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A Leper Hospital in St Albans

Posted on: 19th January 2015 By: Elizabeth Adey

The image above is from a 14th century manuscript and shows a bishop instructing clergy suffering from leprosy.  Medieval depictions of leprosy commonly showed the victim to have red spots. The manuscript is now held by the British Library.

Medieval England had over 300 leper hospitals and the oldest one in Hertfordshire was on the outskirts of St Albans on Watling Street, near the present day junction with Vesta Avenue. The Hospital of St Julian in St Albans was founded by Abbot Geoffrey around 1130 for men suffering from leprosy. It had its own brew house, bakery, granary and garden, as well as accommodation. The name is appropriate as St Julian, known as the patron saint of innkeepers and pilgrims, is reputed to have given up his own bed to a leper and to have established a hospital. 

In the 14th century discipline was slack and the numbers of residents had decreased. By 1344 it was decreed that there should be no less than six lepers, with the monks of St Albans having priority. Married men were only admitted if they adopted religious life. To abide by the rules, the lepers’ dress was regulated and they were obliged to go to chapel, returning straight to the hospital. Women were not allowed on the premises unless they were visiting relatives or washerwomen at work. 

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the hospital and grounds passed into private hands. John Ellis took over the site in 1649 and kept the name for his own house. This eventually became St Julian’s farm, which gave its name to St Julian’s estate. A tithe barn which stood on the land was moved to the Chiltern Open Air Museum in 1962 and remains in store.   

Detailed information about St Julian’s Hospital is available through the British History Online website. The book ‘Sopwell a History and Collection of Memories’ by Sandy Norman, published by the Sopwell Residents Association also has an interesting section on it. This is on sale at the Museum of St Albans in Hatfield Road.

Rob Smith - 21st January 2015

wow never heard this story before. It seems harsh to move sufferers to a confined area outside the town, but I suppose it was the only way to control infectious diseases


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