term of years not yet expired , and that he was lawfully possessed and quietly held them for several years, and that he had died about St. Andrews Day last, and that his goods were properly administered, and that he became legal possessor of the said premises, now a Mr Craine, Principal of New Inn Hall, living near, has openly reported and given out in "speaches" that he and the residents in New Inn Hall ought to have and enjoy "a common heighe & usuall fote way", as well by night as by day, to go and come in and through the same messuage and tenement, and declares that if he is stopped passing he will forcibly pull down and break open the gates, walls, and fences of St. Mary's College.  Unfortunately for Anna Lloyde the truculent Mr. Craine had only used words and had not tried to use the force he so vigorously threatened, so that she complains to the court that she cannot proceed against him.  She prays the court, however, as the witnesses to be produced against this monstrous claim are old and impotent, to subpoena the Principal, Robert Craine, before the Court of Chancery at Westminster or let her have a commission "pro perpetua rei memoria" to be directed to persons of credit in these "partes" authorizing them to examine such witnesses as are necessary against the presumed right of way and to place the matter on record. 

The suggestion made by Anna Lloyde would, no doubt, have been the best solution of the quarrel, but a third party came to be implicated in the question, and Brasenose College possesses a letter stating that the case affected the Warden and Fellows of New College, who claimed to be owners in chief of the land and way in question, and that their solicitor had procured a postponement of the whole matter.  Here apparently Anna Lloyde had to rest, though it can hardly be said content.  No other records are in existence to show that the case proceeded any farther, and now it will never be known whether Mr Craine carried out his blustering threats and pulled down the fences and walls of the already derelict property. 

A much more serious dispute arose after the death of "Mrss Lloyde", and when "Philipp King of Lincoln Inn, London" was a tenant of St. Mary's College.  It was a renewal of the old trouble with the City, and probably began in the autumn of 1624.  Correspondence had evidently taken place between Brasenose College and Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, and during the Long Vacation of 1624 the Principal, Samuel Radcliffe, visited him.  He found him "somethinge lowe of stature but of comely countenance & lineaments" and evidently disposed to be friendly towards the College.  What actually transpired cannot now be known, for the only evidence that exists is a tattered and very illegible letter from the Earl dated October 1624.  The Earl wrote, "Mr. Dr. Radcliffe since your departure from hence I have considered of yr business with the Citie of Oxford concerning the charitable guift of my Ancestors and ... the deed of my greate grandmother and my great unkle to the Citie and my great unkles deed to yr Colledge be in my opinion both Charitable one for the releefe of poore the other for the Advancement of Learning yet I would ... mediacion of some gentlemen of ... must reconcile the difference wthout charge to either pty to wch effect I have written to Mr. Mayor of the Busines and doe desire that your Colledge will admit of a treaty to that purpose. And .. you thankes for the panies you took here wth my ...

yr very loving frend

I desire you to send me by the bearer Joseph Newton my Solicitor a coppie of Sir John Port my Auncestor his gift to the College both what it is and the land from whence it yssues that I may give you the best of anything that is yr right".

The college obviously did not take, or was unable to take, this excellent advice as to arbitration, and in January 1625, drew up a memorandum as to the question at stake.  The document states that the college had for forty five years been the owners of St. Mary's College, and that it had purchased the estate from the Earl of Huntingdon for a valuable consideration in money and for the extinction of certain annuities and quit-rents due to the college from possessions in Derbyshire.  The Principal and Fellows had been undisturbed in their ownership since February 1580, but that now the Mayor and Bailiffs of Oxford had obtained some deeds or counterparts concerning the premises, which documents really belonged to the college.  The Corporation of the City of Oxford now claimed the premises to their own use and made a fraudulent estate thereof, entering upon it without right and drawing up a lease sealing the same to one John Bird the younger "for divers years in order to trie therein in Common Law".  The Corporation asserted that Brasenose had no right or title to the property, but that all rights rested in themselves; and threatened that they would expel the College unless it could produce good evidence of ownership.  On the other hand, the Principal and Fellows asked their adversaries to show what title they advanced, but to this the City had not replied.  The Principal and Fellows therefore solicited the Keeper of the Great Seal "as they cannot by want of accurate knowledge plead in the Court of Common Law" to grant them the powers to subpoena the mayor [1625] and others to appear in the Court of Chancery and to stand by its decisions.

