Hospitals: St Leonard & St Thomas Martyr, Peterborough

Page 162

A History of the County of Northampton: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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A hospital of St. Leonard for the service of the lepers was established at an early date in connexion with the great monastery of Peterborough. The first mention of it is at the death of Abbot John of Séez in 1125, when, as already stated, there were thirteen lepers and three servants in the lazar house. The next time it is named is in the year 1147, when Robert de Torrell, in his infirmity, came to Peterborough, and there in the chapel of the hospital of St. Leonard before many witnesses gave himself to God, assigning all his lands at Cotterstock and Glapthorn to the monastery, on condition of diet for himself and four servants during his life, and that at his death they should receive him in a monk's habit. (fn. 1)

Abbot William of Woodford (1295-9) made special provision for this hospital, ordering that it should be supplied yearly with forty ells of cloth by the almoner at the feast of St. Martin, with a stone of ointment and a stone of tallow (sepi); and with three bacon pigs, namely, one each at Christmas, before Lent, and at Easter. It is interesting to note, as affecting the question of the infection of leprosy, that the monk in charge of the lepers (servens dictorum infirmorum) had the right of dining with the abbot's household at Christmas, at Easter, and on the feasts of St. Peter and All Saints. (fn. 2)

In this same abbot's time incidental mention is made of the annual payment of a penny on St. Peter's Day to the brethren of the hospital of St. Leonard. (fn. 3) Also in 1296, when a taxation roll of all the goods of the abbey was drawn up, the hospital of the lepers, 'extra Burgum,' is named as taxed at £6, but paying no tithe. (fn. 4)

The return of 1535 shows that eight poor men living in the hospital of St. Leonard were then in receipt of 40s. each a year, and that they prayed daily for the souls of the founders. (fn. 5)

Dean Patrick says, 'There is still a well near the Spittle, which is called St. Leonard's Well, whose water hath been thought medicinal.' (fn. 6)


The hospital of St. Thomas of Canterbury was founded at the gates of the monastery by William of Waterville and completed by Abbot Benedict (1177-1194), the great friend and biographer of the martyred prelate, and a former prior of Canterbury. (fn. 7)

Abbot Acharius (1200-1210) granted to the almoner of the monastery the offerings of the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr (where many of his relics were preserved) for the use of the hospital pertaining to it. (fn. 8)

The funds were used for the support of resident poor sisters, and for the sick whom they tended. A casual entry in the rough account book of William Morton, the almoner of the monastery in the days of Abbot Ashton, shows that the admission of sisters to this hospital was a duty assigned to that official. In 1455 Joan Gattele was received among the sisters of the chapel of St. Thomas the Martyr by the almoner. (fn. 9)

The return of 1535 shows that at that time there were eight poor women living in the hospital of St. Thomas, each of whom received the annual sum of 33s. 4d. (fn. 10)


  • 1. Swapham, f. 115.
  • 2. Cott. MS. Vesp. E. xxii. f. 4. Gunton's Hist. 38.
  • 3. Swapham, f. 241.
  • 4. Ibid f. 245.
  • 5. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv. 283–4.
  • 6. Suppl. to Gunton's Hist. 317.
  • 7. Gunton, Hist. of Peterb. Suppl. 286–7.
  • 8. Swapham, ff. 104–200.
  • 9. Cott. MSS. Vesp. A. xxiv. f. 42.
  • 10. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iv. 284.