Last week was the anniversary of a significant event in Gloucester.
It was not the anniversary of a happy event. It was not really something that you would seek to celebrate. No flowers were exchanged.
The 9th of February was the 461st anniversary of the gruesome demise of the protestant martyr Bishop Hooper, who was burned at the stake in Gloucester in 1555.
The Citizen reported the commemoration of the event, which took place at the Gloucester Folk Museum in Westgate Street, and repeated the common belief that the building housing the Folk Museum was where Bishop Hooper spent his last night.
The Folk Museum is a wonderful place.
The building itself is historic, dating from around 1500.
It is filled with fascinating objects, including what is reputed to be the charred remains of the stake at which Bishop Hooper was burnt.
But what I am pretty certain that it is NOT, is where Bishop Hooper spent his last night.
The Folk Museum has long been associated with Bishop Hooper. It is commonly called Bishop Hooper’s House.
When I was researching The Story of Gloucester, the curator at the Folk Museum showed me an old picture depicting the very room in which it was claimed the Bishop stayed on that last fateful night.
Unfortunately, he admitted, the room was an 18th century addition to the building and has since been removed.
The association of the building with Bishop Hooper probably dates to the same period, but has preserved for longer.
So where do I think he spent his last night? Let’s look at the evidence.
There are two accounts of Bishop Hooper’s fate. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, published in 1563, says that on the night before his death Hooper “lodged at one Ingram’s house”.
More than 250 years later, in 1819, The Revd Thomas Dudley Fosbrooke, in his Original History of the City of Gloucester, elaborates: “he was brought to this city, and lodged in the house of one Robert Ingram, opposite St Nicholas’s Church”.
So the Folk Museum building certainly works in terms of location.
In 1555 it was a merchant’s house. It was owned in 1548 by John Sandford, a wealthy clothier, who used the upper floors for the storage of cloth and for the manufacture of garments to be sold in the shop below. It may have been under different ownership by 1555, but it is likely that it served a similar purpose. Why would Bishop Hooper have been lodged there?
Bishop Hooper was brought to Gloucester under armed guard: Foxe reports that “six of the queen’s guards were appointed to receive him, and to carry him to Gloucester”. It was normal practice that a prisoner and his guards would be billeted at an inn, not a private residence or a shop.
So are there any inns that would fit the description? Yes, The Crown.
In modern Gloucester there is a pub called the Old Crown on the corner of Westgate Street and Upper Quay Street. The buildings it occupies date only from the mid eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but they are on the site of an earlier inn called the Crown, which would have been far more extensive and dates back to the time of Edward I (1272-1307).
The Crown was squarely opposite St Nicholas Church.
So what of Robert Ingram?
Well, in my research for The Story of Gloucester’s Pubs I came across a Robert Ingram who, three years after the burning of Bishop Hooper, in 1558, is recorded as being the Innholder with the ‘lease of inn or “great tent” called the Boothall’.
The Boothall was further up Westgate Street between Berkeley Street and Upper Quay Street, where the Shire Hall is today. The merchants’ guildhall was on the site from at least 1192, and an inn, called the Boothall Inn, was built immediately in front of it in the early fourteenth century.
The Boothall is a bit too far up Westgate Street to be described as opposite St Nicholas church, but it is suggestive that we have an innholder with the right name. Could he have been at the Crown in 1555 and moved later?
It seems to me a more likely explanation than the Folk Museum.