Domus conversorum


Victoria County History



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'Hospitals: Domus conversorum', A History of the County of London: Volume 1: London within the Bars, Westminster and Southwark (1909), pp. 551-554. URL: Date accessed: 19 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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In 1232 King Henry III founded in New Street, the present Chancery Lane, a hospital for Jews who had been converted to Christianity, (fn. 1) promising for their maintenance and that of the two chaplains who were to celebrate divine service in the chapel there, (fn. 2) a yearly sum of 700 marks from the Exchequer, until he or his heirs provided for them otherwise. (fn. 3) The king in giving to the converts in 1235 some lands and houses in London which had been John Herlicun's, granted them all escheats falling to him in London, (fn. 4) and they undoubtedly acquired some property in this way, as, for instance, the lands of Constantine son of Aluf in 1248; (fn. 5) he gave them, moreover, certain lands in Oxford in 1245. (fn. 6) The legacy of £100 left to the hospital by Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, was also devoted to the endowment of the house. (fn. 7) Whatever income, however, they ultimately derived from such sources, it was never large enough to enable them to dispense with an annual grant which neither Henry III nor Edward I seems to have found easy to raise. In 1245, indeed, the king, unable to give them adequate help, tried to induce some religious houses (fn. 8) to maintain one or two converts for two years. If the number of robes given to the converts by the king corresponds in some measure to the number of persons belonging to the house, the hospital soon became large; 150 robes were given to the converts at Christmas, 1255–6, 171 the following Easter, and 164 at Whitsuntide; (fn. 8a) so that at this time there must have been considerably more than a hundred people who received allowances, though all may not have been resident. (fn. 8b) Naturally the first accommodation provided soon proved insufficient, and in 1265–6 the master was engaged in enlarging the place or in building new houses, and in 1275 the chapel was lengthened. (fn. 8c) The chaplains also were increased to three in 1267. (fn. 8d) Sums amounting altogether to £100 were allotted to them from the ferms of the counties in 1275, (fn. 9) but five years later the king made them a grant for seven years of deodands, the poll-tax of the Jews, the goods of Jews forfeited for any cause, and half the property of any Jews converted during that period. (fn. 10) At the same time he ordered that a school should be kept, and that converts able to learn a handicraft were to be taught one, and to be maintained only until they could support themselves, while the portions of clerical scholars who obtained eccle siastical benefices were similarly to be withdrawn. (fn. 11) There is, unfortunately, no evidence whether these measures were carried out, but when an inquiry was made in 1308 as to the inmates who had died since 1290 and as to those still surviving, no information was forthcoming about certain men and women, (fn. 12) a fact which might be accounted for on the supposition (fn. 13) that they were gaining a livelihood elsewhere. The king also directed that the two priests and the clerk who served in the chapel were to be resident and were to collect the rents of the house and distribute them to the inmates as the warden advised. (fn. 14) The king's intention was evidently to reform the administration, a change in which had been much needed in 1272. The inmates of the hospital were then said to be begging from door to door, and to be almost perishing of hunger, because rich converts, who had other means of support, and who did not live in the house, received the revenues which ought to have been assigned only to the poor converts dwelling there. (fn. 15) Considering that this house was largely dependent on the royal bounty and that the management of its income was not always exemplary, it is curious that the warden was not bound to render an account to the Exchequer. (fn. 16) The result of the king's grants in aid of their finance was disappointing, and in 1281 he ordered that beside the poll-tax the converts should have 80 marks from the issues of the Jewry during his pleasure. (fn. 17) Funds were specially needed during this period to complete (fn. 18) the extensive alterations to the chapel begun in 1275. (fn. 19)

The converts in 1290 petitioned that the king would provide for them by giving them churches and escheats, as the grants from the Exchequer were paid very irregularly, but he did not assent to their request: (fn. 20) the expulsion of the Jews from England which occurred in that year may have been already under consideration, and it would certainly have been useless to endow permanently an institution which would soon come to an end. In February, 1292, he granted to the members of the house £202 0s. 4d. a year, this sum including the wages of the chaplains, and the portions of the converts, 10½d. a week in the case of a man, 8d. for a woman; as each inmate died the amount was to be proportionately diminished. (fn. 21) Of the ninety-seven who were there in 1292 about fifty-two survived in 1308, and the sum due from the king was accordingly reduced to £123 10s. 6d. (fn. 22)

