St John the Baptist Parish Church

Farley Hill





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We are a small parish church on the outskirts of Luton, members of the Church of England (an Episcopalian ministry) in the Deanery of Luton which is in the Diocese of St Albans. We share ministry in this part of Luton with a Methodist Church and a Roman Catholic Church.

For those who are interested in history we reproduce below a brief historical background to Farley Hill and to our Parish Church







Compiled by








The extract from “Froissart Chronicles” translated by Geoffrey Brereton, is reproduced with the permission of the publishers, Penguin Books Ltd., Middlesex.


I am much indebted to the County Records Office, Bedford, for their co-operation, and especially for the extract from “Sessions of the Peace for Bedfordshire, 1355-59” by Elizabeth G. Kimball


Throughout this whole work I have been constantly indebted to the writings of the local historians, William Austin, Henry Cobbe, James Dyer, Frank Stygall, and John Dony.



To look down Santingfield from the site of the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, Farley Hill, is to look back into history.




It takes us back to experience the sense of relief that heralded the coming of Henry Plantagenet to the throne of England in 1154. With the death of King Stephen, this year was to witness the beginning of a new era. What had gone before in this unhappy England can be seen in the words of the contemporary Chronicler of Peterborough.


“All became forsworn, and broke their allegiance; for every rich man built his castles and defended them against the king, and they filled the land with castles. They greatly oppressed the wretched people by making them work at these castles, and when the castles were finished, they filled them with devils and evil men. Then they took those whom they suspected to have any goods, by night and day, seizing both men and women, and they put them in prison for their gold and silver, and tortured them with pains unspeakable. Many thousands they exhausted with hunger. I cannot and I may not tell of the wounds and of all the tortures that they inflicted upon the wretched men of this land, ... and this state of things ever grow worse and worse ... They plundered and burnt all the towns, so that thou mightest walk a whole day’s journey without finding a man seated in a town, or its land tilled. Then was corn dear and there was no flesh and cheese and butter for the people of the land. Wretched men starved with hunger; some lived on alms who had once been rich. Some fled the country. Never was there more misery. The land was all ruined by these deeds, and it was said openly that Christ and the saints slept.”


At the age of eighteen, in 1150, when he was invested with his mother’s hereditary duchy of Normandy, the career of Henry Plantagenet began. A year later, the death of his father, the Count of Anjou, put him in possession a large area of central France. The year following, his strange marriage to Eleanor, the greatest heiress of Europe, gave him the sovereignty of the vast provinces of southern France including Aquitaine and Gascony. Two years later still, in 1154, on the sudden death of King Stephen, he was crowned undisputed king of England, Henry II.


Benedict of Peterborough, in his contemporary chronicles, gives us a vivid picture of this new king. We see a somewhat rough-looking man plainly dressed, without gloves, slightly above middle height; reddish hair which soon became flecked with white as the cares and troubles of that work-filled life thickened round him - hair that he always kept very short as a precaution against baldness; piercing grey eyes, a freckled face, a short neck, a broad square chest, legs bowed from incessant riding; never sitting except at meal times, which were always brief. Henry Plantagenet cared little for eating or drinking. His ordinary home was a camp; his companions were mostly soldiers or huntsmen.


Many and bitter were the complaints of his courtiers and ministers that there was never a moment of rest for himself or his servants, one day following another in ceaseless journeys from one place to another - now for a long day’s hunting, now for a visit of inspection and business. He was never at rest and never spared himself. By arduous labour, by readiness of access to all men, by ceaseless travel, and by unwearied patience, he would see for himself how the laws he was at such pains to formulate and to set in motion in his disturbed and unsettled kingdom, actually worked.


“O Lord God Almighty,” write one of the sorely tried confidential attendants of the great Plantagenet, “turn and convert the heart of the king from this pestilent habit (of incessant travel), that he may know himself to be but man, and that he may show a royal mercy and compassion to those who are driven after him, not by ambition, but by necessity.”





And so it is that we see this young energetic and erratic king embarking at Dover on 10th January 1156 to visit his kingdom in France for the first time after his accession.


His immediate objective was St. Omer en route for Rouen. With him was his inseparable companion, his Chancellor, Thomas Becket, his brother William, and of course his ever harassed courtiers and staff manning great wains loaded with ponderous rolls which represented the office files of his day.


Having landed at Wissant, midway between modern Boulogne and Calais, they took the road inland and faced the prospect of a twenty-seven mile ride to St. Omer. After only half an hour, however, with a winter channel crossing behind them, it is not difficult to imagine how welcoming would be the sight of a monastery just four miles from the port. They had arrived at the little hamlet of St. Inglevert, “Santingfield”.


Whatever transpired during this visit, when the king’s company finally arrived at St. Omer, a scribe was summoned and the following charter was prepared:


“Henry, King of England and Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Earl of Anjou, to the Bishop of Lincoln, and Justices and Sheriffs, and Barons and Ministers and all his faithful people of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, greetings.


Know ye that I have given and grant in perpetual alms to the Hospital of Santingfield near Wissant, and the brethren there serving God, the land of Farley next to Luton as far as the land of the Church of Luton and as far as the land of Richard, son of Wulward, and as far as the land of Geoffrey the merchant, and all the lands of Wypperley as far as the way of Prestley, and as far as that way divides towards Harpenden; and in the manor of Luttershall three hides of land and ten acres of forest to make their buildings. And I will and firmly command that they have and hold all these in wood and in plain, in meadows and feedings, and in all places, with all their liberties and customs.


