Religious Houses: Introduction

Pages 152-155

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.

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Benedictine Nuns 1. Stratford at Bow Priory Carthusian Monks 2. Charterhouse Augustinian Canons 3. Bentley Priory Augustinian Canonesses 4. Clerkenwell, St. Mary's Priory 5. Haliwell Priory 6. Kilburn Priory Bridgettines 7. Syon Abbey Trinitarian Friars 8. Hounslow Priory Knights Hospitallers 9. Clerkenwell, St. John's Priory 9A. Hampton camera1 9B. Harefield commandery, later camera2 Alien Houses 10. Harmondsworth Priory 11. Ruislip Priory Hospitals 12. Aldersgate (in London) 13. Brentford, All Angels 13A. Brentford, St. Mary, St. Anne, & St. Louis3 13B. Enfield, St. Leonard4 14. Hammersmith 15. Highgate, St. Anthony 16. Holborn, St. Giles-in-the-Fields 17. Kingsland 18. Knightsbridge, St. Leonard 19. Mile End, St. Mary Magdalen 19A. Tottenham, St. Loy5 1 V.C.H. Mdx. ii. 325=6, 327, 371; see p. 194 and n. 26. 2 Ibid. iii. 238; see p. 194 and n. 27. 3 See p. 153. 4 See p. 154. 5 See p. 153.

The register (c.1244-8) of Fulk Basset, Bishop of London 1244-59, lists five religious houses in the deanery of Middlesex and two more situated in the county but in the archdeaconry of London. (fn. 2) Those in the deanery of Middlesex were Westminster Abbey, (fn. 3) the nunneries of Stratford at Bow and Kilburn, and the leper hospitals of St. James, Westminster, (fn. 4) and St. Giles-in-theFields. The nunneries of Haliwell and St. Mary, Clerkenwell, were in the archdeaconry of London. Five houses, whose histories are included in this volume and which were in existence when the list was made, are not mentioned. (fn. 5) The priory of Hounslow is first mentioned in 1200, although it probably did not come into the possession of the Trinitarian friars until the mid-13th century. (fn. 6) Harmondsworth and Ruislip were the cells of foreign abbeys, and Bentley was a cell of St. Gregory's, Canterbury. In each of these there were probably no more than two or three religious, (fn. 7) and the houses may have been too small to merit the attention of the compiler of the list. A more important omission was the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem, Clerkenwell, founded in the mid-12th century. (fn. 8) The Knights Hospitallers also had camere at Hampton and Harefield; the latter even enjoyed the status of a commandery for some time in the 13th century. (fn. 9) Both houses were very small and neither is dealt with individually in this section. Two other Middlesex houses, both founded after the 13th century, had a more than local importance. The London Charterhouse, founded in 1371, was regarded as the senior house of the Order in England, and missives from the General Chapter of the Carthusians were usually sent to its prior. (fn. 10) In the early 16th century the reputation of the London Charterhouse was very high, especially in the performance of divine service. (fn. 11) The abbey of Syon, founded in 1415, was the only house of the Bridgettines in England. This fact alone would have made it remarkable, but, in addition, like the Charterhouse, it enjoyed a high reputation. The laity were attracted by the sermons in English, and the spiritual treatises produced by the brethren were widely read. (fn. 12) But apart from these three, the religious houses of Middlesex were of little importance.

As well as the preceding religious houses there were in Middlesex nine hospitals, six of which were for lepers. Two of the hospitals for the poor were at Brentford; the other was at Tottenham. (fn. 13) All three were small, and almost nothing is known of them. This is particularly true of the hospital of St. Mary, St. Anne, and St. Louis at Brentford, (fn. 14) newly-built in 1393, (fn. 15) and consisting of a chapel and two houses with bedding and other necessaries for poor travellers; (fn. 16) and an ancient spital house at Tottenham, mentioned in 1416 (fn. 17) and 1484, (fn. 18) but then no more. Aldersgate hospital, here described, was omitted from V.C.H. London, i.

