Cardinal Wolsey's college in Ipswich

A major strand in the history of the town concerns its most famous (some might say notorious) son, Thomas Wolsey (c.1475-1530). There are a few features within today's Ipswich to remind us of the man who was to rise to  become the second most powerful man in the kingdom of the mercurial Henry VIII.

The plaque on Curson Lodge in St Nicholas Street reminds us of his origins. Wolsey's Gate, albeit worn away by pollution, weather and time, still stands in College Street, close to the docks. This watergate to the college is the only physical remnant of Wolsey's great scheme to establish a school linked to his own Cardinal College in Oxford; a school to rival Eton or Winchester. However, there are one or two clues in the street names of Ipswich.

Ipswich Historic Lettering: Turret HouseTurret Lane is named after the Turret House (demolished in 1843) – a later name for what must have been the Dean's House to the north of the college site and which formed the main entrance to it. The plan illustrated here shows the house at the top, with turrets echoing those which are decribed as adorning the college buildings. The positioning of this house and its gardens is indicated on the sketch map of the whole college site as it was in 1528.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Turret House 2Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wolsey College map
Notes on the map of Wolsey's College
1. The red outline indicates the probable extent of Wolsey's College with the area later known as 'Mr Sparrow's Garden' (with Turret House at the top) to the north of the site. More recent street names are indicated in blue.
2. Lord Curson's House at the upper left of the site is shown in more detail below. Wolsey intended to requisition this property as his own retirement home, adjoining his much-vaunted College. Curson could hardly refuse but, having asked for three years grace, he kept his head down and was saved by the fall of Wolsey, the College was lost and so he retained his home.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Curson House plan
Above: a traced copy of the Tudor plan of Curson House (with extra captions in larger font from those on the original) taken from Sir Robert, Lord Curson, soldier, courtier and spy, and his Ipswich mansion by John Blatchly and Bill Haward, Ipswich Institute of Archaeology and History research paper.
3. Foundation Street was home to an early incarnation of Ipswich Grammar School ('The Ipswich School'). Merchant and politician, Richard Felaw, left his house in the street (then called St Edmund Pountney Lane) as a home for the school, endowing it with the income from lands at Whitton so that children of needy parents could attend without paying fees. One of the earliest beneficiaries was a young Thomas Wolsey, later Cardinal Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England. See also our Lower Brook Street page for more about Rosemary Lane and St Edmund de Pountenay chapel
.
4. Wolsey's likeness is 'celebrated' on a plaque on the side entrance to the Wolsey Gallery (and Wolsey Garden) behind Christchurch Mansion.
5. Lady Lane is the remainder of the site of Gracechurch, the shrine of Ipswich (as documented by Lord Curson himself). Wolsey intended to capitalise on the fame and success of the shrine by linking it to his College.
6. Cardinal Street, New
Cardinal Street and Wolsey Street near Greyfriars are obvious nods to the man, as are Wolsey Court, Wolsey Gardens and Cardinal's Court.

A bust of Wolsey sits upstairs in the Town Hall and we have recently heard about another likeness by Robert Mellamphy in plaster-of-paris which resided for around twenty years in St Peter on the Waterfront and was moved to the vestry of St Clement Church and may, we had hoped, be made into a 'proper' bronze. However, an opening of St Clement in May 2014 reveals that it has quite a high level of dampness in the air and we hear from Dr John Blatchly that the maquette in chicken wire and plaster had begun to collapse. Apparently Robert Mellamphy's family have returned it to his studio, but it is perhaps unlikely that it will be cast. We wonder if anyone ever photographed it? These likenesses are joined by the somewhat controversial, 21st century Wolsey statue in St Peter's Street, outside the site of Curson House. There is a public house called, since September 2011, The Thomas Wolsey in St Peters Street (see below).

Ipswich Historic Lettering: portrait
Cardinal Wolsey
by
Sampson Strong at Christ Church (1610); the painting is kept at The Bishop's Palace & Gardens, Wells, Somerset.