Witness: Thomas (Becket) the Chancellor, and William, the King’s brother, and Richard de Humeris, the Constable, and Warren, son of Gerald, Chamberlain, and Mausser Bysset, treasurer. Given at St. Omer.”


If King Henry had wanted to compensate, or offer the hospital some kind of thank offering for their services, he could hardly have made a more gratifying gesture.





To our modern ears the word ‘hospital’ conveys the idea of a place devoted solely to the care of the sick. But in medieval times this was by no means the case. Primarily the concern was for the traveller and the poor. Inevitably the sick and needy would find refuge in such places, and at any one time there might be some half dozen inmates under care. A chaplain would be regarded as essential, and some hospitals would have several clergy in attendance. There would certainly be a chapel.


In this context the hospital at St. Inglevert was founded. Fr. Mermet, the parish priest of St. Inglevert from 1912, tells us that in 1130 a certain Olyard, Lord of Wimille, a town just outside Boulogne, bought from Stephen of Blois, Count of Boulogne ‘the Woods near to the Sand” - “Sandingvelt” -“Santingfield”. (It was this Stephen who was later to become the king of England already mentioned, and predecessor to Henry II.)


Olyard was a man of exceptional piety and enterprise; and he undertook, perhaps under a certain vow, to clear this wooded area of brigands, and facilitate the passage of travellers and pilgrims. More especially perhaps he had in mind those who made their way to the famous shrine of Our Lady of Boulogne, and also pilgrims to Rome and Jerusalem.


With the help of some few men he had gathered round him, by 1131 Olyard had begun to build his hospital under the title of the Holy Trinity, and with a chapel dedicated to St. Peter. It seems that they did not themselves take Holy Orders nor adopt any specific rule of life except to be detached in order to serve the poor. They did, however, wear a distinctive habit. It consisted of a short cassock bearing the symbol of a large red key sown in cloth on the front.





These were the men who excitedly received the Charter from their royal visitor giving them now, just twenty-five years after their foundation, the chance to extend their work across the channel. These were the men who were soon to be seen walking the woods and fields of Farley.


Along with the charter was issued a letter put into the care of Thomas Becket addressed to “the whole halemote” of the King’s manor of Luton informing them of this grant and charging them “not to insult or injure the brethren of Santingfield, but to welcome them with good will and assistance”. (Patent Roll. Henry II.) Subsequent evidence shows that Henry also desired that the Brethren should pray for the souls of himself, his ancestors, and heirs. (Pat. Edw. III, Dec. 18th 1347.)


It is most likely that the Brethren of Santingfield took advantage of their new acquisitions, both at Farley and at Ludgershall in Buckinghamshire, as soon as possible. The first positive indication, however, that the Hospital of Farley had become established with a resident Master may be found in the ‘Pedes Finium” Rolls for the year 1198-99 in which Brother Mauger is named as the Master of Farley.


There seems no reason to assume that Mauger was ordained. Possibly the Hospital at Farley suffered the same inconvenience experienced by the Mother House of Santingfield in their early years. It is known that Santingfield priests were called in from neighbouring monasteries. Withinthe first year of its foundation, Olyard made requests to the priests of Arrouaise, a famous abbey near Bapaume. This monastery had a very convenient priory at Beaulieu, about five miles from Santingfield. No lasting association, however, seems to have been established with them for in 1185 a priest had become resident in the area of Santingfield serving both the Hospital and the local people who had come to settle in this recently cleared district.


In these early years the Master of Santingfield also had the concern of the English Houses, and it is known from records dating from 1198 to 1215 that some kind of arrangement was made between him and the Abbey of St. Albans. This agreement was signed in the name of Brother Bauduin, the successor to Olyard, and may well have included some terms by which the monks of the Abbey would serve the Hospital at Farley. The manuscript containing this agreement (Cotton. Otho. D. III), a cartulary of St. Albans Abbey and now in the possession of the British Museum, was severely damaged by fire in 1731 and only survives in a few burnt fragments.





Whatever might have been the fortune of the Brethren of Farley in respect to the services of a resident priest, at least they were soon favoured with the acquisition of more land. Already by their grant from Henry II they possessed what is in effect the whole of the land now occupied by the Farley Hill Estate together with Stockwood Park (or ‘Whipperley’ as it was then known). But at the end of the twelfth century the Brethren were to receive a gift of 45 acres from the land of the Lord of Luton Manor, Baldwin de Bethune. This land is thought by William Austin, the local historian, to have been on the south side of the London Road extending into the Estate of Luton Hoo, comprising Kidney Wood and the land between that wood and Trapps Lane (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. Publ, Vol.5 pt.2 p.105). The gift is confirmed in a charter of King John’s dated 28th June 1204.


The Hospital also possessed at this time a mill on the river Lea possibly leased as well from the Lord of Luton Manor.


For those who live in Bethune Close, it is interesting to note that Baldwin de Bethune accompanied Richard the Lion Heart, King of England from 1189 to 1199, on his Crusade to the Holy Land, and stayed with the King as he struggled back home across Europe in disguise against his enemy the Duke of Austria. Bethune, however, unlike his royal master, escaped arrest.(***) It was the imprisonment of Richard in some unknown castle in Europe that gave rise to the attractive legend of Blondel, his faithful minstrel, journeying from one castle to another playing beneath the towers the tune which the King loved best, and eventually discovering his whereabouts on hearing the reply on the King’s harp.


