Hospitals: Worcester

Pages 175-179

A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1971.

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'There is a fayre suburb without Sudbury gate and it was an hospital called St. Wulstan . . . some called it a commanderye (fn. 1) where was a master, priests, and poore men; some say it was originally of the foundation of the queen.' (fn. 2) Such is Leland's account of the Hospital of St. Wulstan, recording the traditional foundation. Camden accepted this tradition, but the more generally acknowledged founder was St. Wulstan himself who probably founded the hospital about 1085. It then consisted of a master, two chaplains, and poor brethren whose number was not specified, until 1441. (fn. 3) They followed the rule of St. Augustine, professing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but not bound by the rigidity of strict monastic life, since the hospital was intended primarily as a charitable institution. Hence at some period, probably not long after the foundation, an infirmary for indigent sick and infirm was established. By 1294 there were reported to be twenty-two sick persons in the infirmary, and the hospital undertook to provide three beds 'in a decent place' in the infirmary for three indigent chaplains chosen by William de Molendiniis, a benefactor of the house. These chaplains were to have food daily with the brethren, as well as a share of the pittances, ale, and charities, that were given to the sick and infirm. (fn. 4) On the death of either of the chaplains another 'indigens et honestus' was to be chosen and instituted by the bishop.

Although the hospital relied greatly on private benefaction for the up-keep of its charitable works, the founder undoubtedly endowed it with the ground on which it stood and the lands adjacent.

The preceptor and brethren of St. Wulstan had the right of nominating a priest to officiate in the chapel on their land at Chadwick near Bunyon, providing the chaplain was approved by the prior and convent of Worcester, and swore that he would in no way injure the mother church of Bromsgrove appropriated to the Worcester house. He was endowed with the small tithes only, the rest went to the church of Bromsgrove, while the preceptor paid 2s. yearly to the prior and convent and half a pound of frankincense twice a year to the vicar of Bromsgrove. (fn. 5) Moreover none of the parishioners of Bromsgrove were allowed to attend the chapel at Chadwick except the holder of the small tithes and his family, who should also be obliged four times in a year, Christmas, Candlemas, Easter, and Midsummer, to go to the church of Bromsgrove. (fn. 6)

Between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries private benefactors made frequent gifts chiefly of lands in or near the city of Worcester, (fn. 7) but the gifts were often very small, and there is evidence to prove that the hospital had a sharp struggle against poverty. By 1535 the temporalities amounted only to £66 8s. 11d. and the spiritualities to £13 3s. 7d. The final income of the house, when payment had been made to the chaplains who prayed for the souls of the various benefactors, was £63 18s. 10d. (fn. 8) Hence it was exempted from the payment of certain tithes in 1275, (fn. 9) and from the increased taxation of 1291, (fn. 10) 1313, (fn. 11) and 1402, (fn. 12) and in 1368 bishop Wittesleye certified to John de Cabrespinio, the papal nuncio, that the members of the hospital would be forced to beg 'if a half or a third or a fourth part of the fruits of the hospital' should be taken from them. (fn. 13) This poverty may to some extent have been caused by the repressive policy towards the hospital shown by the prior and convent of Worcester. A complaint made to the bishop by the hospital in 1312 illustrates the jealousy existing between the two. The prior and convent had taken away and detained St. Wulstan's pastoral staff by which the brethren of the hospital had been wont to 'seek charities from well-disposed persons.' The bishop wrote desiring the prior to return the staff to the brethren, 'for the better getting of their alms thereby.' The former answered that St. Wulstan's staff had 'not been out of their hands a day nor a night nor an hour,' only the oblations arising therefrom had been granted to the hospital, and 'what was a matter of grace was now asked as a right.' (fn. 14)

