Consultant on the history of British buildings
Jean Manco is a building historian of uncertain age. She was probably born in the Elizabethan period and revived in the Victorian. She explains away periodic lapses into
Anglo-Saxon as 'folk-memories'.
She researches buildings for anyone who asks nicely, cheque-book in hand. Clients have come from a wide range of bodies: English Heritage, local government, archaeological
units, architectural and building firms, and non-profit organisations. Her studies are often published in scholarly format, but she also writes popular material for display or
magazines, which sometimes leads to chats on local radio.
She does the odd (sometimes very odd) lecture. Those at Plymouth University mean a delightful journey down the Great Western line from her home in Bristol, with the ocean in
various moods flashing past the window.
She was born on the other side of the country at Boston. So she claims a deprived childhood, with a
serious absense of hills and building stone, but the truth is that family connections took her regularly to the glorious Peak District. As an adult she lived in London, Manchester,
Brighton and Bath before settling in Bristol. Most of her professional work has been done in the West Country.
Along the way she has acquired skills in palaeography and medieval Latin, fabric analysis and deciphering settlement pattern. When it comes to buildings, she refuses to specialise. She
likes fine architecture of all periods and has written on everything from castles to cottages and Saxon to modern. Still she will confess to a particular predeliction for medieval hospitals.
Some of the detritus of her life can be found at Jean Manco: flotsam and jetsam.
Please note that of any type is not accepted anywhere on this website.
Enquiries are a waste of time.
Tel. 0117 3304772
Mobile: 07866 186413
Page created by Jean Manco. Last revised 27-02-2011
Matthew chapter 25 tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and take in the stranger.
Medieval hospitals did just that. They were charity in concrete form. While the modern hospital provides medical care, many medieval hospitals were founded simply for the
poor. They provided a home for those too handicapped or elderly to work - people who might otherwise have to beg in the streets if their families could not care for them. Other
hospitals took in the stranger. They were hostels for pilgrims and other wayfarers. The leperhouses had their own rationale - segregation of the leper.
What remains of these refuges? Many were swept away at the Reformation. Some live on in other guises. The great teaching Hospital of St Bartholomew in London scarcely looks like a relic of the Middle Ages, yet its
museum houses an archive going back to the twelfth century. Bart's is a rarity though in its evolution into a hospital in the modern sense. The medieval hospital was more akin to
an almshouse. The natural progression was to continue in that role, but modernising over the centuries, leaving little clue to what a medieval hospital looked like. Yet to the
delight of the historian, it is still possible to find a few of these houses of care that are little changed.
Moreover in the last decade there has been a spate of scholarly research and excavations which together have brought life in the British medieval hospital into sharper focus.
The major source of charity in the Middle Ages was the Church. Churchmen building hospitals had a model ready to hand, since monastic houses dispensed charity as a bounden
duty. They gave alms to the poor, often from a special almonry by the gate. They had guest houses for travellers and infirmaries for their own sick. What more natural than to
create hospitals along monastic lines? Most medieval hospitals were run by a community following a religious rule and headed by a prior or master.
The core elements were a chapel and an infirmary. The first infirmaries were open halls - like a hospital ward - with beds down either side. The chapel was central to the
whole medieval concept of charity. Charity is linked with faith and hope as a Christian virtue. Hospitals cared for the soul as much as the body. Where suffering is constant and
death close at hand, faith can be a powerful comfort.
Continue to A life apart: leper hospitals
This article first appeared in Medieval HistoryNovember 2003, with different images from those shown here.
See also Jean Manco, Medieval hospitals of Bath and Spirit of Care.
The eight-hundred-year story of St John's Hospital, Bath by Jean Manco
Can be ordered direct from St John's Hospital.
This lavishly-illustrated book takes a fresh look at an ancient institution. The Hospital of St John the Baptist in Bath is among the oldest almshouses in the country.
Founded in the twelfth century, it still provides a home for the elderly poor. This book explores its remarkable history.
The 'hospital of the baths' was a product of the Bath waters. Built beside the smaller hot springs, it sheltered the poor infirm. When the nobility and gentry flocked to the
Elizabethan spa, St John's became a prime site. The result was unique: an almshouse combined with lodgings for wealthy visitors.
The Georgian spa boom almost crowded out the almshouse, while the Master of St John's enjoyed most of the profits. Victorian reformers turned the tide. This century brought
expansion. Today St John's is thriving as never before.
Theory: if a card has a vowel on one side, it has an odd number on the other side.
How many cards would you have to turn over to find out if the theory is true?