Hospitals: St John Baptist, Nottingham

Pages 168-173

A History of the County of Nottingham: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1910.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


The hospital of St. John Baptist, commonly known as St. John's, was an early foundation, outside the walls on the north side of the town. Until recently local historians, following the lead given by the usually accurate Thoroton, connected the house with the Knights Hospitallers, with which order this hospital had no connexion of any kind. (fn. 1)

From the beginning of the 13th century onwards this hospital is known by its dedicatory name. It stood close by the side of the important road to the north which traversed the town; and to the brethren was committed, in the first half of this century, the important duty of keeping the Trent Bridge in repair and collecting alms for that purpose.

The earliest reference to the brethren of this hospital cited by Tanner is of the year 1202, when they were entrusted with keeping in repair the great bridge. (fn. 2) In 1221 Henry III took under his express protection the brethren of St. John, to whom was committed the custody and repair of the bridge; strenuously enjoining that they were not to be in any way molested, vexed, or impeded, and that a generous response was to be made to their gatherings for the repair fund. (fn. 3) In 1229 the brothers of this hospital, who are again stated to have undertaken the making and repairing of Nottingham Bridge, were once more taken under the protection of Henry III. (fn. 4)

Pope Honorius III in 1220 wrote to the Archbishop of York to the effect that the master and brethren of St. John's had petitioned for a chaplain and a cemetery, and commanded the latter as diocesan to grant their request without prejudice to anyone's rights. It is probable that this was speedily done, though there is no formal record of it extant earlier than 1234. (fn. 5)

About 1225 Hugh de Nevill, justice of the forest, granted the hospital the important privilege of gathering two cart-loads of firewood weekly in the wood of Arnold, for the use of the poor occupants. When Henry III was at Nottingham in November 1251 he granted a formal ratification of this gift. (fn. 6)

At this period (not later than 1235) occurs what has been mistakenly termed the foundation charter, by which one Robert son of Ralph son of Fulk of Nottingham gave the brethren of St. John's 8 oxgangs of land at Stanton on the Wolds, a windmill and 20 acres of land in the field of Nottingham, and all the houses erected within the convent yard of the hospital. Durand, brother of this Robert, was at that time prior. (fn. 7)

Of approximately the same date is a charter of Robert de Salcey, granting 2 oxgangs of his demesne land at Stanton, a cultivated plot of land called 'Rihelands,' together with pasturage for 200 sheep, eight oxen, six cows, two horses, and ten swine. (fn. 8)

In 1235 Pope Gregory IX took the almshouse of Nottingham under his special protection. (fn. 9)

Archbishop Gray in 1232 confirmed to the brethren of the hospital of the Blessed John at Nottingham all their possessions and goods conferred on them by the pious devotion of the faithful. He placed the hospital and brethren under the protection of the Blessed Peter and Paul, solemnly warning anyone against invading their possessions or in any way presuming to rashly disturb them. (fn. 10)

On the feast of St. Andrew 1234 the archbishop promulgated an ordinance for this hospital whereby it was determined that, with the consent of the rector and patrons of St. Mary's, the brethren should have a chapel and a chaplain for divine worship for themselves and their guests; that the chaplain was to solemnly swear not in any way whatsoever to defraud the Prior and Convent of Lenton of any kind of due or offering; that the rector or master of the hospital should take a like oath; that the hospital should have a cemetery for the brethren or for any who died there; that no other parishioners were to confess, to receive the Eucharist, or to be buried within the hospital; that the brethren were to have a bell on the roof to call them to mattins and the hours, to mass, to vespers, and to compline; that on the day of St. John Baptist the perpetual vicar of that church, or some one on his part, should celebrate in the hospital and receive all oblations and all other oblations that had been made in the hospital during the previous year; that on the festivals of the Blessed Virgin there should be no celebration within the hospital save with closed doors and in a low voice; that the brethren, in recompense for the oblations and obventions customarily made before this present ordinance, should give a mark of silver annually to the mother church; that the brethren were not to have an outer door in the chapel towards the town; and that if the chaplain, master, or brethren are guilty of any excess, they should be canonically punished by the Archdeacon of Nottingham, or in his absence by the rural dean of the place.

