The Hospital of St Mary Magdalen was a leper hospital established in the 12th century by the burgesses of the town at their own expense. It was mentioned in a document of Henry II in 1153-54 and confirmed by Pope Alexander III in 1179 as one of the possessions of the Priory of St Denys. The priory did not derive any benefit from the hospital until 1347, when Edward III granted the Priory the right to the hospital. This is discussed by Morton and Birbeck (2012), who go on to explain that

"It was soon alleged that St Denys was not performing its duty to maintain the chantry and to say masses, and as a result of an inquisition held before John Tauk in 1395, the leper house was placed in the custody of the king's clerk. Late in 1398 St Denys regained custody, and in 1401 it obtained the posessions of the leper house, without any charitable obligation, and kept the income for itself."

There are no known documentary references to the leper hospital after 1473, and indeed the documentary evidence suggests that it was in decline from the mid to late thirteenth century.

The hospital was situated to the north of the walled town on either side of Above Bar Street. The hospital buildings were on the west side of the street, to the east of where the Civic Centre now stands. The church of St Mary Magdalen was on the other side of the street, to the south. There are references to a house of St Mary Magdalen just north of the church; Morton and Birbeck speculate that this may have been the residence of the chaplain of the hospital.

The 2012 excavation of the old C&A site described by Morton and Birbeck found a mediaeval ditch to the south, on the edge of what's thought to have been the site of the hospital. Building rubble indicates "a substantial medieval building or buildings … with a slate roof and glazed finials".

The land on which the hospital and church complex stood was originally known as West Garston and East Garston. Because of the presence of the church and hospital, this became to East and West Marlands (corrupted from Magdalen), names which are still in use in the modern town.

Previous historians made faulty identifications of the location of the hospital. John Speed identified it with Hampton Court on the east side of French Street. This error was perpetuated in the Town Map of 1845-46. Henry Englefield later identified it with the house at the south-west corner of French Street. DV Fippard, in research from 1963, places the hospital on the site of St Anne's Convent near the Avenue, "remote and isolated from the town". Morton (email correspondence with this site) rejects this.

Further reading:

Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, passim. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p448-450. (HS/h)
The site of the St Mary Magdalene Hospital, by D. V. Fippard. (HS/h)
‘Documentary and Archaeological Evidence of Southampton’s Leper Hospital’, by A. D. Morton and Vaughan Birbeck, in Hampshire Studies, Vol. 67, 2012, p209-217. (H/f) Available online

External links:

Information on the leper hospital of St Mary Magdalen in Winchester: website, article (PDF) and blog post.
Commemoration of the Leprosy Hostel, City of Southampton Society


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