Although it would be difficult to find a better example of abuses in the Church than the Cardinal himself, Wolsey appeared to make some steps towards reform. In 1524 and 1527 he used his powers as papal legate to dissolve thirty decayed monasteries where corruption had run rife, including abbeys in Ipswich and Oxford. However, he then used the income to found a grammar school in Ipswich (The King's School, Ipswich, later Ipswich School) and Cardinal College in Oxford. The college in Oxford was renamed King's College after Wolsey's fall. Today, it is known as Christ Church. Wolsey died five years before Henry's dissolution of the monasteries en masse began.

A chronology of Wolsey's college
(based on Dr John Blatchly’s excellent book A famous antient seed-plot of learning, see Reading list)
1526
6 May. Papal bull for the establishment of the Ipswich College sent from Rome to Wolsey by Bishop Worcester, auditor of your Apostolic Chamber there.

1527
November. Thomas Cromwell, friend and follower of Wolsey, visits Ipswich about the building of the college.

1528
March. The Duke of Norfolk writes to tell Wolsey that he has visited the site and ordered a plan of St Peter and St Paul Priory. He can advise the Cardinal how to ‘save large monie in buildyng there’, presumably by using some of the priory buildings, particularly by modifying the Church of St Peter as the chapel.

14 May. Pope Clement VII issues a bull authorising the suppression of five small priories including Felixstowe and Blythburgh (the latter the subject of a Time Team programme on Channel 4, which can be viewed on the web).

26 May. King Henry VIII ratifies a bull for the suppression of the Augustinian priory of St Peter and St Paul in Ipswich

31 May. The king ratifies the bull for the transfer from Wolsey’s Oxford College of five priories including Snape and Dodnash.

15 June. The foundation stone of the college is laid by John Holte, titular bishop of Lydda and a suffragan of London. In the 18th century the stone was found built into wall in Friars Road (which ran between Friars Street and Wolsey Street: it no longer exists) and was presented to Christ Church, Oxford by the Rev. Richard Canning, where it is kept in the chapter house.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wolsey College foundation stoneWolsey's College foundation stone Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wolsey College foundation stone 2 Facsimile in St Peter's
'AN . CHRISTI . M
DXXVIII . ET
REGNI . HENRICI
OCTAVI . REGIS
ANGLIĘ XX . MENSIS
VERO . IUNII . XV
POSITUM
p . IOHEM . EPN . LIDEM'
The translation is: 'This year of our Lord 1528 and the 20th year of the Reign of King Henry VIII of England and the 15th of June [this stone] laid by John [Holt], Bishop of Lydda'.

21 June
. Building work is begun by thirty-seven freemasons working under local master masons, John Barbour and Richard Lee, using Caen stone. Mr Daundy, Wolsey’s cousin, has imported a 121 tons and promises 1,000 more before the following Easter.

26 June. The king grants the rectory of St Matthew’s, Ipswich to the college, a living held at the time by Wolsey’s natural son, Thomas Winter.

29 June. The King's letters patent for the foundation of the college are issued. It could be built in St Matthew’s parish (‘where the said Cardinal was born’) or elsewhere.

30 June. Cromwell to Thomas Arundel: he must delay erection of the college at Ipswich until 21 July as the offices of Chancery will not expire till then.

3 July. Wolsey commissions six eminent clerics including Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, to prepare statutes for the college.

28 July. Wolsey executes his foundation deed, based on the king’s letters patent, converting St Peter and St Paul Priory to ‘Saint Mary, Cardynall College of Ipswich’. William Capon STP, master of Jesus College, Cambridge is appointed dean of the college, presiding over twelve priest fellows, eight clerks, eight children (choristers), a grammar-school master and usher, fifty grammar scholars and ’12 poure men to pray dayly to God for the good astate of our Graces King & the said Cardinall, ther friends souls and all christen soulls’. Later Thomas Cromwell makes draft lists of stipends (the dean and master both have £13 6 shillings and eightpence) and adds a second usher, who is ‘keeper of the scholehouse’.