Although, in January, the College asserted that the City sent them no answer to their questions, on 13 February the City did reply by one John Whistler, presumably their man-of-law.  In this answer they denied the college right to the premises and said that "Christian", Countess of Huntingdon, conveyed them to the City "as a kind of Poor House".  This seems to have been more or less true; but Wood, writing many years afterwards, confuses the whole story by saying "I have heard that the .. earl and his wife did grante [St Mary's College] to the towne upon condition that they should make it a Bridewell within certain years appointed by him; which they omitting [he] reassumed it into his hands".  This looks as if Wood imagined that the Bridewell had never been used; but the reply of the City, in February 1625, showed that the hospital had been founded and gave a reason as to why it did not continue a place of charity.  The reasons however were almost certainly untrue.  The mayor asserted that one of their feoffees [meaning of course Mr Wayte] betrayed the trust and delivered the deed to Brasenose College.  On the face of it this statement is not correct, for if it were true the College would have the documents at that date, which does not seem to have been the case, ad certainly is not now the case, as no such documents exist.  The City, evidently feeling doubtful about this somewhat rash statement, then went on to say that it knew of no College deeds, but that the present Earl had delivered to them a counterpart of the original grant.  The City next produced what was considered a still stronger claim in the conveyance of the premises to the Corporation by Humphrey Levens, the heir of William Levens, the survivor of the feoffees of Katherine, Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl Henry her son, and stated that they have, therefore, been fully justified in making several entries on the estate openly and not in any sense in secret.  They finally informed the College that all evidences were, at the time they wrote, in the hands of the King's Bench, and these they were as much determined to retain as to adhere to their statement that Brasenose College had no good title. 

The College solicitor, Mr Charles Hallowaye, at once took up the cudgels in defence of the claim of Brasenose at some date in Hilary Term.  He said that the Principal and Fellows insisted on abiding by their first statement ; and that they had not heard, except, of course, through the City, of any older conveyance made by a member of the Huntingdon family ; but that if any such conveyance had been made it would consist of a grant conditional on a continuance of uses stated, and that if the uses were neglected there would be power or re-entry as was the case in other deeds made by the Earls of Huntingdon.  Mr Halloway then went on to show that the cost of maintaining the Bridewell had become too much for the City and that the feoffees, on the advice of the Mayor and Corporation, had given up the charitable institution, and thus renounced the performance of the trust.  It is evident that Mr. Hallowaye's knowledge of the history of the Huntingdon family was rather weak because he does not like to commit himself to a definite earl, but says, "Some descendant of the Earl to whom the right of re-entry had accrued" therefore entered, and afterwards conveyed the property to the College. It is somewhat strange that as the College possessed the grant from Henry, Earl of Huntingdon, their solicitor did not quote the actual conveyance.  It is possible that he thought that it was either impolitic or unnecessary, at any rate he seems to have held the deed for future use, as he wrote that the College hoped to prove their possession "unless the feoffees will deliver to the Repliants the deeds and evidences" concerning the premises, or unless "the reply herein given is considered satisfactory".

About the same time certain interrogations were issued by Brasenose College.  The answers to these questions are to be found in the depositions of defence.  Ten inhabitants of St. Mary's College when an almshouse, many of them more than eighty years old, deposed to the condition of the Bridewell, the number of the inmates, and to the training the poor boys received before becoming apprentices.  Some of them dilated upon the bad disposition of John Wayte, the former mayor whose "sowle the dyvell would have".  He was accused of many offences, and so numerous were his ill deeds that he was disenfranchised. They said that there were only about six or eight poor men and women in the almshouse and about as many poor children under the care of a schoolmaster.  The little unfortunates were called "almschildren" and were clothed in "white frize coats garded with red gards on the one sleeve". 

A definite lawsuit now arose between John Bird who had received a lease from the City in April 1625, and Robert Robinson, sub-tenant of Philip King, tenant of the College.  The Exemplification of the Record of the King's Bench, dated 9 June 1626, set forth that in a case tried on 26 April 1625, John "Byrde", by his attorney, Bartholomew Radcliffe, brought a charge of trespass and a clause for ejection against Robert "Robynson", tenant of a house and garden and farm of two acres in Oxford in the Parish of St. Michael.  The document states that John Bird had with him his lease granted for four years by the mayor and citizens, and that Robert Robinson appeared, on Wednesday before the Holy Trinity, to reply before the King at Westminster and supported, through his attorney, his right of possession, denying that he was at fault.  The Court decided that Robert Robinson should recover 6 13s 4d and gave him, on the same date, the right of distraint from John Bird under a Royal Patent.

