36. THE COLLEGE OF BABLAKE, COVENTRY (fn. 1)
The collegiate church of St. John Baptist,
Coventry, owes its origin to one of the earliest
trade gilds of the city. The gild of St. John
Baptist was founded on 6 October, 1342. (fn. 2) On
its first establishment, one of the objects for
which it obtained its licence was the founding
of a chantry for six priests to sing daily mass in
the two great churches of St. Michael and Holy
Trinity. But in 1344 the dowager Queen
Isabel, who held for life the manor of Cheylesmore, granted to the gild of St. John a parcel of
land called 'Babbelak,' 117 ft. long, and varying in breadth from 40 ft. to 33 ft., on which to
build a chapel in honour of God and the Baptist,
for their own services, but stipulating for a chantry of two priests to sing daily mass for the royal
family. (fn. 3)
The eastern portion of this chapel was ready
for consecration on 2 May, 1350. (fn. 4)
Particular efforts were made seven years later
to finish this chapel. The master and brethren
of the gild entered into an agreement in 1357
with one William Walshman, a valet of Queen
Isabel, who acted as her Coventry bailiff, to aid
them in completing the work by adding thereto
a new aisle, and increasing the endowment so as
to support four additional priests, making six in
all, for the services of the chapel. It was also
agreed that all the stone and timber belonging to
an unfinished chapel of St. Mary in Cheylesmore
should be taken down, and the materials used for
the chapel at Bablake.
At the same time the queen sought the special
aid of the pope. Innocent VI, in May, 1357,
granted relaxation of a year and forty days of
enjoined penance to penitents who visit the chapel
of Bablake in the parish of Holy Trinity, founded
by Queen Isabella, in honour of the Blessed
Virgin, St. Anne, and St. John the Baptist, on
the feasts of Christmas, Easter, Whit Sunday,
and St. Peter and St. Paul of that year. This was
in response to a petition of the queen, who had,
however, asked for the unusual period of three
years and forty days. (fn. 5)
In 1358 Edward the Black Prince came into
possession of Cheylesmore, and in the following
year he gave a parcel of land 60 ft. by 40 ft.,
adjoining the chapel, for further enlargement.
It has been conjectured that the future Bablake
Hall was built on this piece of land; but Mr.
Fretton surmises that this plot adjoined the west
end of the chapel and served for the erection of
the tower and transepts.
Attached to the original chapel was an ankerhold or hermitage for a recluse. In 1362 the
bishop of Lichfield licensed Robert de Worthin,
a priest, at the request of Queen Isabel, to become a recluse or anchorite in a building erected
for that purpose adjoining the chapel of St. John.
Baptist. (fn. 6)
Between the years 1365 and 1369 William
Walshman, and Christian his wife, conveyed the
adjacent city property called 'the Drapery' to
the united gilds of St. John, St. Mary, and
St. Katherine, for the making of a chapel within
the chapel of Bablake in honour of the Holy
Trinity and the three saints of the three gilds.
This probably took the form of extensive rebuilding or additions to the chapel.
In 1392 the gild of the Holy Trinity was
united to those of St. John Baptist and St. Mary,
and under the joint name (though more usually
styled Holy Trinity) had licence to purchase
lands for the maintenance of nine priests to sing
mass daily in the chapel of Bablake for the good
estate of Richard II and his queen and his uncles.
Shortly after this the united gilds received various
benefactions for this purpose as detailed by Dugdale. (fn. 7)
A grant by John Percy and others in 1393
enabled the number of priests to be raised to
nine, one of them being appointed warden.
In 1457 the payments to the Bablake priests
by the Trinity Gild, according to Mr. Fretton's
extracts from the Leet Book, amounted to
£79 8s., John Norton being the warden. The
number of priests, as is stated by Leland, reached
to twelve in the early part of the sixteenth century; the payment made to the priests of this
college in 1520 amounted to £86 4s. 2d.; but
it had dropped to £67 4s. in 1536. These
sums, however, must have also included the stipends of the clerk or singing men.
The Valor of 1535 gave the clear annual
value of the Collegium voc' Babelak as £45 6s. 8d.
Robert Glasmond was then warden of the college. There was paid to him as his annual
stipend at the hands of the master of Trinity
Gild £8; and to each of the seven other chaplains of the college £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 8)
The survey of gilds and colleges of 1545
mentions the stipend of the warden as £6 13s. 4d.,
of eight priests £37 6s. 8d., of the master of the
grammar school £6 13s. 4d., of two singing
clerks £8, and of two singing boys £4. The
same return states that it was the duty of the
gild to maintain the full number of nine priests
to serve the chapel, each of whom had their
separate chamber in the precincts worth 4s. a
year. Though the priests or fellows had each
their separate lodging they had a common hall.
The college was dissolved in 1548; the
priests were pensioned in sums varying from
£5 6s. 8d. to £2 13s. 4d. Five of these pensioners were living in 1555.