Hospitals: St Mary Magdalen, Durham

Pages 119-120

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



By a composition between the priory of Durham and the hospital of Kepier, (fn. 1) about the middle of the thirteenth century, the hospital ceded to the convent certain lands at Hurworth and 12 acres in Southcroft near Durham, producing together an annual rent of 3 marks, to be devoted by the almoner to pious uses in a certain place for the benefit of the soul of John de Hameldun. This probably gives us the origin of the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen. (fn. 2) There is, however, another document in existence, belonging to the early part of the fourteenth century, which gives a somewhat different account. The writer, who complains that the deeds of Magdalen Hospital have been stolen by John de Bulford, almoner of Durham, states that the hospital was founded by a certain Sir John le Fitz Alisaundre, who erected a chapel and other buildings. Sir John, according to this statement, established in his new foundation a chaplain and thirteen good men and women who had seen better days. For their support he gave to the almonry of Durham the vill of Rilley and the right to grind corn in Chilton Mill; he also gave lands near the hospital, and others lying before the gate of Sherburn House. Unfortunately this document bears an endorsement by the prior and convent to the effect that it 'does not contain truth for the most part;' (fn. 3) but possibly this refers chiefly to the accusation against John de Bulford. In any case the two accounts of the foundation are not wholly inconsistent if we take John le Fitz Alisaundre to be the same person as John de Hameldun; (fn. 4) and that some at least of the statements in the 'complaint' are correct is proved by a terrier of the hospital lands taken before the dissolution, which describes the property as consisting of twenty-four and a half acres lying near the hospital, and sixty acres in one large close called Maudelynleas, before the gate of Sherburn Hospital. (fn. 5)

In 1391 Bishop Skirlaw granted an indulgence of forty days to all who contributed to the support of Magdalen Hospital in Gilesgate; (fn. 6) and a certain vicar of Billingham granted to the hospital a rent of 3s. in Crossgate. (fn. 7)

The original chapel was almost entirely rebuilt in 1370. (fn. 8) It was considered as parochial and rectorial. (fn. 9) In February, 1449-50, it had again fallen into a ruinous condition, owing to the dampness of its situation; and leave was sought and obtained from the bishop to remove it to another site farther west. (fn. 10) The work of rebuilding was at once commenced, and in May, 1451, licence was granted to the suffragan bishop 'Holensis' [? of Hola, in Iceland] to consecrate the new church. (fn. 11) Curiously enough, there is no mention of any master of Magdalen Hospital, (fn. 12) and the master of the Farmery School was bound to say mass twice a week in the chapel. (fn. 13)

The inmates consisted of brethren and sisters, some of whom lived in and some out of the house, the allowance being the same in either case. (fn. 14) In 1534 there were three brethren and two sisters, each receiving 24s. per annum. (fn. 15) On the feast of St. Mary Magdalen the inmates received an annual pittance. (fn. 16)

When Durham priory was dissolved, and the new cathedral established, the office of almoner was not restored, but the revenues annexed to it were granted to the dean and chapter, who leased out the hospital lands, giving a salary to a clerk to officiate in the church of St. Mary Magdalen. A few remains of the ancient infirmary of the house were discovered in 1822. (fn. 17)


  • 1. MS. Treas. Dur. 6ta, 4tae, Elemos. No. 12. The document is headed: 'Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene near Kepier.'
  • 2. Mem. of St. Giles' (Surt. Soc.), introd. pp. xxxxxxii.
  • 3. MS. Treas. Dur. Cart. Elemos. 6ta, 4tae, No. 16.
  • 4. Mem. of S. Giles' (Surt. Soc.), introd. pp. xxx-xxxii.
  • 5. Printed by Surt. Hist. Dur. iv (2), 68.
  • 6. MS. Treas. Dur. 2264, 6ta, 4tae, Elemos. No. 15.
  • 7. Ibid. 2273, 4ta, 2dae, Elemos. 2 A.
  • 8. Almoner's Account Rolls, 1370.
  • 9. Surt. Hist. Dur. iv (2), 67.
  • 10. MS. Treas. Dur. 2265.
  • 11. Ibid. 2266.
  • 12. Possibly the almoner of Durham fulfilled most of the duties of that office.
  • 13. Mickleton MS. No. 32, p. 110.
  • 14. Surt. Hist. Dur. iv (2), 67-8.
  • 15. Hunter's MSS.
  • 16. Ibid. Hunter states that some at least of the inmates were persons of the upper class, basing his assertion on the fact that in 1532 one of the three sisters then in the hospital was 'the mother of Robert Benet,' and that in 1534 both mother and son were among the inmates. This Robert Benet he takes to be the future prebendary of Durham; but this is a mistake, as that Robert Bennett was bursar of Durham at the time; see Dur. Household Bk. (Surt. Soc.).
  • 17. Surt. Hist. Dur. iv (2), 67-8.