The Priory of St. Mary Spital

Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1957.

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'The Priory of St. Mary Spital', in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, ed. F H W Sheppard( London, 1957), British History Online [accessed 15 July 2024].

'The Priory of St. Mary Spital', in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Edited by F H W Sheppard( London, 1957), British History Online, accessed July 15, 2024,

"The Priory of St. Mary Spital". Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town. Ed. F H W Sheppard(London, 1957), , British History Online. Web. 15 July 2024.

CHAPTER II - The Priory of St. Mary Spital

The hospital or priory of the Blessed Virgin Mary without Bishopsgate, sometimes known as the new hospital without Bishopsgate, and later usually called St. Mary Spital, was situated on the east side of Bishopsgate Street, near the site of the City bars. It was founded by an undated grant from Walter Brunus, citizen of London, and his wife Roisia, of lands in Bishopsgate Street, some of which are said by Walter Brunus to have been given to him and his fellows (et sociis meis) by Walter son of Eilred (filius Eilredi), Alderman, for the purpose of the foundation. (fn. 1) According to Dugdale, Walter Brunus was co-founder with ’Walter FitzEilred’, William de Elie, John Bloundie and Wymarke de Elbegate. (fn. n1) Dugdale also says that the foundation stone was laid on 14 June 1197 by Walter, Archdeacon of London, during the episcopate of William de S. Mariae Ecclesia. (fn. 2) The period of this episcopate is, however, given as 1199 to 1221 (fn. 3) and a Walter does not occur as archdeacon before 1207. (fn. n2)

Figure 1:

Stone capital found on the site of No. 38

The land granted by Walter and Roisia included two pieces of land given by Walter son of Eilred, one on the east side of Bishopsgate Street containing 44 ells (ulna) fronting the king's highway (Bishopsgate Street), and 117 ells on the east side fronting Lolesworth field (which formed the greater part of the later hamlet of Spitalfields), and 162 ells in depth west to east, (fn. 5) and the other on the west side of Bishopsgate Street containing 13 ells fronting the street, 16 ells on the west side, and a depth of 78 ells. A further two and a half acres of arable land conveyed to Walter Brunus by various persons was granted by him: the description of the constituent parts of this is not very clear but seems to include a further 101 ells fronting Bishopsgate Street and possibly a further 149 ells fronting Lolesworth field. (fn. 2) If the ell is taken to be forty-five inches (fn. n3) this gives a total frontage on Bishopsgate Street of about 544 feet and on Lolesworth field of about 997 feet, with a depth west to east at one point of about 607 feet. The frontage on the east side of Bishopsgate Street appears to be longer than the street frontage of the precinct at the time of the Dissolution, and probably includes property that was always outside the precinct. The property on the west side of the street also appears never to have been within the precinct.

The foundation of the house for canons regular is said to have been confirmed by Walter Brunus and Roisia in 1235, (fn. 6) when the church was rebuilt further east so that its west door stood on the site of the eastern part of the old church: Walter and Roisia are said to have been buried before the altar of the church. (fn. 7) Dugdale describes this confirmation as a re-foundation and dates from it the appellation New Hospital. (fn. 8)

In the time of Prior Godfrey, who occurs in 1218, a composition was agreed between the prior and canons of the hospital and the rector of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, John Witing, whereby the hospital was to pay 10s. yearly in lieu of all tithes and other parochial dues owed to the parish of St. Botolph by the hospital for its territoriaet curia, which is described as lying between Berewardeslane on the south and the parish of St. Leonard Shoreditch on the north, and between the King's highway (Bishopsgate Street) on the west and the Bishop of London's field called Lolesworth on the east. (fn. 9) Probably Berewardeslane was approximately on the line of the present Bishopsgate end of Artillery Lane. At the time of the Dissolution only part of the western boundary of the precinct appears to have reached Bishopsgate Street: as in the foundation charter, land outside the precinct may be included.

