Thompson’s College and St Martin’s Church
There is a good description of the history of College Farm and its connection with St Martin's Church on British History Online
THE COLLEGE OF THOMPSON
Towards the end of the fateful year, 1349, Sir Thomas de Shardelowe and Sir John de Shardelowe his brother founded a chantry in the church of St. Martin, Thompson or Thomeston, to be served by a college of five chaplains and a warden. They were to celebrate for the souls of Sir John de Shardelowe, justice of the common pleas, and Agnes his wife, the parents of the founders, and for the founders' souls, and for all the faithful departed. The elder Sir John de Shardelowe died in 1344, and his wife Agnes presumably in 1349, as losses from the Black Death were in so many instances the occasion of the foundation of various important chantries. The family of Shardelowe held much property in Suffolk, their chief residence being at Flempton; but their burial place for several generations was the church of Thompson, Norfolk. Sir John de Shardelowe, the judge, was succeeded by his grandson of the same name, the son of Edmund who predeceased his father. Sir Thomas and Sir John, the founders of the college, were the judge's younger sons. (Sir Thomas married Margaret, daughter of Sir Roger de Grey of Merton, from whom Katharine is descended.)
The church of Thompson was appropriated to the college, without any provision for a vicar, as the church was always to be served by one of the chaplains. For this privilege a pension of four marks was assigned to the bishop. The master was to be elected by the chaplains from their own number; he had to be episcopally instituted, and if the chaplains failed to elect, the collation to the mastership rested with the bishop. The fellows or chaplains were to give due obedience to the master; they were all to lodge and board together in the college; and were to meet in the church daily for mattins and evensong as well as for masses.
Sir John de Shardelowe, one of the founders, died childless in 1369; his widow Joan took a vow of chastity before the bishop of Norwich, in the presence of John Grene, master of Thompson College and others. Sir John de Shardelowe, nephew of the co-founders, died in 1391. His will provided that he should be buried in the church of Thompson near his parents and ancestors; he also gave to the college 100s., and to a chaplain to celebrate there for him for a year after his decease seven marks.
In June, 1392, the master and chaplains of the chantry at the altar of St. Martin in the church of Thompson paid fifty marks for licence to hold the manors of Shudy Camps and Horseheath,' with appurtenances, in Cambridgeshire, and in Shropham and Thompson, the gifts of John Methewold, John Coke, and Thomas Horstede. In the following September the college paid the large sum of £40 for the king's licence to hold an acre of land at Shropham, with the advowson and appropriation of the church and the annexed chapel of St. Andrew; a certain competent sum being assigned to the poor parishioners out of the fruits of the rectory, and a vicarage being duly ordained.
Archdeacon Gold well, as commissary for the bishop, visited the college of Thompson on 10 November, 1492. John Joys one of the fellows, and proctor for Master Ambrose Ede, the warden, produced the foundation deed ordaining five chaplains with a master, and assigning to the master an annual payment of 12 marks, and-to each brother 11 marks.
There were then only three fellows or brethren, John Joys, John Pepyr, and William Cowper. The last of these was absent at his studies at the university of Oxford. After the separate examination of Joys and Pepyr the commissary dissolved the visitation as he found that no reform was needed.
The college was visited on 23 June, 1514, by Bishop Nicke. After Master Forth had preached from the text Agite poenitentiam the warden and three chaplains were examined. John Purpett, the warden, said that the annual income of the college was upwards of a hundred marks, and they had 3,000 sheep. He said that divine service was laudably observed, and that all was going on well. Thomas Barnesdale gave a good account of everything, the master annually presented his accounts, the common seal was kept in a chest under two locks, the third lock being broken, and the books, vestments, and other ornaments were duly repaired. Robert Lokke said that their foundation members were six, but that they were now dispensed from keeping the full number. John Bushoppe gave the warden an excellent character, and said that the services were duly observed, but that the number of boys was deficient.
The college was again visited on 21 July, 1526, when Master Rawlins was warden. The warden acknowledged that he had not rendered any account of receipts and payments, nor had he any book of accounts. There were only two brethren or fellows, Nicholas Marshall and Richard Ramme. The former of these testified that he had been a fellow for a year, and that they had no chest for the common seal and muniments according to the statute, nor was any annual account rendered.
Robert Audley was master in 1534. On 29 August of that year, the master, in conjunction with four chaplains, subscribed to the acknowledgement of the king's supremacy.
When the Valor Ecclesiasticus was drawn up in 1535, the total annual value was £63 6s. 10¾d., but there were many outgoings, and the clear value was only £52 15s. 7½d.
The college was suppressed, and its site and revenues assigned to Sir Edward Knevitt in 1541; but in the following year Sir Edward sold these possessions to John Maynard, mercer, of London.
Masters of Thomson College
The names of the masters (save the first) are those given by Blomefield, slightly corrected by the episcopal registers.
John Sporle, 1349
John Grene, 1353, re-chosen 1368
Stephen Feltham, 1356
Alexander de Horsted, 1378
Thomas Bushell, 1419
John Mayster, 1425
Robert Swetenham, 1425
Roger Philpot, 1432
William Bettys, 1439
Peter Lock, 1474
John Whitterd, 1487
Ambrose Ede, 1490
John Wyatt, 1503
John Purpett, occurs 1514
Richard Alday, alias Hoke, 1518
Robert Dikar, 1519
Roger Rawlins, 1524
Robert Audley, 1534
The fine fourteenth-century seal (21/8 in. by 1¾ in.) of this college bears St. Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar; in the base under a pointed arch, are the five chaplains of the house kneeling, between two shields of the arms of the founder (Shardelowe), on a chevron, between three cross-crosslets fitcheés an estoile. Legend:
The residence of the Shardelow chantry priests was originally a wooden framed hall about a quarter of a mile south of the church but as a result of increased endowments the Master of the College rebuilt it in stone in 1400.
In 1520 the college building was extended by the addition of a new wing on the east side making a T-shaped structure.
In 1541 the college was suppressed by Henry VIII as part of the general dissolution of the monasteries and thereafter became a private house and passed out of the family.
In 1845 the Thompson College estate was exchanged for the Suffolk estate of the 5th Baron Walsingham. Thus Thompson College, or College Farm as it became known, passed back to the de Greys of Merton.
St Martin's is a typical Norfolk perpendicular style building. Unlike many other villages where the churches have been altered and restored over the years, St Martin's has remained largely true to it’s original design. The church roof was found to be unsafe & unstable in 2016 and has just undergone a major restoration project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund to repair the nave roof. The first phase of the restoration project is now completed and further details can be found on www.stmartinsthompson.co.uk