(***) New information has been received from Sian Alexander following his research into Baldwin de Bethune. It seems that Baldwin did not escape arrest but rather he was held prisoner in Austria. There he continued to negotiate for Richard's release. Unfortunately, after Richard was released, Baldwin's importance to his prisoners was so reduced that he was almost executed! Eventually Baldwin was released and married the heiress Hawise, countess of Aumale, lady of Holderness (and others). He continued in the crown's service until his death in 1212/13. Many thanks to Sian Alexander for sharing this information with us.


Throughout the thirteenth century little is known of the life of the Hospital at Farley except for two names that have come down to us. The first is that of William “Friar” who became Master in 1238 (Cobbe, ‘Luton Church’, p.501). His title-name could mean that he was a member of the recently formed Franciscan Order established in England from the Continent in 1224. The Hospital may indeed have attracted men of a variety of orders, for we read in a patent letter of Henry III dated Feb. 7th 1253, that the king granted “simple protection, without term, for the brethren of the order of St. William in the Desert, and their house at Ferlegh”.


One has, however, to bear in mind that Farley was not an uncommon name and we have no direct proof that this is a reference to our own hospital.


The second name is that of John de Rochele who was Master in 1296. (Pat. 22, Edw. I, m.7).





A fourteenth century principle of local government that had been established since Anglo-Saxon times, and had not been disturbed even by the Norman Conquest, was that of “frank-pledge”. Under this system the freemen in a tithing area were pledged to each other for their good behaviour. Every ten men in a village were answerable for each other, and if one of them committed an offence the other nine were bound to make reparation.


In 1331, the Master of Farley was summoned on some account with regard to this “frank-pledge”, and on failing to appear his lands were seized by the King, Edward III (The Victorian History of the Counties of England. - V.H.C. Bed. ii p.357).


The King seems to have maintained the Institution of Farley Hospital, but owing to his wars with France he took probably the first opportunity he could to install an Englishman as Master. And so it is that we find William Lachebury holding the Mastership, the first Englishman to do so, and possibly the first priest.


But now we come upon a rather fascinating intrigue. In the January of 1347, after Lachebury had been Master for perhaps several years, we read in a patent letter that a certain John de Felmersham, “king’s clerk”, was granted “for life, the wardenship of the hospital at Farle, in the gift of the King by reason of the priory at Suntyngfield being in his hands on account of the war with France”. And there appears perhaps nothing strange in this - until we read another order indited within the same year and dated 18th December. The effect of this second order was to dismiss John de Felmersham in no uncertain terms, and to reinstate William Lachebury. The charges brought against Felmersham were these. First, it showed that Felmersham, having the ear of the king, cunningly raised the matter of the Mastership of Farley implying that the situation was vacant. And then, having received the position by this trick, he proceeded to remove William Lachebury from his office and then he abused his charge by neglecting the houses, the woods and gardens, and by disposing of some of the hospitals’ possession. Added to this he had been completely lax in his main spiritual duty of sustaining ‘the royal chantries’, the prayers for the soul of the king, his heirs and predecessors -all tasks that William Lachebury had not only performed well but had performed well and within the meagre financial resources of the hospital.


The actual words of the order are as follows:


“Whereas Henry sometime king of England, of his devotion to the House of God of Sunting field by Whitsand, which was founded of the alms of the apostolic see, granted to the same, in frank almoin, lands in Farleye, to wit the house of Farleye, co. Bedford, and Ludgareshale, co. Buckingham, for the perpetual chantries for his soul and the souls of his heirs and others, as in his chanter and the confirmation thereof by Edward II is more fully contained; and whereas the present king on the suggestion of John de Felmersham, clerk, that the house of Farleye, now called the hospital of Farleye, was void and in his gift on account of the war with France, lately granted the keeping thereof to the said John for life; in as much as he learned afterwards that the latter by colour of that grant after removing William de Lachebury, and English chaplain, warden of that house, of whom he said nothing in his suggestion, had committed wastes of houses, woods and gardens and dispersal of goods of the hospital and diminished the chantries and alms appointed therein, he caused him to be summoned before him to answer in the chancery, who being spoken to thereof there renounced the letters of the said keeping and any right he had by them that they might be revoked. The king, therefore willing that the chantries and other alms should be continued pursuant to the pious aim of his progenitor in making the grant aforesaid, according to the abilities of the hospital, which are very slender, and because William ruled the hospital well, and made the ability thereof equal to the support of the chantries and alms, by these present has restored him to the Wardenship thereof and revokes the first-mentioned patent to John.”




It might seem rather feeble and unlikely that John de Felmersham could simply appear at Farley and turn William Lachebury out. But another interesting little incident shows that Lachebury’s strength was more spiritual than physical.


The incident concerns a certain Edmund Poulter of Caddington, and is recorded in “Sessions of the Peace for Bedfordshire, 1355-59” by Elizabeth G. Kimball.


“Edmund Pulter of Caddington (among other charges of assault and theft); at East Caddington he assaulted brother Simon Powel of Farley Hospital, beating him and drawing blood; at East Caddington he assaulted John Hyche servant of the master of Farley Hospital, beating him and drawing blood; he threatened the master of the hospital so that he dare not remain in the hospital and so seeks remedy; Edmund was exacted and outlawed. The record and process of the outlawry were sent to the King’s Bench on the following writ of cerciorari to Reginald de Grey.


“Appeared before the King’s Bench at Westminster, Trinity 1358; the outlawry having been judged insufficient, he made a fine of 20s., for the trespasses for which he was indicted; K.B. 388, Rex. m.20; 392, Fines, m. I.”





