Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Story of Sheffield's Oldest Known Hospital: St Leonard's on Spital Hill

Foundation Charter of St Leonard's Hospital,
Sheffield, c.1150-1181

We often get asked what the oldest document is at Sheffield City Archives.  A number of documents survive from the late 12th century, but we believe the oldest of these is a small parchment document which records the Foundation Charter of St. Leonard’s Hospital [at Spital Hill] near an existing bridge over the River Don.  The document dates from c.1150-1181.  Little is known about the hospital other than it was in decay by the 1580s.  The land was gifted by William de Lovetot to the sick folk of Sheffield.  He acquired the land from Roger the Robemaker.  In addition to the hospital, William de Lovetot also built the first Parish Church on the site of the present day cathedral around 1101 along with Sheffield's motte and bailey castle.

The Foundation Charter of St Leonard’s Hospital is written in Latin (the official language of many documents written in England before 1733):

Sciant tam presentes quam futuri quod ego Willelmus de Luuet dedi et concessi et hac presenti carta confirmaui in puram et perpetuam elemosinam pro anima mea et animabus patris et matris mee et antecessorum meorum infirmis de Sefeldia terram quom Rogerus Parminter tenuit juxta pontem Done et etiam victum illorum in molendino de Sefeldia.

Translated this reads:

William de Lovetot grants in pure and perpetual alms for the good of his own soul and the souls of his father and mother and of all his ancestors, to the sick folk of Sheffield a piece of land near the bridge of the Don formerly held by Roger the Robemaker together with their rations from the mill at Sheffield.

Foundation Charter of St Leonard's Hospital
at Sheffield City Archives
The gift of a corrody [allowance of flour] shows that by this time the Lovetots had established a mill at Sheffield and it further appears from the charter that the inhabitants of the town had built a bridge over the River Don.

The document is safely housed at Sheffield City Archives, but many years prior to this it was in the custody of John Harting, the Duke of Norfolk’s auditor which is probably when Sheffield antiquarian, Joseph Hunter, got chance to examine it.  He speaks in detail about the document in his book Hallamshire: the History and Topography of the Parish of Sheffield in the County of York’(1819):

‘…the town seems in the time of the De Lovetots to have possessed everything essential to the comfortable residence of a considerable population - a church, a corn-mill, an hospital, a bridge where one was most wanted, to which may be added the protection which the castle of the lord afforded…’ 

In addition, it is probable there was already a market in Sheffield too although it was not until 1296 that a charter to hold markets and fairs in Sheffield was granted by Edward I to Thomas de Furnival, Lord of the Manor.

Window in Sheffield Cathedral
showing William De Lovetot
building the Norman church
in around 1101
Joseph Hunter describes the extent of town as it would have been during the 1100s from the position of the newly-built parish church:

‘The site chosen for such an edifice would be close to the town, but not actually within it.  A few straggling huts and smithies forming an irregular street extending from the castle and bridge to the church-gate, with a few houses lying towards the town-mill, and perhaps a branch stretching in a south-west direction, forming what is now called the Far-gate in respect of its distance from the castle, seem to have formed the whole town of Sheffield.  The parsonage house would then be a country residence, commanding a beautiful view of woody hills to the north of the town, and separated from other buildings by the extent of a spacious churchyard.’

Sheffield owed much, therefore, to the De Lovetots including the important establishment of a hospital for the sick.  The hospital appears to have continued to offer support to the poor of Sheffield until the time of Henry VIII when many institutions were swept away.  A visitor to Sheffield in August 1620 noted ‘There hath been a spittle there on this side of the bridge’ indicating it was long gone by this time.

The ancient hospital (or spittle according to the English abbreviation) still continues to give its name to the hill upon which it once stood: Spital Hill.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments (subject to moderation).