Hospitals: St Mary Magdalen, Preston

Pages 163-164

A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1908.

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The precise date of the foundation of this leper hospital does not appear. It is first mentioned in letters of protection granted by Henry II after 1177. (fn. 1) Its position does not seem to be known exactly, but is supposed to have been near the present church of St. Walburge. (fn. 2) The patronage of the hospital always belonged to the lords of the honour of Lancaster, (fn. 3) and it possessed a free chapel, i. e. exempt from the jurisdiction of the ordinary. This was the only free chapel in the county. The hospital consisted of a warden and leper brethren and sisters, but the number of the inmates and the rule by which they lived are unknown. (fn. 4) From the fourteenth century at latest the wardens seem to have been often, if not always, pluralists and non-residents. A chaplain served the chapel. While the pestilence was raging in the autumn of 1349 the chaplaincy was vacant for eight weeks, during which period the offerings in the chapel were asserted to have been no less than £32. (fn. 5) In 1355 Duke Henry of Lancaster, the patron, procured from the pope a relaxation of one year and forty days' penance for penitents visiting the chapel on the principal feasts of the year and those of St. Mary Magdalen and St. Thomas of Canterbury. (fn. 6) During one of these pilgrimages, on the feast of the Invention of the Cross (3 May) 1358, certain riotous persons, among whom was the schoolmaster of Preston, invaded the chapel, and some of them were kept prisoners there for the whole of the day following. (fn. 7)

A few years later the right of the warden and brethren to the offerings made in the chapel seems to have been disputed, for Pope Urban V in March, 1364, ordered the archbishop of York to summon the rector of the parish and others concerned, and if the facts were as represented to him to allow the warden and brethren to receive to their use the voluntary offerings, 'wherein the revenues of the hospital chiefly consist.' (fn. 8) A century later, in 1465, a royal injunction forbad the. dean and chapter of the College of Leicester, the appropriators of the parish church, to persist in taking tithe from the incumbent of the 'Free chapel of St. Mary Magdalene' on the ground belonging to the chapel. (fn. 9) By this time the hospital had apparently fallen into disuse, and presentations were now made not to the wardenship but to the practically sinecure incumbency of the free chapel. The chapel itself was allowed to fall into decay. Thomas Barlow, the last incumbent, leased the chapel and its lands about 1525 to James Walton for 20 years at a rent of £7 6s. 8d., the lessee undertaking to repair the chapel and to find a priest to say mass once a week for the king's preservation.

Walton afterwards claimed to have transferred this obligation to the Franciscan convent at Preston, with a lease of a parcel of land called 'Widowfield ' at a yearly rent of 9 shillings. The friars, however, asserted that the land was their own and the 9 shillings a quitrent, though their warden ultimately admitted that 'for peace and quietness he signed a bill that Walton made and wrote.' In January, 1528, two of the friars and others forcibly entered upon the field. Walton laid a complaint before the Chancellor of the Duchy, but in May, 1545, the land was again seized by his opponents, who pulled down the mansion house attached to the chapel and carried off the ornaments of the chapel itself. (fn. 10)

The Chantry Commissioners of 1546 in their certificate refer to Barlow's lease to Walton, and add that 'the said chapel is defaced and open at both ends.' Its plate, including a chalice, weighed eight ounces; there was one vestment and one bell. The chapel lands, which lay almost entirely in the fields of Preston, comprised 58 acres with a clear annual rental of £5 12s. 8d. (fn. 11) In 1548 the chapel was dissolved, and with its lands, now estimated at 47½ acres only, leased on 2 June to Richard Wrightington for twenty-one years at a yearly rent of £5 16s. 8d. Shortly afterwards Edward VI granted (18 April, 1549) the whole of the 'Maudlands' property to John Dodyngton and William Warde of London, gentlemen. They sold it in January, 1550, to Thomas Fleetwood of Hesketh, from whom it was purchased some ten years later (2 December, 1560) for £300 by Thomas Fleetwood of Penwortham. (fn. 12)

Wardens of St. Mary Magdalen's Hospital

William, (fn. 13) occurs circa 1245
John of Coleham, (fn. 14) occurs 1270
Adam de Preston, (fn. 15) occurs 1313, died 1322
John Coupland, (fn. 16) appointed by the crown 30 May, 1322
John son of Richard de Rivers, (fn. 17) occurs 1331
Henry de Dale, (fn. 18) occurs 1345 and 1347
Pascal de Bononia (fn. 19) (Bologna), occurs 1355
Walter Campden, (fn. 20) occurs 1366, died 1370
Ralph de Erghum (Arkholme), (fn. 21) occurs 1373
Thomas Horston, (fn. 22) occurs 1399
Thomas Prowett, (fn. 23) before 1480
James Standish, (fn. 24) appointed 18 August, 1486
Thomas Barlow, (fn. 25) appointed 6 February, 1522, surrendered 1548.