Despite the fact that the position of Master of Farley had become relatively desirable, as is evident from the intrigue of John de Felmersham, it may well be that the subsequent term of office held by the reinstated Lachebury really established an institution of some substance. Indeed, although we do not hear of another appointment for fourteen years, when it was made, presumably on the death of Lachebury, it was granted to no lesser person than William Wenlock.


In October 1361, King Edward III issued the following patent letter from Windsor. “Grant to the king’s clerk William de Wenlock of the Wardenship of the hospital of Farele, Co. Bedford”.


An entry in “Novum Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinennse”, a directory of clergy in the London Diocese compiled by G. Hennessy BA. in 1898, and in the custody of the librarian of St. Paul’s Cathedral, runs as follows:


“William Wyvell de Wenlock. Rector of S. Andre’s Holborn: of Horton, Kent: Custos of Farle Hosp. Bed: Prebend of Mora (Feb. 19, 1362-3 exchanged 1364 for Preb of Brownswood Nov. 26. Died 1392). His Will dated Apr. 1 1392 proved on May 17 1392 (P.C.C. 6. Rous). Archdeacon of Rochester 1364.’


This list, formidable as it is, does not seem to be complete. William Austin tells us that Wenlock, on his appointment to Farley, resigned the living of Flamstead but was reinstated on 6th May 1391. He also appears to have been vicar of Odell. At any rate, it is clear that he must have delegated many of his duties, and a chaplain is named in his will, one Robert Goldsmith, and it was upon him that no doubt the day to day affairs of the Hospital fell.


Fr. Mermet also mentions Edouard de Kenda in the year 1375. He presumably was another chaplain.


It is interesting to note that in his will William Wenlock left “one torch to be for the chapel of Farley”. He also made bequests to several of the priests of Luton Church, and directed that he should be buried there.


His fine altar tomb may be seen set in one of the arches of the doubled arched screen in the Wenlock Chapel of St. Mary’s church. The other arch contains the tomb of his great nephew, Sir John Wenlock, who in fact built the Wenlock Chapel. The tomb of William Wenlock had many interesting features. Apart from its setting in a screen which is regarded as being one of the finest in Europe, the tomb has upon it an effigy of a man in a priest’s cassock and mantel, and holding two strips recording a prayer. The inscription on the tomb is often quoted as it is the earliest known example of an inscription in both Latin and medieval English.


“In Wenlock brad 1: in this town lordscipe had I: Her am I now fady:

Cristes moder helpe me(l)ady: Under thes stones: for a tym schal I reste my bones : Deye mot I ned ones : myghtful God gr’nt me thy wones. Ame.”


William Austin points out that the phrase “Deye mot I ned ones” means “Die must I need once’, and ‘gr’nt me my wones” means “grant me thy everlasting habitations’. The ‘lordscipe” no doubt refers to that part of the Manor of Luton, worth £8 a year, which had been sold to William Wenlock by Edmund Fitz Herbert in 1377.





Our attention by this time has necessarily become focussed upon the hospital at Farley. The life of the monks of St. Inglevert across the channel will have passed us by, and especially now that the wars with France had brought the monks here an independence from their mother house.


But one famous historical incident associated with St. Inglevert just takes our attention, and more especially now as it is contemporary with the time of William Wenlock.


The event would have been lost to us had it not been for the writings of Jean Froissart.


Geoffrey Breretan in the Introduction to his very recent selection and translation of the Froissart Chronicles (Penguin Classics) say,


“Froissart, sometimes loosely described as the historian of the Hundred Years War (he was both more and less than that), was one of the greatest of the medieval European writers. In his own century, the fourteenth, it is not easy to see anyone who can be put beside him as a prose-writer. But the literary language of the day was still predominantly verse, and prose was still regarded as something of a utility medium. Because of this and because Froissart is known principally for his description of warfare - an absorbing but ultimately limiting topic - it has not always been realised that he offers a range of interest not so greatly inferior to that of Chaucer, his almost exact contemporary, or that his Chronicles reveal the same kind of human and social curiosity which underlies the Canterbury Tales. Froissart also wrote verse, prolifically but not very memorably, but it is for the Chronicles, that vast work to which he devoted most of his life that he is rightly read and remembered.”


And so it is that we turn to Froissart’s description in his Chronicles of “The Tournament of St. Inglevert (1390)”.


Geoffrey Breretan introduces his translation in this way:


“While Charles VI was in the south of France, three French knights, Boucicaut the younger, Regnault de Poye and Jean de Sempy, had issued a challenge inviting all comers to meet them in a friendly trial of arms near Calais. The challenge was directed particularly at England, with which country a three-year truce had recently been concluded. Part of the formal invitation ran:


“… and we beg all those noble knights and foreign squires who are willing to come not to imagine for a moment that we are doing this out of pride, hatred or malice, but in order to have the honour of their company and to get to know them better, a thing which we desire with our whole hearts. And none of our shields shall be covered with iron or steel, nor shall the shields of those who come to joust against us. Nor shall there be any other unfair advantage, fraud, trickery or evil design, nor anything not approved by those appointed by both sides to guard the lists.”