A complaint, ostensibly by the converts, was made to the king in 1315 that the warden, Adam de Osgodeby, kept them out of their houses, and let them to strangers for the term of three lives to the king's prejudice. (fn. 23)

On inquiry by the chancellor, however, the affair resolved itself into an attempt by William de Crekelade, one of the chaplains, to regain a footing in the house from which he had been expelled by the former warden for defamation of the rest of the community. The converts, far from taking his side, declared him unfit to live in the house, and said that the warden paid him his wages against their will. They also showed that the tenements had been leased for the profit of the house with the consent of all, William included, and he was accordingly remitted to the warden for punishment. (fn. 24)

As the time approached when the extinction of the house might be reasonably expected, Edward III gave it fresh life by placing there the children of some converts (fn. 25) and certain converted Jews from foreign countries. (fn. 26) Still the inmates must have been few in number from 1344, when they seem to have been only eight. (fn. 27) In 1350 they had dwindled to four, and in 1371 there were only two. (fn. 27a) The small amount allotted to the hospital may be the reason why the buildings and chapels were left unrepaired until their restoration by the warden, William Burstall, at his own cost, (fn. 28) since it was to provide for their future maintenance that at his request the house was annexed for ever to the Mastership of the Rolls in 1377. (fn. 29)

The accounts of the wardens (fn. 30) and the grants occasionally made to converts (fn. 30a) show that the house was used for its original purpose for more than two centuries longer. The number of inmates was, however, always very small: in the second year of Henry V (fn. 31) there were eight converts, but often there were not more than two.

In 1534 three converts were in receipt of the usual portions of 10½d. a week, (fn. 32) and the hospital did not cease at the Reformation, for though there was no one there in 1552, two or three converts were certainly in residence from 1578 until 1608.

The accounts then cease, so that it is impossible to discover whether the hospital lasted until the Revolution. If it did, it probably did not survive it, (fn. 32a) though it is said that a grant was made to two Jews in the reign of James II. (fn. 33)

The building itself was destroyed in 1717 to make room for the new house of the Master of the Rolls, who yet continued to be styled officially Keeper of the House of Converts, until 1873. (fn. 33a)

Among the earliest possessions of the house in London were a capital messuage in Friday Street, (fn. 34) a 'seld' with shops in 'the Chepe,' (fn. 35) and rents in the parishes of St. Nicholas Acon (fn. 36) and St. Mary Colechurch. (fn. 37) In 1237 Henry III gave them also the church of St. Dunstan in the West, (fn. 38) of which they received all the issues until the bishop of London ordained in 1317 that a rector should in future be instituted there, and that he should pay to the converts the sum of £4 a year. (fn. 39) Their rents of assize in London and Oxford in 1279–80 amounted to £32 3s. 10d. (fn. 40) No specimen or description of the seal of this house appears to have survived.

