Hospitals: St Mary Magdalen, Colchester

Pages 184-186

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

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It appears from a charter (fn. 1) of Henry II that Eudo Dapifer, the founder of St. John's Abbey, founded this hospital at the direction of Henry I. This king, after Eudo's death, in his grant (fn. 2) to the abbey of the manor of Brightlingsea reserved a rent of £6 yearly from it for the use of the infirm of the hospital, and placed them under the charge of the abbot. Stephen granted to them in alms 14 acres of land for which they had been accustomed to pay 3s. 5d. yearly to the farm of Colchester. Henry II confirmed the grant of £6 yearly from Brightlingsea; and by another charter (fn. 3) he confirmed to the abbot the charge of the hospital. Richard I on 8 December, 1189, granted to the lepers a fair yearly on the vigil and the day of St. Mary Magdalen. These grants to the hospital were confirmed by later kings in 1268, (fn. 4) 1336, (fn. 5) 1378 (fn. 6) and 1400. (fn. 7) The master of the hospital was rector of the church of St. Mary Magdalen in Colchester, in which capacity he claimed 14 acres of land in the suburbs in 1254. (fn. 8)

The authority given to the abbey produced disputes; and early in the fourteenth century the brethren of the hospital complained (fn. 9) to Parliament that, although Henry I had granted to them the tithes of the abbey in bread, ale, and other victuals for their maintenance, a former abbot, Adam, had persuaded them to show him their charter, which he then threw into the fire, and since then he and his successors had detained the tithes. The present abbot, moreover, had detained the £6 rent from Brightlingsea; and he had also come in great force to the hospital, demanded their charters and common seal and ordered them to obey him, and because Simon de la Neylonde, master, and one William de Langham would not do his will he caused them to be dragged out of their church, threw them and kept them out of their house, and put in a brother to the destruction of the house and contrary to the charters of the kings. But when an inquisition was taken on the matter, the abbot was successful at every point and disproved the allegations. (fn. 10)

The chartulary of the abbey contains an early grant (fn. 11) of land by the brethren of the hospital, and an agreement (fn. 12) about a right-of-way made in 1327 between the prior, brethren and sisters of the hospital and the abbey.

In the return (fn. 13) to the taxation of a fifteenth in 1301 the prior and lepers were said to own a brazen pot worth 1s. 8d., a cart worth 2s., cattle worth £3 3s. 4d. and grain worth 16s. 8d.

On 24 February, 1320, the king made a grant (fn. 14) of protection for two years to the master and brethren on account of their poverty.

The hospital is returned in the Valor as being worth £11 yearly. In the certificates of colleges and chantries it is described (fn. 15) as 'The hospitall of Mary Magdalene, foundid to fynd a priest for ever, and the foundacyon cannot be shewid. The said hospitall is and hath ben reputed and taken for a parishe church without remembraunce of any man nowe lyving and ther is in the parishe about 4 score husselyng people,' and said to be worth £11 10s. 2d. yearly; the net value after deductions of 25s. 6d. for rents and 22s. for the tenth being £9 2s. 8d.

After the dissolution of the hospital Queen Elizabeth on 4 May, 1565, granted (fn. 16) various lands belonging to it in Colchester, Greensted and Layer de la Haye to Nicasius Yetsweirt and William Tunstall. On 21 July, 1582, an inquisition (fn. 17) concerning the possessions of the hospital was taken, and some were restored to the master.

James I on 9 October, 1610, reciting that the hospital was then almost decayed and its chapel totally destroyed, re-founded (fn. 18) it under the title of 'The college or hospital of King James.' There were to be in it a master, who was to have the cure of souls in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen and to celebrate divine service and preach and administer the sacraments, and five poor persons, each of whom was to receive 52s. yearly at the hands of the master. Henry Davye, one of the king's chaplains, was to be the first master, and William Merrell, Gerard Garrett, Helen Hubbert, Anne Thorogood and Anne Fulthroppe the first poor persons. The Chancellor or the Keeper of the Privy Seal was to be the visitor with the nomination of the master at each vacancy, and the master was to have the nomination of the poor persons at vacancies. All the possessions of the old foundation were confirmed.

Morant tells that in 1642, during the civil wars, Gabriel Honyfold, master, who was also vicar of Ardleigh, had his house rifled. It appears from a letter (fn. 19) in 1655 that the rents due to the hospital were then nine or ten years in arrear.

Colchester is included in a list of hospitals which were to be visited by a commission (fn. 20) appointed in January, 1691, for the correction of abuses.

A report on the state of the hospital was made by the commissioners appointed to inquire into charities in 1837-8. (fn. 21) In 1818 some of the lands belonging to the hospital had been required for the site of barracks, and were taken possession of by the Board of Ordnance, which paid to the master for their use a sum of £5,001 6s. When these lands were no longer required for this purpose they were restored.

