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 the reign of Edward III when it appropriated the hospital entirely).

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, approximately where the Civic Centre now stands, while the monks’ dwellings were just to the north near modern Cumberland Place. The church and gardens were on the opposite side of the street, with the two sections referred to as East and West Magdalens. This eventually became corrupted to East and West Marlands, names which still apply to the modern town. The whole was surrounded by a stone wall. The hospital survived, although probably not specifically as a leper hospital, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

D. V. Fippard suggests the hospital may have been further north than its traditionally acknowledged site in the Marlands. The earliest known map of Southampton, of uncertain date but possibly 1540-48, seems to support this as it shows what could be the hospital just south of the Common. However, an archaeological study in 2012 resulting from a small excavation in Above Bar Street, locates the hospital in its traditional location near the modern-day Civic Centre.

There were two certainly faulty identifications of the hospital. The first was by John Speed who identified it with Hampton Court on the east side of French Street. This error was perpetuated in the Town Map of 1845-46. The second was by Henry Englefield who identified it with the house at the south-west corner of French Street.

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)


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