Precincts exempted from the city liberty: The hospital of St John

Pages 149-157

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 12. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1801.

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IS situated on the opposite, or west side of the road, to the priory of St. Gregory last-mentioned, with which it was founded by archbishop Lanfranc, at the same time in the year 1084, and is, in like manner, exempt from the liberties of the city, being esteemed to lie in the hundred of Westgate, and in the jurisdiction of the county of Kent at large.

Eadmer, in his account of the foundation of this hospital, (fn. 1) informs us, that without the north gate of this city, archbishop Lanfranc built a fair and large house of stone, and added to it several habitations, with a spacious court, contrived in the best manner, for the benefit of those who should dwell in it; this building he divided into two parts, and designed one part for infirm men, the other part for infirm women; and he provided them with food and raiment, at his own charge. He appointed officers, who should see that they wanted nothing, and that the men and women should not come to one another; on the other side of the road he built a church in honour of St. Gregory, in which he appointed certain canons (being the priory last described) who should administer to the infirm people of this hospital, whatsoever was necessary for the good of their souls, and take care also of their burial; and for these, he provided so much land, tithes, and rents, as seemed sufficient for their maintenance.

Much has already been said of this hospital, in the description of that at Harbledown, in the History of Kent, (fn. 2) which was the other twin hospital, as it may be called, to this, for their parity, as well in time as manner both of their erection and original endowment. (fn. 3)

Archbishop Richard, Becket's immediate successor in a charter of his to these two hospitals, relating first their erection by his predecessor Lanfranc, shews, that he endowed them with seven score pounds per annum, to issue and arise out of his manors of Reculver and Bocton; that is, to either hospital, after an equal division, 70l. per annum. (fn. 4) This was the original endowment of both these hospitals, with which, however, the archbishop finding them scarce well able to subsist, added 20l. per annum more to their former in name, payable out of Reculver parsonage, which 1620. per annum continued afterwards paid to them, and unaltered until archbishop Kilwardbye's time. For so it appears by an exemplification made of certain charters of these hospitals, under the seal of Thomas Chicheley, doctor of the decrees, archdeacon of Canterbury, and prothonotary to the pope. But archbishop Kilwardbye disliking this method of payment, withdrew their stipend, and in lieu of it assigned over and appropriated to them his parsonage of Reculver, with the chapels annexed; but on account of some inconveniences arising from the infirm condition of the people of the hospitals, which rendered them both unable and unfit to attend and intermeddle in a tithery, especially one so remore, his next successor, archbishop John Peckham, altered and revoked what archbishop Kilwardbye had done, and restored the hospitals to their former estate. (fn. 5)

Afterwards archbishop Stratford obtained licence of king Edward III. of whom the above-mentioned parsonage was held in capite, by his charter to appropriate it to the archbishop's table, charged nevertheless with the old payment or stipend to these hospitals, which archbishop Islip afterwards, with consent of the prior and chapter of Christ church, confirmed to them; ever since which time they have peaceably enjoyed it. (fn. 6)

The same archbishop in the above-mentioned reign, when he erected and endowed the vicarage of Northgate, expressly reserved and excepted from the vicar of it, the tithes of St. John's hospital of Northgate. (fn. 7)

In the 38th year of that reign, anno 1384, the revenues of the chantry of Lukedale, denominated the chantry in Well, called Lukedale, consisting of thirtytwo acres of land, and several annual rents in money, cocks, and hens, with the appurtenances at Wyke, near Canterbury, (which chantry was forsaken on account of the smallness of its income) were alienated and transferred by Thomas de Garwynton the patron, with the licence of the king and the lord of the fee, being within the lordship of Longport, to this hospital of Northgate, that they might pray for the souls of Reginald de Cornhill, formerly founder of it, and others. (fn. 8)

In the above-mentioned reign of king Edward III. this hospital was great part of it destroyed by a fire, as appears by some letters of the hospital, under their seal, still extant, framed after the manner of a brief, and directed to all prelates in general; in which they in a pitiable manner deplore their miserable estate, occasioned, as they say, by a late lamentable fire happening in their house, which had wasted their hospital and adjacent edifices, in which were more than one hundred poor people sustained, with desire of their charitable relief, letting them know, by way of persuasion, what indulgencies had been granted to their benefactors by several archbishops and bishops of former times. (fn. 9)

In the 26th year of king Henry VIII. the revenues of this hospital were valued at 93l. 15s. in the whole, and 91l. 16s. 8½d. per annum clear; of which sum 80l. was a stipend paid by the archbshop. (fn. 10)

Mr. Somner says, (fn. 11) he could instance in some particulars, in which this hospital suffered by the king's commissioners in that reign; and he continues, that he suspects much the fleecing of it, as well as other such like places, by the sacrilegious pilferers of such like revenues, in those wretched times, who were set upon the spoil of the very spital itself.

