Archdeacon William Sponne
1801 drawing1801 drawing
Effigy in woodEffigy in wood
Sponne's bequestSponne's bequest
Sponne's shield<br />from the Tabard InnSponne's shield
from the Tabard Inn

Archdeacon William Sponne, Rector of Towcester

Archdeacon William Sponne set up a school and a chantry in Towcester in c.1430. Unfortunately during the Tudor Period these were dissolved (closed down and sold) by the King. The successor to the school still exists in Towcester as “Sponne School Technology College”. [more about the history of Sponne School]

William Sponne must have been well regarded in Towcester because his chest tomb monument in St.Lawrence Church is of a rare type, normally only associated with high ranking clergy at cathedrals and abbeys, not with a small parish church like Towcester's.

A biography of William Sponne, written by Brian L. Giggins, was published by the Towcester and District Local History Society in 2010. (Ref. 5)

William Sponne

William Sponne was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Later he became Rector of Heavingham and Blofield in Norfolk, was with the Archdeaconry of Norfolk from the 21st December 1419 and was Rector of Towcester from June 1422 until February 1447. He died in 1448.

In 1440 Archdeacon Sponne bought the Tabard Inn and adjoining lands in Towcester, the income being used for charitable purposes. A glass window from the Tabard Inn with the shield of William Sponne has been preserved and is incorporated into the east window of Sponne's chapel in St.Lawrence Church. The inn changed its name to The Talbot Inn in 1635, and it was still called The Talbot in living memory as the 20th century photograph shows. The inn's impressive ingle nook fireplace can still be seen in one of the small shops in the former inn buildings. Today the Tabard Inn is known as the “Sponne Shopping Centre”.

In his Will he directed that income from the Tabard Inn should be used to relieve the citizens of Towcester from a Parliamentary tax, to repair the roadways of Towcester and the remainder to be distributed among the poor of Towcester at the discretion of the feoffes (trustees). The inn continued in the Charity's ownership until it was sold in 1895; the charity still exists today as the “Sponne and Bickerstaffe's” Charity. The other half, Bickerstaffe, was a 17th century London merchant who was born in Towcester.

Sponne's will
"In Memory of Mr Wm. Sponne Archdeacon of Norfolke & Rector of Towcester who in the 29th year of King Henry the sixth gave the Talbot in Towcester with y lands belonging to it for y payment of y fifteens for y parish of Towcester & the pavements being made good. Y remainder to be given to y poor at y discretion of y feoffees appointed to manage y same".

Sponne's bequest (see photograph) reads:
"13th January. 29th H 1437Wm. Sponn [sic] sometime Archdeacon of Norfolk and Rector of Towcester gave a Mefsuage Close and Lands in Towcester to certain Feoffees their Heirs and Afsignes and declared the Uses thereof to be in Trust to releive [sic] the Inhabitants from a Tax to be granted by Parliament then called a fifteenth on the Goods amounting to ten Marks as one fifteenth. if [sic] none granted then at the sound discretion of the said Feoffees to be applied as well in repairing the said Mefsuage and the Pavement of the said Town as by distribution among the Poor residing in the Parish of Towcester".

Drunken Feoffes upset the citizens of Towcester

The Sponne Charity, established in 1481 by Archdeacon Sponne for the benefits of the citizens of Towcester, still survives. It is run by twelve Feoffes, who, according to the original wishes of Archdeacon Sponne, must audit the accounts at an annual meeting to be held within 12 days of Easter (Conlon 1995).

By the early 16th century the Feoffes granted themselves a modest meal of bread, cheese and ale for this meeting to be paid for out of the charity's funds. By the mid 16th century this meal had grown into a banquet. And in the early 1900s it was reported that the Feoffes over-indulged somewhat at the annual feast and were seen to be gloriously drunk at the charity's expense. Since then the Feoffes have paid for their own annual dinner.

In April 1993 the menu for the annual dinner was a modest soup, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and fresh fruit salad. The cost to each Feoffe was £11 including wine.

From the Society minute book:

“On 13th January 1984 at the invitation of Mr Jason Robeson, Chairman of the Sponne, Hicks and Bickerstaffes charity, the Towcester Local History Society visited the new almshouses in Springfield Road. The reception hall contained a large refectory table in ash about 20 ft long beautifully made by Mr Len Goff, a local craftsman. In one corner of the communal sitting room were the charity boards from the original almshouses; these were under the clock tower where the old bell from the National School hangs; it was donated by Miss W.Read in memory of her uncle, Mr Leonard Dunkley, a much respected man from Towcester who lived to be over a hundred years old.

“In January 1984 the Feoffes were: J.Roberson, Chairman; D.Williams, Vice Chairman; R.Garner, Chairman, Relief in Need Chairman; R.Garner, Chairman, Relief in Need committee; T.Minns, Chairman Farm committee; J.Williams, Chairman Development committee; Mrs G.Thompson, Chairman management committee; H.Williams; J.Newman; D.Groom; F.Kilsby; J.Mayes; Mrs J.Herbert; K.Hansell; E.Causebrook; Mrs B.Wright; M.Parry, Clerk to the Feoffes.

Architect for the almshouses: Wayland Tunley, Milton Keynes.

Builders: Simcock and Usher Ltd, Northampton."
  1. Pretty (1995) The chapter "Archdeacon William Sponne" by Alan Pretty in "Towcester - The Story of an English country town" Eds. J.Sunderland and M.Webb. ISBN 0 9524619 1 9 © 1995 Towcester and District Local History Society.
  2. Conlon (1995) "The Feoffes Dinner of 1553" by Dr. Rodney Conlon in "Towcester - The Story of an English country town" Eds. J.Sunderland and M.Webb. ISBN 0 9524619 1 9 © 1995 Towcester and District Local History Society.
  3. The 1984 minute book of the Towcester Local History Society.
  4. Day (1984). "A History of the Sponne and Bickerstaffe Charity" by Abigail Day. Published by the Feoffees of the charity to mark the official opening of the Moorfield Almshouses.
  5. "William Sponne (c.1380-1448) - Archdeacon of Norfolk and Rector of Towcester" by Brian Giggins, ISBN 0-9524619-35 Published September 2010. [more]
Tabard Inn in c.1914<br />"Talbot Hotel"Tabard Inn
in c.1914
"Talbot Hotel"
Tabard Inn in 1998<br />"Sponne Shopping Centre"Tabard Inn
in 1998
"Sponne Shopping Centre"