Monument record MCC2417 - Medieval building, St Mary Magdalen's Hospital, Colchester


12th century Leper Hospital, Magdalen Street, recorded during excavations in 1989 and 1995.


Grid reference TM 00589 24843 (point)
Map sheet TM02SW


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

A building thought to be part of the Medieval leper hospital of St Mary Magdalen. The building lay to the east of the original Hospital Chapel. Here, only a few threads of wall foundation were found to have survived the effects of intensive later grave digging, the buildings function is unknown, possibly a dormitory or the masters house. The site was excavated in 1989 and 1995.<1><5>

A fair was granted to St Mary Magdalen's Hospital in 1189 by Richard I, to be held on the vigil and feastdays of St Mary Magdalen, the 21st & 22nd July.<2> The Hospital is thought to have been founded in the early 12th century as a dwelling for lepers. When the hospital chapel was converted to a parish church in the 13th century the hospital seems to have been moved to the north, where a new chapel and a new hospital building were constructed. The hospital continued until at least 1650 when protestant extremist Henry Barrington was appointed its master.<3>

In spite of charters granting them a regular income from land-holdings and rights to hold an annual public fair, the hospital appears to never have been wealthy. Its fortunes were evidently dogged by a lengthy 14th century dispute over the non payment of tithes and land dues from its powerful neighbour, St John's Abbey. The 16th century suppression of the religious houses led to the seizure of the hospital's assets and by 1610 it was described as 'almost decayed and its chapel totally destroyed'. Curiously John Speed's map of Colchester of 1610 shows the parish church with a chapel standing to its north which appears to be very much intact.

In that year (1610), the hospital was refounded as an almshouse under the title of 'The College or Hospital of King James'. Like its medieval predecessor, the 17th century hospital consisted of a master / parish rector and five occupants, now defined as unmarried poor persons who were to reside there for life. The post-medieval institution maintained its charitable work until the late 20th century in the form of Brook Street Almshouses (terrace of five almshouses facing Brook Street with gardens to the front and rear), built in the 1832. These were (presumably) demolished in 1995, or shortly before, to allow the 1995 excavation (Site B) to take place.<4><5>

Sources/Archives (5)

  • <1> Serial: Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd.. 1991. The Colchester Archaeologist (Issue Number 4) 1990-1. No 4. pp.19-20.
  • <2> Monograph: Cooper, Janet (Ed). 1994. Vol. IX, The Borough of Colchester, A History of the County of Essex. Volume IX. p.27.
  • <3> Monograph: Cooper, Janet (Ed). 1994. Vol. IX, The Borough of Colchester, A History of the County of Essex. Volume IX. pp.327-328.
  • <4> Serial: Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd.. 1996. The Colchester Archaeologist (Issue Number 9) 1995-6. No 9. pp.8-11.
  • <5> Article in serial: Crossan, Carl. 2004. Excavations at St Mary Magdalen's Hospital, Brook Street, Colchester.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (7)

Record last edited

Oct 21 2016 9:37AM

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