Of the ten leper hospitals strategically sited on the main roads out of London, (fn. 19) six were in Middlesex. (fn. 20) These were at Enfield, (fn. 21) Hammersmith, Highgate, Holborn (St. Giles's), Kingsland, and Mile End. Two more leper hospitals-St. James's (fn. 22) and Knightsbridge (fn. 23) -lay in Westminster. Of the Middlesex leper houses the earliest was that of St. Giles', Holborn, (fn. 24) founded by Queen Maud in the early 12th century. The City authorities gradually assumed responsibility for the London lepers and probably themselves founded additional hospitals. (fn. 25) The City certainly administered the four hospitals at Kingsland, Knightsbridge, Mile End, and Southwark (the Lock). Later the leper hospitals at Hammersmith (in existence by 1500) and Highgate (independently founded in 1473) were taken over. Supervision was exercised by two elected wardens, first mentioned between 1191 and 1211, (fn. 26) and described in the late 14th century as 'the wardens and surveyors of lepers at St. Giles' Hospital, the Lock, and at Hackney [Kingsland]'. (fn. 27) The wardens' duties included general supervision, daily visits to the hospitals, and the correction and punishment of difficult inmates. (fn. 28) Wardens were excused all other civic duties. (fn. 29) In 1549 the administration of the City's leper hospitals of Kingsland, Hammersmith, Highgate, Knightsbridge, Mile End, and Southwark (the Lock) was transferred to St. Bartholomew's Hospital. (fn. 30) The City continued to elect two wardens until 1574, (fn. 31) but St. Bartholomew's assumed routine supervision and the right to appoint the master or 'guider' of each house. These guiders were always surgeons, and the practice developed of appointing the two junior assistant surgeons at St. Bartholomew's to the two houses of the Lock and Kingsland. (fn. 32) In 1553 £60 was given to the leper hospitals round London on condition that the inmates did not beg within three miles of the city. (fn. 33) In 1555-6 and on two other occasions 26s. 8d. were allotted by St. Bartholomew's to four of the hospitals, and in 1556-7 the six houses received £22 4s. 6d. for 'keeping the poor'. (fn. 34) Subsequently St. Bartholomew's made more or less regular monthly payments of varying amounts to the six 'outhouses', to which patients, often with complaints other than leprosy, were sent from St. Bartholomew's. (fn. 35) From 1608 the guiders or masters, who were expected to be continually on duty, (fn. 36) were paid about £4 a year and 4d. a day for each patient's food. (fn. 37) By 1682 one master's annual salary had risen to £30, with an additional £3 for washing the patients' sheets. In one case £50 was provided in a year for medicines. (fn. 38) The decline of the Middlesex leper houses as such came in the 16th century. Mile End is not mentioned after 1589. (fn. 39) The five others remained on the books of St. Bartholomew's as ordinary hospitals until 1623. (fn. 40) After this date only the Lock and Kingsland were maintained by St. Bartholomew's, (fn. 41) but the others continued independently for some time. The Lock and Kingsland finally closed in 1760. (fn. 42)

Little is known of the hermits of Middlesex. (fn. 43) Even when a hermitage had been endowed it was not always possible to find a hermit. The buildings were often granted by the patrons to ecclesiastics who wished for rural retirement without committing themselves to asceticism. (fn. 44) It is impossible to make a reliable list of the inmates of any particular hermitage, and references to hermits in Middlesex are rare. When the nunnery of Kilburn was founded, about 1130, the nuns were given as their superior a hermit called Godwin, who had formerly built a hermitage on the site. (fn. 45) The hermitage in Monken Hadley which was given to Walden Abbey (Essex) by Geoffrey de Mandeville in about 1136 may by then have been unoccupied. (fn. 46) The best known Middlesex hermitage was at Highgate. It was just outside the Bishop of London's manor of Hornsey, and consisted of a chapel and dwelling-house in his gift. In 1386 Bishop Braybroke granted this hermitage to William Lichfield to hold as the earlier 'poor hermits' of Highgate had done. (fn. 47) A hermit was presented in 1531. (fn. 48) The tradition that the hermit of Highgate was responsible for maintaining the causeway between Highgate and Islington is not older than the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, (fn. 49) although it may have been based on genuine information. The claim that there was a hermitage at Harrow dedicated to St. Edmund and St. Catherine rests on very slender evidence. (fn. 50) When Bishop Swinfield of Hereford stayed at Kensington in the winter of 1289-90 he gave alms to the anchoress there. (fn. 51) There was also an anchorite attached to the hospital of St. Giles-in-the-Fields in 1371. (fn. 52)