7 August. Wolsey, from his mansion Hampton Court, instructs Dean Capon to assemble the parishioners of St Peter's and offer them the choice of St Nicholas or St Mary-At-The-Quay for their future worship. In her will, Dame Elizabeth Gelget leaves money for the purchase of a roof from Capon should the churchwardens of St Mary-At-The-Quay choose to cover the chancel there with it. The congregation there, about to be swelled by about half the parishioners of St Peter’s, would need a church in good order. St Mary-At-The-Quay chancel roof shows every sign of being roughly reassembled probably from St Peter’s.
Wolsey wanted his chapel to resemble those of Eton and King’s: squarer than the traditional long cruciform shape and better for grand ceremonial. The Tournai marble font basin, lacking is large central pillar and four slender ones at the corners, is given an incongruous Tudor base. The west doorway of St Peter's was embellished with heads, shields and fleurons (flower shaped ornaments) in the jambs and two large vaulted canopied niches to north and south, probably for statues of St Peter and St Paul. This is Tudor rather than medieval work.

10 August. Dean Capon publishes the acquisition of many smaller properties given by Wolsey with the king's approval. The deed is dated from ‘the chapel of our said college’, that is, the refurbished St Peter’s.

20 August. The king inspects and confirms a papal bull dated 12 June exempting the college from all ecclesiastical jurisdiction but that of the pope, that two archbishops being guardians of its liberties.

1 September. The college in session under William Goldwin, master. Wolsey sends his Rudimenta Grammatices, ‘dedicated not only to Ipswich School, most happily founded by the most reverend Lord Thomas, Cardinal of York, back to all other schools in England’.

8 September. Feast of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Capon writes at length describing to Wolsey – who could not be present –  the first annual celebration of the foundation. After solemn mass the planned procession to Gracechurch in Lady Lane is interrupted by rain, but a lavish feast is enjoyed nevertheless.

Wednesday after Christmas. The Great Court grants the colour college the interest in all the property, in Ipswich and at Whitton, with which Richard Felaw endowed the grammar school. Against ‘Concessio’ [granted] in the margin is written ‘Vacat' [void], showing that the corporation managed to reverse the grant after the fall of the college.

1529
10 January. William Goldwin writes to Wolsey reporting progress and, presumably by the same messenger, the bailiffs reply to Wolsey’s request that they grant the college the former endowments of the grammar school.

12 April. Capon writes to Cromwell: they have begun to set the freestone; there are troubles with the choir. But the school is so well attended that it must be enlarged; schoolmaster and usher take great pains.

30 April. Sir Robert Curson (Lord Curson) agrees to Wolsey’s request that he, Curson, give his own house on St Peters Street, adjoining the college, as his ‘provost’s residence’ in the manner of the provosts of Eton and Winchester. Robert Curson cannily asks for three year’s grace to move out thus avoiding the need ever to do so, due the imminent fall of both Wolsey and his college at Ipswich.

July. Thomas Cromwell’s agent Brabazon reports that the college is going on prosperously ‘and much of it above ground, which is very curious work’. Working day and night, more has been done in the last three weeks then for some time before.

July to September. Gifts, plate, investments, books and other furnishings for the chapel arrived from many sources including Wolsey’s York Place in London [see below].

8 August. Bailiffs and portman write to thank Wolsey for setting up the college to the honour and use of the town.

8 September. It is not known whether the second Lady Day procession was held.

13 November. Royal commissioners visit to make an inventory of all valuables and building materials. They estimate that the college had £10,000 worth of Wolsey’s ‘treasure’ and take away with them the best plate and vestments.

1 December. Wolsey is impeached.

1530
9 July and 20 July. Dean Capon writes twice to Wolsey, in his first expressing pessimism about the future, the second telling him that the king was resolved to dissolve the college by Michaelmas.