It appeared that the successive masters of the hospital always treated the yearly payment of 52s. to each of the five poor persons as a fixed sum, and considered that subject to this payment of the £13 they were entitled to receive the whole income of the hospital.

To test this, an information was filed in the Court of Chancery by the Attorney General, at the relation of certain parties, against the Rev. John Robert Smythies, then master; and by a decree dated 18 November, 1831, the Master of the Rolls declared that the master was not thus entitled, and that the profit made by the agreement with the Board of Ordnance was to be considered the property of the charity, and the master was only entitled to the interest, except for his costs in restoring the lands to their previous condition, and any of the parties were to be at liberty to lay a scheme before the master for the regulation of the charity and the management of its estates, such schemes to be approved of by the master in concurrence with the Attorney and Solicitor General.

From this decree Mr. Smythies appealed to the Lord Chancellor, who by a decree dated 29 January, 1833, reversed the decree of the Master of the Rolls in all those parts which appeared to authorize the raising of the salaries of the almspeople in consideration of the increased revenues of the charity. The effect of this decree was therefore to establish the right of the master to the whole revenue subject to the yearly payment of £13.

A scheme for the regulation of the charity was established by a decree of the court dated 23 February, 1836; and by a decree of the Master of the Rolls dated 16 April, 1836, it was declared that the master should be resident.

The yearly income of the hospital then amounted to £239 5s. 0d., besides the dividends on £4,754 3s. 7d. three per cent. Consols. The old hospital having become dilapidated, it had been pulled down about six years before this decree, and Mr. Smythies had erected on its site six tenements under one roof, adjoining the churchyard of the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, each containing two rooms. One was unoccupied, and the other five were inhabited by five poor widows, to each of whom the master paid 52s. yearly. A grove of about seven acres in Layer de la Haye supplied the almspeople with firing. The property of the hospital is described in detail in the decree.

Masters or Wardens of Colchester Hospital (fn. 22)

Elias. (fn. 23)

Simon de la Neylonde. (fn. 24)

Roger de Creppyngg, (fn. 25) elected 1301.

Robert Safare, (fn. 26) occurs 1318.

Richard Martyn, (fn. 26) occurs 1323.

William Flete, (fn. 27) occurs 1391.

William Peryman, (fn. 26) occurs 1431.

Thomas Skypwith, (fn. 28) occurs 1490.

John Wayn. (fn. 26)

John Phelyp (fn. 26), occurs 1515.

Thomas Gale, (fn. 29) occurs 1557.

William Wilkinson, (fn. 26) occurs 1582.

Henry Davye, (fn. 30) appointed 1610.

Gabriel Honyfold, (fn. 26) occurs 1642.


  • 1. Ibid. vii, 631.
  • 2. Chartul. of St. John's Abbey, 21.
  • 3. Ibid. 57.
  • 4. Chart. 52 Hen. III, m. 6.
  • 5. Ibid. 10 Edw. III, No. 46.
  • 6. Pat. 1 Ric. II, pt. 6, m. 33.
  • 7. Ibid. 1 Hen. IV, pt. 6, m. 14.
  • 8. Assize R. 233, m. 36.
  • 9. Rolls of Parl. i, 157, and Anct. Petn. 20.
  • 10. Inq. p.m. 31 Edw. I, No. 175.
  • 11. Chartul. 328.
  • 12. Ibid. 509.
  • 13. Rolls of Parl. i, 253.
  • 14. Pat. 13 Edw. II, m. 18.
  • 15. Chant. Cert. xx, 56.
  • 16. Pat. 7 Eliz. pt. 4.
  • 17. Printed by Morant. Exch. Com. Trin. 23 and Hil. 25 Eliz.; Exch. Dec. and Ord. Eliz. No. 7, f. 194, 236.
  • 18. Pat. 8 Jas. I, pt. 42.
  • 19. B.M. Stowe MS. 185, f. 68.
  • 20. Cal. of S. P. Dom. 1690–1691, p. 240.
  • 21. Char. Commrs. Rep. xxxii, pt. 1, p. 546.
  • 22. The master is rector of the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Colchester.
  • 23. Assize R. 233, m. 36. In the time of King John.
  • 24. See above.
  • 25. Inq. p.m. 31 Edw. I, No. 175.
  • 26. Morant, Essex.
  • 27. Pat. 15 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 17.
  • 28. Chan. Inq. p.m. Ser. ii, vol. vi, No. 43.
  • 29. Trans. Essex Arch. Soc. vi, 240.
  • 30. Pat. 8 Jas. I, pt. 42.