This meant that the College had, for the time being, won their case, and they wrote, on the 13 July 1626 somewhat triumphantly to the Earl of Huntingdon that "the idea of a compromise did not frighten us.  The jurie quickly decided the case".  The jury saw that the resumption was a perfectly legal one on the part of the Earl in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and they realised that he had not been influenced by the College, nor had they in any way treated with an unfaithful mayor. The matter, however, did not end there, because there are lists of jury still preserved for 1627 and 1628, and a summary of the case and a court record of the same year.

From this time forward Brasenose was in undisputed possession of the premises of St. Mary's College, although, in April 1650, there seemed a likelihood of further trouble as depositions were once again taken from nine men of very considerable age.  They stated that St. Mary's College was conveyed in the past to the City as a house for the poor and that the inhabitants were fed on corn brought from the Castle Mill, the allowance being two bushells weekly; but that there was a gradual neglect of the institution and the good old custom ceased and the place became destitute of inmates.  Some of the old men recalled taxation for the poor inhabitants ; and it is clear that the evil memory of John "Waite" the mayor was not even yet forgotten, for they accused him of having taken away half the corn.  After this, and mainly because of this unscrupulous man, the place fell into disuse.  It must have come as something of a shock to the Puritanical Principal Greenwood when the old men concluded their denunciations of Wayte by saying he was the means of conveying the site of St. Mary's College to Brasenose.  Whether these depositions were considered sufficient or no remains uncertain, but in any case there is no documentary evidence in the possession of the College to show that any suit was actually tried.  It would seem that the City had given up the idea of getting possession as early as 1635, as, in that year 'the new Bridewell without the North Gate' was built, and all hope of obtaining the old Bridewell had passed away. 

Soon after the settlement of the case of Bird v. Robinson the College made an estimate of the value of St. Mary's College, and this is dated 7 November 1628.  The College sent two masons and two carpenters to draw up this estimate, and they "doe view the buildings and walls" erected since the College had possessed the site.  This estimate was 1,480.  All these valuable buildings were nearly lost in October 1644, when a most disastrous fire broke out at the University Press, then in Butcher Row, now known as Queen Street.  Many houses were destroyed, and it was indeed due to the fact that St. Mary's College was so surrounded by gardens that a great part of Oxford was saved. 

If the estimate of the masons and carpenters in 1628 is taken in conjunction with the statement of the lease of 1584, it looks as if Brasenose had from the start designs of using the material of St. Mary's College for building purposes.  At any rate, by 14th March 1649/50, there is no doubt whatever as to this, as shown by a lease made between the Principal and Scholars and "John Kinge of the Inner Temple".  After stating the "Houses and scite" of St. Mary's College should be let to John King, the lease reserves the power of giving six months notice "to enter with the workmen and labourers with Carts, Horses & c. upon any part of it to pull downe the olde chappel .. and to remove" all materials "of the saide olde Chappell, of stoane Tymber Lead &c. to carry awaye for the building of a chappell within Brasenose Colledge according to the intencion of the last will and testament of Samuel Radclif, D.D. Principal". 

It is generally asserted that the work of destruction began six years later, but it must have started earlier than that because, thanks to the Bursars Account Books, it may be ascertained that on 18 January 1653/4 Job Baw was paid "for work uppon St. Mary Chapple 00-14-6".  Definite demolition began, however, under the superintendence of Mr John Jackson the "overseer" in March 1656.  The Book of Accounts for the New Buildings in Brasenose College, in Oxford, begun Anno Dni 1656 records, on March 22, the purchase of baskets (for the slatters) ladders, mattocks, boards, &c.; at the same time 1s 6d a day and bevers are paid to the men for taking the slates off the chapel of St. Mary's College. On 19 April there is the entry "This weeke ye Roofe all taken down". From the next entries it is obvious that the College had determined to use the old roof of St. Mary's chapel for the New Chapel at Brasenose.  Subsequently there is the entry "building ye sheds for ye roof of ye chapple", which meant that the beams of St. Mary's were protected from the weather in a part of Brasenose or, more likely, in St. Mary's churchyard.  Two other entries refer directly to the old Augustinian College.  On 17 October Mr. Houghton

payd William Clark for the use of his garden
& spoyling of his fruit Trees under ye old
chapple wall when ye Roofe & Walls were
taken Downe.............................................01 00 00

