What Really is a College?

The evolution of the idea of a chantry, where prayers for the departed are said and the liturgical ritual of mass is celebrated, to a collegiate church with similar aims, and then the emergence of colleges with mainly an educational function, was traced in recent a talk by Dr Andrew Budge to the Historic Buildings Section of the Hampshire Field Club.

At the Dissolution there were about 250 collegiate churches in England and Wales of which the only survivors were those of Oxford and Cambridge, Winchester, Eton, St George’s Windsor, and a few others.  For Winchester it was a fate that went against the aims of its founder, William of Wykeham, whose statutes expressly stated that if funds were ever to be limited the chantry function was to take precedence over that of education.( To access their archives register with: sf@wincoll.ac.uk , after which the following finding aids may be viewed online.

The founding of chantries and collegiate churches was often, it seems, ‘an idea conveyed through social connections’, according to Budge. Hence the crop of seven chantries in Winchester Cathedral, namely, those of Edington, Wykeham, Beaufort, Wayneflete, Langton, Fox and Gardiner. Also Edington founded a collegiate church (later to become a monastery),in his eponymous home village in Wiltshire, and another bishop of Winchester, John Stratford, built a chantry in the aisle of the church of St Thomas the Martyr in Stratford-upon-Avon.

As many as 60 collegiate churches existed before the Conquest, though the greatest rate of foundation was in the fourteenth century. An early example in Hampshire was Marwell College, Owslebury, founded by Henry de Blois (1129-1171). Its ruins were reused in the building of Shawford House, Twyford, according to White’s Directory of Hampshire, 1859. They were served by a number of secular priests, between 2 and 26, and often 13 in number, possibly reflecting the 12 apostles and Christ. The priests were often accommodated nearby and rules were strict, but they were not monasteries. They were often supported by choristers and clerks. Prelates and bishops were the instigators of early foundations, though later this role was adopted by individuals of lower class, including mayors of London.

In a detailed analysis of the fabric of several collegiate churches, Budge provided evidence to question two presumptions that are often made, first, that the stylistic decisions of the king

‘trickled down’ in later constructions and, secondly, that after the Black Death, styling became ‘more sober’. He questioned the whole concept of relating stylistic changes to social trends, and said that convincing evidence is ‘very hard to come by’. Also the ‘loss of skills’ often assumed to have occurred from the death of master masons, is a misunderstanding of the facts, as records show that about 80% of them survived.

In his talk, Budge touched on the relationship between St Elizabeth’s College, and Winchester College, which demolished its earlier neighbour in the 16th century.  Geophysical surveys by WARG a few years ago in the aptly named St Elizabeth’s Mead, south of College Walk, have shown that the building was as large as 35 m x 10 m, which probably inspired Wykeham to ensure that his chapel was not dwarfed! Ex-HFC President, Dick Selwood, who took part in the work, told the audience that WARG had not discovered any trace of accommodation for priests.

All photographs by Dr Budge, an independent scholar, who carried out research at Birkbeck College, University of London.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *