St John's Hospital

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St John's Hospital is on the Millennium festival trail.
The Northgate, the Bridge of Sighs and the "Long Cottage".

The hospital 'for the sustentation of poor and silly persons' which stood outside the North Gate of Chester was probably founded by Ranulf de Blondeville, Earl of Chester, in the early 1190s. He gave the site in free alms and free of all services except the reception and care of the poor and ordered that the brothers of the hospital who travelled through Cheshire preaching and collecting alms should be honourably treated. The earl's grant was made to the Virgin and All Saints but within a few years the hospital had acquired its dedication to St. John the Baptist (Sigillum Hospitalis Sancti Iohannus Baptiste Cestrie) and was usually known as the "Hospital of St. John without the North Gate"

Seacome describes it as follows:

  • Before the gate and on the left hand of Further Northgate street stands the Blue Coat Hospital which was founded by subscription in 1700 at the instigation of Bishop Stratford uncle to the Commissary the greater part of the present structure was built in 1717 partly at the expense of the Corporation and partly by benefactions. Twenty eight boys are boarded clothed and educated from the age of 12 to 14 after which they are put out apprentices There are also sixty four probationary day scholars called Green Caps out of whom the vacancies in the Blue Coat Boys are filled up. The system of education adopted in this establishment has those of Bell and Lancaster for its basis The funds are derived partly from lands partly from funded property and partly from subscriptions The present master is Mr S Venables who has a salary of 70 per annum with a house and an allowance for coals candles soap 81c 81c The chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist called Little St John's is within this building it was formerly an hospital or sanctuary and endowed with great privileges The mastership was granted in the ninth year of Edward II to the prior of Birkenhead It is extra parochial and a perpetual curacy is in the gift of the corporation. The Rev William Clarke is the present curate. In the time of King Henry VIII it consisted of a Chaplain and six poor brethren and had lands and profits to the amount of twenty eight pounds ten shillings and four pence. There are now in the Chapel yard six alms houses for widows who are each allowed one shilling and two pence weekly besides a load of coals annually and other small donations The footbridge at the South side still remains over which the prisoners at the Northgate formerly passed to attend divine worship.

Batenham describes it as follows:

  • On the west side of the street is the liberal institution of the Blue coat School which was founded in the year 1700 by the corporation and private benefactors. The funds at present support 25 boys who are boarded clothed and educated besides 65 day scholars who succeed to the vacancies of the former. The south wing is as before stated a chapel dedicated to St John which is extra parochial service is performed in it every Sunday morning and it contains a good organ. Part of the north wing is appropriated to the instruction of 120 poor girls This excellent institution was established in 1816 and is under the direction of a committee of ladies. In the yard at the back of the school are six Alms Houses for poor women who have likewise a small pension. Perhaps there is not another place to be found which combines so much christian philanthropy a this little spot Within this we find a chapel two schools for both sexes and a comfortable asylum for age inflrmity and indigence

The Alms Houses

Besides granting the site of the hospital and taking it under his special protection Ranulf de Blondeville agreed to maintain three beds for the poor and infirm at the rate of 1d. a day in alms for each pauper; these alms of £4 11s. a year were continued by the Crown after 1237 and were still paid in the 16th century. By the early 14th century the hospital had endowments worth £31 4s. 10d. a year. Several early grants of land, including some in Lancashire, were made by those who were among the witnesses of Ranulf de Blondeville's charter or by members of their families or other friends or officials of the earl. Members of the leading families of Chester in the 13th century also made gifts to the hospital, notably Ralph Saracen who gave a salt-house in Nantwich and land in Allerton (Lancs.) which he held of Cockersand Abbey. In addition, the hospital had acquired by 1316 property in Chester worth £13 13s. 10d. a year in rents. Much of the property outside Chester was alienated in return for small rent charges, doubtless for reasons of convenience; an inquiry in 1316 found that the improvident policy had been carried out by successive priors in the later 13th century. In 1311 the master, William de Bache, was said to have so impoverished the hospital as to impair its work of mercy and hospitality and was removed from office. A succession of inquisitions held between 1311 and 1341 reveals that the constitution of the hospital had undergone a transformation similar to that of other hospitals at the period and it was controlled by a master rather than a prior and chapter of brethren. Three chaplains celebrated there daily: two in the church and one in the hospital before the feeble and infirm inmates. The hospital was to take in as many poor and sick as possible but thirteen beds were to be kept ready for the poor and feeble of the city; each inmate was to receive daily a loaf of bread, a dish of pottage, half a gallon of ale, and a piece of meat or fish.