“At the beginning of the merry month of May, the three young knights of France named above were fully prepared for the trial of arms they were to hold at Saint-Inglevert and which had been announced in France, England and Scotland. They came first to Boulogne-sur-mer, where they stayed for a certain number of days, and then went on the Abbey of Saint-Inglevert. There they were delighted to learn that a large number of knights and squires had come across from England to Calais. In order to hurry things forward and let the English know they were ready, they had three large luxurious crimson tents set up in due form at a spot between Calais and Saint-Inglevert. At the entrance to each tent were hung two shields emblazoned with the arms of the particular knight, one a shield of peace and the other a shield of war. (The ‘peace’ arms sometimes used in tournaments were lighter and less lethal than those used in actual war. This applied particularly to the lance, which in its ‘peace’ form had a head consisting of three blunt prongs in place of the sharp-pointed blade of the war lance. G.B.) The understanding was that whoever wished to run a course against any of them should touch one of the shields, or send someone to touch it, or both shields if he liked. He would then be provided with the opponent and the choice of joust he had asked for


Froissart goes on to describe the whole tournament encounter by encounter, joust by joust. In the four days over which the jousts lasted, more than forty challengers measured themselves against the three French knights, who remained unbeaten. Geoffrey Breretan selects the detailed description of the challenge of Sir John Holland, Earl of Hundingdon, but in all one hundred and thirty-six lances are described.





Returning to this country, and two years later, we are met with the death of William Wenlock in 1392. With his death, the names of the known Masters of Farley come to an end. The hospital begins its decline into oblivion.


Who in fact owned the Hospital? Certainly at this time it was in the possession of the Crown following the affair over “frank-pledge” in 1331. But it may be that this possession was revoked. By a patent letter, 16 Richard II, dated 21 May 1393, although the wording is obscure and letters are referred to that were not enrolled, it does suggest “the restitution of the said master and brethren to their possession of the said hospital of Farle”.


It may be significant that possession is not restored to the Hospital of St. Inglevert, the Hospital at Farley perhaps being regarded as no longer an alien concern. The fact that the Farley Hospital is not listed in 1414 when Henry V was expressly empowered to appropriate the incomes of all religious houses of foreign orders could argue for both sides. Either the Hospital was not regarded as alien, or it was already considered the king’s property. If any doubt, however, existed, the year 1448 put an end to it. In that year Henry VI was authorised to seize all foreign hospitals, and the King thereupon, either for genuine reason or as an excuse, considered Farley alien and leased the whole property to Kings College, Cambridge. The wording of the Patent Letter suggests that the property had become quite extensive.


“Grant in frank almoin to the provost and scholars of the college of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, Cambridge, (Kings College), of all the lordships, manors, lands, meadows, feeding grounds, pastures, woods, rents and services with the advowsons of churches and chapels and all other profits sometime of the master and administrator and the rector of the alien house or hospital of the Holy Trinity, Santyngfield, in England and in Wyperley, Prestley, Harpenden, Lutgershale and Coverfeld, and all the lands within Dover and without, co. Kent, and all the lands, meadows, feeding grounds, pastures and woods within the lordship of Awerberton in Wales.” (26 Henry VI 1448 February 24 Westminster.)


A year later, Farley was transferred to the tenancy of one Thomas Gold:


“Declaration of John Chedworth provost of the King’s College of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, Cantebrigge, that Thomas Golde is tenant in Farley of the fee of the college, requesting all by whose lands, castles, towns, jurisdictions of lordships he shall pass or abide to receive him, his goods, property and merchandise, entreating him with favour according to the liberties and privileges of the college. (Sealed with the signet of his office, and dated Cantebrigge 17 April 27 Henry VI 1449 and recorded in the Close Rolls.)





Further evidence of the decline of the Hospital may perhaps be seen in an incident that took place some few years before in 1431. It is recorded in the Chronicles of J. Amundesham, Vol. 1, p.59, among the Annals of the Monastery of St. Albans, It concerns the theft of some relics of St. Luke by robbers who made off in the direction of London. Pursued by ‘men of Dunstable’ they were eventually caught and overpowered at Barnet. The relics were restored, but the idea does just creep into the mind that this could well have been a stunt engineered by the monks themselves to draw attention to an institution that was rapidly losing influence and support within the general life of the people.


If the monastic hospitals were in decline, it seems that the Church Guilds were not, and indeed they may have become for many their substitute. The members paid an annual subscription which was used to help members who fell sick or were too old to work. One such guild was founded in Luton by Thomas Rotheram, Bishop of Lincoln and subsequently to become Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor, and a Cardinal. In 1471, Thomas Rotheram, then Bishop of Rochester, was granted the Manor of Luton by Edward IV. In 1474, two years after his translation to Lincoln, he was granted a Licence by the King to found a religious guild known as the Guild of the Holy Trinity. A register of the Guild with a beautiful illuminated frontispiece is now in the possession of the Marquess of Bute. It covers the years 1475 to 1546 and it shows the guild to be one of the richest in England with kings, queens, bishops and abbots amongst its members. “The people of Ferley’ are also listed.





The coincidence that the site of our church looks down “Santingfield”, the name associated with the beginning of Farley Hospital, is heightened by the fact that the site stands on the corner of an avenue named after Rotheram, the name associated with our history throughout the whole of the sixteenth century and thus with the closing years of the Hospital’s life.


Thomas Rotheram, Bishop of Lincoln, was translated to the Archbishopric of York in 1480, and appointed his nephew, George Rotheram, as Apparitor at York in 1497. The duties of an apparitor are to summon people to appear at, and to execute the orders and decrees of an ecclesiastical court.


In 1505, George Rotherarn was bidden by the Master of Santingfield, Pierre Caurel, to bring an action against the Abbott of St. Albans. It appears that the Abbott had been trying to force some claim upon the lands of Farley and had dispossessed the tenants (V.H.C. Beds. II p.308). If George Rotheram took any steps in this direction he must have learned that the Hospital had been seized by the Crown in the preceding century. Whatever transpired, however, Rotheram obtained from Henry VIII, sixteen years later in 1522, the lease of the farm of the Hospital and manors of Farley and Whipperley and the other possessions of the Hospital for a term of 92 years at a yearly rent of 10 marks (Pat. Rolls 13 Henry VIII 28 Aug. and referred to in 1 Mary 30 June 1554).


