Hospitals: St John Baptist, Berkhamstead

A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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'Hospitals: St John Baptist, Berkhamstead', in A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4, (London, 1971) pp. 458-459. British History Online [accessed 29 February 2024]


The earliest mention of this hospital occurs in a charter of Geoffrey Fitz Piers Earl of Essex, (fn. 1) which shows that the custody of the house had already been committed by him to the brothers of St. Thomas the Martyr of Acon.

On 1 March 1216-17 Queen Isabel for the soul of King John gave the hospital to the canons of Acon, (fn. 2) but whether this was a confirmation of Fitz Piers's deed or an amplification is not clear. The queen added that the hospital had of her gift tithes of all her mills in the sokes of Berkhampstead and Hemel Hempstead, 15 acres of land in 'Selidone' and all the dike work with herbage between the fish-pond and the hospital, the whole length of the fish-pond, viz., from the road called Water Lane to the church of St. James, the land late of Roger the Cordwainer, and another piece next the hospital, 15 cartloads of fuel in the 'hay' of Berkhampstead and 25 loads in the wood of 'Brennendon,' perhaps Bovingdon in Hemel Hempstead, leave to feed 20 pigs in the said 'hay' and wood, and pannage and pasture for the hospital's cattle in the common pastures of Berkhampstead. As Isabel confirmed to the hospital whatever it had already acquired in her fee of Berkhampstead and in Hemel Hempstead, these gifts were possibly fresh endowment. It will be noticed that the hospital had, or by this charter acquired, rights in the property lying between its site and the chapel of St. James, the proximity of which appears to have led to an interchange of the names of the two foundations. Thus Chauncy (fn. 3) speaks of the hospital of St. James so called from St. James's Well, (fn. 4) while the spring itself has for some time now been known as St. John's Well. The hospital chapel was rebuilt in 1331 and was consecrated at the end of that year or the beginning of the next. (fn. 5)

From that time there is no mention of the house of St. John Baptist. A report, however, made in 1540 on the leper hospitals of Berkhampstead (fn. 6) says that a warden, brothers and sisters had been possessed of two, one called the Overspitalhouse or St. John the Evangelist, the other the Netherspitalhouse or St. Leonard, and as the property in Berkhampstead, Northchurch and Hemel Hempstead included the tithes of six water-mills and a fulling-mill, it seems likely that the hospital of St. Leonard (fn. 7) was identical with that of St. John Baptist. (fn. 8) Apparently the two houses had been united before 1515-16, since there was then only one warden, and at that time the departure of the inmates brought the existence of the remaining hospital to a close. (fn. 9)

There are several references to the hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr of Berkhampstead, but it is clear that they refer to either the hospital of St. John Baptist or that of St. John the Evangelist, which both belonged to the monastery of St. Thomas the Martyr of Acon, and were therefore probably known by the name of the superior house. (fn. 10)


  • 1. Inspeximus and confirmation July 1325 (Cal. Pat. 1324-7, p. 128).
  • 2. Inspeximus and confirmation 10 Dec. 1318 (Cal. Chart. R. 1300-26, p. 399). A hospital of Berkhampstead was confirmed to the canons of Acon by Pope Honorius 7 July in the fourth year of his rule, probably Honorius III in 1220 (Cott. MS. Tib. C v, fol. 271).
  • 3. Hist. Antiq. of Herts. 587.
  • 4. Cobb (Hist. and Antiq. of Berkhamstead, 72) marked this spot as the site of one of the hospitals, pointing to the names 'Spital Mead' and 'the Spital trees' in proof, but he thought the hospital that of St. John the Evangelist. The nearness of the hospital of St. John Baptist to the old parochial chapel makes the connexion of both with the brotherhood of St. John Baptist seem more probable. See V.C.H. Herts. ii, 163, 172.
  • 5. The Bishop of Lincoln's commission to Peter Bishop of 'Corbavia' to consecrate is dated 8 kal. Jan. 1331 (Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Burghersh, fol. 239).
  • 6. Rentals and Surv. (Gen. Ser.), portf. 25, no. 37.
  • 7. St. Leonard was a favourite saint with commercial communities, and this would therefore be a probable invocation, supposing the connexion between the gild and the hospital.
  • 8. Especially as the foundation of both hospitals, St. Leonard's as well as St. John the Evangelist's, is attributed to King John.
  • 9. As to the connexion of this hospital with Berkhampstead Grammar School see V.C.H. Herts. ii, 72, 172.
  • 10. See Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), ii, 19, 21; Cal. Pat. 1317-21, p. 68; Lay Subs. R. bdle. 120, no. 2; Cant. Archiepis. Reg. Courtenay, fol. 280b; Ct. R. (Gen. Ser.), portf. 177, no. 15.