IN 1422 Henry VI. came to the throne and was soon full of a plan for founding a school. At last, he selected the site at Eton, near his own birthplace and residence. His original plan is thus described in the first charter:
" For the praise honour and glory of God, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and for the increase of divine worship and the increase of the Holy Church, to found make and ordain and duly establish a college in the Parochial Church of Etone, near New Wyndesor, in the Diocese of Lincoln, to consist of a Provost and other Fellows, Priests, Clerks, and Choristers, as also of poor and indigent scholars, and also of other poor and infirm men. Also of one master in Grammar who should gratuitously instruct the poor and indigent scholars, and others coming there from any part of the kingdom, in the knowledge of letters and especially in the art of Grammar."
The first step taken by the King was to procure the advowson or patronage of the Church. There was a long delay in carrying out this, as there were now three joint patrons]. to be satisfied, but on August 29, 1440, all was arranged, and with the consent of William Alnwick, Bishop of Lincoln¹, the advowson was conveyed to the King, together with the tithes of Eton and the lands belonging to the Church.
The Bishop at the same time consented to the making of the Parochial Church of Eton a Collegiate Church as well and committed it to the care of the Provost and Fellows.
The Bishop then received the resignation of the Rector, John Kette, who was made a Fellow, and he instituted the first Provost of Eton as Rector of the Parish. By the statutes subsequently drawn up, it was provided that the Provost, as Rector, should receive £25 in lieu of the tithes, fruits, and oblations made in the Church, and that the College should have the advantage of the rest.
From the first, the King intended to build a Church worthy of his purpose ; but as some time must elapse before the plans could be decided on, or the building completed, the existing Church, which then stood, according to Professor Willis, in the middle of the Churchyard, and south of the present College Chapel, was re-roofed and the chancel pulled down and rebuilt on a larger scale and fitted with a rood-loft and stalls and other appurtenances for the daily choral service.
Two elm-trees were also purchased for constructing a wooden belfry, in which were hung two bells, brought from London, the wheels and clappers being procured in Eton.
The next year, one of the windows of the old Church was ornamented with the royal arms, and others were " emended with iren for the haire to cum in to the Chirche."
Twelve of the chancel windows were also filled in with powdred ' glass with figures of twelve prophets, and a closet was screened off, for the use of the King and Queen.
A treasury was also built to the east of the chancel to hold the Church plate and vestments.
The King appears to have bought up properties along Baldwin's Shore, close beside the stream, consising of several tenements, shops and houses; most of these were cleared away to make room or the College kitchen and other proposed buildings.
About the same time he acquired for the College Hundercombe Garden, the ground now covered by the College Chapel and School-yard, and ten acres between the King's highway to the hamlet called 'le Slowe' and the River Thames, and to this was given the name of the King's warde or King's worth.² Later on, a further part of the Playing Fields was conveyed to the College by the Prior and Convent of Merton, together with a weir' called Bullokslok, and four eyots and the right of fishing attached. They also acquired possession of the Fellows' Eyot, then an island, known as Heverdewere, and the burgesses of Windsor granted them some fisheries they held in the river, and also right of free passage over and under the bridge.
It has been mentioned that a stream ran under Baldwin Bridge, reaching the river by what is now the Fellows' Garden. This was to be " turned overthwarte into the river of Thamise with a ditch of 40 foote in breadth, and the ground between the said ditch and the College arised of a great height, so that it may at all times be plain and dry ground." Other preparations were also made. Stone for building material was brought by water from various parts of England, large quantities coming from the same quarry in Yorkshire as had been used for King's College Chapel, Cambridge.
The timber required was stored in what is now known as the Field or Sixpenny, but which then acquired the name of Timberhaw,' corrupted into Timbralls.'
A special brick kiln was opened at 'le Slowe.
Workmen, masons, ' breke layeers,' and carpenters were brought together from all parts. The skilled men received three shillings a week, the common labourers were paid at the rate of 4d. a day.
All these preparations and changes must have created no little stir in the quiet town of Eton, and such an influx of workmen into the place must have sorely strained its resources.
It led a little later to a petition to the King, from the Royal College and the inhabitants within the town, in which they complain that " the scholers artificers and labourers thether resortyng have had many times here-afore and yette have grete scarstee of brede, ale and other vitailles." In consequence of this petition the King granted the privilege of a weekly market. Whether this was a renewal of the ancient charter granted in King John's time or an extra market does not appear.
The King also granted the privilege of two annual fairs to be held at Eton. One of these was fixed for the three common working days next following Ash Wednesday, and the other for six working days following the Feast of the Assumption in August. The place where these fairs were held was known as Michelmyldshey, apparently the property of Merton Priory, but the exact position of this is uncertain.³
The pig fair, which used to be held on Ash Wednesday in the road through College, was probably a survival of the first of these fairs. Stories have been told of the pigs being penned in the road, and suffering the loss of their tails at the hands of Eton boys, in spite of the care taken by the authorities to keep them in School and Chapel till the fair was over.
As a further precaution against the dearth of food, all the inhabitants were exempted from the jurisdiction of the King's purveyors and from having any of his officers or servants quartered on them.
The building of the new Church, which was to serve as the Collegiate and Parochial Church, was begun in 1441, but from one cause and another progressed very slowly for some years.
Meantime the old Parish Church was the scene of the consecration of no less than three Bishops, two of them men of considerable renown. The first was Thomas Bekynton, who as King Henry's Secretary and Arch-deacon of Bucks had taken a lively interest in the foundation of the College and School. He was consecrated Bishop of Bath and Wells on November 13, 1443, Alnwick, Bishop of Lincoln, and the Bishops of Salisbury and Llandaff officiating.
After the consecration service in the Church, "Bekynton on wearing his new episcopal robes proceeded across the Churchyard to the site of the new Church. An altar protected from the weather by an awning had been erected for the occasion over the spot where the King had laid the foundation stone," and there Bekynton celebrated the Holy Eucharist for the first time as Bishop.
John Carpenter, Bishop of Worcester, was also consecrated in this Church in 1444, and in 1447 William Waynflete, first Head Master and second Provost of Eton, was here made Bishop of Winchester.
The Pope having granted special indulgences to those who visited the new shrine at Eton, many people from all parts made pilgrimages there, especially on the festivals of the Blessed Virgin, and in 1448 license was granted to the Provost to depute a Fellow to hear the confessions of the pilgrims, and two years later, as the numbers increased, he was licensed to appoint three priests for the like purpose.
1 William Waplade, Nicholas Clopton, and John Faryngdon, descendants of the Lovel family.
OLD DAYS OF ETON PARISH by The Rev. John Shephard, M.A. was published in 1908 by Spottiswoode and Co Ltd. The text is has been copied from the original book that is now out of copyright.