The matrix of the common seal of the hospital is preserved in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It is oval pointed. In the centre, within a niche, is a female figure, doubtless St. Mary Magdalen, standing with a flower-pot in her left hand, and what has been conjectured to be an ornamental ointment box in the right; beneath her feet is represented a fleur-de-lis. The legend runs—



  • 1. Lancs. Pipe R. 333.
  • 2. For a suggestion that Count Stephen of Blois may have been its founder see ibid.
  • 3. a The brethren of the lepers complained to the king in 1258-9 that whereas they should have a. warden of the king's appointment the men of Preston had asserted a right of patronage and had taken the brethren's goods; Close, 43 Hen. III, m. 2.
  • 4. 'Canons and brethren' are once mentioned (Duchy of Lanc. Anct. D., L. 2091), but this may be a slip. Grants are usually made by or to 'the leper brethren' or 'the leper brothers and sisters.'
  • 5. Engl. Hist. Rev. v, 526. This is probably a gross exaggeration.
  • 6. Cal. Pap. Pet. i, 271.
  • 7. Duchy of Lanc. Assize-R. 439.
  • 8. Cal. Pap. Letters, iv, 90.
  • 9. Fishwick, Hist. of the Parish of Preston, 195.
  • 10. Smith, Rec. of Preston Parish Church, 238-42.
  • 11. Ibid. In the papal 'Taxatio' of 1292 the temporalities of the hospital, after allowing for necessary expenses, were assessed at 13s. 4d. In 1355 the wardenship was worth £5 a year; Cal. Pap. Letters, iii, 543. In 1361 it had apparently risen to £20, from which it fell to £10 in 1366; Piccope MSS. viii, 189; B.M. Add. MS. 6069, fol. 111, quoted in Smith, op. cit. 238. The increase in 1361 was probably due to the increase in offerings consequent on the papal privilege of 1355.
  • 12. Lancs. Chantries, 208-9.
  • 13. Willelmus capellanus rector noster; Duchy of Lanc. Great Coucher, i, fol. 86, No. 1.
  • 14. Ibid. i, fol. 85, No. 31; cf, Anct. D., L. 2087, 2092.
  • 15. Great Coucher, i, fol. 85, Nos. 29, 30. Styled 'custos capelle beate M.M.' Son of Hugh de Preston. Inq. p.m. 21 June, 1322.
  • 16. Piccope MSS. vi, 23b. Chaplain to Edw. II, who appointed him, the advowson being in his hands by the forfeiture of Thomas, earl of Lancaster. A grant of the wardenship to John de Evesham, king's clerk, was cancelled in 1326, as it appeared that Coupland was still alive; Cal. Pat. 1324-7, p. 337.
  • 17. Cal. Pap. Letters, ii, 343. Provided by the pope to a canonry of Salisbury notwithstanding his wardenship.
  • 18. Ibid, iii, 148, 242. Dale, who was a bachelor of civil law and of medicine, held with the wardenship six canonries and (for a time) the rectory of Higham Ferrers.
  • 19. Ibid, iii, 562; Cal. Pap. Pet. i, 274. Physician to Henry, duke of Lancaster, prebendary of St. Paul's, London; Newcourt, Repertorium, i, 217. He also held the church of 'Patenhulle' (Patshull).
  • 20. B.M. Add. MS. 6069, 111; also rector of Wigan, canon of York, and warden of St. Nicholas' Hospital, Pontefract.
  • 21. Duchy of Lanc. Misc.Bks. xlii, fol. 194: 'Ralph de Erghum's chapel.' He was chancellor of John of Gaunt.
  • 22. Granted charge of the free chapel for life by John, duke of Lancaster; confirmed by Hen. IV on 10 Dec. 1399; Duchy of Lanc. Misc. Bks. xv, fol. 68d.
  • 23. a See a complaint by his executor in Pal. of Lanc. Writs Proton., file 19 Edw. IVa.
  • 24. Materials for Hist, of Hen. VII (Rolls Ser.), i, 541. Presented (?) by Henry VII.
  • 25. Smith, Hist. of Preston Parish Church, 238; Lancs. Chantries (Chet. Soc.), 208. He received a pension of £5 and was still living in 1558.
  • 26. Figured in Fishwick, op. cit. 197.