To this instrument were affixed the seals of the archbishop, of the Prior and Convent of Lenton, and of the vicar of St. Mary's, (fn. 11) and in making this ordination the archbishop had the express authority, under seal, of the burgesses of Nottingham. (fn. 12)

In 1241 Archbishop Gray sent to Robert Alwin, the master, detailed rules to be observed by the brethren and sisters (the latter being now mentioned for the first time), of which the following is an abstract:—(1) Two chaplains to be provided; (2) all the brethren to assemble for mattins at daybreak from Michaelmas to Easter, after mass to betake themselves to their respective duties, and to attend evensong and compline if not hindered of necessity; (3) regularly to obey the warden or master; (4) the warden, if he has anything of his own, to convert it to the benefit of the house; (5) all to wear the like habit, and to take their meals together in silence, or speaking low if forced to speak, and only to eat meat on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, save by licence of the warden; (6) to occupy one dormitory, clothed in breeches and shirts, or in the garment used instead of a shirt, and to observe silence in the dormitory until after the first Cantate; (7) to be chaste and sober, not to drink in borough or suburbs, and faithfully to employ the goods of the house and alms given to the necessities of the poor and infirm; (8) to wear a regular habit of russet or black cloth, and to assemble in the chapter-house at least once a week; (9) all excesses to be regulated by the warden; (10) no brethren nor sisters admitted but such as are necessary to serve the infirm and keep the goods of the house; (11) no brother to go into the town or elsewhere, save by leave of the warden; (12) the sisters to observe the same things appointed for the brethren; (13) the lay brethren and sisters at the beginning of mattins to say the Creed and Our Father, so that twenty-five Our Fathers be said, and seven at prime, terce, sext and nones and compline, but fifteen at evensong, and after the compline another Our Father and Creed; (14) one hundred other Our Fathers to be said every week, for the brethren and sisters dead and living, and also for the benefactors of the house. (fn. 13)

A considerable variety of minor grants to the hospital made about the middle of the 13th century, chiefly in Nottingham or its immediate vicinity, are cited in the Records, as well as two more substantial grants of lands at Kirkby in Ashfield. (fn. 14)

Archbishop Wickwane issued his mandate at the close of 1279 to the Dean of Nottingham to compel the vicar of St. Mary's to replace the goods of this hospital, which he had, as it was alleged, transferred from thence, and to make restitution without any delay; provided that the hospital is in as good or better state as it used to be, and that it is capable of having custody of them. (fn. 15)

In the following March the care and custody of the hospital of St. John was committed by the archbishop to Robert, vicar of Retford. (fn. 16)

In 1286 Edward I granted the wardenship of this hospital for life to Alan de Salopia, king's clerk, the king claiming the presentation on account of the voidance of the see of York. (fn. 17)

On 29 September 1289 Archbishop Romayne appointed Thomas de Cancia, his priest, master of St. John's Hospital, Nottingham, with all its burdens and rights both temporal and spiritual, in full confidence that he would deal faithfully with the poor and with the goods of the house. He was to have power to dispose of goods acquired within three years. But afterwards, if it should happen that he resigned or left, he must leave seed for the hospital lands and oxen for the ploughs. (fn. 18)

A commission was issued by the archbishop in January 1289-90 to the Dean of Nottingham and to the diocesan sequestrator, on behalf of Thomas de Cancia, master of St. John's Hospital, about goods taken from that house. John le Palmer, executor of the will of Lord Hugh de Stapleford, deceased, deposed that Hugh when living had deprived the hospital of certain houses and inflicted other damages; and Thomas de Rempeston owned to having wronged the hospital of meadow hay during two years, and made submission. Restitution was ordered to be made. (fn. 19)

In 1304 Edward I granted the life wardenship of his hospital to Robert de Sutton, king's clerk, owing to the voidance of the see of York. (fn. 20)

In 1310 Archbishop Greenfield wrote to Robert de Elton, master of the hospital, to make provision for Nicholas de Danelby, who enjoyed a place in that hospital, having been commended to Thomas de Cancia, the late master, by Archbishop Corbridge. (fn. 21)

There was a great decline in the life and work of this hospital about the beginning of the 14th century, a condition of things from which it never recovered, chiefly owing to the laxity and non-residence of the masters or wardens.