The house belonged to the Augustinian order (fn. 10) and contained both canons regular and lay brothers and sisters: the brothers and sisters serving God there are mentioned in the foundation charter. In 1303 the house contained twelve canons, five lay brothers and seven sisters. (fn. 11) One of its chief purposes was as a lying-in hospital. An order of 7 January 1341, relieving the temporalities of the hospital from assessment for a ninth and fifteenth, says it was founded to receive and entertain pilgrims and the infirm who resorted thither until they were healed, and pregnant women until their delivery, and also to maintain the children of women who died there in childbirth, until the age of seven. (fn. 12) A confirmation by the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's on 8 August 1279 of a grant from the bishop to the hospital of a fountain called Snekockeswelle in his field called Lolesworth, with liberty to enclose it with a wall and bring the water underground almost to the south corner of the garden of the hospital, mentions that it was to be led thence to the infirmary where the poor and sick lay. (fn. 13) In 1303 the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered that the lamps which used to hang between the sick persons ’for their comfort’ should be again maintained. (fn. 11)

Stow says that a chapel dedicated to SS. Edmund and Mary (described as ’the blessed’ Mary in the Ministers' Accounts and as St. Mary Magdalen by Stow) was founded in the priory in about 1391 by William Evesham, citizen and pepperer of London. (fn. 14) It evidently existed in 1389 as between that year and 1397 there are references among papal letters to the priory by the title of St. Mary de Altopassu; (fn. 15) this apparently signifying the ’hautpas’ or ’halpace’ which in 1542 gave the chapel its alternative name of St. Mary called ’le Hall Pace’. (fn. n4)

In the early fourteenth century royal servants (including a servant of Edward I's confessor, two of Edward III's yeomen, and a Robert de la Naperie maimed in the king's service) were sent to be lodged in the hospital, (fn. 17) and in December 1315 John de Tany, a considerable landowner and a benefactor to the hospital, died there. (fn. 18)

On 22 April 1391 a papal relaxation of five years of penance was declared to penitents who visited and gave alms for the support of the monastery ’and those in the solemn hospital of the Blessed Virgin founded within the said monastery in which hospital very many poor widows, wards (pupilli) and orphans are continually sustained’. (fn. 19)

A list of parish churches and monasteries in London of about the mid-fifteenth century mentions ’Seynt Marye Spetylle. A poore pryery, and a parysche chyrche in the same. And that pryory kepythe ospytalyte for pore men. And sum susters yn the same place to kepe the beddys for pore men that come to that place’. (fn. 20) There are few early references to the priory church as a parish church, although in 1559 the former precinct is described as a parish. (fn. 21)

Figure 2:

Extract from Wyngaerde's view of ? c. 1522–40, showing St. Mary Spital Priory from the south

A distant impression of a church said to be that of St. Mary Spital, shortly before the Dissolution, is given in Wyngaerde's view of London (fig. 2), to which the anterior date 1522 has been ascribed (fn. 22) and which is presumably not later than 1540. At the time of its dissolution in 1539 the fabric of the church was apparently already in disrepair, as in August 1538 the Lord Mayor, Sir Richard Gresham, reported to Thomas Cromwell that on the previous Wednesday afternoon ’the Rouffe and the Leedes and allssoo the Roodeloffte’ of the church had fallen down. (fn. 23) The infirmary had perhaps been maintained more successfully. Gresham took the opportunity to petition the King that three London hospitals ’Seynt Maryes Spytell, Seynt Bartholemews Spytell and Seint Thomas Spytell’ and ’the new abby of Tower hyll’ should be henceforward governed by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, and testified to their usefulness to the City by virtue of their endowment ’onely for the releffe, comforte and helpyng of the poore and Impotent people not beyng able to helpe theymselffes, and not to the mayntenaunce of Chanons preestes and monkes, to lyve in pleasure…’ (fn. 24) Stow describes the house as ’an Hospitall of great reliefe’ containing ’at the surrender thereof, nine score beds well furnished for receipt of poore people’. (fn. 25) (fn. n5)

By 6 July 1540 over twenty-five tons of lead (fn. n6) had been received by James Needham, surveyor of the King's manors, from St. Mary Spital for the repair of ’Westminster hall Rouff’, (fn. 26) but the sick continued to occupy the hospital in December 1540, when a lease of the former priory excepted ’the buildings in which the infirm there lie for term of their lives’. (fn. 27)

In 1535 the yearly income of the priory was £562 14s. 6½d. gross and £504 12s. 11½d. net. (fn. 28)

