Founded by Archbishop Henry Chichele
The Bede House was founded by Archbishop Henry Chichele in 1423, to house twelve poor male inhabitants of the Borough aged over 50 years, with one Bedeswoman to look after them. Each person had their own locker and cubicle, which was divided by screens within the common hall. The common room housed a large fireplace; this remains in the building today and is now more than 500 years old.
Each occupant received one penny per day, and was provided with as much "'Black Friese' as will make them a gown".
- 5 shillings was granted for a barber to come every Friday at noon to shave the men and make them clean.
- 5 shillings was granted for filling the lamp in the middle of the common room.
- 10 shillings was granted for charcoal or other fuel for the brazier to heat water for washing.
- 9 loads of wood were provided at Christmas.
One Bedesman was chosen to be 'Prior'. The Bedeswoman had to be of good name, quiet and honest.
No brawler or drunkard or the haunter of taverns would be chosen as a Bedesman and any offences committed would be dealt with as follows:
- First offence – Warned
- Second offence – Fined one penny
- Third offence – Fined two pence
- Any further offence – Expelled.
The Bedesmen lived by definite rule – time of prayer and manual work in the garden. Each day began with Matins followed by one hour of meditation. On Sundays and Feast days, Mass was attended within the Parish Church or the Bedehouse Chapel, where prayers were offered to the King, the Royal Family, the Faithful Departed, and for the Founder, Archbishop Chichele and his family.
The Bede House today
The vacation of the building by the Bedesmen took place in the seventeenth century. But the tradition continues to this day. The Bedesmen and Bedeswoman are still appointed by the United Charities Trustees, with no obligation placed upon them.
We should now leave the Churchyard group of buildings and enter the Market Square, which has retained an air of gentility and leisureliness despite the busy main road.