Wardens of the House of Converts

Walter Mauclerc, bishop of Carlisle, the first warden (fn. 40a)
Walter, occurs 1234 (fn. 41) and 1240 (fn. 41a)
Robert the chaplain, occurs 1245, (fn. 42) 1248, (fn. 43) and 1249 (fn. 44)
Henry, appointed 1250 (fn. 45)
Adam de Cestreton, appointed 1266, died 1268 (fn. 46)
Thomas de la Leye, appointed 1268, died 1270 (fn. 47)
John de St. Denis, appointed 1270, (fn. 48) occurs 1275, (fn. 49) 1280 (fn. 50) and 1286 (fn. 51)
Robert de Scardeburgh, appointed 1287 (fn. 52)
Richard de Climpinges, appointed 1289 (fn. 53)
Walter de Aymondesham, appointed 1290 (fn. 54)
Henry de Bluntesdon, appointed 1298 (fn. 55) occurs 1300 (fn. 56)
Adam de Osgoteby, appointed 1307 (fn. 57) died 1316 (fn. 58)
William de Ayermin, appointed 1316, (fn. 59) resigned 1325 (fn. 60)
Robert de Holden, appointed 1325 (fn. 61)
Richard de Ayremyn, appointed 1327, (fn. 62) resigned 1339 (fn. 63)
John de St. Paul, appointed 1339, (fn. 64) occurs 1341 (fn. 65) and 1345 (fn. 66)
Henry de Ingleby, appointed 1350, (fn. 67) resigned 1371 (fn. 68)
William de Burstall, appointed 1371, resigned 1381 (fn. 69)
John de Waltham, appointed 1381, (fn. 70) resigned 1386 (fn. 71)
John de Burton, appointed 1386, (fn. 72) died 1394 (fn. 73)
John Scarle, appointed 1394, (fn. 74) occurs 1397 (fn. 74a)
Thomas Stanley, appointed 1397, (fn. 75) and again 1399, (fn. 76) occurs 1402 (fn. 76a)
Nicholas Bubwith, appointed 1402, (fn. 77) occurs 1405 (fn. 77a)
John Wakeryng, appointed 1405, (fn. 78) occurs 1415 (fn. 78a)
Simon Gaunsted, appointed 1415, (fn. 79) died 1423 (fn. 80)
John Frankes, appointed 1423, (fn. 81) occurs 1438 (fn. 81a)
John Stopyndon, occurs from 1438, (fn. 82) to 1447 (fn. 83)
Thomas Kirkeby, appointed 1447, (fn. 84) occurs 1460 (fn. 84a)
John Kekilpenny, appointed 1455 (fn. 85) (?)
Thomas Kirkeby, appointed 1461 (fn. 86)
Robert Kirkham, appointed 1461 (fn. 87)
William Morland, appointed 1471 (fn. 88)
John Alcock, appointed 1471 (fn. 89)
John Morton, appointed 1472, (fn. 90) occurs 1478–9 (fn. 90a)
Robert Morton, occurs 1479–80, (fn. 90b) and 1481 (fn. 91)
Thomas Barowe, occurs 1483 (fn. 92)
Robert Morton and William Elliot, appointed 1485 (fn. 93)
David Williams, appointed 1487 (fn. 94)
John Blith, appointed 1492 (fn. 95)
William Warham, appointed 1494 (fn. 96)
William Barons, appointed 1502 (fn. 97)
Christopher Bainbrigg, appointed 1504 (fn. 98)
John Young, appointed 1508 (fn. 99)
Cuthbert Tunstall, appointed 1516 (fn. 100)
John Clerk, appointed 1522 (fn. 101)
Thomas Hannibal, appointed 1523 (fn. 102)
John Taylor, appointed 1527 (fn. 103)
Thomas Cromwell, appointed 1534, (fn. 104) resigned 1536 (fn. 105)
Christopher Hales, esq., appointed 1536 (fn. 106)
Robert Southwell, knt., appointed 1541 (fn. 107)
John Beaumont, appointed 1550 (fn. 107a)
Robert Bows, appointed 1552 (fn. 107b)
Nicholas Hare, appointed 1553 (fn. 107c)
William Cordell, appointed 1557 (fn. 107d)
Gilbert Gerard, appointed 1589 (fn. 107e)
John Egerton, appointed 1594 (fn. 107f)
Edward Bruce, appointed 1603 (fn. 107g)
Edward Phillips, appointed 1608 (fn. 107h)


