Visit to Lord Leycester Hospital at Warwick

An intrepid party of 13 Civic Society members set out to visit the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick on a showery afternoon on 2nd July. The Hospital does not have medical facilities but is a description of its hospitality function, very similar to the status of St John's hospital in Lichfield. The Master of the Hospital himself gave us a guided tour of his establishment, such was the welcome and hospitality meted out to our Members.

The Hospital buildings comprising the Courtyard, the Great Hall, the Guild Hall, the Brethren's Kitchen and the Master's House and Garden are dominated by the ancient Chantry Chapel of St James built over the West Gate into Warwick by Thomas Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick, in the late 14th century. After early tenure by the Guilds of St George and the Blessed Virgin and the Burgesses of Warwick and the escape from the destructive power of Henry VIII, the buildings were acquired by Elizabeth the First's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leycester in 1571 under charter from the Monarch. The Charter set up a Corporation, consisting of the Master in charge of the Hospital and twelve resident ex-servicemen Brethren, which was endowed with estates producing income of 200 per annum. This arrangement was continued for 400 years until an Act of Parliament in 1956 abolished the Corporation and replaced it with a Board of Governors, who decided to modernise the quarters for eight ex-servicemen who, in exchange for their accommodation, heating and Community Charge, help in the running of the Hospital.

Income for the running and maintenance of the Hospital is derived from the opening of the building to visitors and there is a first class Tea Room situated in the Brethren's Kitchen. The various buildings, mainly timbered, are in fine order and house a very interesting Military Museum, giving living proof that the best way to preserve old buildings is to find a good working use for them.

But the tour-de-force is the restored garden at the rear of the Master's House. Enclosed by part of the ancient Town Wall, it is a tranquil oasis in the heart of the bustling town of Warwick. Members will recollect Mrs. Susan Rhodes, the Master's wife, talking to the Civic Society in November 2000 about the reclamation of the garden following her research and the skills which were instrumental in its production. The garden contains many artefacts, including a 12c Norman Arch and a huge stone vase that stood on the banks of the Nile 2000 years ago. The Garden is open to the public from Easter to October.

The afternoon represented a very enjoyable visit to yet another jewel of heritage and one to be recommended to friends.

Tony Crookes
July 2002