Old Stratford - The Hermitage & Chapel of St. John

In 1352 Robert de Seymour and Robert Paveley received a grant of pontage for three years in aid of the causeway from Stratford bridge towards the Shrobb (i.e. the portion of Whittlewod which adjoins Watling Street immediately to the north of Old Stratford) and the chapel of the hospital of St. John, which was for the most part ruinous. The reference to the Shrobb implies that the causeway lay on the Northamptonshire side of the bridge and that the 'hospital' was in fact the hermitage and free chapel at the western edge of Old Stratford, rather than the leper hospital in Stony Stratford, which shared the same dedication. Similarly, a pavage grant of 1391 to repair the highway 'between the two Stratfords' may refer to the portion of Watling Street running from Stony Stratford to Old Stratford, rather than Fenny Stratford, since one of the grantees was John Haywood, 'ermyte'. 1400 John Blawemuster, hermit, received a grant of pontage for three years, to be spent on the repair of Stony Stratford bridge under the supervision of John Rotherham, clerk, and John Cope, lord of the manor of Deanshanger.

The connection of the Broughton family of Toddington (Beds.) with the hermitage may originate with a purchase in 1430 by John Broughton from Richard Nuncourt and Elizabeth his wife of a third part of eight messuages, three tofts, 120 a. land, 10 a. meadow and 30s. rent in Stony Stratford, Puxley, Furtho and Cosgrove; John's grandfather, Thomas Pever, from whom he inherited Toddingon at his death in 1429, appears not to have held any lands in Northamptonshire. John Broughton died in 1489 seised of five messuages said to be in Stony Stratford, Furtho, Cosgrove and elsewhere in Northamptonshire, held of Thomas Mulso by service unknown, worth 40s. a year, when his heir was his grandson Robert, the son of his son John. Robert was succeeded by a son named John, who died in 1518 leaving a fiveyear-old son, also John, as his heir, who died under age in 1530, when his estates were divided between his two sisters and coheirs, Catherine and Anne.

Catherine married William, younger son of Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk, and died in 1535, leaving as her only issue a daughter Agnes, who married William Paulet, later 3rd marquess of Winchester. Catherine's share of her father's estate passed to the Crown when her husband was convicted of misprison of treason in 1542. Although he was pardoned two years later, the estate remained in Crown hands until 1548, when Paulet and his wife were granted licence to enter the moiety of her father's lands which ought to have descended to her, including premises in Old Stratford.

Although the hermitage was certainly part of the former Broughton lands forfeited by Howard to the Crown, it appears not to have been included in the grant to Paulet of 1548, for in 1562 Cecily Pickerell was granted the site, grounds and precincts of the chapel or hermitage, containing five bays of building, an orchard, an acre of meadow, a rood of pasture and 4½ a. arable, to hold in free socage. Cecily was the widow of John Pickerell, treasurer to Edward duke of Somerset, and the grant was made in part repayment of debts due to her husband at the time of Somerset's execution in 1552, when it was enacted that his debts should be satisfied out of the issues of his lands which came to the Crown when he was attainted. This possibly suggests that the hermitage estate had briefly been held by Somerset.

Mrs. Pickerell appears to have sold the house and land to George Ferne, who in turn sold the premises to Thomas Furtho, whose son Edward died in 1620 seised of the hermitage or free chapel of Old Stratford, its site and precincts, including land in Old Stratford, Cosgrove, Passenham and Furtho, which his father Thomas had purchased from George Ferne. The premises were valued at 2s. a year. His son, also Edward Furtho, died the following year holding the same estate, which was then divided between his two sisters.

In 1610 the Crown sold to Thomas Ely and George Merriell of London several pieces of land said to lie within Whittlewood Forest, and also what was described as the Hermitage House with garden, orchard and curtilage, and six closes of land, containing 186 a. in all, of which five, valued at 14s. 2d. a year, lay together and were known as the Hermitage Close or Hermitage Grounds, and the sixth, worth 10s., was called Carlton Sart. The Crown had recently recovered the premises as assarts and purprestures in Whittlewood from Otho Nicholson. Ely and Merriell later sold this estate to Edward Furtho, who was the owner at the time of his death in 1620.

A late 16th-century description of the boundary of Furtho parish, evidently copied from an earlier account, locates the hermitage immediately to the north of the main road on the western edge of Old Stratford, and describes the adjoining land on the Furtho side of the boundary with Cosgrove as belonging to the hermitage. A perambulation of the bounds of the manor of Passenham of much the same date also places the hermitage close to Watling Street near the brow of the hill, and in 1566 the manor included a close in Old Stratford in the tenure of Thomas Furtho, 'late appurtenant to the Hermitage'. A terrier of 1504 names a piece of land in the same area as the 'Armites Half Acre' or 'Armitis Half', which lay within Quarry Field, one of the common fields of Cosgrove and Furtho, in which Hermitage Meadow was another landmark in the early 17th century. There was also a Chapel Furlong in the same area, while the woodland on the opposite side of Watling Street, near Shrobb Lodge, was called 'Armitage Coppice'. As late as 1849 there was a field at Old Stratford known as Chapel Close, which was said to be the site of the hermitage and chapel. This cannot apparently be located but the 16th-century references place the buildings at or very close to the site later occupied by Furtho Rectory Farm, implying that at some date after 1621 the hermitage lands became part of Furtho glebe. The farm buildings were demolished soon after Furtho glebe was sold in 1921.

Armitage Coppice - map dated 1608

Victoria County History Northamptonshire

The Free Chapel of St. John.

A chapel associated with the hermitage which stood on Watling Street at the northern end of Old Stratford appears to be first mentioned in a pontage grant of 1352. In 1376 John Goodrich purchased a third of the manor of Puxley and a third of the advowson of the chapel of Little Stratford from Richard Hartshill and Isabel his wife, and in 1494 the hermitage received a bequest of 12d. from Thomas Pesenest of Stony Stratford.

St. John
Virgin Mary

During the period in which the hermitage estate was held by the Crown in the early 16th century, the rector of Furtho, Thomas Ball, was accused of removing from the chapel vestments, furnishings, and images of the Virgin, St. John and another saint. His answer was that the chapel lay within his parish, that the patron of Furtho was also patron of the chapel, and that the rector of Furtho, before the dissolution of the hermitage, was accustomed to say mass at the chapel at certain times of the year, when a chalice, vestments and ornaments were taken from the parish church (to which they belonged) to the chapel but always returned afterwards.

St. Bartholomew's Church, Furtho

The patron of Furtho had removed a bell and the three saints' images from the chapel to the parish church, but only to save them from theft. He claimed to know nothing about the disappearance of an alabaster altar from the chapel.