A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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97-102. THE SIX HOSPITALS OF THETFORD
God's House, or Domus Dei
God's House, or Domus Dei, was a house of early foundation, Blomefield believed that it dated back to the days when William Rufus removed the episcopal see from Thetford to Norwich, (fn. 1) but Martin could find no sufficient proof of this. (fn. 2) It was situated on the Suffolk side of the borough; the river washed its walls on the north, and the east side fronted the street.
It was at any rate well established before the reign of Edward II, as it was found, in 1319, that John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, held the advowson of the God's House, Thetford. (fn. 3) In that year a considerable store of cattle and goods is described as having been acquired by the prudence and frugality of William de Norton, the late master, and left under the care of the bishop; his successor was enjoined not to dispose by sale or donation of any of the particulars of the inventory without leaving to the house an equivalent. (fn. 4)
The new master does not, however, appear to have followed the good example of William Norton; for he is soon found to be holding other preferment, and was probably non-resident. In 1325 William Harding, master of God's House, Thetford, and rector of Cerncote, Salisbury diocese, acknowledged a debt of eleven marks due to one Stephen de Kettlebergh. (fn. 5) In the same year he was also warden of the hospital of St. Julian, Thetford.
In 1335 John de Warenne obtained the royal licence to transfer the hospital of God's House with all its revenues and possessions to the prior provincial of the Friars Preachers; but speedily changing his mind obtained another licence for transferring it to the prior and canons of the Holy Sepulchre, Thetford. (fn. 6) By this arrangement it was covenanted that the priory should find two chaplains to sing mass for the soul of the founder of the hospital, and to find sustenance and entertainment for three poor men.
In 1347 Henry duke of Lancaster, as patron, confirmed to the prior and canons the gift of the lands, tenements, and rents lately belonging to the hospital of God's House, but excepted the actual site of the hospital, which he conferred upon the Friars Preachers. Two of the canons were to sing daily mass in the conventual church for the souls of the founders of the hospital. The priory was also to find a house yearly for three poor people from 9 November to 29 April, giving to each of them nightly a loaf of good rye bread, and a herring or two eggs. They were also to provide three beds, and hot water for washing their feet. This charter received royal confirmation the following year. (fn. 7)
The Hospital of St. Mary and St. Julian
This hospital, which stood at the bridge foot on the Norfolk side, was of early foundation. According to Tanner, Blomefield, and Martin it was presumably founded by Henry I; but no evidence as to this is forthcoming. The advowson of it rested with the earls of Warenne. It seems to have been of the nature of a hostelry for poor travellers and pilgrims. Martin names a number of the specific bequests to this hospital, which comprised upwards of a hundred acres of land, in addition to foldcourses and other pasturage rights, chiefly in Thetford and Croxton. (fn. 8)
In 1325 William Harding, who was also master of God's House, was master or warden of this hospital. In 1326 Harding resigned, and was succeeded in the following year by Robert de Worcester on the presentation of Edward II. The advowson was in the crown's hands for that turn, owing to the minority of the heir of Ralph de Cobham.
The Hospital of St. Mary Magdalen
John earl of Warenne and Surrey built a hospital for lepers in the reign of Henry III, endowed it with certain lands in Thetford, and appropriated to it the church or chapel of St. Mary Magdalen for the use of the master and brethren. The church of St. Mary Magdalen had originally been a parish church; but when that parish was annexed to St. Cuthbert's, in the first half of the thirteenth century, it became a chapel. (fn. 9) It stood some distance outside the town, on the right-hand side of the road to Norwich. No trace of it remains, save that the land on which it stood still bears the name of Maudlin Acre.
In 1232 the crown granted the right to collect alms to the master and brethren of this hospital. (fn. 10)
In 1360 Henry duke of Lancaster died, seised of the advowson. When the advowson in due course came to the crown it was granted to the mayor and commonalty of Thetford, who presented the master until its dissolution in the third year of Edward VI. At that date the hospital and its possessions, save the bells and lead of the chapel, were granted to Sir William Fermpur; but, Sir William Fermour almost immediately re-leased the premises to Sir Richard Fulmerston.
When the Valor Ecclesiasticus was drawn up in 1535, Christopher Braunche, clerk, was master of the hospital, and the clear annual value was returned at the mean sum of 33s. 6d. There must have been some gross alienation of property by certain of the masters, as it had at that date lost all its possessions save some rents in Thetford.
The Hospital of St. John Baptist
The leper hospital of St. John Baptist, founded in the twelfth century, used to stand, says Blomefield, 'at the corner of Earl's of Alice's lane against St. Cuthbert's Cross, its church being in the orchard belonging to that house.' (fn. 11)
Protection, involving authority to collect alms, was granted by the crown to this hospital in 1229, (fn. 12) and the master had a grant of a fair, in 1232, to be held on the vigil and feast of the decollation of St. John the Baptist. (fn. 13)
As the town increased in that direction, the inconvenience of a leper establishment in the midst of population became obvious; and on the foundation of Magdalen hospital by John earl of Warenne it was suppressed, and the brethren moved there. Subsequently the latter house was not infrequently named under the conjoint invocation of St. Mary Magdalen and St. John Baptist; a gild that pertained to the earlier hospital, called the gild of St. John Baptist, was also transferred to St. Mary Magdalen.
The Hospital of St. John
There was a leper hospital dedicated in honour of St. John on the Suffolk side of the town. Martin gives references to it under the reigns of Edward I, II, and III. In 1387 John of Gaunt, as already detailed in the account of the friary, gave the old parochial church of St. John to the friars, which then became the chapel of the hospital. At the time of the dissolution it was demolished as part of the friars' property, and the site was granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston. (fn. 14)
The Hospital of St. Margaret (fn. 15)
St. Margaret's was one of the four appendant churches of Thetford both in the Confessor's and the Conqueror's days. It stood on the Suffolk side of the borough. In the fourteenth century the parish was annexed to that of St. Mary's, and the church, which was in the gift of the bishop of Ely, became the chapel of a leper hospital. In 1304 certain thieves broke into the house of lepers of St. Margaret and stole a silver chalice worth 5s., 20s. in money, and linen and woollen cloths worth 10s., and. then set fire to the buildings. (fn. 16) On 20 March, 1390, John Fordham, bishop of Ely, granted an indulgence of forty days to all persons who would give help and assistance to the poor men and lepers living in the hospital of St. Margaret's by Thetford during the next three days. (fn. 17)