Hospitals: St Helen & St James, Derby

Pages 83-84

A History of the County of Derby: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1907.

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As has been already stated in the opening of the account of Darley Abbey, a certain burgess of Derby, of the name of Towyne, with the support of the greater part of the burgesses, established in 1137 an oratory or small religious house, dedicated in honour of St. Helen, just outside the walls of the town on the north-west, near to the church of St. Alkmund. This house was served by brethren or canons who followed the rule of St. Augustine. (fn. 18) In less than twenty years after the foundation of St. Helen's, the neighbouring Austin abbey of Darley was established, and its first abbot and inmates were taken from the small mother-house of St. Helen's. But this removal of the greater part of the canons from Derby to Darley did not mean the extinction of the oratory; on the contrary it had for a long time a separate existence, though made in many ways subject to the abbey.

Soon after the establishment of the abbey, the constitution of the oratory of St. Helen was changed, and a God's House (Domus Dei) was founded in connexion with the oratory under the charge of brethren having a master or warden as their head. An undated agreement, circa 1160, copied in the Darley chartulary, between the abbey and the brothers of St. Helen provides that the goods of the oratory whether movable or fixtures, should remain at St. Helen's; that the house should be administered by one of the brothers whom the abbot should choose with the assent of his fellows; that the presiding brother should discreetly and freely dispense the temporalities of the house with the aid of his brethren, and rule them in all matters, save that confession and other spiritual matters were reserved to the abbot, and that a statement of accounts be presented to the abbot twice a year; that the abbot was to admit no brother without the assent of the brethren, and that the brethren in their turn were to admit no one without the abbot's assent; that the brethren of St. Helen's were not to appropriate any lands or possessions of which the abbot and convent receive the rents without their assent; that the house is not to admit more brethren than its goods will suffice to maintain; and that the abbot and convent are never at any future time to attempt to bring this hospital into any greater subjection than is provided for in this agreement. (fn. 19)

A later agreement, circa 1190, was entered into between William abbot of Darley and the brethren of St. Helen's, whereby it was arranged that the abbey confirmed to St. Helen's two tofts with their appurtenances in Newlands, Derby (in nova terra de Derbeia), on payment of a rent of 2s. 2d., at the feast of the Holy Cross and at Martinmas, and four hens on Christmas Day; also all the garden adjoining St. Helen's on the south side, with a toft between the garden and the hospital, for a rent of 2s. 2d., payable at the aforesaid times; also the fourth part of a little meadow by the well called St. Helen's Well on the south bank of the Derwent, and all the right which they have in the little meadow which lies by the well of St. Alkmund, at a rent to the abbey of 12d. The abbot and canons of Darley further granted to the brothers of the hospital half a bovate of land at Granton, which they had of the gift of Robert FitzFulcher of Osmaston, at a rent of 4s., payable at Lady Day and Michaelmas. (fn. 20)

William, prior of St. Helen's, is mentioned in an early thirteenth-century charter of the nuns of King's Mead. (fn. 21)

Some time before 1261 the priest Nicholas placed this hospital on an improved basis, providing for certain poor brethren and sisters as inmates, who were governed by a warden or master. (fn. 22)

In the Hundred Rolls of 1276, we find that a jury of the burgesses of Derby complained that the master of St. Helen's had made a certain ditch, 100ft. long and 2 ft. broad, too near the king's highway. (fn. 23)

The Taxation Roll of 1291 shows that the master of St. Helen's then held houses in Derby of the yearly rental of £1 6s. 8d., and 120 acres of arable land at £4, 3½ acres of meadow at 7s., besides a capital messuage (probably the house itself) worth 4s. per annum, yielding a total income of £4 17s. 8d.

In 1280 Nicholas de Penriz, master of the hospital of St. Helen, acknowledged a debt of 46s. to the executors of Robert de Lofteshou; (fn. 24) Thomas, master of the house of St. Helen, appears in 1306 as pledge for the prosecution of a case brought by Hugh, vicar of St. Werburga. (fn. 25)

After this date, no further information can be gleaned as to the history of St. Helen's; it was not in existence as a separate establishment at the time of the Reformation, and had probably become absorbed by Darley Abbey.


The brethren of the hospital of St. James, Derby, obtained letters of protection from Henry III in 1229, authorizing them to seek for alms for the rebuilding of their house which had been burnt. (fn. 1)

It is clear that this was a hospital attached to the Cluniac cell of St. James, for in 1335 sanction was obtained for the attorneys and proctors of the prior and monks of St. James to rebuild their church and priory, together with a hospital pertaining to the priory, which had been accidentally burnt down. (fn. 2)


  • 18. Cott. MSS. Titus, C. ix, fol. 166b.
  • 19. Ibid. 77.
  • 20. Ibid. fol. 77b.
  • 21. Wolley Chart. viii, 51.
  • 22. Glover, Derb. ii, 482-3. We have not been able to trace the authority for this statement.
  • 23. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 62.
  • 24. Assize R. 148, m. 8 d.
  • 25. Ibid. 158, m. 3 d.
  • 1. Pat. 14 Hen. III, m. 7.
  • 2. Pat. 9 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 25.