And again on

Satturd 25 Octob payd Wm Redhead one
days work with his [?] in bring ye window
James [jambs] fr ye old chap...................00 06 00

The present roof, or rather ceiling, in Brasenose College chapel has given rise to much speculation, and in almost every account of the College, it stated that it came from St. Mary's College, and that it does not fit the present building.  This, however is true only in part. According to Brasenose College Monograph III the facts appear to be these.  "The old chapel of St. Mary's possessed a fine open-timbered hammer beam roof.  When this was pulled down the roof ... was put over the new chapel, one of the hammer-beams being secured with irons".  as shown by the entry in December 1685 "For 4 spykes & one hold fast used in ye chapple in ye Hamer Beame".

"For some reason or other, an open-timbered hammer-beam roof was not wanted, and .. Mr. John Jackson was therefore instructed to prepare a model for the new roof for which he received .. 20 .. and very ingeniously he did it.  The points of the hammer-beams gave him the line for the pendants, the great feature of the later fan vaulted roofs.  From these ribs of the vaulting spring, and between them he shaped his ceiling in the ordinary way .. The hammer-beams and the brackets below them are left to show below the new vault, ingeniously worked into the design.  All the rest of the old roof is above and out of sight".  This ceiling, therefore, was the chief item in the building material that came from St. Mary's College, but no doubt both stone and beams were also included in the valuation of the material at 355.  So that the background of the present Brasenose Chapel roof is the old roof of the chapel of St. Mary's College built in 1440.

All the disturbance that had been caused in the grounds of St. Mary's College did not seem to prejudice its letting value, for once again Mr. John King received his lease on 17th December 1660.  It does not appear that Mr King ever resided at St. Mary's College.  In fact he sublet the tenement to Henry Ayleworth, Chancellor of the diocese of Oxford, and here he lived at least until the death of his wife Eleanor on 6 June 1667.  He had certainly left by the end of 1669, as in a lease dated 28 December it is stated that the residence was late in the tenure of Henry Ayleworth LL.D., and "now of William Glanville Esq". 

Up to this time the property had been let as a whole, including not only the main building and the orchard, but thirteen cottages and messuages.  One of these tenements was sublet by Mr. King to a Mr. James Deane [probably of Magdalen Hall], and, on 23 November 1669, Mr King expresses a wish to the Principal of Brasenose and "the worthy Fellows of the same" that the property should be divided, the main residence being let to him and the thirteen cottages to Mr. Deane.  This was evidently advantageous to the latter, as he expressed his willingness to pay the fines that were due for both properties.  From this time forward the two are leased separately, the rent from each being 3 per annum. 

Sir Henry Frederick Thynne, Bart., and Lady Mary, his wife, came to reside in St. Mary's College in the autumn of 1669; and there the Baronet died on Saturday, 6th March 1679/80, "aetat 70 or thereabouts". Lady Thynne evidently stayed on for a few months after her husband's death, and then, until the end of her lease, sublet to "William Guise Gent".  Wood describes him as "lately fellow of Alls Coll" ; and when he died in "S Maries Coll" on 3 September 1683, states that he was about thirty years of age.  This was a somewhat wild guess on the part of the antiquary, for William Guise was buried at St. Michael's, and the Church Register shows him to have been just over forty.  Two years before this Sir Thomas Millington became the lessee, but again did not reside, as on the renewal of the lease, on 24 December 1701, it is stated to have been "late in the occupation of Richard Dodwell", a well known Oxford attorney.  Shortly after it became the residence of Sir William Gifford, but he had evidently given it up by 1 April 1721, for on that date "Richard ffrewen of the University of Oxford, Dr in Physick" became the tenant and renewed his lease in 1732 and 1742, and, in fact, remained a tenant until his death in 1761.  During this tenancy all that remained of the old buildings, dating back to the Middle Ages, disappeared.  The house was, for all practical purposes rebuilt, and even its ancient name seems to have been forgotten, and from this time it is no longer "St. Mary's College" but, as it is known to-day, Frewin Hall.