At a visitation of this hospital by archdeacon Harpsfield, in 1557, it was presented, that the ornaments of the chapel had been taken away by the mayor. —Memorandum, delivered again one chalice with the paten of silver, four table cloths, four surplices, two towels, three bells in the steeple. Memorandum, they say they are of no parish, but are a parish of themselves.

On the 24th of October, 1674, there was an account of the two hospitals given to the archbishop, by which the state of them at that time may be known. By it we learn, that the hospital of St. John the Baptist contained a prior, a reader, eighteen in-brothers, twenty in-sisters, and the like number of out brothers and out-sisters; the revenues of it being in the whole 195l. 8s. 9d. (fn. 12)

Mr. Somner tells us, that in his time, about the middle of the last century, this hospital had a fair chapel to it, decently kept, in which divine service was used, the facraments administered, and God's word preached to them of the house; the chaplain's stipend was the same as his predecessors of old, eight pounds per annum. The chapel had some domestic benefactors; (fn. 13) among others, one William Garndre, a priest, who was buried in it in 1511, and by his will gave 40s. to the mending of the steeple, and 4l. for a new bell. John Roper, gent. living in this hospital in 1527, by his will, took order with his executors for the making as large a window at our Lady's altar of the said hospital, as there then was at the high altar of it, to be glazed with such imagery as he should shew to his executors, to be done within two years after his decease. (fn. 14)

The window above-mentioned, over the high altar in the choir, was a sine one, having, in as many panes, a figure of one of the twelve apostles portrayed with the several articles of the creed, which they are said to have made.

This chapel, (fn. 15) which is dedicated to St. Gregory, has suffered much since the above time; the bells of it have been sold, the steeple and north isle have been taken down, (fn. 16) as have many of the houses, and smaller and less convenient ones have been erected in their room; and a pentized wall, called by the poor people their cloysters, has been likewise taken down, greatly to the hindrance of their former comfort.

There have been some few modern benefactors to this hospital, viz. Mrs. Elizabeth Lovejoy, widow, by her will in 1694, gave out of her personal estate the sum of ten pounds per annum, to be paid to this hospital, to be divided among the poor of it, in like manner as her gift to Cogan's hospital, as mentioned before.

Ralph Snowe, gent. of Lambeth, by his will dated in 1707, left to this hospital 200l. of which 160l. were laid out by archbishop Tenison in 1714, in the purchase of fourteen acres of march land, in the parish of Wickhambreaux, which now let for eight pounds per annum, which estate was vested in trustees; the Rev. Dr. Hey, of Wickham, is now the only surviving trustee. This hospital receives yearly the sixth part of the interest of 163l. 16s. 3d. Old South Sea Annuities, being the money from Mrs. Masters's legacy, who died in 1716, which sum is vested, in trust, in the mayor and commonalty of Canterbury, for the benefit of the leveral hospitals of this city; of which a further account may be seen before, among the charitable benefactions to this city. (fn. 17)

Matthew Brown by his will proved in 1721, gave to this hospital an annuity of ten shillings, to be paid yearly in the 20th of March, out of two houses in the Borough of Staplegate, with power of distress, &c.

Archbishop Secker in 1769, left by will to this hospital 500l. in the three per cent. Bank Annuities, in reversion, after the death of Mrs. Talbot and her daughter; both of whom being deceased, this hospital is now become entitled to it.

Thomas Hanson, esq. of Crosby-square, London, who died in 1770, left by will, 500l. to this hospital, which being vested in the three per cent. Bank Annuities, produces the sum of 17l. 10s. yearly dividend, which is paid half yearly to this hospital.

Besides which, this hospital is entitled to a contingent interest in the benefaction of Leonard Cotton, gent. who by his will in 1605, gave the reversion of divers tenements in Canterbury to it, after the several entails made of them, as therein mentioned, had ceased; and he ordered further, that in case the lands and tenements which he had settled on the poor of that part of Maynard's spital, since called Cotton's hospital. founded by him, should be applied or disposed of by the mayor and commonalty, or such other persons as should be possessed of the trust of them to any other use or purpose, than what he had given them for, to the said poor, or that they should in any fort abuse his gift, that then his bequest should be void, and that such persons and their heirs, which should be possessed of the premises to such uses, should thenceforth be possessed thereof, to the use of the brethren and sisters of St. John's hospital, without Northgate, and their succeffors for ever, for their relief and comfort. At which time this hospital consisted of a master, and a reader, of eighteen in-brothers, one of whom was prior; twenty in-sisters, and the like number of outbrothers and out-sisters.

