21 July, 2024

Leper Hospital


On the area known as Spitl Hill Plantation about half a mile on the Malton side of Broughton was situated one of the leper hospitals of the area, the other being on the small island on the Derwent between Malton and Norton.

The Gilbertine Monks and nuns of Old Malton Priory by Eustace Fitz-John, the Prior of Malton, founded it. The Priory was founded in 1150 and the hospital in 1154.

According to the map of 1854 the site of the hospital was just outside the plantation which is now a arable field and the field name of Chapel Garth and Old Malton Fields have since disappeared from modern maps. Very little is known of the hospital. It was here after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1618 or 1619 when it housed 2 men and 3 women who were probably not leper sufferers. This gives it a life of about 450 years which means it was probably made out of stone of which there is little trace.

According to the ENGLISH HOSPITAL by Orme and Webster leper hospitals were not only used by the sick but by the healthy to “share in the often generous endowments which founders provided for inmates”.

It goes into some detail telling us that because of the nature of the disease the leper had a strict regime in which to follow. It was such a problem in the 12th century that there were several exclusion rules described in an English prayer book known as the MANUAL.

There was even a ritual that a leper had to go through before he could become a fully fledged leper. The leper kneels beneath a black cloth stretched across trestles after the manner of a dead man. The priest says various prayers and the leper is led to the house where he is to live still covered by the cloth. The leper is excluded from normal life, church services and burials within a churchyard.

On the positive side he is given words of comfort and his suffering is represented as making him like Christ and given hope of salvation.

The priest delivers him 10 commandments, which require him to shun society, which demonstrates the fear of CONTAGION He is to wear distinctive dress, boots and gloves and to carry clappers.

LEPROSY or HANSENS DISEASE reached Britain by 4th century not from the Holy wars as was thought being brought in by Crusaders. There was an 11th century epidemic, which scoured Europe and China.

Leprosy was believed top make the sufferer lustful, e.g. characteristics of a beast. It was thought to be spread by touch, breath by the stare of a leper and by the use of running water. He also had no right of inheritance or could plead in court.

The disease attacks the nerves, especially of the hands, feet and face, the skin, and the mucosa of the eyes and breathing tubes. If untreated it destroys the ability to move the limbs and to feel pain. This leads to injuries and burns, with gradual destruction or “eating away” of the hands, legs and face.

The word leper could come from the saint Lazarus who was guardian of lepers and the hospitals were known as Lazar Houses. St Lazarus was the Saint for lepers as were the sisters Mary and Martha. This was abbreviated into St Mary Magdalene, who was St Mary of Bethany the most popular of leper patrons.

They were not really regarded as hospitals as there was no cure for the disease but mainly to segregate. By the late 16th century the disease was dying out. It was not until 1940 it was curable.

Glenn Stott