Religious houses: The hospital of St Mary Magdalen

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Religious houses: The hospital of St Mary Magdalen', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 145-149. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Religious houses: The hospital of St Mary Magdalen", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 145-149. British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Religious houses: The hospital of St Mary Magdalen", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 145-149. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,


The Hospital of St. Mary Magdalen was founded by king Henry I. for a master, brethren, and three sisters, to receive persons afflicted with the leprosy. (fn. 1) The grant was confirmed by a papal bull, by which they were also exempted from tythes. In 1291, the master and brethren received a license of mortmain from king Edward I. to hold a house in Newcastle, which John de Hercelaw had bequeathed to them by will. The munificent Roger Thornton, by will dated in 1429, left two pounds to the "lepremen" of Newcastle. In the year 1535, this house was valued, according to Speed, at £9, 11s. 4d. per annum. It was dissolved by statute of 31 king Henry VIII.; but it never came in charge before the king's auditors, or paid rent to his receiver.

On January 20, 1542, Edward Burrell, clerk, and "master of the hospitall of St. Mary Magdelayne without Pilgrimstreate yett within the subberbs of the town of Newcastell upon Tyne and previsour of the chapell of St. Jaymes and of the Lazer house neighe adjoyneing to the said hospitall," and the brethren and sisters of the same lazar-house, granted to (Sir) Robert Brandling, merchant, a lease of the lands belonging thereto, for a term of eighty-five years. This lease included "all that their wholl mine or mynes of colls lyeinge or being within the close called St. James' Close belonging to the said hospital or lazar house or ether of them with way leve," &c. The rent £3, 6s. 8d. per annum: "and for the colls yff any coll myne or mynes can be found in the said close the master brethren and sisters and their successors to have yearly the third part of the profitt of the said colls bearing the thride part of the charges of the same or els £3, 6s. 8d. of mony yearly." In this lease, the "laith or barne and stack garth," and "a place called Spitell-Tongs, adjoining to Castle Fields," occurs; for the lessee had liberty "to sinke coll pit or pitts within the said close called Spittel-Tongs, and the Loneing and Jesmond Fields." This lease was confirmed by the mayor and burgesses, February 10th, 34 of Henry VIII. A copy of it is preserved in the archives of the corporation; and on the back is mentioned "Barras Price," valued to be some eleven acres. (fn. 2)

This hospital, according to Tanner, (fn. 3) was granted away by queen Elizabeth, in the year 1582; though it was afterwards re-established in the year 1611, when the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr, on Tyne Bridge, was annexed thereto by a charter of king James I. The account of St. Mary Magdalen's Hospital will therefore be resumed in the history of St. Thomas' chapel.

This hospital, according to Bourne, had fourteen persons residing in it, each of whom was allowed a room, coals, and eight shillings a month. Fifteen others were a sort of out-patients, with different allowances; some of eight shillings, some of five shillings, and some of two shillings and sixpence a month. Part of the hospital is still remaining behind the Bay Nag public house; adjoining to which is the Magdalen, or, as it is vulgarly called, the Maudlin, Meadows. Near this is St. Mary Magdalen's Well. This place has formerly been rich in rural beauties.


  • 1. The history of Europe during the middle ages abounds with descriptions of the physical distresses of the people, arising from famine, pestilence, and diseases. Among the maladies of those gloomy times, the leprosy, under all the various forms to which this term is applied, existed so generally and unceasingly as to claim the peculiar charity of the Christian world. The lazar-houses in Christendom, according to Matthew Paris, possessed 90,000 manors. In England they were numerous and richly endowed. They were generally placed without towns; and those lepers who were not inmates lived in huts near the hospital. All lepers suffered a kind of civil death, being first examined according to rules nearly copied from the Mosaic law, and then separated from society by a particular religious service. Chaucer mentions their costume, which consisted of a mantle and beaver hat, with a cup and clapper; the former for alms, the latter a wooden instrument with two or three flappers, which they shook to solicit charity. During the crusades, every man that returned from Palestine afflicted with foul sores was deemed a saint, honoured by acts of nauseous piety, and admitted into the order of St. Lazarus, who was the tutelar saint of the Knight Hospitallers, and of the Lazarettoes. At length, every species of cutaneous disease was called leprous, and multitudes of idle and filthy persons obtained a subsistence by ranking themselves amongst lepers. The adoption of cleanliness and ventilation, and the use of wholesome and digestible aliment, have almost extirpated this frightful malady in the west of Europe. The ancients were of opinion that it had originated in Europe.
  • 2. Masters of St. Mary Magdalen's Hospital, previous to the year 1611:— A. D. 1369, John Bland was the master of this hospital, to which he was a liberal benefactor. He was a man of fair character and good reputation. In the first year of his mastership, he paid 40 marks to Laurentius Acton, who had in perpetuity the hospital and the first fruits belonging to it; and in the following year, he paid off an annual pension of eight marks, which one Richard Spearman had from the hospital, as also an annual pension payable to Hugo de Mitford. He also built a consistory, a stable, and a byer, in the hospital; and made two new windows in the quire, facing the south of the chapel. He likewise proved, in the King's Court, that the mayor and commonalty of Newcastle upon Tyne did assign, present, and induct the master of this hospital. After discharging the duties of a master with great faithfulness about five years, he died September 28, 1374, and was buried nigh the high altar, on the north side of the chancel, in St. Mary Magdalen's chapel. 1542. Edward Burrell is mentioned as the master who signed the lease of the hospital lands to Sir Robert Brandling. 1546. Gilbert Lewen occurs as the master in the following account of this place, in the certificate of the colleges and chantries in Northumberland and Durham, 37 Henry VIII.:—"The hospitalle of Mary Magdalen in the suburbes of the towne of Newcastell upon Tyne within the parish of St. Andrewe was founded by reporte to th' entent ther shoulde be a master bretherne and systers to receyve all suche leprose folks as should fortune to be diseased of that kynde of sickeness and with the revennues of the same the said lepers wer relievyd and syns that kynde of sickeness is abated it is used for the comforte and helpe of the poore folks of the towne that chaunceth to fall sycke in tyme of pestilence—Yerely valew £9, 11s. 4d.—valew accordyng to this survey £9, 18s. as apereth by a rentall whereof is paid to the Kinge's majestie for the tenthes 19s. 1d. ob. quad. and remayneth £8, 18s. 10d. quad. whiche ben employed to the sustentacion and relief of Gilbert Lewen priest, master of the said hospital who is not ther resident for the ayde and comfort of poor people and impotent persones thither resortyng accordyng to the tenor of the said foundacion —within the parishe of St. Andrewes about a furlong from the parishe church.—Value of ornaments &c." 9s. 2d. as apereth by a perticular inventory of the same. Ther wer no other landes nor yerely profitts, &c." 1564. Edmund Wiseman, a servant of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Knight, and keeper of the great seal of England, obtained a presentation, from the queen, of this hospital, the true patrons whereof were the mayor and burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne, who had presented thereto from time immemorial. By virtue of the presentation by queen Elizabeth, the bishop of Durham would have inducted the said E. Wiseman, but was prevented by the mayor and aldermen of Newcastle, the hospital being a donative, and not a benefice inductible by any bishop. 1569. The mayor and burgesses of Newcastle granted the next presentation of this hospital to Henry Anderson, Robert Mitford, and Christopher Mitford. 1582. Robert Mydforthe occurs as master of this place.
  • 3. See Notitia Monastica, p. 392; and note in page 141 of this volume.