However, many of the troubles of the house arose not from outward misfortune but from internal irregularity. In 1321 Bishop Cobham bade the master of the hospital make diligent inquiry into the waste of goods and dishonourable lives of the brethren, and correct 'what is wanting persons and things.' (fn. 15) But in spite of this warning, waste and irregularity evidently continued in the hospital into the fifteenth century until in 1441 Bishop Bourchier after a visitation wrote to the master and brethren commenting on the mismanagement of the house under past preceptors. One of them, William Moore or Dylew, had made excessive grants of corrodies and liveries, to the injury of the house. Between the years 1401-4 no less than eight such grants are recorded, (fn. 16) and this probably was not the full number. Thus the bishop forbade the granting of any corrodies or liveries, but the revenues were to be used for their proper purposes. The organization of the institution was stated afresh since the original charters were lost. There should be one master at the collation of the bishop, to be in priest's orders or promoted thereto within a year of his appointment as master. The said master should have as companions two chaplains secular, perpetual, or temporal, to officiate in the hospital for the souls of the founders and benefactors, receiving yearly from the preceptor 4 marks and 3½ yards of cloth for a robe and a competent room, and food and drink at the master's table. There were to be five brethren and two sisters who should receive 7d. weekly from the master. (fn. 17)

From 1441 to the time of the dissolution there is little record of the history of the hospital except mentions in the registers of occasional visitation and the collation of a preceptor by the bishop.

The papal bull of 21 August, 1524, granting Wolsey the right to dissolve certain of the smaller religious houses, among which St. Wulstan's was included, seemed to threaten an early dissolution for the house. But Wolsey's fall from power and sudden death brought respite for a few years. On 27 June, 1534, the master and inmates of the hospital were among those who rejected the papal authority, (fn. 18) and in August of the same year made their formal subscription to the royal supremacy. (fn. 19) From 1534 to 1539 the fate of the religious houses was in the balance, and that of St. Wulstan's among them. In 1539 Master John Bell, a man after the king's own heart, was promoted to the bishopric of Worcester, and the hospital handed over to Richard Morison, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, obviously for the purpose of surrender. (fn. 20) On 20 May, 1540, the final surrender of the preceptory was made, (fn. 21) evidently under peculiar conditions. The house and site of the preceptory with the church steeple and churchyard, the manor of Chadwick, the appropriate rectories of Claines and Crowle, and the chapel of St. Godwald, (fn. 22) were granted to Richard Morison, (fn. 23) who in the same year wrote to Anthony Denny of the Privy Chamber, saying Mr. Chancellor had promised to be very good to him in his petition that the surrender of the house might not be reversed, 'but that I may be bound for ever, as these men shall die, to take new and to be as much charged as I was, the house being in the former estate.' (fn. 24) It would almost seem from this that the charitable work of the dissolved hospital was to continue, since 'these men' were presumably sick in the infirmary. In fact there seems to have been some idea of refounding the house, since Morison begged that 'the surrender might not be reversed,' and later in his letter complained that it would be 'a great shame to him to be compelled to buy all the household and chapel stuff again which is now sold.' (fn. 25) Evidently the idea fell through, for in 1544 Richard Morison made an exchange with the king of the hospital and its lands, which in 1545 became part of the endowment of Christ Church, Oxford, (fn. 26) as had been Wolsey's purpose in 1524.

Preceptors of the Hospital of St. Wulstan

Walter de Wredens occurs 1260-70, (fn. 27) died 1298. (fn. 28)

Peter de Morton occurs 1304 (fn. 29) and 1312. (fn. 30)

Thomas Bromley collated 1313. (fn. 31)

Peter Franceys collated 1341, (fn. 32) occurs 1349. (fn. 33)

David Maynard resigned 1361. (fn. 34)

Robert de Dycleston, or Dycheston, occurs 1361, (fn. 35) resigned 1364. (fn. 36)

Martin Trovel collated 1364. (fn. 37)

Lawrence Foyer of Schryvenham occurs 1369. (fn. 38)

William Rome resigned 1374. (fn. 39)

William Alewy collated 1374. (fn. 40)

William Moore, alias Dylewe, occurs 1386 (fn. 41) -1404. (fn. 42)

Richard Grafton collated 1421. (fn. 43)

Walter London collated 1424, (fn. 44) occurs 1433. (fn. 45)

John Stokes collated 1441, (fn. 46) died 1466. (fn. 47)

Edmund Hecker collated 1466. (fn. 48)

William Vance, or Valence, collated 1467, (fn. 49) died 1479. (fn. 50)

Thomas Alcock collated 1479, (fn. 51) resigned 1484. (fn. 52)

John Burton collated 1484, (fn. 53) resigned 1503. (fn. 54)

Thomas Alcock collated 1503. (fn. 55)

John Bell occurs 1534, (fn. 56) resigned 1539.

