St. Leonard's Hospital
(40) St. Leonard's Hospital (Plates 90, 91; Fig. 53),
originally St. Peter's Hospital (VCH, Yorks., iii, 336–43),
was one of the largest establishments of its kind in
mediaeval England and occupied the whole of the W.
corner of the Roman fortress, reaching from the Roman
wall on the S.W. to the back of the properties along
High Petergate to the N.E. The surviving remains
consist of a ruined building on the N.W. side of
Museum Street and some fragments at the Theatre
Royal (47) 90 yds. to the N.E. By tradition the hospital
was founded by King Athelstan in c. 937 (YPSR (1970),
43) but nothing certain is known of its history until
after the Conquest. The existing site was given by
William II, who built a chapel dedicated to St. Peter.
A grant of building materials was made by Henry I,
but the hospital was damaged or destroyed in the great
fire of 1137 (YAJ, xli (1965), 365–7). King Stephen
built a new church dedicated to St. Leonard, though
the hospital continued to be called St. Peter's until the
13th century. In the middle of the 12th century a large
building with a vaulted undercroft was built close to
the E. boundary of the precinct and remains of this
survive at the Theatre Royal. The undercroft was
described and illustrated in 1807 by Halfpenny (Fragmenta Vetusta, Plate 16) when much more of it survived;
a plan by Benson (1, Fig. 38) incorporates the results of
later excavations and shows that the building was about
53 ft. wide and at least 95 ft. long, with the vaulting
supported on three rows of piers. The building in
Museum Street is probably the part of the infirmary
which was built by John Romanus, Treasurer of the
Minster, in about the second quarter of the 13th century
(J. Raine (ed.), Historians of the Church of York, 409); the
position of the chapel suggests that the surviving
undercroft carried the main infirmary on the first floor.
The same building also incorporates a vaulted passage
which led to the hospital from a gateway shown on
early maps to be opposite Lendal and facing the river.
There was another gateway, in Duncombe Place,
opposite Blake Street, and very close to its presumed
position are the remains of a small two-storey 13th-century building which was modified in the late 13th or
early 14th century, possibly in connection with the
stopping up and enclosing of a lane, leading from Blake
Street to High Petergate, which the hospital was
allowed to undertake in 1299 (CPR, 1292–1301, 402).
The remains are now incorporated in a house used by
the theatre as offices.
From the Master's Precepts of 1294 and from the
visitation of 1364 (quoted in VCH, York), it is clear that
the buildings and the daily life in the hospital were akin
to those of a monastery. There were thirteen chaplain
brothers who lived by the rules of Austin Canons, and
eight regular sisters, as well as conversi, thirty choristers,
and servants. There were 206 beds for the sick, endowed
by private benefaction, and in 1346 the 'barnhouse'
under the infirmary was to be converted to a nursery
After the Dissolution the site was granted to Sir
Arthur Darcy in 1544 but sold back to the Crown in
1546, and the royal mint was transferred there from the
castle. The mint operated until 1553, was revived in
1629, and moved to St. William's College in 1642. Part
of the site was known as Mint Yard until the 19th
century. The S.E. boundary wall and some of the
buildings were destroyed when Museum Street was
widened in 1782 and further destruction took place
when St. Leonard's Place was built in 1832 and during
alterations to the Theatre Royal in the late 19th century.
Excavations in 1846 to the N.W. of the Museum Street
building uncovered the foundations of piers probably
of a vaulted undercroft, seven bays long and four bays
wide, very similar in size to that at the Theatre Royal site.
Architectural Description. The ruined 13th-century building
in Museum Street (Fig. 53) is of magnesian limestone and was
originally two-storeyed. A vaulted passage (Plate 91), which
was never closed by doors, runs through it on the S.E. side.
The archway at the S.W. end of the passage is semicircular
and of three orders, of which the innermost is chamfered; the
arch springs directly from the wall on its S.E. side but to the
N.W. there is a moulded impost and chamfered respond. The
arch at the N.E. end is semicircular, of four chamfered orders,
and springs from responds with moulded capitals and bases.
The vaulting over the passageway is in four quadripartite
bays with chamfered ribs springing from moulded corbels.