1 Cart. 16 Hen. III, m. 18, printed in Dugdale, Mon. Angl. vi, 683.
2 Cal. of Close, 1231–4, p. 37. The chapel and the buildings adjacent are said by Matthew Paris to have been built in 1233, Chron. Maj. (Rolls Ser.), iii, 262.
3 Dugdale, op. cit. vi, 683.
4 Cal. of Chart. R. i, 199.
5 Ibid. i, 336. In other cases the property seems to have been granted to private individuals who paid a rent to them. Ibid. i, 307, 309, 322, 327.
6 Ibid. i, 283.
7 The king's writ orders that the money shall be used to buy lands for the maintenance of the Conversi. Close, 27 Hen. III, m. 9, quoted by Tovey, Anglia Judaica, 115.
8 He sent one to Walsingham priory and a man and his wife to Abingdon Abbey. Tovey, op. cit. 228, 229.
8 a W. J. Hardy, 'The Rolls House and Chapel,' Midd. and Herts. N. and Q. ii, 51.
8 b Two converts in 1238 received them at the Tower, where they were employed. Ibid. 50.
8 c Ibid. 52.
8 d Ibid. There were, however, only two priests and a clerk in 1280. Cal. of Pat. 1272–81, p. 371.
9 Cal. of Close, 1272–9, p. 207.
10 Cal. of Pat. 1272–81, pp. 371, 372. The property of converted Jews belonged to the king, but Edward on this occasion permitted them to retain half for themselves.
11 Cal. of Pat. 1272–81, p. 376.
12 Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 62.
13 This supposition is, however, doubtful, for one of the women, about whom nothing was known, was only prevented from appearing before the commissioners by illness, and petitioned for her allowance in 1315. Cal. of Close, 1313–18, p. 184.
14 Cal. of Pat. 1272–81, p. 371.
15 Pat. 56 Hen. III, pt. 1, m. 10, quoted by Tovey, op. cit. 194, 195.
16 In 1286 John de St. Denis, keeper of the Domus Conversorum, was exonerated from rendering an account to the Exchequer as his predecessors never did so. Cal. of Pat. 1281–92, p. 228.
17 Cal. of Close, 1279–88, p. 99.
18 In 1281 the justices in Eyre were ordered to pay deodands to the warden of the House of Converts to complete the fabric of the chapel. Ibid. 107.
19 Ibid. 1272–9, p. 207.
20 Parl. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 49.
21 Rymer, Foedera (Rec. Com.), ii (1), 62.
22 Ibid.
23 Cal. of Close, 1313–18, p. 228.
24 Ibid.
25 Two children of a conversa in 1336. Cal. of Pat. 1334–8, p. 259. Two sons of a conversus in 1337. Ibid. p. 494. The son of a conversa in 1344. Ibid. 1343–5, p. 213. See also case of Agnes, daughter of a convert in 1349. Ibid. 1348–50, p. 363.
26 Edward of Brussels was sent there in 1339. Ibid. 1348–50, p. 400. Janethus of Spain was to receive the same allowance as the others of the house in 1344. Ibid. 1343–5, p. 190. A similar grant was made to Theobald of Turkey in 1348. Ibid. 1348–50, p. 87. The king ordered Henry de Ingleby, the warden, in 1356 to let John de Chastell, a convert, who had lately come to England, have the usual maintenance in the hospital. Close, 30 Edw. III, m. 13, quoted by Tovey, op. cit. 223.
27 Cal. of Close, 1343–6, p. 313. It seems doubtful, however, whether the new inmates were included in this account.
27 a W. J. Hardy, 'The Rolls House and Chapel,' Midd. and Herts. N. and Q. ii, 57.
28 Tovey, op. cit. 225.
29 Ibid. The patent of Edward III was confirmed by Parliament in the first year of Richard II. Parl. R. (Rec. Com.), iii, 31a. Mr. Hardy shows (op. cit. 56), that most of the wardens from 1307 had been Masters of the Rolls.