Richard Morison collated 1539, surrendered 1540. (fn. 57)

The common seal of the hospital of St. Wulstan represents a standing figure of St. Wulstan mitred and holding a pastoral staff in the left hand, while the right is raised in benediction.



Although the foundation of the hospital is usually ascribed to St. Oswald himself, there is no charter or evidence existing to prove the truth of the statement. (fn. 59) Leland sums up the history of the house by saying that it was 'first erected for monks then infected with leprosy,' then changed into a hospital, and 'there was a master, fellows, and poor folks; but of later tymes it was turned into a free chapel, and beareth the name of Oswald as a thing dedicated of old tyme unto him.' This outline is probably true, but the detail of the history is difficult to fill in with the scant evidence that survives, especially of the early existence of the hospital. The first mention of the house comes when it had already become a hospital, when in 1268 William de Beauchamp left 10s. for the infirm of the hospital of St. Oswald. (fn. 60) In 1291 came a gift by the will of Nicholas Mitton, this time to 'the brothers of St. Oswald.' (fn. 61) In 1296 William de Molendiniis, who was also a benefactor of St. Wulstan's hospital, died before he could finish the church he was building to St. Oswald, evidently in connexion with the hospital. (fn. 62)

Nothing is known of the early endowment of the hospital, but by 1291 it possessed half a virgate of land at Whittington (Worcester), which was not taxed since it was 'hardly sufficient for themselves.' (fn. 63) In 1310 a licence was granted to John Blanket to alienate in mortmain 10 acres in Northwyck (Northwich imprint is below) by Worcester to the hospital, (fn. 64) and in 1334 came a like grant of 100 acres in Wyke and Northwyck providing the hospital found two chaplains out of the brethren to celebrate divine service for the soul of the king and queen Philippa and various others. (fn. 65) By 1535 the revenues of the hospital amounted to £13 14s. 4d., (fn. 66) and included rents from the land in Whittington, from Claines, and from Smite, now Smite Hill, in the parish of Claines. (fn. 67) With the other small religious houses St. Oswald's was exempted from various taxations because its rents were 'poor and weak.' (fn. 68) In 1419, 1420, and 1421 the bishop granted licence to the quæstors of the hospital to collect alms for a year for the support of the same. (fn. 69) In 1468 the hospital was evidently in need of repairs, and since it could not pay expenses out of its own funds, indulgence was granted to all who assisted for one year in the repair and construction of the buildings. (fn. 70)

The evidence of the episcopal registers shows that at any rate in the fourteenth century there was much irregularity among the brethren of the hospital, and on two occasions after an inquiry into the state of the house the master was deposed. In 1321 Bishop Cobham ordered Thomas Bromley, master of St. Wulstan's, and the dean of Worcester to make inquiry as to the truth of the report that the brethren of St. Oswald led dissolute lives and wasted the goods of the hospital. (fn. 71) As a result the master, William de Claines, was deposed. (fn. 72) In 1394 Robert de la More, as commissary of the bishop, executed a commission from the same to 'punish and correct the crimes and excesses of the master and brethren of the house of St. Oswald,' and to appoint another master, absolving William Bysseley from the rule of the house. The latter made a public confession, and was found guilty and unfit to have the administration of the hospital. (fn. 73) He was thereupon removed, and David Burnard, a brother of the house, who had seemingly not taken part in the late 'crimes and excesses,' was instituted in his place. (fn. 74) In the election of Thomas Parker as master in 1454, further provision was made for the good rule of the house. The same 'swore that he would not alienate nor let to farm for more than eight years any meadows, lands, or rents of the hospital without licence of the ordinary,' and 'that he would guard the statutes given out for the hospital by the said ordinary.' (fn. 75)