It seemed as if the property of Farley would remain in the Rotheram family for many years. But with the death of Henry VIII in 1547, the new King, Edward VI, found the property a useful and convenient gift for his knight, Thomas Palmer, in recognition of service to himself and his father (Pat. Roll Edward VI 23 July 1547).


The property, however, was restored to the Rotheram family by Queen Mary in 1554 (Pat. Roll I Mary 30 June 1554 Farnham Castle).


In the lease the name of ‘George Rotheram’ is given, but Fr. Mermet and William Austin both suggest that this refers to the son of George Rotheram born to him by his mistress Alice Beckett and given the same name.


By this time the function of the Hospital must have ceased. Indeed it is perhaps significant that whereas “the hospital or the priory of Santingfield” is mentioned in documents, only “the chapel of Farley” is now recorded. Fr. Mermet says that in 1579 Queen Elizabeth gave authority for the property of Farley to be split up. It may well be it was at this time that the Rotherams pulled down what was left of the decaying hospital buildings - buildings with over four hundred years history to tell, and no doubt their foundations are with us to this day beneath the houses and gardens in Homestead Way.





If Farley Hospital by the end of the sixteenth century had faded away, the farm associated with it had not. Farley Farm was now to come to the forefront, and it is significant perhaps that in 1584 we find George Rotheram wishing to buy “the Farm of the chapel of Farley” (Cobbe. ‘Luton Church’ p.76).


The Rotheram family continued to live at Farley for well into the eighteenth century, although they did not retain the whole estate. In 1640 Thomas Rotheram sold about 600 acres to a certain Richard Norton, lands which correspond roughly to the area now known as Stockwood Park; “All that capital mansion- house known as Stockwood, alias Wyperley, with the appertenances New Woodfield, Pond Close, Stockwood Close, Slipp and Highwood”.


We know little of their day-to-day lives during this period except that the discipline of the Church did not pass them by. In the “Act Books of the Archdeaconry of Bedford” Vol.III for the year 1616-17 (Archive Room, Shire Hall, Bed.), we read that, “On 20th May one Susan ... of the family of Magister Rotheram of Farley was under suspicion of incontinence, and ... Field of the family of John Beeche was similarly accused, and, failing to appear at the three following Courts, they were both excommunicated”.


In 1708 Mr. Richard Crawley took over the property of Stockwood, and after his death it transferred to his son John Crawley who built the mansion-house there known in Stockwood Park until its demolition in 1964.


The House of Farley was retained by the Rotherams, and it ultimately came into the possession of John Sharpe Palmer through marriage. In 1815 he sold the property to the Marquess of Bute, who in turn sold it to John Sambrook Crawley in 1855 when Farley Farm became the ‘Home-Farm’ of the Stockwood estate.


In 1945 the Farm was finally demolished to make way for the beginnings of the Farley Hill Estate.





At this time the whole of the Estate was in the parish of St. Saviour’s, Luton, with Fr. E.R. Brunning as Vicar, and Fr. R.E.D. Johnson as Assistant Priest.


It just so happened some of the first building to be started on the Estate was in the area of the old farm, and thus of the hospital. And so it was that when permission was given by the Bishop of St. Albans to celebrate a monthly Eucharist in the front room of No. 11, Hagdell Road, the home of Mr. and Mrs. T.R. White, and the first taking place on 2nd October 1949, the priest and tiny congregation would have been taking up the worship carried on by the Brethren of Farley only yards away some 500 years before.


In “A Communication to all the Church People on the Farley Hill Estate”, Fr. Brunning said,


“Plans are drawn up for the erection of a prefabricated building to serve the dual purpose of Church and Hall. We cannot tell you when this will be open, as these plans have to go through numerous Committees which are not under our control. We hope to have the church open by early summer, but this can only be a hope until we know more. Meanwhile, though we have been given a very generous grant of £1,000 by the Diocese towards the costs of purchasing, erecting and fitting this building, we shall want a total of £2,000 for this end, and must, therefore, immediately set about raising a sum of £1,000.”


This was the first public notice of the new church of St.Michael and St. George, Farley Hill. The dedication was perhaps chosen because Bishop Michael Furse, who retired as Bishop of St. Albans in 1944, was still at that time Prelate of the chivalrous Order of the same title. At any rate Bishop Philip Loyd gave his official approval to the dedication on 30th September 1949.


The building of this dual-purpose church engendered more than just local interest, for with it’s final Dedication we read in a diocesan publication put out to launch a new diocesan project, “Partnership in Church Building”, this opening sentence,


“ON MICHAELMAS DAY, 1951, the Bishop of the Diocese dedicated the combined church and hall of St. Michael and St. George on the Farley Hill Estate, Luton. This began the great programme of church building in the Diocese of St. Albans, whose population has increased more rapidly since the war than that of any other Diocese in England.’


The inclusive cost had by now risen to over £6,000. It was met by a grant of £1,500 from the Bishop’s Appeal Fund, together with an almost equal sum from donations from parishes in the Luton Deanery, and an interest-free loan from the Church Commissioners. Of the loan nearly half was repaid within ten years by the people of Farley Hill. Only in March 1962 was the burden of repayment generously taken over by the Diocese.





