18 November, 2010

Hospitals and the Poor

I found this entry about the famous St Leonard's Hospital, York in the Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348 recently, and thought I'd post it here.  It's an inquisition taken in January 1324 by William Herle (justice of the court of Common Pleas) and Geoffrey le Scrope (chief justice of the King's Bench), and provides a fascinating insight into what hospitals of the era gave to the poor.  The original was written mostly in Latin, with some French thrown in and one word in English (husewyf).

"There used to be in the infirmary of the hospital of St Leonard, York, twelve score beds for men and women, but now there are only seven score and four.

The livery of each man and woman used to be six loaves a week viz. four of rye and two of wheat, and three and a half gallons of ale, and three days in the week meat, and two days cheese and butter, and two days herrings, except those who have livery of the chaplains, to whom belongs one more loaf in the week, and other companage, which alms have been withdrawn from St Katherine's Day four years ago, to Christmas last past by Master John Walewayn, that is to say from each man and woman two loaves in the week and for their companage they now only take a penny a week, and for their ale a penny a week.

The poor of the infirmary used to have six servants, but now they only have four; there used to be in the infirmary six oil lamps, and now there are only four, which service of servants and lamps has been withdrawn for two years by the said Master John.

There used to be a distribution of beans to the poor at the gate of the hospital every Monday from Whitsun to St Peter's Chair, which was withdrawn by Sir Walter de Langeton, master.

There used to be a distribution on St Leonard's Day of a loaf and a herring to every poor person, who chose to come, which has been withdrawn for four years by Master John Walewayn.

Alms of forty loaves which used to be given every day at the gate to the poor clerks, who sang at the mass of Our Lady, and other poor persons, have been withdrawn for four years by the said Master John.

The housewife [husewyf] of the orphanage used to take forty-seven loaves a week for the maintenance of the children, of which ten have been withdrawn for four years by the said Master John; and also one of two cows.

Each of the sisters, who wear the habit of the hospital, used to have every week seven loaves, half of white bread and half of whole corn as it comes with buckwheat, and seven gallons of ale, half of the best ale brewed for the brethren, and half of the ale brewed for the poor, and from the kitchen a good mess of meat double and an honest pittance as the brethren have and on every double feast, 24 in the year, two good messes; and for the whole company of sisters two weys of cheese a month; and each sister used to take eight shillings at the gules of August for her clothing; all these alms have been reduced by the said Master John; the possessions of the house are sufficient for the alms.

Examination of the cellarer and brethren of the hospital as to the alms and possessions thereof, containing similar information as to that embodied in the foregoing inquisition and mentioning that some of the property of the hospital was burned and destroyed by the Scots."

- And also, an inquisition taken at Ripon, Yorkshire, in April 1316, by Robert de Cliderhou (i.e. Clitheroe, Lancashire), escheator north of the Trent:

"In the hospital of St Mary Magdalene of Ripon the chantry of one of the two chaplains has been withdrawn by Nicholas de Molyns, warden; travellers, mendicant clerks, and other needy persons and wayfarers ought to have refuge for a night with supper and bed, but no such hospitality is now given; yearly on St Mary Magdalene's Day there ought to be distributed to each poor person coming there, a loaf of wheaten bread worth ½d, when wheat is worth five shillings and a quarter, and a herring, in place of which a saucer full of flour or beans is now given to some poor persons, but the greater part go away without a portion; none of the other works of charity incumbent upon such a hospital are performed owing to the absence of the warden, who seldom resides there."


Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating, indeed! Did the reduction in alms come about because of the destruction by the Scots, do you think, or was there some mismanagement going on?

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan, that second entry sounds to me suspiciously like mismanagement, though I think the first one was cost-cutting because of the destruction.

Carla said...

I was going to ask the same question as Susan. What was the context of the inquisition? Were they held regularly as a matter of routine, or only when something unusual needed to be investigated?

Gabriele Campbell said...

Loaves seem to have been almost a currency at the time.

I agree, the second case looks like it's the fault of the absent warden who obviously check in what dark channels those loaves and herrings have vanished. ;)

Gabriele Campbell said...

*obviously didn't check*

Those dark channels not only make herrings disappear but words as well. ;)

Anerje said...

Fascinating insight into the daily life of the poor. And of course, corruption.....

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, unfortunately I haven't been able to find the order for the inquisition to see why it was held - possibly because of the destruction, but I'm not sure.

Gabriele, LOL! :-))

Thanks, Anerje!