It is not altogether surprising that the old name should depart and that the name of so illustrious a tenant should take its place, for Richard Frewen or Frewin was a man of considerable reputation in the University.  He was a Westminster Scholar of Christ Church and matriculated in 1698.  Ten years later he was Professor of Chemistry and at the same time rhetoric reader at the House.  This latter office was sometimes merely an academic post filled by any tutor whose turn it happened to be, but in this case the authorities had selected a really gifted speaker.  Hearne pays several tributes to his powers of oratory.  On one occasion it was "ingenious and modest", on another an "excellent speech", and on a third "very elegant".

Frewin married, for his first wife, Lady Tyrrell, widow of Sir Thomas Tyrrell, by whom she had three daughters. Besides these step-children Frewen had a son, who only lived a few months, in 1716, and a daughter who "being physiched and too much pampered" died in 1724.  During this period of his life, although already the tenant of St. Mary's College, Frewin did not reside there, for it is evident that he was living in High Street, in the parish of St. Peters in the East.  And here it was that his wife died in July 1725, "having been a very gay woman" and "afflicted a great while mightily with the Gout and Rheumatism".

Dr. Frewin did not remain a widower for long, and on 28 February 1727 "was married in the church of Bessilsleigh, near Abingdon, to Mrs. Elizabeth Woodward, neece of Dr. Joseph Woodward, Fellow of Oriel College & Register of the Chancellour of Oxford's Court.  She is about 35 years of age, and the Dr. about 50.  She hath lived with and taken care of her Uncle in New Inn Hall Lane, where he now lives many years.  She is a woman of extraordinary good nature.  They were married by Dr. Shippen Principal of Brazenose Coll".  The house where Dr. Woodward lived, and here referred to by Hearne, may possibly have been St. Mary's College itself; certainly he was a sub-tenant of one of the thirteen tenements on a portion of the site as early as 1 October 1719.  He was a very wealthy man and when he died he left what he had to his niece.  On her death, in September 1731, all her fortune, as he "hath no child by her", passed to the learned doctor, who by this time had taken up his residence in St. Mary's College.  It was no doubt with his wife's fortune that he entirely rebuilt what must now have been a somewhat ramshackle edifice.  To this new house in later years he brought his third wife, Mrs Graves, daughter of Peter Cranke.

Throughout this period Dr. Frewin had gained not only a reputation as a physician, but also as Camden Professor of Ancient History.  To discharge the duties of the latter he spent a large sum on books.  He was evidently a voracious reader and all his life something of a collector, so that when he died, on 29 May 1761, he left 2,300 volumes, consisting mainly of history and literature, to the Radcliffe Library.  Besides this handsome benefaction he bequeathed large sums for Westminster Scholars at Christ Church and for the physicians at the Radcliffe Infirmary.  It is said he "bequeathed his house in Oxford to the Regius Professor of Medicine for the time being", but this could only have been to the end of his lease.  On 1 October 1789, Brasenose College let the house the Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford ; this was renewed frequently and for many years the house remained the official residence of the Regius Professor of Medicine. 

About the middle of the nineteenth century this form of tenure came to an end ; and in 1860 the ancient St. Mary's College had its most exalted tenant in the person of Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VII, who, during his short period of residence in Oxford, stayed here with his military, naval, and ecclesiastical tutors. It is, perhaps, a little too much to expect that King Edward VII, when a happy youth, would ever think of the fact that his temporary home stood on the very site of a dissolved Augustinian institution, and that he was actually stepping on the very ground that had once been trod by the illustrious Erasmus.  For him, like the others of his day, and since, the name of Frewin Hall conjured up no visions of an ancient past , no memory of the wittiest of Reformers, no thought of one who died a willing martyr ; nor was there even a passing recollection of that kindly old physician whose face was welcomed on all sides as he drove out "in his charriot" from the antique gates of St. Mary's College.


May 1927
From: The Brazen Nose Vol IV no 6

This article is reproduced in its entirety with the kind permission of The Principal and Fellows of the King's Hall and College of Brasenose.

This article originally appeared in The Brazen Nose volume IV no 6. (May 1927)

More information about Brasenose College can be found at Brasenose College Website


1) Professor Haverfield wrote to Dr. C.B. Heberden on 15 May, year not specified, and said that Mr C. R. Peers, Inspector-General of Ancient Monuments, considered the column, three arches, and some of the vaulting beneath Frewin Hall to be Norman work and to have belonged to the vaulted under-hall of a Norman dwelling.

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