It had always been the aspiration of the people of St. Michael and St. George to become an independent parish with its own parish church, and the mother church of St. Saviour’s acknowledged this to be right.


And so it was that on 6th August 1965 the London Gazette contained a notice of an Order made by Her Majesty in Council with the following provisions:


(a) Upon the date of the licence thereto of a Minister the area defined in the Schedule to this Scheme and delineated on the annexed map shall become a separate district for spiritual purposes;

(b) Upon the date of the consecration of a church within the area approved by us, the said Church Commissioners, as suitable to be a parish church, or if the church is consecrated before such approval, the date of approval, the said area shall become a new parish;

(c) The name of the district (or parish as the case may be) shall be ‘The District (or Parish) of Saint Michael and Saint George, Farley Hill, Luton.


The public licensing of the first Minister of the Legal District took place on 13th October that same year, 1965.





Two more major steps in the history of the parish were soon to follow.


The first was the news that money was now available to build a parish church. This exciting news came on 19th September 1966. By means of direct grants from the Diocese and the Commissioners we would be able to go ahead and plan within a fixed figure of £20,000.


The second major step, taken with the unanimous approval of the P.C.C., was to open proceedings to change our dedication to St. John the Baptist in readiness for our new parish church. The reason for this is given in the content of this book, and is based on the association of this name with the Hospital of Farley.


It must be admitted that the evidence for saying that the chapel of the Hospital was dedicated to St. John is based on nothing but hearsay. Cobbe’s ‘Luton Church’, p.502, refers to the chapel of St. John the Baptist. And the V.H.C. Beds. 11 p.400 says, “It was a hospital for the poor and appears to have been dedicated to St. John the Baptist like those at Bedford, Hockliffe, Toddington, etc.” In its favour one can say that there is no evidence contrary to this title, and it was indeed an extremely common dedication for monastic hospitals. It was a name known to the planners of the estate, and is recalled in the road name “St. John Close”.


It seemed an historical link too strong to lose. There was the need, however, for yet another Order in Council if the dedication was to be changed. After all the necessary Diocesan preparation this was eventually granted by Her Majesty just four days after the Feast of St. John, 1967. The Order became effective as from the publication of a notice in the London Gazette of 30th June that same year.





By this time the plans for the church were well advanced. A Joint Buildings Committee had been established with representatives from the parish and Diocese upon it.


Mr. David Sutcliffe, A.R.I.B.A., of Hatfield had been appointed Architect, and Mr. N.R. Morter of Welwyn, Builder.


Work began on the site on 28th February 1968, and the Foundation Stone was laid by S. Hugh Porter, Esq., Headmaster of Rotheram High School, and Blessed by the Bishop of Bedford on 4th May.


The main commission given to the architect was, “That the exterior should be immediately recognisable as a church; and that both the exterior and interior should speak alike of the Transcendence and the Imminence of God”. These features, in the opinion of the Committee, the architect has achieved remarkably well.


As to the size of the building, one is reminded of sentiments expressed by Sir Winston Churchill in a speech he made on the rebuilding on the House of Commons (October 28th. 1943):


‘A characteristic of a Chamber formed on the lines of the House of Commons is that it should not be big enough to contain all its Members at once without over-crowding ... If the House is big enough to contain all its members, nine tenths of its Debates will be conducted in the depressing atmosphere of an almost empty or half empty chamber ... But the conversational style requires a fairly small space, and there could be, on great occasions, a sense of crowd and urgency.


These principles could be applied almost directly to a place of parochial and family worship.


Certain features of the new church require at least brief notice here.


THE FONT: this was designed and executed under the direction of Miss Angela Godfrey, of Roydon, Essex. It was cast as a single unit in white cement against a plastic mould, and finished with a sand- blasted texture.


THE SANCTUARY FURNITURE: this was designed by the architect, as were all the furnishings of the church, and worked in ‘afrormosia’ by Alastair Dawson of Welwyn Garden City.


THE ALTAR: the top is made from a finely rubbed blue-grey Welsh slate. The Sanctuary floor is in the same materials but has a natural riven finish.


THE ALTAR CANDLESTICKS: like the tract table and the Aumbry door, these are all the work of pupils from Rotheram High School; the wood is ‘afrormosia’, and the metal copper.


THE SANCTUARY WINDOW: this is made in the “dalle de verre” technique, thick slabs of coloured glass set in sand-filled epoxy resin. It is the work of the artist Joseph Nuttgens of High Wycombe.


THE ORGAN: this was designed and built specially for our church by J.W. Walker & Sons Ltd. of Ruislip. It is a ‘Positif’ Organ Model ‘C’ with a two-manual detached console.


THE BELL: the original 14in. bell which hung of the vestry roof of the old church was a gift from Markyate P.C.C. in 1952. It bore the date 1862. This was recast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a 1.5 cwt. 18in. bell, and is tuned harmonically to ‘G’.


THE EXTERNAL CROSS: is 60 ft. high, the same measurement as the length of the church. The normal seating arrangement, which is designed to be very flexible, will accommodate about 110 people, with a maximum of 175.


These bare facts, what do they add up to? They make a Sanctuary set apart to God and for God; a Holy place that speaks of the sure presence of God in the world, God who is victorious over the world through the Cross held high.


It speaks of the people of God dispersed to their daily lives, yet ever returning to give thanks, to rededicate, to rest, to receive, “to be sent out into the world in the Power of His Spirit to live and work to His praise and glory”.










15th MARCH 1969.




A transcript of the Grant of Farley to Santingfield by Henry II (January 1156) taken from Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum, Vol. VI pt.2 p.639.


