St. Leonard's Hospital

Pages 93-95

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in City of York, Volume 5, Central. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1981.

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St. Leonard's Hospital

(40) St. Leonard's Hospital (Plates 90, 91; Fig. 53), originally St. Peter's Hospital (VCH, Yorks., iii, 336–43), was one of the largest establishments of its kind in mediaeval England and occupied the whole of the W. corner of the Roman fortress, reaching from the Roman wall on the S.W. to the back of the properties along High Petergate to the N.E. The surviving remains consist of a ruined building on the N.W. side of Museum Street and some fragments at the Theatre Royal (47) 90 yds. to the N.E. By tradition the hospital was founded by King Athelstan in c. 937 (YPSR (1970), 43) but nothing certain is known of its history until after the Conquest. The existing site was given by William II, who built a chapel dedicated to St. Peter. A grant of building materials was made by Henry I, but the hospital was damaged or destroyed in the great fire of 1137 (YAJ, xli (1965), 365–7). King Stephen built a new church dedicated to St. Leonard, though the hospital continued to be called St. Peter's until the 13th century. In the middle of the 12th century a large building with a vaulted undercroft was built close to the E. boundary of the precinct and remains of this survive at the Theatre Royal. The undercroft was described and illustrated in 1807 by Halfpenny (Fragmenta Vetusta, Plate 16) when much more of it survived; a plan by Benson (1, Fig. 38) incorporates the results of later excavations and shows that the building was about 53 ft. wide and at least 95 ft. long, with the vaulting supported on three rows of piers. The building in Museum Street is probably the part of the infirmary which was built by John Romanus, Treasurer of the Minster, in about the second quarter of the 13th century (J. Raine (ed.), Historians of the Church of York, 409); the position of the chapel suggests that the surviving undercroft carried the main infirmary on the first floor. The same building also incorporates a vaulted passage which led to the hospital from a gateway shown on early maps to be opposite Lendal and facing the river. There was another gateway, in Duncombe Place, opposite Blake Street, and very close to its presumed position are the remains of a small two-storey 13th-century building which was modified in the late 13th or early 14th century, possibly in connection with the stopping up and enclosing of a lane, leading from Blake Street to High Petergate, which the hospital was allowed to undertake in 1299 (CPR, 1292–1301, 402). The remains are now incorporated in a house used by the theatre as offices.

From the Master's Precepts of 1294 and from the visitation of 1364 (quoted in VCH, York), it is clear that the buildings and the daily life in the hospital were akin to those of a monastery. There were thirteen chaplain brothers who lived by the rules of Austin Canons, and eight regular sisters, as well as conversi, thirty choristers, and servants. There were 206 beds for the sick, endowed by private benefaction, and in 1346 the 'barnhouse' under the infirmary was to be converted to a nursery for children.

After the Dissolution the site was granted to Sir Arthur Darcy in 1544 but sold back to the Crown in 1546, and the royal mint was transferred there from the castle. The mint operated until 1553, was revived in 1629, and moved to St. William's College in 1642. Part of the site was known as Mint Yard until the 19th century. The S.E. boundary wall and some of the buildings were destroyed when Museum Street was widened in 1782 and further destruction took place when St. Leonard's Place was built in 1832 and during alterations to the Theatre Royal in the late 19th century. Excavations in 1846 to the N.W. of the Museum Street building uncovered the foundations of piers probably of a vaulted undercroft, seven bays long and four bays wide, very similar in size to that at the Theatre Royal site.

