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HOSPITALS FOR WAYFARERS AND THE SICK
for the maintenance of poor pilgrims and other infirm persons
resorting thither to remain until they are healed of their infirmities.”
First Period (circa 925 – 1170)
Travellers were exposed to peril by the rudeness of the times, but in those early days hospitality was regarded as a solemn obligations. To receive any stranger was a
duty : to
welcome the passing pilgrim
was a sacred privilege. Although the
private entertainment of guests was widely practised, some public
required. Tradition tells of at least
two “hospitals” or hospices founded in the tenth century (925 – 940). Both were in
Two other early houses of charity are ascribed to the Saxon bishops Oswald and Wulstan of Worcester. In the eleventh century at least we emerge from tradition, for it seems clear that St. Wulstan founded that hospital near his cathedral city which afterwards bore his name. It will be remembered that bishops were especially bound by their vows at consecration to be given to hospitality. In pre-Norman days, the solemn question was in substance what is asked to-day : “Wilt though shew mercy and kindness, for the name of the Lord, to the poor, the stranger, and all in want?” (pauperibus et peregrines omnibusque indigentibus). To this the elected bishop re-
plied, “I will.” This formula occurs in the Exeter Pontifical, compiled about nine hundred years ago, and is repeated in Osmund’s Sarum Use.
There were, of
among those who sojourned in early hostels.
Englishmen have always loved travel.
Not only did our Saxon forefathers journey to
About the year
(epilepsy), paralysis, dropsy, fevers, insanity, found relief ; deaf and dumb were healed ; a child born blind received sight from “the heuenly leche.”
Canterbury, about 1141, invited help for “the hospital house of
Second Period (circa 1170 – 1270)
The year 1170
marks and epoch,
ushering in the great pilgrimage within and towards
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for “until they
die or depart healed.”
was a guest-house
and infirmary in one. That on (sic) the
“If anyone in infirm health and destitute of friends should seek admission for a term, until he shall recover, let him be gladly received and assigned a bed . . . . In regard to the poor people who are received late at night, and go forth early in the morning, let the warden take care that their feet are washed, and, as far as possible, their necessities attended to.”
There is a MS.
at which work
she was always busy
“And I suppose for my
which the pious
Englishman visited may be mentioned Bury St. Edmunds,
Third Period (1270 – 1470)
and Vagrancy.—The greatest century of pilgrimage was past, but
an ever-increasing problem, and in as much as it affected the social
In the Statute
drawn up in 1350, an attempt had been made to restrain desultory
idleness, mendicancy and indiscriminate almsgiving.
This was followed by many ordinances, local
and general. By a proclamation in 1359
the municipal authorities of
and persons oppressed with old age and divers other maladies.” In 1369 they issued a precept “for mendicants, vagrants and pilgrims to leave the city.” The Statutes of Westminster (1383) ordered inquiry concerning vagabonds “wandering from place to place, running in the country more abundantly than they were wont in times past.” The Act of 1388 declared that those who “go in pilgrimage as beggars” when fit for employment, should be dealt with according to the previous Statute. It will be observed that these measures were formed from an economic standpoint, not to check pilgrimage as such.
declining, there were still many pilgrims.
Some of these were professional palmers, and hirelings
by proxy ; for there are numerous bequests in the fourteenth century to
undertaking journeys on the testator’s behalf to
for temporary relief.—Existing houses of hospitality were kept up,
growing tendency to discriminate amongst applicants may be noticed. In many cases more beds were reserved for
chronic invalids than for casual comers.
building periods was
over, as far as this particular kind of temporary provision is
one or two new foundations must be mentioned.
form of temporary
relief came to the front about this them.
The assistance of women in childbirth was named in the
Statute of 1414 as part of the recognized aim and scope of the hospital
charity. The heading to this chapter
alludes to the
work undertaken at
It is recorded
that the two
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took this work
; in both
institutions the touching provision was made that if the mother died,
would be brought up there until the age of seven. 6 In the year 1437
privileges were granted to the latter hospital “in consideration of
charges in receiving the poor, feeble and infirm, keeping women in
until their purification, and sometimes feeding their infants until
weaned.” William Gregory, a citizen of
“Hyt ys a place of grete comforte to pore men as for hyr loggyng, and yn specyalle unto yong wymmen that have mysse done that ben whythe chylde. There they ben delyueryde, and unto the tyme of puryfycacyon they have mete and drynke of the placys coste, and fulle honestly gydyd and kepte.”
hospitals for the sick
were thus in process of development.