19 September. Commissioners sitting at Woodbridge rule that all the college lands are forfeit to the king.

4 October. Capon tells Wolsey that the Duke of Norfolk has ordered the dissolution of the college, retaining only the dean, sub-dean, schoolmaster, usher and six grammar children pending the king’s pleasure. The king orders the demolition of the college and the materials to be shipped to Galye Quay in London where they are to be used to enlarge what was formerly Wolsey’s York Place to become the royal palace of Whitehall. Only Wolsey’s Gate, the waterside entrance to the Ipswich college next to the (St Peter) chapel, remains today.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wolsey Gate 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Wolsey Gate 32014 images
From the Cornhill and the Buttermarket visitors passed under an impressive tower and walked through a long formal garden. The Turret House [see the top of this page], as it was latterly called, was pulled down in 1843. It was probably a remnant of the Dean's house, well situated, at some remove from the boys, for entertaining guests.

29 November. Wolsey dies at Leicester Abbey on his way to London.
Wolsey’s remains were interred somewhere within the abbey’s church, possibly in the Lady Chapel, where they are thought to remain; however the exact location of his burial is unknown. A more recent memorial slab can be found in Abbey Park, Leicester, all that remains of the Augustinian Abbey of St Mary de Pratis which was 'dissolved' in 1538. The slab bears Wolsey's coat of arms.

Early 1531
Ipswich college property bringing in an income of £2,234 a year assigned to the Oxford college (now to be known as King's College of Christ Church), St George’s Windsor, the king and various other persons. Thomas Alvard (stepson of Sir Thomas Rush), agent of Thomas Cromwell, is given the college site. Most importantly, the ‘college or school’ of Ipswich is assigned £60 a year – in another document only £43 – to cover the stipends of master and usher and to be paid out of the profits of crown lands in the county, but Felaw’s bequests not mentioned as probably already recovered by the corporation. Thomas Cromwell is still credited with ensuring that the school was not forgotten in the dissolution of the short-lived college.
See also our Christ's Hospital School page for more on the story of The Grammar School, today Ipswich School.

York Place / White Hall
By the 13th century, the Palace of Westminster had become the centre of government in England, and had been the main London residence of the king since 1049. The surrounding area became a very popular and expensive location. The archbishop of York, Walter de Grey, bought a property in the area as his London residence soon after 1240, calling it York Place.

Edward I of England stayed at the property on several occasions while work was carried out at Westminster, and enlarged the building to accommodate his entourage. York Place was rebuilt during the 15th century and expanded so much by Cardinal Wolsey that it was rivalled by only Lambeth Palace as the greatest house in London – the king's London palaces included. Consequently, when King Henry VIII removed the Wolsey from power in 1530, he acquired York Place to replace Westminster as his main London residence. He inspected its treasures in the company of Anne Boleyn. The phrase Whitehall or White Hall is first recorded in 1532; it had its origins in the white stone used for the buildings.

The Palace of Whitehall (or Palace of White Hall) was the main residence of the English monarchs in London from 1530 until 1698 when all except Inigo Jones's 1622 Banqueting House was destroyed by fire. Before the fire it had grown to be the largest palace in Europe, with over 1,500 rooms, overtaking the Vatican and Versailles. The palace gives its name, Whitehall, to the road on which many of the current administrative buildings of the United Kingdom government are situated, and hence to the central government itself.