An inquiry made by Bishop Brian in 1356 as to the right of patronage and the true state of the hospital gives valuable evidence as to its organization. The archdeacon of the diocese, at the bishop's request taking the evidence of the rectors and vicars of the deanery of Worcester, stated that the patronage of the house belonged to the sacristan of the Worcester priory; that the master and brethren, except one master, Robert Collesbourne (1311), always wore a habit distinct from the secular; that the said house was neither portionary nor pensionary, except that they owed 15lb. of wax yearly to the sacristan of Worcester. (fn. 76)

In 1539 Nicholas Udal, then master of the hospital, leased the same with the chapel, chapelyard, etc., to John Hereford. Thus the house was saved from the ordinary dissolution, although its revenue was alienated. The advowson of the chapel, with the 15 lb. of wax owed to the sacristan of the Worcester house, was granted in 1542 to the dean and chapter of Worcester, (fn. 77) who henceforth presented the masters, except in the year 1615, when James I. took the patronage into his own hands, when Mr. Coucher, who had bought the lands of the hospital, restored the rents to trustees for the following purposes: £12 a year to his son, £1 to the four poor people in the four almshouses. From this time the hospital, having lost its ecclesiastical aspect, has survived as a charitable institution, which exists at the present day practically on the lines of its reorganization in 1664 and 1753.

In 1665, in the bishop's account of the hospitals of the diocese, St. Oswald's was described as having an annual revenue of £98 9s. from lands lying in several parcels dispersedly in the county of Worcester, a certain parcel in the suburbs of the city of Worcester, the tenements on which had been burnt down during the late civil war. Moreover the master, Dr. John Fell, received an allowance in accordance with the Act of 1664, and the steward also. Eight poor men and two poor women were maintained, and received £8 a year according to the statute. The master, Dr. Fell, had at his own expense purchased a house 'for the habitation of the said poor persons, the old hospital being destroyed in late times of war,' and had settled it upon his successors for ever. The house, with its repairs and fencing with brick wall,' cost him £450. (fn. 78) The Act of 1664 had attempted to secure the property of the house, empowering the master to let the lands and tenements for a term of years not exceeding three lives, or one and twenty years, and the houses for forty years, reserving on the said grants or leases 'the best improved value that the said lands and houses shall be yearly worth for the respective yearly rents thereof.' In 1681 the revenues were augmented by Thomas Hayes, who erected six additional rooms to the hospital and settled £50 a year, arising from a farm called 'Charlstree' and a messuage in 'Stagbatch,' on the hospital. (fn. 79) About 1825 an inquiry was made into the management of the property, and information was filed against Dr. Jenkinson, the master, concerning the appropriation of the funds of the charity during his mastership. The vicechancellor decided that the leases had been made for merely nominal rents to the great detriment of the hospital, and were to be set aside on this ground. An article in the Worcester Journal for January, 1832, commented on this decision as being unjust in so far that it deprived the leaseholders without any compensation. (fn. 80) At the same time the revenues of the hospital were so far improved by the new leases that they reached almost £20,000 instead of £450. The hospital was rebuilt in 1873, and at the present day it consists of 37 houses for 20 men and 17 women, who receive 8s. a week with coals and clothing.

Masters of the Hospital of St. Oswald

Robert de Collesbourne 1311. (fn. 81)

William de Claines collated 1321. (fn. 82)

William de Shrewsbury, (fn. 83) or de Salop, (fn. 84) admitted 1349.