In June 1534 the prior and eleven other members of the house subscribed the acknowledgement of the royal supremacy, (fn. 29) but the first pensions assigned for payment after the Dissolution at Christmas 1539 (fn. 30) were made only to the prior, the president, five priests and two sisters. (fn. n7)


  • n1. Dugdale cites Leland for this statement, but the authority for it in Leland has not been found.
  • n2. In 1909 during the rebuilding of No. 38 Spital Square, situated on the east side of Spital Yard and the south side of the entrance to Spital Square, and then extending further north than it does since the widening southward of this entrance, part of a stone capital was discovered (fig. 1). This was presumably part of the buildings of St. Mary Spital, although ’from the design one would estimate the date at about A.D. 1145’. See also p. 43 n.
  • n3. The usual dimension of the ’English ell’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • n4. Hautpas or halpace; a part of the floor of a hall, etc., raised one or more steps above the level of the rest; a dais.
  • n5. The poem The Hye Way to the Spyttell House printed by Robert Copland probably about 1536 (copy in British Museum) describes the types of poor person admitted to or rejected by a monastic hospital in London, but is more likely to refer to St. Bartholomew's than St. Mary Spital.
  • n6. XXVI fother XIXe XXI lbs.
  • n7. In July 1549, however, depositions were taken from former members of the house, including two sisters not listed among those pensioned in 1539.
  • 1. William Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, 1830 ed., vol. vi, part 2, p. 624, quoting an MS. then in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.
  • 2. Ibid., pp. 623, 625.
  • 3. G. Hennessy, Novum Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinense, 1898, vol. i, pp. 2, 6.
  • 4. The Builder, 15 Jan. 1910, p. 56.
  • 5. The depth of this plot is given in B.M., Cotton MSS., Nero C. III, ff. 219–23b.
  • 6. Stow, vol. i, p. 31.
  • 7. Johannis Lelandi Antiquarii de Rebus Britannicis Collectanea Ex Autographis Descripsit ediditque Tho. Hearnius, 1715, vol. i, p. 36.
  • 8. Dugdale, op. cit., p. 623.
  • 9. Ibid., p. 625.
  • 10. Cal. Papal Registers, Letters, vol. iv, P. 393, and Seventh Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, Appendix II, P. 292.
  • 11. Registrum Radulphi Baldock . . . et Stephani Grave send, Episcoporum Londoniensium, ed. R. C. Fowler, Canterbury and York Society, 1911, pp. 32–3.
  • 12. Cal. Close Rolls, 1339–41, P. 600.
  • 13. MSS. of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, press A, box 25a, No. 1708.
  • 14. Stow, vol. i, P. 167.
  • 15. Cal. Papal Registers, Letters, vol. iv, pp. 300, 324, 379, 393.
  • 16. Oxford English Dictionary.
  • 17. Cal. Chancery Warrants, vol. i, p. 103; Cal. Close Rolls, 1307–13, p. 236, and ibid., 1330–3, pp. 159, 396.
  • 18. Cal. Inquisitiones Post Mortem, vol. vi, No. 716, P. 455.
  • 19. Cal. Papal Registers, Letters, vol. iv, p. 393 (10 Kal. May 1391).
  • 20. Collections of a London Citizen, ed. James Gairdner, Camden Society, 1876, p. iv.
  • 21. Abstracts of Inquisitiones Post Mortem for the City of London, ed. G. S. Fry, 1896, part 1, p. 168 ( British Record Society, vol. 15).
  • 22. London Topographical Record, vol. v, 1908, p. 13.
  • 23. P.R.O., SP1/135, pp. 7–8.
  • 24. B.M., Cotton MSS., Cleopatra E. IV, f. 222.
  • 25. Stow, vol. i, pp. 105, 166.
  • 26. Bodleian MSS., Rawlinson D.809, f. 3b; and see Cal. L. and P. Henry VIII, vol. 17, No. 256.
  • 27. P.R.O., E315/213, f. 5.
  • 28. Valor Ecclesiasticus (Record Commission), 1810, vol. i, pp. 401–2.
  • 29. Seventh Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, Appendix II, p. 292.
  • 30. Cal. L. and P. Henry VIII, vol. 14, part 2, No. 433.
  • 31. P.R.O., Req 2/18/137 m. 3.