Hospitals: St Nicholas, Royston

Pages 310-311

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1948.

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The hospital of St. Nicholas was founded in that part of Royston which lay in the county of Cambridge and diocese of Ely. It seems probable that it was founded by Amphelise, wife of Theobald son of Fulk and one of the daughters of Robert the Chamberlain; she gave 2 acres of land in Kneesworth in the parish of Wendy to the Hospital of St. Nicholas, (fn. 2) and her gift was confirmed by her husband. (fn. 3) Amable, or Mabel, de Cormeilles, who seems to have been sister of Amphelise, also made a grant, with the assent of her husband Osbert L'Evesque (Episcopus). (fn. 4) As Osbert was dead by 1203 (fn. 5) and Theobald before 1206, (fn. 6) while Niel, the last surviving son of Robert the Chamberlain, died in 1191 (fn. 7) the date of foundation must have been about 1200.

Numerous small grants of land in Melbourn and Kneesworth were made by more than a score of donors. Most of these were made to 'the brethren', in several instances qualified as 'whole and sick'; (fn. 8) in two deeds 'brethren and sisters' are mentioned, (fn. 9) and in four 'lepers and brethren'. (fn. 10) There appears, therefore, to have been a small religious community who received lepers, and possibly other sick persons. According to a statement made in 1359 the original foundation had been of a chapel and houses for the lodging of lepers and the maintenance of a chaplain who should celebrate in the chapel in the presence of the lepers three times a week. (fn. 11) It does not appear whether the chaplain was head of the community, and it is curious that a grant of 1 acre in Kneesworth by Sir Thomas de Waddon (c. 1230-40) to 'the master and brethren' (fn. 12) is the only allusion to such a head.

On 1 January 1213 King John took the house and brethren under his protection, (fn. 13) and next day he granted to the brethren of the hospital a fair on the eve and day of the Translation of St. Nicholas (8, 9 May). (fn. 14) Henry III in 1236 extended the fair to the morrow of that feast. (fn. 15)

The patronage of the hospital descended from Fulk son of Theobald to his grandson Ralph son of Ralph son of Fulk, who sold 2 acres in Melbourn with the advowson of the hospital and chapel of St. Nicholas to Sir Giles de Argentein, (fn. 16) who already held the patronage of the Hospital of St. James in Royston in Hertfordshire, probably founded by his father. (fn. 17) Towards the end of the 13th century the chapel of the hospital contained a set of vestments, a silver chalice, a chrismatory, a missal, and a breviary; (fn. 18) and just about a century later the ornaments included 7 bronze crosses, 16 banners, 3 censers, and an incense boat. (fn. 19) This suggests that at the later date the chapel was used by one or more of the Royston gilds (fn. 20) — possibly only as a store for their processional gear. Even at the earlier date it is doubtful if the hospital was still functioning, and by 1359 it was certainly a sinecure free chapel or chantry. In that year John de Norwych, nominal warden of St. Nicholas, stated that the advowson of the chapel was held by Agnes widow of John de Argentein, that for a great while past lepers had not dwelt there, and that the chantry of three celebrations weekly was then performed at the Hospital of St. James. The 30 acres of land which constituted its endowment were held of the Earl of Richmond and John de Argentein by service of maintaining a lamp in the church of Wendy. (fn. 21) For another hundred years services seem to have been held, at least occasionally, in the chapel, as in 1467 one of the points in dispute between the Prior of Royston and the Master of St. James's Hospital was the saying of mass in the chapel of St. Nicholas in the fields of Royston. (fn. 22)


  • 1. See V.C.H. Herts. iv, 464. Abstracts of the deeds in the lost chartulary of the united hospitals of St. John and St. James and St. Nicholas at Royston were made by John Layer (1586–1640) and have been printed by Dr. W. M. Palmer in his account of Layer (C.A.S. 1935, pp. 43–51).
  • 2. Layer, no. 51.
  • 3. No. 48.
  • 4. No. 33.
  • 5. Farrer, Feudal Cambs. 26.
  • 6. Ibid. 206.
  • 7. C. T. Clay, Early Yorks. Charters:—Honour of Richmond, ii, 171.
  • 8. Layer, nos. 16, 22, 34, 38.
  • 9. Nos. 46, 50.
  • 10. Nos. 29, 39, 42, 47.
  • 11. Cal. Close, 1354–60, p. 587.
  • 12. Layer, no. 49.
  • 13. Rot. Litt. Pat. (Rec. Com.), i, 96.
  • 14. Rot. Chart. (Rec. Com.), 189.
  • 15. Cal. Chart. R. i, 218. The charter was inspected and confirmed in 1371 (Cal. Pat. 1370–4, p. 123), although the hospital had ceased to function.
  • 16. Layer, no. 3.
  • 17. No. 2; V.C.H. Herts. iv, 462.
  • 18. Lib. Vetus Archid. Eliensis (ed. Faltoe and Minns), 110.
  • 19. Ibid. 111.
  • 20. V.C.H. Herts. iii, 265.
  • 21. Cal. Close, 1354–60, p. 587; Cal. Inq. Misc. iii, 322.
  • 22. Layer, no. 55.