Hospitals: St Giles, Chester

Pages 178-180

A History of the County of Chester: Volume 3. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.

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A leper hospital dedicated to St. Giles (fn. 1) stood in the township of Boughton beyond the East Gate of Chester. (fn. 2) The founder is usually said to have been Ranulph III, earl of Chester but the hospital possibly existed before 1181 as 20s. a year was paid to the 'infirm' of Chester during the minority of Ranulph III and that sum was paid in the 14th century to the lepers of Boughton as ancient alms. (fn. 3) Ranulph III gave an annual rent charge of 10s. to St. Werburgh's from which the monks were to feed 100 paupers once a year and to give 20d. a year to the lepers of Boughton to commemorate his father. (fn. 4) The inmates of the hospital later claimed that their extensive privileges, which included a toll on all food bought for sale in Chester and a fishing boat on the Dee, were also given by Ranulph III. (fn. 5) Three fishing stalls included in the claim of privileges in 1499 were given by Robert the Chamberlain, probably in the 1190s. (fn. 6) The hospital also came to possess land and rents in and near Chester and, although the names of the original benefactors seldom survive, some of the property probably came to the hospital with new inmates: thus land in Eastgate Street was given by the relatives of Yseult, who, 'smitten by the scourge of a visitation from on high', had been admitted to the hospital. (fn. 7)

When Henry III annexed the earldom of Chester after 1237 he proved a generous patron of the hospital. Between 1237 and 1240 he gave £5 yearly and in 1238-9 and 1240 additional grants of 10 marks towards its maintenance. (fn. 8) He also allowed the lepers a tithe of the expenses of the royal household at Chester allegedly in continuation of a grant by the earls of Chester; (fn. 9) in 1243 and 1252 he gave them 30 marks and £10 to buy clothes. (fn. 10) At least one leper in the house received an individual benefaction: the Crown continued to pay alms of 1d. a day which had been granted to Amice de Costentin in the time of John, earl of Chester, until 1277. (fn. 11) On his accession Edward I reduced alms to the hospital to the customary payment of 20s. a year and there were few signs of royal favour or interest in the 14th century apart from the regular confirmation of the privileges of the hospital and a grant of £3 6s. 8d. by the Black Prince in 1353. (fn. 12) As patron the Crown nominated inmates: in 1390 William le Cryor was created a brother and granted a portion and a decent dwelling in the hospital and in 1401 Henry White, specifically described as a leper, was appointed to a place. (fn. 13)

The relations of the hospital with the citizens of Chester and the monks of St. Werburgh's were not always happy. Around 1300 the masters were involved in legal disputes concerning detention of rents, tolls or alms, the Dee fishery, and usury. (fn. 14) The tolls claimed by the hospital on all victuals bought for sale in Chester were particularly resented by the tenants of St. Werburgh's abbey. In 1353 the right of the proctors of the hospital to demand tolls from the tenants of the abbey was referred to the county court (fn. 15) and in the following year the abbot objected to the arrest of his tenants for refusing to pay tolls when they had no obligation 'to make any contribution to the hospital'. (fn. 16) The privilege of collecting the tolls was still being claimed in 1499 and exercised in 1537 when the city authorities pointed out that, whereas the privilege had originally been granted to relieve the sick, the inmates of the hospital were able-bodied; it was ordered that admissions should be confined to the sick of the city of Chester on penalty of loss of the market tolls. (fn. 17) Little else is known of the history of the hospital in the later Middle Ages apart from some benefactions: David Bars, who was master in the mid 15th century, was said to have received money for the hospital and in 1505 Henry Raynford, rector of Holy Trinity, left 20d. to 'the sele folk at Boughton'. (fn. 18) By the 16th century the inmates evidently lived in individual houses and kept animals on the land around the hospital. In 1537 they were forbidden to wash food or clothes in the newly built conduit at Boughton and were ordered to prevent their animals damaging the conduit and to see that the pipes were properly covered. (fn. 19)

The hospital escaped dissolution under the Act of 1547, probably because of its charitable activities. In 1553 the master was given custody of two small bells in the chapel, a silver chalice, and a paten weighing four ounces; the communion book and the other goods in the chapel, which were not worth selling, were given to the inmates. (fn. 20) By the early 17th century the cottages which made up the hospital seem to have become heritable properties. (fn. 21) In 1606 the seven inmates, six men and one woman, agreed not to receive vagabonds and beggars into their houses, to ring their swine, and to fence the hospital lands. (fn. 22) In 1629 the right of the brothers and sisters of the hospital to be free of the payment of pannage, pontage and murage was confirmed. (fn. 23) The hospital and its privileges did not survive the Civil Wars as its position in the suburbs of Chester was vulnerable. On 20 July 1643 the Chester garrison set fire to the hospital barns and pulled down the houses and 'the old chapel of Spital Boughton' with the stone barn next to it. (fn. 24) The displaced inmates complained to the mayor that while they were helping to defend the besieged city the soldiers destroyed their houses and plundered their possessions. (fn. 25) In 1657 the master retrieved one of the chapel bells from the Pentice but it was never re-hung in a new hospital and in 1660 the restored Charles II granted to the mayor and citizens of Chester all the lands of 'the hospital or late hospital of Boughton, otherwise Spittle Boughton'. (fn. 26) The hospital stood on the southern side of Christleton Road behind West Mount and the site, in a disused graveyard, was marked by an inscription in 1935. (fn. 27)

Priors, Masters, or Wardens

Ralph Bebington, occurs 1295, 1296. (fn. 28)

Roger, occurs 1298. (fn. 29)

Randal of Bebington, occurs 1304, 1311-12. (fn. 30)

Matthew de Northal, occurs 1312-13. (fn. 31)

Robert Vickers, occurs 1443-4. (fn. 32)