The wall-ribs and corbels are repeated on the outer S.E. side
of the S.E. wall for a vaulted undercroft, which was destroyed
for the widening of Museum Street. To the N.W. of the
passage is an undercroft (Plate 90), vaulted in six large and six
small compartments. The vaulting is quadripartite with
chamfered ribs springing from octagonal piers with moulded
bases and capitals; it originally continued another two bays
to the N.W. The buttressed S.W. wall has rectangular
windows on the ground floor, shoulder-headed internally
(Plate 183); on the upper storey the window heads have been
destroyed. Opposite the demolished bays the wall projects to
accommodate a fireplace from which the hood has been
removed, though one supporting corbel remains. In the N.E.
wall is a doorway with chamfered two-centred arch with a
label, springing from moulded imposts. The chapel block
extends to the N.E. over an undercroft vaulted in two quadripartite bays. The walls of the first-floor chapel stand to their
full height on three sides, with a gable to the N.E. The ashlar-faced walls had two-stage buttresses with chamfered angles
and gabled tops; only one remains complete, a second on the
N.W. side has been modified, and many are missing completely. A string-course, continuous around the buttresses,
forms a sill to the upper windows, and on the N.E. wall
apparently marked a set-back from the thicker wall below, but
is now missing. On the N.W. side (Plate 90) is a doorway
uniform with that to the main undercroft, and the ground-floor windows are plain single lancets with splayed jambs. On
the upper storey the N.E. wall has three lancet windows with
jambs carried on detached shafts, now missing, with moulded
bases and capitals, and in the apex of the gable is a circular
recess with foliated cusping within an outer moulding enriched with zig-zag ornament. Most of the window dressings
in the side walls have been removed except that one window
in the N.W. wall retains the label for a two-centred arched
head and the capitals for jamb shafts. Inside, on the S.E. wall,
is a shoulder-headed recess with a shelf, probably a former
Remains at the Theatre Royal. In the Green Room is preserved
the greater part of two vaulted compartments of an undercroft
built in the mid 12th century. Benson's plan shows that the
undercroft was originally at least seven bays long and had
three rows of piers, those in the centre row being square and
the others round. Parts of two square and two round piers and
of one wall pilaster remain, all with scalloped capitals. The
vaulting, of rubble stone, is groined and has slightly pointed
transverse arches, of ashlar, springing from the piers. At the
N.W. angle of the original building a large projection, which
may have been a stair-turret, survives up to the first floor of
the theatre and is exposed externally; the masonry appears to
be later than the 12th century, suggesting an alteration to the
upper storey. More mediaeval masonry may be encased
within the walls of the theatre.
Fig. 53. (40) St. Leonard's Hospital.
The former house facing Duncombe Place, now used as
theatre offices, retains some 13th-century masonry in the E.
and W. walls; in the latter wall is part of a narrow lancet
window. In the basement is a barrel vault with a transverse
chamfered rib, but to the N. the vault has been cut into by a
late 13th or early 14th-century wall in which is a blocked
rectangular window. Behind the stage is a wall of coursed
squared masonry, 16 ft. long and 17 ft. high, crossed by a
chamfered string-course. In the lower part of the wall is a
16th-century four-centred arched opening, blocked with
brickwork, and in the upper part are two 13th-century
cruciform arrow-slits indicating that the wall must be part of
the boundary of properties to the E.
Pre-Conquest Stones: two carved stones, probably reused as
building stone, were found near the Theatre Royal during the
construction of St. Leonard's Place. They were possibly
associated with the burial ground of an undocumented earlier
church acquired by St. Peter's hospital in the 11th century.
Both are of gritstone, of pre-Danish date, and are now in the
Yorkshire Museum. (1) Cross-shaft fragment, 24 in. by 11 in.
by 8½ in. (Plate 21); Latin inscription on one face only, simple
bead moulding on left and right sides, dowel-hole at top.
The inscription reads: 'D[ ] / AD M[E] / MORI / AM /
S(AN)C(T)O / RVM'; the formula 'ad memoriam Sanctorum' (et . . . .) would fit a memorial or burial cross; first
mentioned 1852 (Okasha, 132, No. 147, York ii). (2) Crossshaft fragment, 27¼ in. by 15 in. tapering to 14¼ in. by 7½ in.,
with dowel-hole at top (Plate 21); each face has double border
to left and right; on front, an inhabited vine scroll, with two
quadrupeds and conventional leaves and grapes or berries; on
back, a double vine scroll; the two sides decorated with
dissimilar chain-stitch interlace patterns (YAJ, xx, Part 78
Wood-carving: in Yorkshire Museum, formerly part of a roof
structure, depicting a man with square head-dress holding a
shield, late 14th or 15th-century; 'from a summer house in
St. Leonard's Place, York' (YM, W. H. Brook, MS Catalogue,
1 (1921), 35–36, item 89).