Hospitals: St Leonard, Sudbury

Pages 140-141

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

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Most of our leper houses were of early foundation, whilst the crusades were in progress, but one was founded, about a mile outside Sudbury, as late as 1272, by John Colneys or Colness, its first governor or warden. Colneys applied to Simon of Sudbury, then bishop of London, to draw up certain ordinances for its rule. The bishop assented, and from his ordinance, dated 1 May, 1372, we learn that the bishop's parents, Nigel and Sara Theobald, were also concerned in this charitable foundation. It was laid down that there were to be for ever three lepers, and after the death of John Colneys one to be chosen governor whom the other two were to obey; that when a leper died or resigned or was expelled, a third was to be chosen by the survivors within six months, but if any difficulty arose they were to inform the mayor of Sudbury, and the spiritual father of the church of St. Gregory was to put in another; that the profits of the hospital of St. Leonard were to be divided into five parts, whereof the governor was to have two parts, his two leper brethren other two parts, and the fifth part to be used in the repair of the premises; that there was to be a common chest in some church or safe place in Sudbury wherein the fifth part and the writings of the house were to be kept; and that the governor was to have one key of the chest, and the other was to be in the hands of some person deputed by the mayor of Sudbury. It was also provided that if the statutes should not be duly kept after the founder's decease, the hospital revenues should be divided between the church of St. Gregory and the chapel of St. Anne annexed to the same in equal proportions, for the souls of Colneys the founder, and of Nigel and Sara Theobald, and all the faithful departed. (fn. 1)

The estates of the hospital were vested in feoffees by deed of 16 January, 1445-6. In the later corporation books of Sudbury there are several references to the 'hospital called Colnes' and lands adjoining. In 1619-20 'the little house at the Colnes' was rebuilt. In 1657 John Rider was appointed governor of the hospital in the place of Edward Stafford; he had to find 40s. to be of good behaviour. The last person who bore the name of governor or master was a man called Loveday; he died in 1813.

The following was the form of oath taken by members of the hospital, on admittance:—

You shall swear that you will well and truly observe all the ancient rules and orders of this house (as governor or fellow of the same) so long as you shall continue therein, according to the utmost of your skill and knowledge; you shall be obedient to the members thereof as your state does require in all things lawfull; you shall quietly submit to all such deprivation and expulsion as by competent authority shall be inflicted on you, for such crimes and misdemeanours as they shall judge worthy of the same; and all other rules and orders which shall hereafter be made by sufficient authority for the due governance and regulation of the said hospital you peaceably acquiesce in—So help you God.

The oath, doubtless adapted from the original one, was thus used in 1770, when Edmund Andrews was governor, and Joseph Andrews and George Gilbert fellows. (fn. 2)

By a scheme of the Charity Commissioners of 1867 the net income of Colneys' charity is applied towards the support of St. Leonard's Cottage Hospital. This is one of the extraordinarily rare instances of a medical hospital escaping confiscation under Henry VIII and Edward VI. It was probably spared as there was no ground for supposing that any of the slender income was used for 'chantry' purposes. (fn. 3)


  • 1. Add. MS. 19078, fol. 376.
  • 2. Add. MS. 19078, fol. 377.
  • 3. Proc. Suff. Arch. Inst. vii, 268-74.