Richard Baker resigned 1355. (fn. 85)

John Barthelot collated 1355. (fn. 86)

William Byssley collated 1361, (fn. 87) deposed 1394. (fn. 88)

David Burnard collated 1395. (fn. 89)

Henry or Hugh Clifton collated 1396. (fn. 90)

John Freude died 1429. (fn. 91)

John Balle collated 1429. (fn. 92)

Thomas Parker collated 1454, (fn. 93) resigned 1454. (fn. 94)

Thomas Symonds collated 1454. (fn. 95)

Thomas Hawkins resigned 1470. (fn. 96)

William Fautell collated 1470, (fn. 97) resigned 1480. (fn. 98)

John Meyre collated 1480, (fn. 99) resigned 1506. (fn. 100)

John Hale collated 1506. (fn. 101)

Thomas Parker died 1538. (fn. 102)

Nicholas Udal collated 1538. (fn. 103)


  • 1. There seems to be no better explanation of this title than that given by Nash, that the title of Preceptor or Commander was assumed in the time of Edward I. by Walter a master, who had served in the Holy wars (Nash, Worc. ii. 329).
  • 2. Leland, Itinerarium, iv. 104.
  • 3. Worc. Epis. Reg. Bourchier, fol. 74. Of the early brethren nothing is known except that in 1221 a pugilist who had been blinded in a fight, having been miraculously cured by St. Wulstan's relics, was converted, and became a brother of the hospital. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iv. 413, 414.
  • 4. Cotton MS. Caligula, A x. fol. 190.
  • 5. Worc. Epis. Reg. Cobham, f. 134d.
  • 6. Dean and Chap. Reg. 2 Worc. f. 50.
  • 7. Bod. Lib. Worc. Chart., nos. 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 18, 27, 38, 42, 44, 46, 57, 64, 69, 71, 99. See 'Topography.'
  • 8. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 228-9.
  • 9. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 78.
  • 10. Pope Nich Tax. (Rec. Com.), 231, 239.
  • 11. Worc. Epis. Reg. Reynolds, fol. 93d.
  • 12. Ibid. Clifford, fol. 70d.
  • 13. Ibid. Wittesleye, fol. 30d.
  • 14. Liber Albus, Worc. ff. 53, 54.
  • 15. Worc. Epis. Reg. Cobham. f. 72.
  • 16. Bod. Lib. Worc. Chart. Nos. 80, 82, 83, 85, 87, 92, 93, 94.
  • 17. Worc. Epis. Reg. Bourchier, ff. 72 and 72d.
  • 18. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 329.
  • 19. Ibid. 442. The list of names is as follows:— John Bell, preceptor; Nicholas Bushby, Christopher Morley, chaplains; Thomas Lake, Gilbert Harling, Lawrence Pockenson, John Smith, Richard Brasier, brethren; Alice Newry, Amy Mors, sisters.
  • 20. The same Richard Morison was already made master of the hospital of St. James, Northallerton, Yorks, and surrendered it 19 May, 1540. (L. and P. Hen. VIII. xv. 233.)
  • 21. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xv. 324.
  • 22. St. Godwald seems to have been a saint of local repute or perhaps of foreign origin, but nothing definite is known about him. There was a chapel dedicated to him in Stoke Prior.
  • 23. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xv. 409.
  • 24. Ibid. xv. 338.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Harl. MS. 4316, f. 56d.
  • 27. Bod. Lib. Worc. Chart. No. 8.
  • 28. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iv. 536.
  • 29. Liber Albus, Worc. f. 22.
  • 30. Ibid. ff. 53, 54.
  • 31. Worc. Epis. Reg. Reynolds, fol. 95.
  • 32. Ibid. Wulstan de Bransford, i. fol. 48d.
  • 33. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 225, 232, where he is called warden of the hospital.