In February 1644 the buildings of the hospital and chapel and the surrounding wall were demolished so as not to provide cover to the Parliamentary forces besieging the city. No trace is left of the original hospital church or other buildings and nothing is known of their appearance. After the Restoration the hospital was given to Roger Whitley as a reward for his royalist support.

The City Charter of 1685 gave the reversion of the hospital wardenship to the Corporation, which came into possession in 1703 and applied the surplus revenues to maintain Sir Thomas Smith's almshouses, the house of correction, and Northgate gaol. The 1685 charter was obtained through Sir Thomas Grosvenor (see: Grosvenors). It largely confirmed the city's constitution, also empowering the mayor to appoint a deputy, but with a clause, normal at the time, allowing the Crown to remove civic office-holders. The charter disfranchised eight men (all opponents of the Grosvenors), including Recorder Williams and Aldermen Street, Mainwaring, and Roger Whitley, and made Sir Thomas Grosvenor mayor and Sir Edward Lutwyche, a newcomer, recorder; it also named the sheriffs, the clerk of the Pentice, and 22 aldermen, of whom six were new to the Assembly, and made changes among the Forty. In 1688 the government removed the entire Assembly and obliged the city to petition for a new charter, which named the corporation and principal officers, reserved the Crown's right to dismiss individuals, dispensed all members from the prescribed oaths, and restricted the franchise to the corporation. Of the 24 aldermen named in addition to the mayor and recorder only 11 had already served as aldermen and four as sheriffs. Grosvenor and William Stanley, earl of Derby, were among those displaced. Members removed in the purge of 1685 and restored in 1688 included Mainwaring, Roger Whitley, and Peter Edwards. The attempt to conciliate Whigs and those with nonconformist connexions was fruitless: the nominated corporation apparently never met, and in October 1688 the charters of 1685 and 1688 were annulled and the city resumed its earlier privileges.

Owen Jones as depicted in his portrait from Chester Town Hall (its in the Mayoress' Parlour) also had his charity plundered.

The Corporation rebuilt the hospital complex in 1715–17 with a rear courtyard which included six one-storeyed almshouses for women. The almswomen shared £30 a year under the will of Alderman Joseph Crewe, proved 1801. Mismanagement (see Owen Jones for further examples of this) greatly reduced the value of the hospital's rents; by 1836 they were worth £600 a year (approaching £50,000 in 2015 money), of which only £85 was spent on the almspeople, the rest being carried to the corporation's general account as it had been since c. 1762. An action at law to establish what estates belonged to the hospital and to vest them in the Municipal Charities Trustees was begun in 1838 but not completed until a Chancery Scheme, evidently of 1852, ordered the almshouses to be rebuilt to house 13 paupers who received 10s. a week each. As rebuilt in 1854 by Morris and Hobson for the Trustees of Hospital of St John Baptist, the almshouses each included a sitting room, bedroom, and scullery. A Charity Commission Scheme of 1892 assigned the substantial surplus to pay pensions to other townspeople. Under a Scheme of 1976 the hospital, still supporting 13 almshouses, was absorbed by the Chester Municipal Almshouse Charity, and the almshouses remain in use, the most recent having opened in April 2006.

The Statue

The statue is not original, although the original statue is at the Bishop's High School in Blacon. It represents one of the Bluecoat Boys - John Coppack. John Collins, a former headmaster of the Bluecoat school (1919-49) had the statue reinstalled in a niche in the entrance hall of the Bishops School. The statue had been at the Bluecoat school in the mid 19th Century. Collins told the Chester Chronicle:

  • 'that when some extensions were made to the school about 1850, a pupil at the school, John Coppack, went to London to pose for a new statue, which was duly placed in the niche outside the building'.

It is not known what happened to the statue after this date - but in the early 20th Century, Collins retrieved it from property of Mr. Haswell a stonemason in Parkgate Road. Collins had it installed in an alcove inside the bluecoat building for some years. When the statue was subsequently handed over to the Bishop's school, it was repainted by the Deputy Head.

Notable Alumni

Sources and Links