Architectural Description. The ruined 13th-century building in Museum Street (Fig. 53) is of magnesian limestone and was originally two-storeyed. A vaulted passage (Plate 91), which was never closed by doors, runs through it on the S.E. side. The archway at the S.W. end of the passage is semicircular and of three orders, of which the innermost is chamfered; the arch springs directly from the wall on its S.E. side but to the N.W. there is a moulded impost and chamfered respond. The arch at the N.E. end is semicircular, of four chamfered orders, and springs from responds with moulded capitals and bases. The vaulting over the passageway is in four quadripartite bays with chamfered ribs springing from moulded corbels. The wall-ribs and corbels are repeated on the outer S.E. side of the S.E. wall for a vaulted undercroft, which was destroyed for the widening of Museum Street. To the N.W. of the passage is an undercroft (Plate 90), vaulted in six large and six small compartments. The vaulting is quadripartite with chamfered ribs springing from octagonal piers with moulded bases and capitals; it originally continued another two bays to the N.W. The buttressed S.W. wall has rectangular windows on the ground floor, shoulder-headed internally (Plate 183); on the upper storey the window heads have been destroyed. Opposite the demolished bays the wall projects to accommodate a fireplace from which the hood has been removed, though one supporting corbel remains. In the N.E. wall is a doorway with chamfered two-centred arch with a label, springing from moulded imposts. The chapel block extends to the N.E. over an undercroft vaulted in two quadripartite bays. The walls of the first-floor chapel stand to their full height on three sides, with a gable to the N.E. The ashlar-faced walls had two-stage buttresses with chamfered angles and gabled tops; only one remains complete, a second on the N.W. side has been modified, and many are missing completely. A string-course, continuous around the buttresses, forms a sill to the upper windows, and on the N.E. wall apparently marked a set-back from the thicker wall below, but is now missing. On the N.W. side (Plate 90) is a doorway uniform with that to the main undercroft, and the ground-floor windows are plain single lancets with splayed jambs. On the upper storey the N.E. wall has three lancet windows with jambs carried on detached shafts, now missing, with moulded bases and capitals, and in the apex of the gable is a circular recess with foliated cusping within an outer moulding enriched with zig-zag ornament. Most of the window dressings in the side walls have been removed except that one window in the N.W. wall retains the label for a two-centred arched head and the capitals for jamb shafts. Inside, on the S.E. wall, is a shoulder-headed recess with a shelf, probably a former piscina.

Remains at the Theatre Royal. In the Green Room is preserved the greater part of two vaulted compartments of an undercroft built in the mid 12th century. Benson's plan shows that the undercroft was originally at least seven bays long and had three rows of piers, those in the centre row being square and the others round. Parts of two square and two round piers and of one wall pilaster remain, all with scalloped capitals. The vaulting, of rubble stone, is groined and has slightly pointed transverse arches, of ashlar, springing from the piers. At the N.W. angle of the original building a large projection, which may have been a stair-turret, survives up to the first floor of the theatre and is exposed externally; the masonry appears to be later than the 12th century, suggesting an alteration to the upper storey. More mediaeval masonry may be encased within the walls of the theatre.

Fig. 53. (40) St. Leonard's Hospital.

The former house facing Duncombe Place, now used as theatre offices, retains some 13th-century masonry in the E. and W. walls; in the latter wall is part of a narrow lancet window. In the basement is a barrel vault with a transverse chamfered rib, but to the N. the vault has been cut into by a late 13th or early 14th-century wall in which is a blocked rectangular window. Behind the stage is a wall of coursed squared masonry, 16 ft. long and 17 ft. high, crossed by a chamfered string-course. In the lower part of the wall is a 16th-century four-centred arched opening, blocked with brickwork, and in the upper part are two 13th-century cruciform arrow-slits indicating that the wall must be part of the boundary of properties to the E.

Pre-Conquest Stones: two carved stones, probably reused as building stone, were found near the Theatre Royal during the construction of St. Leonard's Place. They were possibly associated with the burial ground of an undocumented earlier church acquired by St. Peter's hospital in the 11th century. Both are of gritstone, of pre-Danish date, and are now in the Yorkshire Museum. (1) Cross-shaft fragment, 24 in. by 11 in. by 8½ in. (Plate 21); Latin inscription on one face only, simple bead moulding on left and right sides, dowel-hole at top. The inscription reads: 'D[ ] / AD M[E] / MORI / AM / S(AN)C(T)O / RVM'; the formula 'ad memoriam Sanctorum' (et . . . .) would fit a memorial or burial cross; first mentioned 1852 (Okasha, 132, No. 147, York ii). (2) Crossshaft fragment, 27¼ in. by 15 in. tapering to 14¼ in. by 7½ in., with dowel-hole at top (Plate 21); each face has double border to left and right; on front, an inhabited vine scroll, with two quadrupeds and conventional leaves and grapes or berries; on back, a double vine scroll; the two sides decorated with dissimilar chain-stitch interlace patterns (YAJ, xx, Part 78 (1908), 154–161).

Wood-carving: in Yorkshire Museum, formerly part of a roof structure, depicting a man with square head-dress holding a shield, late 14th or 15th-century; 'from a summer house in St. Leonard's Place, York' (YM, W. H. Brook, MS Catalogue, 1 (1921), 35–36, item 89).