In 1325 Archbishop William de Melton issued a severe mandate to Matthew de Halifax, rebuking him for living alone in the hospital, and ordering him to take one or two fit brethren, as the means of the hospital permitted, to live with him, all wearing a decent habit, such as used to be worn in times past; rendering prayers to the Highest daily and nightly, and devoting the whole of their lives to the Saviour of all. A commission of inquiry then instituted reported that the master or warden was originally appointed by the community, or burgesses, of Nottingham; but that Archbishop Giffard happening to be at the castle of Nottingham (fn. 22) during a voidance, when there was great dissension between the townsmen as to the appointment, the archbishop (whom they dared not at that time gainsay) intervened and instituted one Ralph Wilford as warden; and that at the next voidance, the see of York being vacant, the king intervened and instituted Malcolm de Harley (fn. 23) as warden; and so up to that time the election and institution had continued without any right or sanction of the community of the town. The jury of this commission further returned that the hospital was originally so endowed in lands and chattels, granted to a master, two chaplains, the brethren and sisters and the poor of the house, that all was to be held in common; that the charters and writings were in possession of the master and could not be inspected, so that they knew not whether any had been abstracted or not; that the goods were not then sufficient for alms, as used to be the case, because Henry de Calverton, Robert Ker, and Thomas de Cancia, as masters, had deteriorated and wasted the property, converting it to their own uses; that there used to be two priests celebrating divine service there, but that there was then no priest save the master; that the rule ordained by Archbishop Gray and written on a missal had for long time been missing, having been maliciously cut out by a warden, but that the leaf had recently by divine grace been found and could be produced before the archbishop; that the hospital was so completely destroyed and annihilated that without the divine grace and the counsel and assistance of the archbishop, they knew not how it could be relieved; and finally that there used to be a hospital seal. (fn. 24)

Matthew de Halifax died in 1329; but Archbishop Melton's choice of a successor brought about no improvement.

In November 1332 Master John Lambok of Nottingham, parson of the church of Elkesley, master of the hospital of St. John Baptist, Nottingham, on going beyond the seas, had protection and also letters nominating Bartholomew de Cotgrave and John de Shirewode his attorneys in England for two years. (fn. 25)

The hospital probably saw little or nothing of this pluralist. Whilst absent from England he obtained a dispensation at the court of Rome to cover all his pluralities.

In October 1333 Pope John XXII allowed John Lambok, M.A., skilled in civil and canon law, to hold the canonry of Wilton and prebend of Chalk, notwithstanding that he was rector of Elkesley in the diocese of York, and also warden of the house of St. John Baptist, Nottingham. (fn. 26)

Licence was granted to the master, brethren, and chaplains in 1350 to acquire land and rent in mortmain, not held in chief, to the value of £10 yearly. (fn. 27) There is, however, no information as to any benefactors availing themselves of this sanction.

Archdeacon John de Nottingham, who was warden of this hospital at the opening of the 15th century, was an outrageous pluralist. In 1402 Pope Boniface IX collated him to the provision of canonries of York, Salisbury, Lincoln, Beverley, Ripon, and Southwell, with reservation of a prebend in each; and this notwithstanding that he already held the archdeaconry of Nottingham, canonries with prebends in Chichester and Lichfield and in the chapel royal, Tettenhall, as well as the parish church of Cottingham and the wardenship of the hospitals of St. John's Nottingham and of St. Mary Magdalen Ripon. (fn. 28)

Grant for life of the wardenship was made by Henry VII in 1424, with the advice and assent of the council, to John Tamworth, clerk. (fn. 29)

In February 1431-2 an action was brought by the warden, Roger Hunt, against Thomas Taylor, clerk, of the school of Nottingham, for rent of houses the property of the hospital. A verdict was given for the plaintiff. (fn. 30)

For an aid granted to the king in January 1503-4, St. John's Hospital is assessed at the small annual value of £5 6s. 8d. (fn. 31)

The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 gives a like assessment, but the clear annual value was only £4 13s. 4d., as a pension of 13s. 4d. had to be paid to the priory of Lenton. (fn. 32)