Carta Regis Henrici Secundi, de diversis terris Fratribus ejusdem concessis.


“Henricus, Rex. Anglicae & Dux Normanorum et Aquitaniae & Comes Andegaviae (Anjou), Episcopo Lincolniensi & justiciariis, & viceconiitibus, & baronibus & ministris, & omnibus fidelibus suis de Bedefordscire & Buckinghamscyre, salutem -


Sciatis me dedisse & concessisse in perpetuam elemosinam Hospitali de Santingfelde juxta Wystand. et fratribus ibidem Deo servientbus, terrain de Ferleya, juxta Lectonani, usque ad terrain ecclesiae de Lectonae; & usque ad terrain Richardi, fuji Wuiwardi; & usque ad terrain Gaufridi, inercatoris. Et totani terrain de Wyperleya usque ad viam de Presteleya & sicut via dividit usque ad Harpendenam. Et in manerio de Luttegershala tres hida terrae, & deceni acras forestae, ad aedificia sua facienda. Er volo & firmiter praecipio quod haec omnia praedicta habeant & teneant in pace & libere & quiete, in bosco & in piano, in pratis & pascuis, & in omnibus locis, cum omnibus hbertatibus & consuetudinibus sins.


“T(estibus), Thoma (a Becket), Canceliario, & Wiliieimo frat.ri regis, & Riardo de Hum(et), Constabulario, et Warino fib Geridi, camerario, & Manassero Byset, dapifero. Apud S. Audomarum (S. Omer).’


Commenting on the date of this Charter, Cobbe in ‘Luton Church’ p.498, say,


“No date is attached to this grant, but there is internal evidence even in the names of the first witness, and of the place where it was signed, sufficient to show that it was made in the month of January 1156. Thomas Becket was only chancellor from 1154-I 162. It was on the 10th January 1156 that Henry first visited the Continent after his accession, and on that occasion alone he crossed from Dover to Wistand, along with Becket, necessarily passing through S. Omer on his way to Rouen, where he is found on February 4th.”







Letters Patent are so called because they are written upon open sheets of parchment, with the seal of the sovereign or party by whom they were issued hanging from the bottom (through Fr. from Lat. ‘patentem’, lying open).


Patent Rolls are collections of letters patent. They were begun in 1201, and each roll contains the letters of one year. though in some cases the roll is subdivided into two or more parts. Each sheet of parchment is numbered and called a ‘membrane’ (m), for example, the 8th sheet of the 10th year of Henry III is cited in this way: “Pat. 10, Hen. III, m. 8”. If the document is on the back of the roll it is called ‘dorso’, and ‘d’ is added to the citation.


Close letters are folded up and sealed on the outside.


Foremost among the records of the Court of Common Pleas are the Pedes Finium ,“feet of fines”, ref: the evidence for the name of Br. Mauger, Master of Farley 1198. These records date from Henry II, and record, for example, proceedings which have been adopted to convey estates, giving names of freeholders, the value of their estates, and often something about their families and ancestors. They are invaluable for proving marriages and their issue at a time when parochial registers were not in existence.


Pipe Rolls are some of the most important records from the Court of Exchequer, and record everything that in former times went to swell the revenues of the crown. From the Pipe Rolls of 1156, and subsequent years, it appears that the Hospital at Ludgershall paid the king 60/- and the Hospital of Farley 40/- a year for their lands.





There is evidence that at St. Inglevert a community of Sisters was formed, soon after the foundation of the Hospital, to serve the needs of women taken into care. Of necessity, the sisters would require even a separate chapel, and it is thought that the existing thirteenth century church was in fact this chapel. It was dedicated to St. Barnabas, and no doubt required reconstruction after the sacking of the hospital by the English in 1544.






(a)   On the N.l, Boulogne to Calais road, looking in the direction of Calais. In the far distance can be seen the cluster of houses at the crossroad where the Hospital of St. Inglevert stood.


(b)   At the crossroad looking down the road (D.244) which leads to Wissant, about four miles away. The belfry of the Church of St. Barnabas can just be seen over the top of the long roofed barn.


(c)   The thirteenth century church of St. Barnabas, St. Inglevert.


(d)   The interior of St. Barnabas, St. Inglevert.


(e)   The road (D.244) just beyond the church and farm buildings looking down towards the sea, and the ancient port of Wissant, - and towards England.





St. John Close

Master Close

Friars Way

Friars Close

Richards Close

Wulwards Close

Bethune Close

Godfrey (Geoffrey?) Close

Whipperley Way

Whipperley Ring

Santingfield North

Santingfield South

Rotheram Avenue

Lachbury Close


Felmersham Road







1198       MAUGER. (Pedes Finium, Rich. I).


1238       WILLIAM “FRIAR”. (Cobbe, ‘Luton Church’ p.50 1).


1296       JOHN DE ROCHELE. (Pat. 22, Edw. 1, m. 7).


(     )       WILLIAM LACHEBURY.*




1347       WILLIAM LACHEBURY, reinstated. (*Pat. 21, Edw. I, p1.3, m. 13).


1361       WILLIAM WENLOCK. (Pat. 35, lEdw. III, m. 18, Oct. 6, Windsor; ratified in Pat. 1, Ric. II, Apr. 4, 1378).


1392       William Wenlock Jnr. By Pat 9, Ric. II, m. 8, 23, Nov. 1385, Wenlock Jnr. was granted the Mastership “immediately upon the voidance by death, cession or surrender” of his father. There is no evidence to show that he ever took up this option.)