Hospitals: St James, Dunwich

Page 137

A History of the County of Suffolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1975.

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A leper hospital dedicated in honour of St. James, consisting of a master, with several leprous brothers and sisters, existed at Dunwich at least as early as the reign of Richard I. Walter de Riboff was one of the chief benefactors, and by some considered the founder. By his charter, apparently early in the reign of John, he granted to the church of St. James and the house of lepers of Dunwich, and to Hubert the chaplain who ministered there and to all successive chaplains, for the soul of Henry de Cressie and his own good estate, 40 acres of land at Brandeston, various plots in other places, together with eight bushels of wheat at Michaelmas, two loaves of bread (daily) from his oven, and a sextary (pint and a half) of ale from his brewhouse wherever his residence might be, and the tithes of his mills. To the chaplain he also assigned an annual pension of 5s., and a comb of corn yearly at Michaelmas, to be divided between two leprous brethren, one of the chaplain's nomination and one of the nomination of himself and his heirs; any of the household of the hospital who were healthy (not lepers) were to receive the sacraments and make their offerings at the church of Brandeston on festivals. The dead were to be buried in the graveyard of the mother church. (fn. 1)

Pope Gregory IX, in 1233, granted licence confirmatory of letters by Pope Lucius to the lepers of St. James, Dunwich, to receive legacies and trusts left for their use. (fn. 2)

Protection was granted by Edward II, in 1312, with authority to seek alms for one year, to the master and brethren of St. James, Dunwich, as they had not sufficient wherewith to live unless they obtained succour from others. (fn. 3) This licence was renewed for another twelvemonth in each of the three following years, for the same reason. (fn. 4) This annual sanction for collecting alms was also maintained from 1320 to 1323. (fn. 5) In 1330 it was renewed, and in 1331 the same was granted for two years to the master, brethren, and their attorneys collecting alms in the churches; the king's bailiffs were to prevent any unauthorized persons collecting in their name. (fn. 6)

Weever, writing in 1631, says of this hospital:—

The church is a great one, and a faire large one after the old fashion, and divers tenements, houses, and land to the same belonging, to the use of the poor, sicke, and impotent people there. But now lately, greatly decaied and hindred by evil Masters of the said Hospital, and other evilly disposed covetous persons, which did sell away divers lands and rents from the said Hospitall, to the great hinderance of the poor people of the said Hospital, as is plainly to be proved. (fn. 7)

Gardner says (1754) that the former great income had dwindled to £21 19s. 8d., of which 48s. went to the master, and the residue to maintain three or four indigent people 'who reside in one poor old house, being all the remains of the buildings, except the shells of the church and chapel.' (fn. 8)

Masters of the Hospital of St. James, Dunwich

Hubert, (fn. 9) c. 1200

William Coterell, (fn. 10) 1389

John Peyntneye, (fn. 11) 1392

Hugh Blythe, (fn. 12) 1393

Edmund Lyster, (fn. 13) occurs 1401

Adam Reyner, (fn. 14) occurs 1499

The thirteenth-century seal of this hospital shows a full-length figure of St. James with nimbus, having the right hand raised in benediction, and a crutch or cross-tau in the left. On each side is an eschallop shell. Legend:—

SIGILL'. SACTI. IACOBI. I. . . . . . . DON . . . . . (fn. 15)


  • 1. Bodl. Chart. Suff. 196; Gardner, Hist. of Dunwich, 62-5.
  • 2. Cal. Pap. Reg. i, 137.
  • 3. Pat. 6 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 21.
  • 4. Ibid. 7 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 12; 8 Edw. II, pt i, m. 7; 9 Edw. II, pt. ii, m. 29.
  • 5. Ibid. 16 Edw. II, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 6. Ibid. 5 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 33.
  • 7. Weever, Funeral Monuments, 719.
  • 8. Gardner, Hist. of Dunwich, 63.
  • 9. Bodl. Chart. Suff. 196.
  • 10. Pat. 13 Ric. II, pt. ii, m. 19.
  • 11. Ibid. 16 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 17.
  • 12. Ibid. 17 Ric. II, pt. 1, m. 22.
  • 13. Bodl. Chart. Suff. 197.
  • 14. Ibid. 189-90.
  • 15. B. M. Cast, lxxi, 105.