  • 34. Tanner, Notitia. Preface xlix.
  • 35. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 204.
  • 36. Ibid. 217.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. Bod. Lib. Worc. Chart. No. 72.
  • 39. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 289.
  • 40. Ibid. William Rome, on his resignation, was made rector of La Holte in place of William Alewy (Ibid. 288).
  • 41. Bod. Lib. Worc. Chart. No. 76.
  • 42. Ibid. No. 97.
  • 43. Worc. Epis. Reg. Morgan, ii. fol. 5d.
  • 44. Ibid. fol. 29.
  • 45. Bod. Lib. Worc. Chart. No. 100.
  • 46. Worc. Epis. Reg. Bourchier, fol. 71.
  • 47. Ibid. Carpenter, i. fol. 209.
  • 48. Ibid.
  • 49. Ibid. fol. 215. He was the bishop's chancellor.
  • 50. Ibid. Alcock, fol. 56d.
  • 51. Ibid.
  • 52. Ibid. fol. 123d.
  • 53. Ibid.
  • 54. Ibid. Silvester Gigliis, fol. 33d.
  • 55. Ibid.
  • 56. L. and P. Hen. VIII. vii. 329.
  • 57. Ibid. xv. 324.
  • 58. B. M. Seals, DC., G3. A fifteenth-century seal represents the saint as described above, while below him, under a pointed arch, an ecclesiastic threequarters length is represented in prayer: SIGILLUM · COMMUNE · HOSPITALIS · SANCTI · WULSTANI · WIGORN. (B. M. Seals, lviii. 92).
  • 59. Dugdale (VII. 779), Tanner (Notitia, 625), and Nash (i. 224) quote a certain manuscript—Davies MS. Stow—as giving the foundation by St. Oswald, and as founded for a chaplain, master, and four brethren. The manuscript quoted is not in the British Museum, and is not easy to discover.
  • 60. Worc. Epis. Reg. Giffard (Worc. Hist. Soc.), p. 8.
  • 61. Ibid. 388.
  • 62. Ann. Mon. (Rolls Ser.), iv. 528.
  • 63. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.), 231.
  • 64. Cal. of Pat. 1307-13, 289.
  • 65. Ibid. 1330-4,283.
  • 66. In a MS. Sancroft, cited by Tanner, Notitia, xxi. 3, it is stated at £14 14s. 4d., and upon a new valuation 4 Edw. VI. at £15 18s.
  • 67. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 229.
  • 68. Worc. Epis. Reg. Reynolds, fol. 93d. Clifford, fol. 70d.
  • 69. Ibid. Morgan, ff. 3, 4, 19.
  • 70. Ibid. Carpenter, fol. 22.
  • 71. Worc. Epis. Reg. Cobham, fol. 72: 'Sinistra plurima referentur, fratribus ipsius bona dilapidantibus et vitam ducentibus inhonestam.'
  • 72. Ibid.
  • 73. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 360.
  • 74. Ibid. 361.
  • 75. Worc. Epis. Reg. Carpenter, fol. 115d.
  • 76. Ibid. Brian, fol. 18.
  • 77. L. and P. Hen. VIII. xviii. 31.
  • 78. MS. Tenisoniane (Lamb. Lib.), vol. 639, f. 433.
  • 79. Worc. Journal, 20 January, 1831. Cutting in Prattinton Coll. (Soc. Antiq.).
  • 80. Prattinton Coll. (Soc. Antiq.). Cutting from the Worc. Journal for 20 January, 1832.
  • 81. Worc. Epis. Reg. Reynolds, fol. 41.
  • 82. Ibid. Cobham, fol. 28d.
  • 83. Nash, Worc. i. 225.
  • 84. Tanner, Notitia. Preface xlix.
  • 85. Worc. Epis. Reg. Brian, fol. 16.
  • 86. Ibid.
  • 87. Sede Vac. Reg. (Worc. Hist. Soc.), 203.
  • 88. Ibid. 360.
  • 89. Ibid. 361.
  • 90. Worc. Epis. Reg. Winchcomb, fol. 12d.
  • 91. Ibid. Polton, fol. 82.
  • 92. Ibid.
  • 93. Ibid. Carpenter, i. fol. 115d.
  • 94. Ibid. fol. 123d.
  • 95. Ibid.
  • 96. Ibid. ii. fol. 14.
  • 97. Ibid.
  • 98. Ibid. Alcock, fol. 67.
  • 99. Ibid.
  • 100. Ibid. Silvester de Gigliis, fol. 49.
  • 101. Ibid.
  • 102. Tanner, Notitia. Preface xlix.
  • 103. Ibid.