A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.
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18. THE HOSPITAL OF ST. LEONARD, LANCASTER
The hospital of lepers at Lancaster, dedicated to St. Leonard, is said to have been founded by King John when count of Mortain and lord of the honour of Lancaster, 1189-94. (fn. 1) It is first mentioned in the charter which he granted between those dates to Lancaster Priory. (fn. 2) In the fourteenth century it sustained a chaplain and nine poor persons, of whom three were to be lepers, (fn. 3) but it is always referred to in early documents as the hospitale leprosorum of Lancaster.
John's grant included free pasture for their animals in his forest of Lonsdale, and the right of taking fuel and building timber therein without payment. Deprived of these privileges during the civil troubles which followed, they secured orders for their enforcement from Henry III in 1220, (fn. 4) 1225, (fn. 5) and 1229. (fn. 6) From Pope Celestine III (1191-8) they claimed to have obtained exemption from payment of tithes on lands in their own cultivation. This led to disputes with the priory of Lancaster, which owned the rectorial tithes of the parish. The first recorded ended in a compromise about 1245. (fn. 7) In 1317 there was further litigation. The prior complained that the master of the hospital withheld tithes at Skerton and Lancaster to the amount of £5, and the oblations of the hospital chapel, worth £1. On the question of tithe the master pleaded the bull of Pope Celestine, to which the prior retorted that the benefits of the bull were exclusively intended for lepers, (fn. 8) and that in any case it only covered land newly brought into cultivation, whereas that in dispute had been cultivated from time immemorial. He alleged seisin of both tithes and oblations since the date of the bull. Judgement was given against the hospitalonboth heads. (fn. 9)
On the forfeiture of Thomas of Lancaster the advowson of the hospital was taken into the hands of the crown, and one William de Dalton obtaining a grant of the wardenship ejected several of the lepers and poor inmates, and sublet the wardenship to William de Skipton and Alan de Thornton, who diverted much of its revenue to their own uses. (fn. 10) A protest was made and the king ordered an inquiry. The jury reported (5 October, 1323) that the custom had been for the brethren to elect one of the lepers as master and present him to the seneschal of Lancaster, who instituted him. (fn. 11) Three years later, however, the crown appointed a warden. (fn. 12)
On 1 November, 1356, the mastership being vacant, Henry duke of Lancaster gave the hospital to the nuns of Seton in Cumberland to relieve their poverty. (fn. 13) His generosity is said to have been inspired by his servant, Sir Robert Lawrence, kt., of Ashton, near Lancaster, a kinsman of the prioress. (fn. 14) The grant was conditional on the consent of the burgesses of Lancaster and on the nuns finding at the priory a chantry of one chaplain to replace that at the hospital and agreeing to continue its alms and dues at Lancaster. (fn. 15)
How long this last condition continued to be fulfilled is not recorded, but an inquiry held at the instance of the burgesses in 1531 showed that no alms had been done for sixty years, and that the lazar house had been pulled down and the church and other buildings allowed to fall into ruin. The prioress, though summoned, did not appear to answer the allegations of the townsmen. (fn. 16)
In the Taxatio of Pope Nicholas the possessions of the hospital after allowing for necessary expenses were assessed at 13s. 4d. (fn. 17) The temporalities comprised one plough-land in Skerton, with a manor and mill in Lancaster. (fn. 18) According to the jurors of 1531 they had been worth about £6 13s. 4d. a year; (fn. 19) they were assessed in 1535 at £6. (fn. 20) The daily portion of the brethren according to the inquisition of 1323 reveals the poverty of the house; it consisted of a loaf weighing 1 lb. 12 oz. with pottage on Sunday, Monday and Friday. (fn. 21)