Fourth Period (circa 1470 – 1547)
(a) It is
evident that pilgrimage
was no longer an important factor in the social life of the country. The daily resort to shrines had practically
ceased, but the special anniversaries were kept. Such
pious travellers as there were, lodged chiefly
in inns. At
Vagrancy still constituted an increasingly grave problem. By “An Acte against vacabounds and beggers,” in 1495 (re-enacted 1503), previous legislation was amended and “every vagabound heremyte or pilgryme,” partially exempt hitherto, was henceforth compelled to fare like wandering soldier, shipman or university clerk. In a letter from Henry VIII to the Mayor of Grimsby it is observed that the relief of the impotent is much diminished by the importunate begging of the sturdy and idle, and it is required that measures be taken “that the weedes over growe not the corne.”8 [an interesting reference to the New Testament parable of the weeds and the grain, Matt 13:24-30, where Satan sows weeds (vagabonds) among God’s good grain (the infirm).] The Statutes became increasingly stern, and able-bodied beggars were scourged with the lash from town to town bythe Act of 1530-1. But “the greatest severities hitherto enacted were mild in comparison with the severe provisions of the enactment: of the first year of Edward VI (1547). If the young king’s father had literally chastised beggars with whips, his own counselors desired that they should be chastised with scor-
pions. They might be reduced to the condition of slaves : their owners might put a ring round their necks or limbs, and force them to work by beating and chains, whilst a runaway could be branded on the face with a hot iron. 9 This brutal law was repealed two yeas later.
(b) Where towns
were few and far
between, the need of shelter for strangers was especially felt. Extensive works of hospitality were done by
houses, particularly in the northern counties.
That fresh provision, although on a small scale, was still
shelter, indicates its necessity. When
an almshouse was built at Northallerton (1476), accommodation was made
for thirteen pensioners, but for two destitute and distressed
should stay a night and no longer. A
hostel solely for temporary shelter was founded at
At seaports and
in places of
thoroughfare, shelter was still provided for travellers.
God’s House, Southampton, expended 28
annually upon “daily hospitality to wayfarers and strangers from beyond
sea,” and similar charity was provided at
buildings included the
chambre of harber for strange wemen, the gentilmen chambre and the long
chambre” (1489). The town authorities
ordered “that no persons do harbour beggars, who are to resort to
The existing provision for temporary relief was in fact wholly inadequate. In the metropolis, for example, there was a crying need. It was stated by Henry VII (sic) [This should read Henry VIII] in 1509 that :—
“There be fewe at such commune Hosptialls within
Reame, and that for lack of them, infinite nombre of pouer nedie people
miserably dailly die, no man putting hande of helpe or remedie.”
recognizing the need,
planned to convert the old
The problems arising from true poverty and false mendicancy were, of course intimately connected with hospital life. A graphic picture of the difficulties which beset administrators of charity about the year 1536, is given by Robert Copeland in The hye way to the Spytell hous. The author states that one wintry day, he took refuge from the snow-storm in the porch of a hospital, probably St. Bartholomew’s. Here he got deep into conversation with the porter of the house. While they talked, there gathered at the gate people of very poor estate—lame, blind, bare-
foot—and Copland, who does not despise the honest poor, only those who live in need and idleness, inquires whether they admit all who ask for lodging. The porter at first answers, “forsooth, yes,” and Copland goes on to protest against indiscriminate hospitality. :—
think that therin ye do no ryght
replies that the house
is no supporter of sham beggars. There
are some who counterfeit leprosy, and others who put soap in their
make it foam, and fall down as if they had “Saynt Cornelys euyll.” He goes on the describe those who hang about
the day and sleep at the night at St Bartholomew’s church
spendthrifts, swearers and blasphemers, those who wear soldiers’
are vagabonds, and men who pretend to have been shipwrecked. Many of these live by open beggary, with bag,
dish and staff :—
“And euer haunteth
among such ryf
The porter intimates that an effort is made to discriminate among the daily harboured, but he confesses that they are obliged to receive many unsatisfactory men, and disreputable women so numerous that they are weary of them ; but they refuse stubborn knaves who are not ill, for they would have over many. Indeed, the aim of the hospital is to relieve those who cannot work and are friendless—the sick, aged, bedridden, diseased, wayfaring men, maimed soldiers, and honest folk fallen into poverty. (See p. xxiv.)
It is clear,
however, that during
the sixteenth century there was much genuine distress besides unthrifty
and sham sickness. From various economic
causes there was a considerable increase of destitution.
Legislation entirely failed to solve the
problem of an ever-shifting population.
The Statute of 1530-1 had recognized the value of
by its clause :—“provided also, that it be lawful to all masters and
of hospitals, to lodge and harbour any person or persons of charity and
alms.” Although hospitals had been abused,
neglect of the sick and homeless which their reduction involved was a
evil. One writer after another breaks
out into descriptions of the increased poverty and pain.
Brinklow, in The Lamentacyon of a Christian
agaynst the Cytye of
being one of the flowers of the
worlde, as touchinge worldlye riches, hath so manye, yea innumerable of
people forced to go from dore to dore, and to syt openly in the streets
beggynge, and many . . . lye in their howses in most greuous paynes,
for lacke of aide of the riche. I thinke
in my judgement, under heaven is not so lytle prouision made for the
pore as in
Again, referring to the old order and the new, A Supplication of the Poore Commons (1546) speaks of poor impotent creatures as “now in more penurye than euer they were.” Once they had scraps, now they have nothing. “Then had they hospitals, and almshouses to be lodged in, but nowe they lye and storue in the stretes. Then was their number great, but nowe much greater.”
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-end chapter one-
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