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The Hospital of Saint John Hockliffe

Hockliffe House front view February 2013
Hockliffe House front view February 2013

The Hospital of Saint John Baptist at Hockliffe was built on the south-west side of Watling Street on the corner of the parish boundary where it adjoined Chalgrave and Tilsworth. This site gave access to water from a boundary stream and the Hockliffe tithe map of 1839 still shows pair of ponds extending from the stream towards house. The earliest positively dated reference to the Hospital is from 1209, but two documents in the Bedfordshire Archives collection are of slightly earlier but uncertain date. In the first Ambrose of Tilsworth gave 3½ acres of land at Tilsworth to the Master of the Hospital of Saint John Baptist at Hockliffe [CH862]; in the second Hugh, son of Herbert of Eggington, quitclaimed half an acre of arable land in the East Field at Battlesden and some meadow to the Hospital [CH863]. The first known master is Thorold, who was appointed in 1209 and was still in office in 1230. The dedication to Saint John Baptist indicates that despite the similarity in names the Hospital at Hockliffe did not belong to the Knights Hospitaller, whose houses were dedicated to St. John of Jerusalem. In a grant of 1230 the Bishop of Lincoln described it as a "hospital of poor persons" and granted them "a chantry in their Chapel, and burial at it for themselves only" [PL/AC2/25].

The Malherbe family who held the Manor of Hockliffe in the thirteenth century were early patrons of the Hospital and may have been its founders. The Hospital held the advowson of Hockliffe from its inception, giving it the right to appoint rectors to the parish. In 1266 the Bishop of Lincoln appointed a new Rector of Hockliffe to replace William Malherbe, who had been elected by the brethren of the Hospital of Saint John and who was deemed unsuitable "for defect of orders and insufficiency of learning". The Master of the Hospital received a licence to impropriate the church of Hockliffe in 1303-4, meaning that the Hospital received the income and appointed a priest to carry out the religious duties of the parish. In 1405 King Henry IV (1399-1413)appointed Thomas Catryk as vicar "only because Dominus [Latin for Lord] William ate Mylne the last Master of the Hospital of Hockliffe" had presented his predecessor. As there were three Masters in 1405 the King presumably made the appointment while the Master's post was vacant.

The end of the thirteenth century and the early fourteenth saw difficult times for the Hospital. In 1288 the Master, Alan de Freston, was deposed by the Bishop. Soon after this the Hospital was destroyed by fire and in 1290 the Master was granted the right to issue indulgences for a period of five years in return for money towards rebuilding. The purchaser of an 'indulgence' was promised a reduction in the time his soul would spend in 'purgatory', a state in which the soul was believed to receive purification after death to make it fit to enter heaven. These were normally sold to raise money for religious causes. Opposition to the sale of indulgences was one of the factors which led to the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century.

De Freston's successor was still collecting alms for rebuilding in 1301. The difficulties of the Hockliffe Hospital at this time were compounded by internal dissent. In 1310 Master Luke of Nutley complained to Bishop Dalderby that since he took office "the brethren had been unwilling to obey him, and were filled with a spirit of rebellion, and that a certain lay brother had laid violent hands upon him and used contumelious words, refusing to recognise his authority". The issue was resolved by the removal of Master Luke and the reinstatement of his predecessor, Richard de Newton.

Sometime after 1422 the Hospital of St. John was taken over by Dunstable Priory. It was dissolved along with the Priory by Henry VIII [1509-1547] in 1540, at which time its income was only £4 15s 4d. After the dissolution ownership of the Hospital's property passed to the King as part of the Honour of Ampthill. In 1545 it was sold to George Acworth and Edward Butler. After changing hands several times, by the middle of the seventeenth century it had become the Red Lion Inn. In 1818 much of the inn was demolished and it was replaced by a red-brick Georgian property known as Hockliffe House. All that now remains of the medieval Hospital of Saint John is a 15th century pointed blocked doorway and part of a stone wall which was incorporated into the walls of Hockliffe House [PL/AC2/25]

Masters of the Hospital of St. John Baptist

(A list of masters of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist at Hockliffe from 1248 can be found in Volume I of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire of 1912)

  •  Thorold, appointed 1209, occurs 1230;
  •  A(dam), occurs 1248;
  •  Walter, resigned 1264;
  •  William de Lethom, appointed 1264;
  •  Thomas, resigned 1286;
  •  Alan de Freston, appointed 1286, deposed 1288;
  •  Thomas of Battlesden, appointed 1288;
  •  Walter de Hoccon, resigned 1289;
  •  Ralph de Eston, appointed 1289, resigned 1301;
  •  Richard de Newton, appointed 1301, resigned 1310;
  •  Luke of Nutley, appointed 1310, resigned 1310;
  •  Richard de Newton, appointed 1310;
  •  William de Elrichton, appointed 1321, resigned 1323;
  •  Hugh Tracy, appointed 1323, resigned 1323;
  •  William de Edington, appointed 1323, resigned 1323;
  •  Robert of Lubenham, appointed 1323, resigned 1338;
  •  John Carpenter, appointed 1338, resigned 1340;
  •  Ralph of Esthaddon, appointed 1340, resigned 1355;
  •  Richard of Dorset, appointed 1356;
  •  Nicholas, resigned 1400;
  •  William atte Mille, resigned 1405;
  •  John King, appointed 1405, resigned 1405;
  •  William Snell, appointed 1405;
  •  William Stortewayle, resigned 1408;
  •  Richard Ulverton, appointed 1408, resigned 1410;
  •  John Kirkeby, appointed 1410, died 1411;
  •  Thomas Burreth, appointed 1411, died 1413;
  •  William Colestone, appointed 1413;
  •  Thomas Chase, resigned 1422;
  •  Adam Symond, appointed 1422