A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.
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30. THE HOSPITAL OF ST. LEONARD, NORTHAMPTON
Among the corporation records of Northampton is a valuable collection of early evidences as to the lands pertaining to the hospital of St. Leonard on the south side of the town. (fn. 1) The advowson was in the hands of the burgesses from the earliest days. The first of these charters, dated about 1150, is a grant from Adam, the son of Nigel, son of Mervin, to God and the hospital of St. Leonard of Northampton and the sick men serving God there, of his shop in Whimplus Row, in the market of Northampton. The second is a charter of Henry II. granting protection to the lepers of St. Leonard's, Northampton, with permission to receive alms.
Many gifts were added to the hospital during the reigns of Richard I. and John; among these may be mentioned a grant of land at Pitsford, assigned in the latter reign to 'the Blessed Mary and the sick brethren and sisters of the house of St. Leonard at Northampton serving God, St. Mary, and St. Leonard there.'
In 1295 reference is made to the parish of St. Leonard without Northampton; all the rights of a parochial church seem to have been administered to the inhabitants of the district in the chapel of St. Leonard from the time of its foundation. In 1281 the vicar of Hardingstone claimed offerings and tithes from the residents in the liberty of St. Leonard, whereupon evidence was given that the inhabitants from time beyond memory had worshipped in the chapel of St. Leonard, and had the offices of baptism and burial performed by the chaplain. The diocesan decided in favour of St. Leonard's, but ordered that in future every chaplain presented by the mayor and burgesses of Northampton should also obtain the consent of the prior of St. Andrew's, rector of Hardingstone, and of the vicar. (fn. 2) It is certainly a curious if not unique arrangement to find the chapel of a lazar house used for regular parochial purposes. The chapel and hospital had been founded, however, by William the Conqueror, according to tradition, and by him conferred on the town, and in this case the foundation would precede any special provision for lepers. The sick brethren and sisters would either have a small detached chapel of their own, or else make use of the choir securely screened off from the part used by the general congregation.
Among the numerous evidences in the town muniments is a deed of about 1300, being a grant from the master and brethren of the house of St. Lazarus of Burton (Burton Lazars) to the master and brethren of the hospital of St. Leonard, Northampton, of a toft in the suburb of Northampton, opposite the hospital church, to be held by them of the house of St. Lazarus for a yearly rent at Michaelmas of 12d. If ever payment should fail then the brother messenger sent to collect the rent should be maintained in the Northampton house until full payment had been made.
A curious entry in the Patent Rolls, under date of 7 November, 1387, deserves mention in connexion with this hospital: Lucy, sister of the house of St. Leonard, Northampton, received a royal pardon for the death of John Oxyndon, chaplain. (fn. 3) How this death by misadventure occurred is not stated.
Institutions to the incumbency of St. Leonard's are recorded in the diocesan registers from the year 1282; after 1415 there are no more episcopal institutions to the wardenship or chaplaincy entered. In 1220 we read that Bishop Wells granted seven days' relaxation of penance to those who should contribute to the maintenance of the poor lepers of St. Leonard without Northampton. (fn. 4) In the Valor of 1535 the mayor of Northampton is termed the master, and there is no provision for a chaplain. The clear annual value was £11 6s. 8d., and only 26s. 8d. of this went in alms to a certain poor woman and leprous person. (fn. 5)
In the fifteenth century the town adopted the unhappy expedient of leasing the hospital with all its lands, tenements, and rents, and of making the lessee responsible for the dues pertaining to the mastership. John Peck, of Kingsthorpe, the lessee in 1472, covenanted to pay the chaplains eight marks a year, or four marks with food and drink and three yards of cloth, to pay 5d. a week to each male or female leper who might be there, and once a year two gammons of bacon and a bushel of oatmeal, and to keep the houses, buildings, and church in good repair. It was thus obviously the interest of a lessee to keep down as far as possible the number of the inmates.
In 1505 this system proved such a scandal that the corporation determined to keep the management in their own hands, insisting on their mayors taking an oath when elected to manage the hospital personally in conjunction with a corporation committee. The oath (sacramentum hospital' Sci. Leonardi) runs as follows: 'Ye shall swere that ye shall well and trewly kepe and governe the hospytale of Seynt Leonardes the abbote in Coton besydes Northampton which hath byn myssused and evyll governed and gevyn awey contrary to the Fyrste grannte thereof in tymes passed. Therefore hit is provided and ordeyned by Robarde Shefforde meyre of the seid Town of Northampton and the Comburgesses and Comynatte havyn assented and conducended of an hole mynde and aggrement by the Corporation of the seide towne that in no maner of wise From this tyme Forwarde that the seid hospitale of Seint Leonarde shalbe gevyn graunted or to ferme sette to eny man persone or persones in tyme comyng But that it shalbe allweys remayne for evermore in the meyres handes for the tyme beyng Comburgesses and Comynatte accordyng to their Fyrst grannte And also that they may chose and elect of themselves ii of the meyres Brethren to have the Rule oversight and good governance of the forseide hospitall apperteynyng and belonging And that the seid wardens and overseers with the seide Bailly once in the yere within one monyth after the Fest of oure Lorde next coumyng that they do make their due and lawfull accountes how they have reuled and governed the goodys of the seide place for that yere beynge and how they byn employed to the universall weale of the same to your coumyng and power so helpe you God and all seynts and by that boke.' (fn. 6)
Though the use of the parochial chapel of St. Leonard came to an end during the reigns of Henry VIII. and Edward VI., and the inmates were dispersed, the corporation were sufficiently powerful to prevent all falling into the hands of the crown. There was an award in Chancery in 1550 between the mayor and burgesses of Northampton and Francis Samwell, who claimed to have purchased St. Leonard's of the crown in 1549. The award assigned the chapel and churchyard to the town 'to such use and intent as they shall think meet and expedient by their discretion' on a certain payment to Francis Samwell.
In Elizabeth's reign the corporation having pulled down the chapel and hospital built a small tenement on the site, called the Spittle or Lazarhouse, which was occupied by a single poor man, termed the lazarman, rent-free. He received a weekly allowance of two shillings, together with a suit of clothes and load of firewood once a year. The lazarman appears in the town accounts as late as 1740. (fn. 7)
Wardens of St. Leonard, (fn. 8) Northampton
William of Coton, (fn. 9) instituted 1305
John le Waydour, (fn. 10) occurs 1330
William Rodston (fn. 11)
The pointed oval seal of the hospital, though of much interest, is a late and poorly-executed example of about 1450. It represents St. Leonard standing in a canopied niche, with a pastoral staff in his left hand, and a chain fetter in his right. Below the figure is a barbican gateway surmounted by a crown. The gateway probably represents the town gate on the south bridge, close to the hospital, while the crown denotes its royal foundation. (fn. 12)