The Thomas Wolsey public house, 9 St Peters St
Now that we have this web page in place we, at last, have a place to show Tudor mouldings from an interior ceiling in the Thomas Wolsey public house in St Peters Street, once a fine merchant's house and yard.
It stands next door to the Rose Hotel with its vestigial 'Cobbolds' lettering.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 3   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 6
This building is Listed Grade II and dates from the 17th century. It was converted into a large single ground floor bar with upstairs rooms and a narrow staircase leading to the Tudor parlour. It was renamed The Thomas Wolsey in September 2011. There is a seated drinking area in the courtyard and beneath the carriage entrance, which has one of the public rooms above.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 1   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 4
The Thomas Wolsey was previously called Rapps in early 1980s, The Black Adder in the early 1990s when ex-footballer Alan Brazil owned the pub for several years. A friend of this website, Linda Wilde, made the excellent snakish engraved glass sheets which hung in the front windows of the Black Adder – we wonder where they ended up? Before it was called The Thomas Wolsey it was called 'bar IV'.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 2   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 5
Flying pigs are a favoured motif, emblem of the Bacon family who once lived here. Also Tudor roses, grotesque horned men (perhaps green men, as seen on the Tolly Cobbold brewery?) and other animals.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 8   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 7
The room also has a fine fireplace with carved wood overmantle.
Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 9   Ipswich Historic Lettering: Thos Wolsey pub 10
The Listing text is shown below (British Listed buildings, see Links):-
"A C17 timber-framed and plastered house, similar in design to Nos 3 and 5, with 3 jettied gables on paired brackets. Altered in the C19. The gables have C19 cut and shaped ornamental bargeboards and sham exposed timber-framing. 3 window range, early C19 bay windows on the 1st storey, double-hung sashes with vertical glazing bars. The attics are lit by windows in the gables. The ground storey has C19 shop windows and a carriage way to a small courtyard at the rear. A continuous fascia with an unusual modillion cornice unites the ground storey. At the rear 2 wings extend to the east. On the north side there is a 2 storey wing with a range of casement windows with lattice leaded lights and a single storey extension at the east end. On the south side there is a jettied upper storey with exposed joists and a range of casement windows similar to those on the south side. The ground storey has brick nogging and a boarded door with a Tudor arched head. The window above the carriage entrance is an oriel bay with leaded lattice lights and a moulded sill. The wings at the rear have been restored. Roofs tiled.
Nos 5 to 13 (odd), No 13A, Nos 15 to 33 (odd), No 33A and Nos 35 to 39 (odd) form a group."


Wolsey... who he?
Thomas Wolsey (c.1475-1530) was a priest from relatively humble beginnings in Ipswich, who was blessed with academic brilliance and rapacious ambition. His birthplace could well be on the site of The Black Horse public house (see Street name derivations for Black Horse Lane for more information). It’s a matter of opinion which of these was more responsible for his rise to become first minister of Henry VIII, and chief political confidant, but once he had got to the top, he had a lot to offer. He was perhaps the finest ministerial mind England had ever had until at least the 19th century. He collected ecclesiastical titles and properties like stamps. He went from being a royal chaplain to Bishop of Lincoln, then Archbishop of York, finally Lord Chancellor of England. He also became Cardinal Wolsey, Papal Legate whose authority in some respects therefore went beyond that of King Henry VIII himself. Wolsey began building Hampton Court Palace in 1514, and carried on making improvements throughout the 1520s. Descriptions record rich tapestry-lined apartments, and how you had to traverse eight rooms before finding his audience chamber. He was accused, after his death, of imagining himself the equal of sovereigns, and his fall from power was seen as a natural consequence of arrogance and overarching ambition. Yet Wolsey was also a diligent statesman, who worked hard to translate Henry VIII’s own dreams and ambitions into effective domestic and foreign policy. When he failed to do so, most notably when Henry’s plans to divorce Katherine of Aragon were thwarted by Katherine herself and the Pope, his fall from favour was swift and final. Thomas Wolsey died on his way to a possible final and fatal meeting with royal wrath, at Leicester Abbey in 1530.

Over the fourteen years of his chancellorship, Cardinal Wolsey had more power than any other Crown servant in English history. As long as he was in the king’s favour, Wolsey had a large amount of freedom within the domestic sphere, and had his hand in nearly every aspect of its ruling. For much of the time, Henry VIII had complete confidence in him and, as Henry's interests inclined more towards foreign policy, he was willing to give Wolsey a free hand in reforming the management of domestic affairs, for which Wolsey had grand plans in the fields of
taxation, justice and church reforms.

See the Historical Portraits Picture Archive for an excellent short biography of the Thomas Wolsey. Also the statue of Wolsey on Curson Plain.

See also our Old Cattle Market page for Wolsey's friend and contemporary at Court, Sir Thomas Rush, his mansion in Upper Brook Street and his memorial chapel in St Stephen Church.

For more on the ancient charity schools of Ipswich, see our Christ's Hospital School page.



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