The Palmer's Guild: A Brief History

The Palmers Guild : an Inspirational Legacy

The Palmer's FeastOn 12th November, 1500, Geoffrey Baugh, a rich Ludlow draper, ‘beinge in holle mynde seying the perells of deth drawynge nyghe’, made his will. He left to ‘the warden of the Gylde of Our Lady and Seynet John Evangelist of Ludlow and to his Bretheryn’ a number of ‘lands and tenements in and about the town of Ludlowe, ‘of the yearly value of £3 10s 4d’, a sum the equivalent of over £500 to-day. One of these was the property at 27 Bull Ring (now Emporos), where Baugh and his family lived. The gift was made with one condition, that ‘out of the issues and yearly profits’ of the donated lands, the Guild should ‘find an honest priest and singers to sing solemnly the masse of Jesus on Fridays for evermore’.

The Friday celebration has long since lapsed, but the memory of the Guild to which Geoffrey Baugh bequeathed his properties is still cherished. He was only one of a multitude of benefactors who supported the Guild and its works. For the three hundred years after 1250 the Guild of St Mary and St John was the largest organisation in Ludlow, though it was more commonly called the Palmers’ Guild. A Palmer was a pilgrim who had been to the Holy Land, bringing back a palm branch as proof that he had reached his goal. Few of the Ludlow palmers went on a physical pilgrimage, but all wished to identify themselves with the concept of pilgrimage, a journey through life to ultimate salvation.

Membership of the guild was expensive and was largely confined to the upper and middle ranks of society. Members had many advantages, such as compensation for loss of goods or house collapse, but the chief privileges were spiritual, attained through the employment of priests, who said masses for the souls of members, in life and after death. Such intercessions, it was thought, would hasten the journeys of deceased persons through the uncertainties of purgatory, and lead eventually to the sanctuary of heaven.

Initially, membership was confined to residents of Ludlow and its immediate countryside. Most towns had religious guilds of this kind, but a few of these, like some 19th century Building Societies, attained a membership that was much more than local. By the later 14th century men and women were enrolled by the Palmers Guild from the West Midlands, Wales, Bristol and places further away with which Ludlow had trading links, including London. At first the Guild employed three or four priests, but in 1394 a new residential college was built in what was subsequently called College Street, with a communal hall and cells for up to ten priests. The Guild’s secular headquarters was the Guildhall in Mill Street, which was rebuilt in 1411. Through bequests and purchase the Guild accumulated many properties, eventually owning about a third of Ludlow, as well as farms and lands elsewhere. They took on new responsibilities, including the grammar school and the almshouses.

The association with St Laurence’s Parish Church was close. The priests celebrated masses regularly, working alongside the diocesan clergy. In 1447 the Guild purchased wood from which new choir stalls were carved in the newly rebuilt and extended chancel. The Guild is known to have donated glass windows, among them the widely acclaimed window in St John’s Chapel which narrates the Guild’s legendary origins in the reign of Edward the Confessor. The Guild provided music for church services, paying the organist and ‘synging men and boys’.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s and the later Chantry Acts, the Guild was dissolved in 1551, though the following year its assets and many of its responsibilities were transferred to Ludlow Borough Corporation. In the 19th century most of the former Guild estates were divided among the institutions they supported but a small portion of them still sustain the Palmers’ Guild charity, which is used for church purposes, with the Rector and Church Wardens among the Trustees.

The Trustees of the Conservation Trust for St Laurence’s see parallels between the tasks they face to-day and those that confronted the church in the Middle Ages, so once more there will be a campaign to recruit ‘members of the Palmers Guild’. We hope that the Geoffrey Baughs of to-day will be as generous as he was.

Those who are able to give to the Conservation Trust on a regular basis will be enrolled as Palmers of the Trust. The term ‘Palmer' invokes memories of the medieval Ludlow Palmers Guild, which benefited St Laurence and the town of Ludlow in many ways.

For more information and associated forms, please follow this link.