The Great Hospital at Bishopgate

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Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, January 2020
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.

Also of interest

The Bible Garden is situated adjacent to The Lodgings at the rear of the Chaplain's House, with a now-defunct K6 telephone box located nearby. During the summer months the Master's Garden to the north of St Helen's church and occupying the space between the White Cottages in the east, Birkbeck Hall in the west and Holme Terrace in the north, is a riot of colour. It was completely redeveloped by the well-known garden designer Tessa Hobbs. An 18th century and Grade 2 listed, life-size lead statue depicting the revered Greek hunter and warrior Meleager can be seen near a short distance north of St Helen's House, near the western boundary wall. A modern abstract brass sculpture can be found to the south-east of the chancel of St Helen's church.

TG2309 : The Great Hospital - artwork by Evelyn Simak -  Gt Hospital Vertrouwen sculpture

This brass sculpture is called "Vertrouwen" (Trust) and was donated by Paul R King, a Trustee of the Hospital, on the celebration of the Great Hospital's 750th anniversary in 1999. It is situated by the graveyard to the south of the chancel of St Helen's church. I wonder who made it.

The statue of Meleager can be found near the hospital precinct boundary wall a short distance north of St Helen's House. It is a lead copy made in the 18th century and Grade 2 listed. The stone plinth bears no inscription.

TG2309 : The Great Hospital - Meleager by Evelyn Simak - TG2309 : The Great Hospital - Meleager (detail) by Evelyn Simak -  Gt Hospital Meleager

The Iliad relates how Meleagerís father, King Oeneus of Calydon, had omitted to sacrifice to Artemis, who sent a wild boar to ravage the country. Meleager together with a band of heroes hunted it, and he eventually managed to kill it himself, but then the Calydonians and the Curetes (neighbouring warriors who aided in the hunt) quarrelled over the spoils, and war broke out between them. In this war Meleager killed the brother of his mother, Althaea, and for this she cursed him. The Iliad says nothing about Meleagerís death but mentions that it occurred before the Trojan War and that it was caused by Althea burning the log whose span of existence was coterminous with his.

TG2309 : The Great Hospital - K6 telephone box by Evelyn Simak
Sadly, this telephone box is now redundant. It is would once have stood adjacent to a waterpump which has since been removed.
by Evelyn Simak

TG2309 : The Great Hospital -The Master's Garden by Evelyn Simak
This complex of buildings comprises the Master's house and dormitory (left) as well as Birkbeck Hall. Part of the Master's garden can be seen in the foreground.
by Evelyn Simak

TG2309 : The Great Hospital - Bible Garden by Evelyn Simak
Situated in a small enclosed space to the north of the Chaplain's House, this is the Bible Garden.
by Evelyn Simak

A 17th century inventory of rooms and fittings mentions a well house, which implies that there had been only one water well in the hospital grounds at that time. By the 19th century, six water pumps are marked (on the 1884 OS map) and one of these is still in place, and fully functional. This pump is situated on the edge of a small and secluded disused burial ground adjacent to the south side of the infirmary hall, in an area aptly named the Butterfly Garden. The pump's downpipe is of an old design known as a rat's tail (see picture below at left), with the shape at its base indicating that it originally had wooden valves. It would, however, seem that the original lead barrel has at some time been replaced by a new one of the same material and design.

 Gt Hospital old pump -  Gt Hospital old pump

A second pump used to be situated a short distance further east and the Pump Ward, located on the ground floor below the Eagle Ward, was presumably named after it. Further pumps are marked on the map to have been located just north of the Chaplain's house; on the green between the White Cottages and the East Wards; a short distance south-west of St Helen's house on the green there; and by what is now Suffield Court which had not been built by then. The map clearly differentiates between pumps and wells, as wells are marked at other locations, for instance in the nearby cathedral grounds. The pumps were presumably installed over or near the existing old water wells at some time in the first half of the 19th century, if all had been installed during the same period and were made of the same material, ie lead - cast iron pumps were commonly used only after WW2, because they were cheaper. The oldest water pumps in the country were made of wood, preceding lead pumps.


The Great Hospital continues to provide accommodation and care for the elderly today as a functioning residential care home, offering 98 residential properties set in beautiful grounds and maintained to the highest standards. The assisted living accommodation consists of 22 flats, all with kitchen and bathroom facilities. Reader, please note that there is no public right of way and opportunities to explore the historic range of buildings are for this reason limited. A number of guided tours are, however, available throughout the year, and the grounds can usually be accessed during the Heritage Open Days held each year in September.

The pictures used in this article were taken on the occasion of guided tours or open-day events, and by kind permission of Niki Tansley, executive manager and the Master of the Hospital's deputy.

Some of the information used was gleaned from a paper titled "Record and Analysis, The Eagle Ward, The Great Hospital", by Karen J Lim (published in April 2013).

The Great Hospital website: LinkExternal link
The Great Hospital History: LinkExternal link

Recommended reading:
History of the Great Hospital, CB Jewson, 1978
A short history of the Great Hospital, Elaine Phillips, 1999
The Hospitals of Medieval Norwich, Carole Rawcliffe, 1995


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