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VI. TOWN HERMITS
a hermit dwell in a borough, town, or city, or nigh thereto where each
day he can
The city of
In 1311, the Bishop prohibited Thomas de Byreford, who, living as hermit there, took upon himself to hear confessions, administer sacraments, offer indulgences and do other un-
authorized things. Some time previous to 1290, St. James’s hermitage was enlarged, and, in 1332, the king granted the custody thereof to William Lyons and two other priests, and to Alan Chauns, hermit. When in old age William Lyons was “broken with bodily weakness,” a chaplain was sent to his aid.
All these men
were nominated by the Crown,
but the cell changed hands frequently, and, during voidance [when the
unoccupied], damage was done to the muniments, ornaments, and goods. Edward I committed the custody of the place
to the mayor, and afterwards to the Constable of the Tower. Edward III, however granted the advowson to
the abbot and convent of Garendon. One
of their nominees, John de Flytewyk, stayed only one year.
He was a priest on the staff of the
lazar-house [leper hospital] of St. Mary de Pré near
time the Cripplegate cell became a chantry chapel . In 1347, new
endowments were provided by the Countess of Pembroke, who founded a
the soul of Aymer de Valence. John Ayobanensis (formerly bishop-suffragan
in the sees of
There was also a hermitage on the south side of Aldgate. This cell was built in a turret of the city wall by John the hermit—possibly that John le Megre, who in 1259 was allowed to “transfer himself from the hermitage of Alegate, where he has lived for some years,” to that of Cripplegate. The Hundred Rolls record that the building encroached on the highway to the extent of 4 feet in one direction and 33 feet in another. Brother Berengar afterwards dwelt at the chapel of St. Mary and St. Nicholas in the torella of the city wall, by
the Tower. During the fourteenth century, this place was in the hands of the mayor and aldermen, who granted it to Sir John de Elyngham, chaplain, on condition that he should keep it in repair and protect it against wind and rain. In this document it is described as being near Bishopsgate.
Of the Bishopsgate cell little is known. In 1342 the custody of the king’s hermitage within Bishopsgate was given to John de Warrewyk. Four years later, protection was granted to Robert, hermit of Bishopsgate, who was dependent upon alms.5
Another hermitage was situated by St. Katharine’s hospital, near the Tower. It was visited in 1360 by John, the captive King of France, who gave two crowns as alms on Ascension Day, and a fortnight later, attended Mass and offered 12d.6  This was evidently the place called “le Swannesnest,” where in 1371 John Ingram was hermit. In the same year one Sir Robert was “a recluse monk near the Tower”.
A more rural spot was the hermitage of St. Katharin, on the site now occupied by Charing Cross Post Office. Henry III granted to the Bishop of Llandaff permission to lodge “in the close of the king’s hermitage of La Charryng”. In 1268 he appointed Simon de Bragham to succeed Richard de la March as chaplain of “The free chapel of the hermitage of la Cherring”. The Exchequer Roll of 1272 mentions two chaplains who performed divine service there for the soul of the king’s father. In 1361, a bequest was made to the hermit near charrynge-crouche.
parts of the kingdom, too, the “solitary” made his habitation in many
frequented places. Lawrence Burgeys (or
Abingdon), bailiff of Reading, obtained permission from Abbot Helyas to
chapel in honour of St. Edmund, beside which he might dwell as a hermit.7 This chapel was
situated on rising ground
nearly opposite the west end of the friary.
In a memorial issued against the abbot of
the west end of the towne, of Seynt Edmunds, and feyre londs therto, for to have God worshyppyd in that chapelle, wherein lyeth the bonys of many christen people, and now they have made a barne therof, and put therin corne [grain] and hey, and tye therin horse and bests”. When the remains of St. Edmund’s were discovered a few years ago, some stones were removed to the museum at the abbey gateway.
There was a
hermitage in the suburbs of Salibury.
The bishop licensed the hermit of Fisherton to celebrate
in the chapel there, and his office was usurped by a certain layman who
clerical dress and pretended to be a hermit.
This schismatic person was in the habit of ringing a bell
to collect the
people in the slums of Fisherton, thus “tempting the people, as
lived in the heart of the town, and others on the outskirts. At
two cells in the town of
The grants made to the various hermits of Pontefract are difficult to ascertain. West of the cell founded by the Layrthorps and occupied by Adam and afterwards by the priest Laurence, lay a garden (90 x 30 feet) in which Thomas Elys permitted John de Crayk to build a hermitage ; and eastwards the land belonged to the prior of Nostell, to whom eventually this second hermitage passed. The present garden is surrounded by walls, three of which are ancient. The ground below is a network of cellars, one of which is an oratory and contains a stone altar : another, the dwelling-place, has a hole in the floor for fuel, and a flue cut out of the rock. The inmates obtained water from a clear well, which was reached by a winding staircase. A ground-plan and description of this excavation were prepared for a visit of the Society of Antiquaries, and may be found in the Proceedings for 1869.
A solitary used to dwell on the hill near the caste at Pontefract. John of Gaunt permitted William de Byngham to inhabit certain houses by the mount where Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (the popular hero and “saint”) had been put to death. These buildings, which were then in a ruinous condition, the tenant agreed to keep up at his own charges. Lord Scrope made a bequest to John the hermit of the hill at Pontefract.
Brandon Hill by
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poor hermit there.10
A later inmate was visited by William
Worcester (1480). This hermit told the
chronicler that sailors and discreet men declared that the hill-chapel
higher by 18 fathoms than the spire of Redcliffe or any other church. The length of the chapel was about 25 x 15
feet (8½ x 5 virgas). The
wall enclosing the cell measured 180
steps. The chapel is said to have been
frequented by mariners arriving at
often undertook definite employment.
There were those, as we have seen, who kept the bridges
and roads of
St. Cuthbert’s, the church was let to a hermit at a yearly rent of 16d. The tenant, doubtless, gathered alms for its repair.
In the fifteenth century we still find churchyard-cells. At Sudsbury, a hermitage was built in the churchyard of St. Gregory’s at the cost of the parish, and one John Levynton was dwelling there in 1433. At this time, another townsman, Richard Appelby by name, applied to the bishop to be admitted to the order of hermits, but the bishop declined until he could be assured that the man would dwell “in a solitary place, wher virtues myght increase and vice be exiled”; whereupon the mayor of Sudbury and certain parishioners of St. Gregory’s undertook that Richard should share John’s abode, and they made supplication to the bishop to admit Richard.
In the busy
Solitaries in towns, and especially in churchyards, usually belonged to the stricture order of anchorites, and to them we must now turn our attention.
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1. Usually hermitage, but inclusorium occurs 1253 (Nicholas,
Leic., III. Pt. II. 840). In 1265
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