The statutes by which the two hospitals of Harbledown and St. John's are at this day governed, were framed by archbishop Parker, who made some additions to them on August 20, 1565, and he again reviewed them on May 24, 1574. (fn. 18) There have been some additional decrees made since, by the archbishops Whitgift, Abbot, Laud and Sancroft, who took the well governing of these hospitals under their care; (fn. 19) and under these statutes and decrees they are both at this time governed.

The present establishment of this hospital consists of a prior, reader, eighteen in-brothers and in-sisters, and twenty two out-brothers and sisters, who have only a pension of 1l. 4s. per annum each, paid quarterly; of whom twenty resident in or near Lambeth, are nominated by the archbishop, and the other two are recommended by the master, who is the same as of St. Nicholas hospital, in Harbledown.

The revenues of this hospital, in the whole, amount to 299l. 17s. 7½d. per annum, (fn. 20) which afford, after the disbursements are discharged out of them, above 6l. 10s. to each resident member.


  • 1. Hist. Nov. lib. i. p. 9.
  • 2. See vol. ix. of the History of Kent, p. 12.
  • 3. Battely's Somner, p. 43, 48, 50. Tan. Mon. p. 209.
  • 4. Inter Cartas S. Johis Hospital. This charter is painted at length, in Battely, pt. 2, appendix, p. 61, No. xxxv.
  • 5. In Prynne, vol. iii. p. 422, pat. 18 Ed. l. m. 26, de revocatione appropriat, eccles. de Reculver.
  • 6. Battely's Somner, p. 43, 44.
  • 7. The words are, the oblations and obventions of the hospital of Northgate only excepted. Batt. Somn. p. 51.
  • 8. Battely's Somner, p. 35. History of Kent, vol. iii. p. 666.
  • 9. Battely's Somner, p. 50.
  • 10. Tan. Mon. p. 209.
  • 11. Battely's Somner, p. 51.
  • 12. Battely's Somner, pt. ii. p. 169.
  • 13. There is mention made in several of the wills, in the Prerog. office, of different persons buried in this chapel, who were benefactors to the members of it. Among these, Alexander Smith, one of the brothers of the hospital, was buried in this chapel of it, in 1585; and by his will gave to the hospital 5s. yearly, to be employed to the maintaining of the drinking, called Mr. Leweses drinking, for ever. Andrew Goodlad, cl. was buried in 1604, in the church of this hospital. John Daniel, one of the brothers of this hospital, by his will in 1612, desired to be buried in this church under the commintion table, and gave to the hospital 8s. for the yearly continuance of the drinking above mentioned, for ever; and that there be had in a sheep of four years old, at the said feast. Thomas Tatnall, then the clerk, and John Usborne, the prior of the hospital, and Elizabeth Owre, of St. Gregory's, widow, were all buried in 1612, in the chancel of this church.
  • 14. His will is in the Prerog. office, Canterbury, by which it appears that he was possessed of Brenley, Have and other manors, in the county of Kent.
  • 15. In this chapel was formerly a memorial for Alice Ashburnham, who lay buried in the side chancel, being the daughter and heir of William Tooke, esq. and Alice Woodland his wife; and before, was the wife of Thomas Roper, gent, who died in 1524, and these arms, viz. Ashburnham—a fess, between six mullets, impaling Tocke, of Bere; and another shield, 7 Tooke, impaling Woodland, a chevron, ermine, between three squirrels seiant.— In the east window of the chancel was a legend of these words, in old English letters, then legible in Mr. bomner's time—Orate pro - - - - - Rooper & pro bono - - - - Thomasine uxoris ejus - - - - Domini 1629. In the choir window was this legend—Orate pro bono statu - - - - Hyllys fratris istius Hospitalis & Prior qui ab hoc Seculo migravit & fenestram islam fieri fecii anno Domini 1474. In the south window–Orate p. aibs Domini Willielmi Septvans Militis & Eliz. uxoris ejus; having above it his figure, with those of his two wives kneeling, and these arms on his surcoat—Azure, three wheat skreens, or; on her mantle,—Azure, a lion rampant, crowned. In the east window of the chancel which Roper made, were painted his arms, impaling Tooke, of Bere and of Roper, impaling Naylor.
  • 16. These were taken down in 1744, to diminish the expence of repairs, and all the bells but one were then sold as useless, by virtue of a faculty from archbishop Potter.
  • 17. Mr. Duncombe, in his Hospitals, p. 196, says, it produces to the hospital no more than 7s. 6d. yearly.
  • 18. See Strype's Life of archbishop Parker, p. 75. The statutes in the appendix, No. 12.
  • 19. Battely, pt. ii, p. 170.
  • 20. Duncombe's Hosp, p. 197.