David Bars, occurs 1452-3. (fn. 33)

Henry Medwall, occurs 1486. (fn. 34)

Richard Medwall, or Ardwall, occurs before 1518. (fn. 35)

Bartholomew Tatton, occurs before 1518. (fn. 36)

Peter Mainwaring, appointed 1518, died 1549. (fn. 37)

Hugh Barnston, appointed 1549. (fn. 38)

Ralph Thorneton, occurs 1553. (fn. 39)

Thomas Harpur, occurs 1606. (fn. 40)

Henry Harpur, appointed 1618. (fn. 41)

Two seals are known. The first, (fn. 42) probably of 12thcentury date, is a pointed oval, about 3 by 2¼ in., and depicts St. Giles, full-length and lifting his right hand in benediction. The legend, lombardic, is badly damaged: . . .UM CE. . . The second, (fn. 43) in use 1311-12, is a pointed oval, about 2 by 1½ in., depicting a pascal lamb supporting a cross. Legend, lombardic: SIGILLUM INFIRMORUM DE CESTRIE.


  • 1. The patron saint of cripples and lepers: R. M. Clay, Mediaeval Hospitals of Eng. 262.
  • 2. It is sometimes confused with Boughton chapel which belonged to the convent of St. Werburgh's and stood in the fork of the Tarvin and Christleton Roads: 3 Sheaf, xxx, pp. 55, 59.
  • 3. Ormerod, Hist. Ches. i. 352; B.L. Harl. MS. 7568, f. 118; Ches. in Pipe R. 6–8, 12, 14, 16, 18; Ches. Chamb. Accts. 5, 23, 40, 103. For the suggestion that the 'infirm' belonged to St. John's Hospital see T.H.S.L.C. lxxvii. 68–9.
  • 4. Cart. Chester Abbey, i. pp. 96, 211.
  • 5. Ormerod, Hist. Ches. i. 352; 3 Sheaf, xxx, p. 66.
  • 6. Ormerod, Hist. Ches. i. 352; Rob. the chamberlain occurs c. 1190–1204: Barraclough, Early Ches. Charts. 36.
  • 7. 3 Sheaf, vi, p. 102; 27 D.K.R. 98 (land in Hoole); Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 330 (land in Claverton); B.L. Add. Ch. 50082 (exchange of cellar in Eastgate St.).
  • 8. Ches. In Pipe R. 37, 45, 52, 59.
  • 9. Cal. Lib. 1240–5, 75; Cal. Pat. 1232–47, 468.
  • 10. Cal. Lib. 1240–5, 205; 1251–60, 93.
  • 11. Ibid. 1240–5, 90; Ches. in Pipe R. 71, 78, 113, 118, 123, 129.
  • 12. Ches. in Pipe R. 112; Ches. Chamb. Accts. 5, 10, 23, 40, 166, 217; Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 115, 125; Cal. Pat. 1327–30, 399.
  • 13. 36 D.K.R. 46.
  • 14. B.L. Harl. MS. 2162, ff. 30, 54, 73–4, 76, 82, 92; Chester City R.O., MR 1/19, m.1; /19(b); 3 Sheaf, xxxv, p. 71; Cal. Chester. Co. Ct. R. 101, 198.
  • 15. Blk. Prince's Reg. iii. 125–6.
  • 16. Ibid. 146.
  • 17. 3 Sheaf, xxx, p. 66; B.L. Harl. MS. 2063, f. 58v.
  • 18. Ch. in Chester, 95n., 98, 172; B.L. Harl. MS. 2153, f. 165.
  • 19. B.L. Harl. MS. 2063, f. 58v.
  • 20. P.R.O., E 117/1/46, ff. 1, 12.
  • 21. Hist. MSS. Com. 7, 8th Rep. 1, Chester Corp., p. 383.
  • 22. Chester City R.O., ML/2/176.
  • 23. B.L. Harl. MS. 2101, f. 39.
  • 24. Ibid. 2125, f. 135. The 'stone barn' was possibly part of the original hospital buildings.
  • 25. Chester City R.O., AF/26/23.
  • 26. 3 Sheaf, viii, pp. 41–2; 31st Report of Charity Commissioners, [103], p. 345, H.C. (1837–8), xxiv.
  • 27. 3 Sheaf, i, p. 95; xxx, pp. 40, 55. A statue of St. Giles with his dog is said to have been put on the tower of St. John's church and is now in a niche over the south porch: ibid. i, p. 95.
  • 28. B.L. Harl. MS. 2162, f. 30; Cal. Chester Co. Ct. R. 198.
  • 29. B.L. Harl. MS. 2162, f. 54.
  • 30. Ibid. f. 73; Add. Ch. 50082.
  • 31. Chester City R.O., MR 1/19, m.1.
  • 32. B.L. Harl. MS. 7568, f. 118.
  • 33. Ibid. 2153, f. 165.
  • 34. B.L. Add. Ch. 72325. He was a notary and sacristan of St. John's church: Ch. in Chester, 161.
  • 35. 26 D.K.R. 25; 39 D.K.R. 25. Rich. may be a mistake for Hen.
  • 36. 26 D.K.R. 25.
  • 37. Ibid.; Cal. Pat. 1549–55, 21. He was also a canon of St. John's: Ch. in Chester, 159.
  • 38. Cal. Pat. 1548–9, 371.
  • 39. P.R.O., E 117/1/46, f. 12.
  • 40. Chester City R.O., ML/2/176.
  • 41. 39 D.K.R. 63.
  • 42. Birch, Cat. of Seals in B.M. i, p. 452, no. 2687. Nos. 2685–6 are wrongly attributed to the hospital.
  • 43. B.L. Add. Ch. 50082; 3 Sheaf, xxx, p. 40.