Leland, who visited Nottingham about 1540, entered in his journal:—'S. John Hospitall almoste downe, without the towne.' (fn. 33)

The commissioners appointed by Henry VIII in 1545 to arrange for the transference to the Crown of colleges, chantries, and hospitals, apparently found no master, chaplain, or poor at St. John's Nottingham. They reported that one Roger Oker farmed it, who stated on oath that he knew nothing as to the time or the intent for which it was founded. On 12 October 1540 Oker had made an indenture by which he was to pay yearly to the master the sum of £6 9s. 4d. The commissioners add further evidence as to the master's mean and pilfering conduct:—

Abought iij or iiij yere paste, att the commaundemente of oon Henrye Whitinge then Mr. of the same hospitall, the said Roger Oker did take of all the leade of the said hospitall and made a newe Roffe for the same and covered ytt with slatte, and that the same leade dyd amounte to iij foders and some what more. Whiche was sold by the Comaundement of the said Henrye Whitinge to Olyver Dande of Mannys feld for ixli. xvis. viijd. and over that he solde the said tyme to dyverse men of Nottingham certyn other webbes of leade the weights therof nor yet the monye he remembrithe not. (fn. 34)

Under Edward VI came about the final wreck of this once useful and devout establishment, after so many years of shameless pillage by those who ought to have been its genuine wardens. The Certificates of Colleges, Hospitals, &c., doomed to dissolution in 1548-9 stat::—

The Hospitall of Saint Johannes without the Wall in the parishe of Saint Maries there founded by whome they knowe not for the relief of the poore and worthe in Lands Tenements and other possessions lying and being in Diverse places within the said Towne and Shere of Nottingham, As by the Survey therof made remayning with the Surveyour of the saide

sheire particularly yt doth appere. £6 13s. 4d.
Whereof in Rente resolute and so remayneth unto Thomas Webster, clarke, master of the saide hospitall, of what age or of what 13s. 4d.
lerninge it is unknowne £5 17s. 0d. (fn. 35)

From this it is evident that the masters kept up their evil character to the end, for Webster clearly treated this preferment as a sinecure, and was non-resident.

In February 1551 the property of the hospital, with that of other small religious foundations of the town, was diverted by Edward VI towards the sustentation of Trent Bridge, and conveyed for that purpose to the mayor and burgesses. An inquisition in June of the following year found that for a long time before 1540 the late master and his brother chaplains wholly withdrew and absented themselves from the hospital and had never since returned, whereby divine services, prayers, almsgiving and other works of piety had remained totally unperformed. Meanwhile the corporation were put to no small trouble by the last master, Thomas Webster, who had been inducted in 1545 by the Archbishop of York. He exhibited a bill in Chancery in 1553, complaining that he was seised of the mansion-house of the hospital of St. John, of three other messuages, and of 400 acres of land, meadow, and pasture in Nottingham and Stanton on the Wolds, and that the corporation had made an untrue suggestion that the property had come into the king's hands by reason of the Act 37 Henry VIII, cap. 4, for the suppression of certain chantries and hospitals. The town replied, citing the king's grant of 1551. Webster rejoined, citing his induction on 9 December 1545, and stating that at that time, or shortly afterwards, two poor men were brethren of the hospital, one named Bacon and the other Fellowe.

Failing in Chancery, Webster in 1561 exhibited a bill of complaint against the mayor and burgesses stating that through being spoilt of the hospital he had suffered loss to the clear annual value of £10. The mayor and burgesses were cited to appear at York Minster on 30 September. The archbishop lectured them severely, and threatened to impose a heavy fine, saying that his court was as high as that of Chancery. The town clerk appeared again at York on 3 December on behalf of the corporation, but Webster did not appear to prosecute, and the opposition to the king's grant of 1551 speedily evaporated.

