Thame Local History
The Guild and Chantry of St Christopher
Guilds, or gilds as the word is often spelt, were a common feature of town and city
life in the Middle Ages. So what was a guild?
There were several different types of guild in medieval towns and cities.
Merchant guilds and craft guilds existed to promote the interests of particular groups of artizans and tradesmen.
Religious guilds, on the other hand, existed primarily for charitable purposes, and were often associated with hospitals or schools.
A chantry often went hand in hand with a religious guild. In medieval times the spiritual salvation of both the living and the dead was of the utmost importance, and a chantry priest would often be employed by the lay members of a guild to pray for the souls of themselves and their sovereign.
In feudal England the basic unit of local governance was the manorial court, through which the lord of the manor exercised control over such things as the allocation of property and the payment of rents.
In the towns and cities of the later medieval period guilds became an extra medium of social and commercial governance. They could be granted licence by the King to be treated as legal entities in any court of law, and were often run by elected individuals according to a charter of rules and regulations.
In Thame, the Guild of St Christopher was a religious guild attached to St Mary's Church and was founded in 1447 by Richard Quartermain, an influential and wealthy landowner who lived at Rycote.
Its basic purpose seems to have been twofold. It was responsible for a 'hospital' at Thame, which was constructed close to St Mary's Church. This was in effect an almshouse.
Its second responsibility is somewhat unusual, in that it paid for a hermit to live at Tetsworth and be charged with the maintenance of the main road from Stokenchurch to Wheatley, part of the main London to Oxford road.
Along with the guild, Richard Quartermain also set up the Chantry of St Christopher at Thame, with a chaplain to be employed to conduct divine service in St Mary's Church. St Christopher's Chapel was located in the south trancept of St Mary's Church, which was extended in the fifteenth century, almost certainly by Richard Quartermain.
See the actual text of the Licence for the Guild and Chantry of St Christopher here.
As well as the aims states in the licence, it is likely that the Guild of St Christopher had a strong influence on the way Thame market and its community of commercial traders operated.
A sum of money and a number of titles to property leases in Thame and Long Crendon were in effect donated to the guild by Richard Quartermain and his wife Sybil.
This was in the period shortly after Richard had finished a long period of royal service with the customs for the City of London, for which he had received a generous remuneration.
Approaching his autumn years and settling down to contemplate his mortality, Richard Quartermain established the Guild and Chantry of St Christopher at Thame, and built Rycote Chapel, where he also endowed a chantry dedicated to St Michael.
Making your peace with God, and securing your place in Heaven, was something regarded with infinitely more importance in the fifteenth century than it is by most of us today. Acts of Christian charity were often seen in a very practical way as a means of settling your account with God.
Around a hundred years after their foundation, the Guild and Chantry of St Chistopher at Thame were in effect rendered sacrilegious by the Reformation and the foundation of the Church of England.
Sir John Williams was instrumental in dealing with the practicalities of the Reformation in Oxfordshire, and in Thame in particular. The administration of the former Guild and Chantry of St Christopher fell to him, as did the lordship of the manors of Thame.
The money and property of the Guild of St Christopher went to the Crown, as did the majority of church property following the Reformation. Sir John Williams petitioned the King in August 1550, and proposed that the former chantry priests be retained as supplementary parish priests, to be funded by Sir John Williams himself.
Sir John Williams also became tenant in chief, from the King, of the properties which had formerly belonged to the Guild of St Christopher.
The last priest or chaplain of the Chantry of St Christopher at Thame was John Younge, and he continued to receive his annuity, from Sir John Williams.
The almshouses funded by the Guild were also retained, and also funded yearly by Sir John WIlliams.
See the actual text of the petition of Sir John Williams here.
Sir John Williams