  • 1. In accordance with accepted usage, first place in this chapter is given to the Benedictine houses, then follow the Carthusians, the Augustinian Canons and Canonesses, the Bridgettines, the Trinitarian Friars, the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, and alien houses; an article on the medieval hospitals concludes the chapter.
  • 2. St. Paul's MS. W.D. 9, f. 89.
  • 3. For the history of Westminster Abbey see V.C.H. Lond. i. 433-57.
  • 4. See ibid. 542-6.
  • 5. No evidence has been found to support Speed's statement (Hist. of Eng. 814) that a monastery, dedicated to the Virgin, was founded in Uxbridge; see Lysons, Mdx. Pars. 178.
  • 6. See p. 191.
  • 7. See pp. 169, 200, 202.
  • 8. See p. 193.
  • 9. See p. 194.
  • 10. See p. 164.
  • 11. See p. 166.
  • 12. See p. 186.
  • 13. In addition the New Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate maintained a row of almshouses at Shoreditch: T.L.M.A.S. xxi (1), 60-61.
  • 14. See ibid. For brief accounts of the hospitals of Aldersgate and All Angels, Brentford, see pp. 204-5.
  • 15. R. M. Clay, Medieval Hospitals, 8, 262, 304.
  • 16. Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 626, 627 n.; Lysons, Environs of Lond. ii. 49, 553. The chapel is mentioned in 1372.
  • 17. Lysons, Environs of Lond. iii. 552, 540.
  • 18. Guildhall MS. 9171/7, f. 15v.
  • 19. For a detailed account see T.L.M.A.S. xxi (1), 4-61.
  • 20. The Lock hospital was in Southwark, and Bermondsey leper hospital in Surr.
  • 21. The only known reference to St. Leonard's Hospital, Enfield, occurs in 1270: Cal. Pat. 1266-72, 436.
  • 22. See V.C.H. Lond. i. 542-6.
  • 23. See p. 211.
  • 24. See p. 206.
  • 25. Corp. Lond. Rec. Off., Letter Book M, f. 246v; Repertory 1, f. 445v; ibid. 3, f. 44; Stow, Survey, ii. 146.
  • 26. B.M. Harl. MS. 4015, ff. 129, 131v. A list of wardens is printed in T.L.M.A.S. xxi (1), 10-11.
  • 27. Cal. Letter Bk. H, 343.
  • 28. Ibid.; H. T. Riley, Memorials of Lond. (1868), 510-11.
  • 29. Cal. Letter Bk. I, 184; K, 142-3.
  • 30. Corp. Lond. Rec. Off., Repertory, 12/1, f. 154; St. Bart's. Hosp. Journal, Ha 1/1, f. 1.
  • 31. Corp. Lond. Rec. Off., Cal. of Repertories, 1495-1552, pp. 74b, 75a; Letter Bk. M, f. 246v.
  • 32. D. Power, Hist. of St. Bart's. Hosp. 1123-1923, p. 47.
  • 33. Clay, Medieval Hospitals, 47.
  • 34. St. Bart's. Hosp. Ledger, Hb 1/1, ff. 277v, 305v, 306v.
  • 35. N. Moore, Hist. of St. Bart's. Hosp. (1918), ii. 218.
  • 36. Ibid. 317-18.
  • 37. J. Paget, Records of Harvey in Extracts from the Jnls. of St. Bart's. Hosp. (1846), 13.
  • 38. Moore, Hist. of St. Bart's. ii. 339, 372.
  • 39. Lysons, Environs of Lond. iii. 483.
  • 40. St. Bart's. Hosp. Ledger, Hb 1/4.
  • 41. For their relationship with St. Bart's. Hosp. during the 17th and early 18th cents. see T.L.M.A.S. xxi (1), 10.
  • 42. St. Bart's. Hosp. Journal, Ha 4/1, f. 53v; Ha 1/13, pp. 164, 166, 171.
  • 43. See also V.C.H. Lond. i. 587; p. 159.
  • 44. R. M. Clay, Hermits and Anchorites of Eng. 228-9.
  • 45. See p. 178.
  • 46. Dugdale, Mon. iv. 149.
  • 47. Guildhall MS. 9531/3, f. 51.
  • 48. Ibid. 9531/11, f. 9.
  • 49. Clay, Hermits and Anchorites, 64-65.
  • 50. Ibid. 228-9; N. & Q. 10th ser. iii. 467.
  • 51. A Roll of the Household Expenses of Richard de Swinfield, Bishop of Hereford (Camd. Soc. lxii), p. cxxix.
  • 52. Clay, Hermits and Anchorites, 228-9.