In 1601 the old hospital buildings were turned into a poor-house, and somewhat later into a house of correction. (fn. 36)

Priors of St. John's (fn. 37)

Durandus, c. 1230

Robert Alwin, occurs 1241

Ralph Wilford, c. 1270

Malcolm de Harley, 1279

Robert, vicar of Radford, 1280 (fn. 38)

Alan de Salopia, 1286 (fn. 39)

Thomas de Cancia, 1289 (fn. 40)

Henry de Calverton, Robert Ker (fn. 41)

Robert de Sutton, 1304 (fn. 42)

John Dant, 1307 (fn. 43)

Robert de Elton, occurs 1310 (fn. 44)

Roger son of Richard de Whatton, 1311 (fn. 45)

Matthew de Halifax, 1323 (fn. 46)

John Lambok, occurs 1332 (fn. 47)

John Brun, 1343

Ralph Yarwell, 1349

Robert de Yarwell, 1356

John de Houdon, 1363

William Askham, 1371

John de Nottingham, died 1418

Robert Clough, 1418

John Tamworth, 1424 (fn. 48)

John Mosley, 1427

William Woodgrave

Roger Hunt, occurs 1432 (fn. 49)

John Grenville, 1447

John Alestre, 1464

Edward Carter, occurs 1534 (fn. 50)

Henry Whiting, c. 1542 (fn. 51)

Thomas Webster, 1545 (fn. 52)


  • 1. The mistake may have been due to confusion with the canons of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and their connexion with the hospital of that name in Nottingham.
  • 2. Pat. 3 John, m. 3.
  • 3. Pat. 5 Hen. III, m. 4.
  • 4. Pat. 14 Hen. III, m. 7.
  • 5. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, xiii, 20.
  • 6. Chart. R. 36 Hen. III, m. 26.
  • 7. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, 4.
  • 8. Ibid. 16.
  • 9. Ibid. i, 26.
  • 10. York Epis. Reg. Gray, fol. 33–4.
  • 11. Ibid. fol. 168–78.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. These statutes appear in York Epis. Reg. Greenfield, fol. 171, and they are transcribed in Dugdale, Mon. vi, 679–70. They are also set forth in full in the Bor. Rec. (i, 29–33), where they are followed by an office for the admission of the brethren, which is beautifully worded in solemn terms.
  • 14. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, 36–46.
  • 15. York Epis. Reg. Wickwane, fol. 13 d.
  • 16. Ibid. fol. 121.
  • 17. Pat. 14 Edw. I, m. 19.
  • 18. York Epis. Reg. Romanus, fol. 75.
  • 19. Ibid. fol. 75 d.
  • 20. Pat. 32 Edw. I, m. 2.
  • 21. Harl. MS. 6970, fol. 236.
  • 22. a The archbishop's register shows that he was at Nottingham on several occasions in the winter of 1270.
  • 23. b For Malcolm de Harley, the king's clerk, see Cal. Close, 1271–88, passim.
  • 24. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, 90–4; Stapleton, Relig. Inst. of Old Nott. 30–3.
  • 25. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 11.
  • 26. Cal. of Papal Letters, i, 398.
  • 27. Pat. 24 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 1.
  • 28. Cal. of Papal Letters, v, 492–3.
  • 29. Pat. 2 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 5; 3 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 14.
  • 30. Nott. Bor. Rec. ii, 128.
  • 31. Ibid. iii.
  • 32. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 157.
  • 33. Leland, Itin. viii, 24.
  • 34. Coll. and Chant. Cert. Notts. xiii, 38.
  • 35. Dugdale, Mon. vi, 680.
  • 36. For the post-Reformation history of this foundation see Relig. Inst. of Old Nott. i, 34–8.
  • 37. a Ibid. 32.
  • 38. Harl. MS. 6970, fol. 65.
  • 39. Pat. 14 Edw. I, m. 19.
  • 40. Harl. MS. 6970 fol. 106.
  • 41. Mentioned in conjunction with Thomas de Cancia as former masters in a document of 1325. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, 92.
  • 42. Pat. 32 Edw. I, m. 2.
  • 43. Town MSS.
  • 44. Harl. MS. 6970, fol. 236.
  • 45. Ibid. fol. 238.
  • 46. Nott. Bor. Rec. i, 95.
  • 47. Pat. 6 Edw. III, pt. iii, m. 11.
  • 48. Pat. 2 Hen. VI, pt. i, m. 5.
  • 49. Nott. Bor. Rec. ii.
  • 50. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), v, 157.
  • 51. Coll. and Chant. Cert. Notts. xiii, 38.
  • 52. a See above.