30 Hardy, op. cit. 60–5.
30 a Cal. of Pat. 1385–9, p. 397; ibid. 1401–5, p. 216.
31 Hardy, op. cit. 60.
32 L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 66.
32 a Hardy, op. cit. 66.
33 Tovey, op. cit. 227.
33 a The custody of the hospital for his habitation was granted to him on his appointment to the Mastership of the Rolls. Dep. Keeper's Rep. lvii, App. 28.
34 Cal. of Chart. R. i, 290.
35 Ibid. 292.
36 Ibid. 309.
37 Ibid. 351.
38 Cal. of Pat. 1232–47, p. 178.
39 Lond. Epis. Reg. Baldock and Gravesend, fol. 37.
40 Hardy, op. cit 54. For their property in Oxford see also Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), ii, 791, 798.
40 a Mr. Hardy thinks the bishop was the master or keeper for a short time, op. cit. 49.
41 Cal. of Close, 1231–4, pp. 415, 503.
41 a Devon, Issues of the Exch. 15.
42 Cal. of Pat. 1232–47, p. 453. He was rector of the church of Hoo.
43 Cal. of Chart. R. i, 328.
44 Ibid. 339.
45 Hennessy, Novum Repert. Eccl. Lond. 378. He was vicar of St. Margaret's Friday Street.
46 Ibid.
47 Ibid.
48 Ibid.
49 Cal. of Close, 1272–9, p. 159.
50 Cal. of Pat. 1272–81, p. 376.
51 Ibid. 1281–92, p. 228.
52 The appointment was during the king's pleasure. Tovey, op. cit. 221.
53 During pleasure. Cal. of Pat. 1281–92, p. 335.
54 During pleasure. Ibid. 392.
55 He was the king's chaplain and almoner, and was appointed warden during pleasure. Ibid. 1292–1301, p. 341.
56 Ibid. 491.
57 Ibid. 1307–13, p. 15. At first during pleasure, but in 1313 for life. Ibid. 1313–17, p. 16.
58 Cal. of Close, 1313–18, p. 374.
59 Cal. of Pat. 1313–17, p. 534.
60 He must have given up the office when he became a bishop. Ibid. 1324–7, p. 92. According to the patent he was elected bishop of Carlisle, but the see he in fact obtained was that of Norwich. Stubbs, Reg. Sacr. Angl. 231.
61 Cal. of Pat. 1324–7, p. 176.
62 Ibid. 1327–33, p. 42.
63 Ibid. 1338–40, p. 256. Newcourt gives a certain Michael de Worth as appointed in 1334, but this would seem to be a mistake.
64 Cal. of Pat. 1338–40, p. 256. He was keeper of the Rolls.
65 Ibid. 1341–3, p. 236. Newcourt inserts John de Evesham and John de Thoresby between 1339 and 1341, and Mr. Hardy (op. cit. 56), gives Thomas de Evesham and John de Thoresby as Masters of the Rolls and Keepers of The House of Converts between John de St. Paul and Henry de Ingleby. Richard de Ayermyn, however, accounted for the house until 13 Edw. III, John de St. Paul from 13 to 23 Edw. III, and Henry de Ingleby from 24 to 32 Edw. III. List of Foreign Accts. 52–3.
66 Cal. of Close, 1343–6, p. 489.
67 Cal. of Pat. 1348–50, p. 475.
68 Hennessy, op. cit. 378.
69 Ibid.
70 Newcourt, op. cit. i, 339.
71 Hennessy, op. cit. 378.
72 Cal. of Pat. 1385–9, p. 230.
73 Ibid. 1391–6, p. 468.
74 Ibid.
74 a List of Foreign Accts. 53.
75 Newcourt, op. cit. i, 340.
76 By Henry IV. Cal. of Pat. 1399–1401, p. 8.
76 a List of Foreign Accts. 53.
77 Cal. of Pat. 1401–5, p. 120.
77 a List of Foreign Accts. 53.
78 Cal. of Pat. 1401–5, p. 483.
78 a List of Foreign Accts. 53.
79 Newcourt, op. cit. i, 340.
80 Hennessy, op. cit. 379.
81 Cal. of Pat. 1422–9, p. 139.
81 a List of Foreign Accts. 53.
82 Ibid. 53.
83 Ibid. 53.
84 Hennessy, op. cit. 379.
84 a List of Foreign Accts. 54.
85 Hennessy, op. cit. 379. Thomas Kirkeby, however, accounted every year from 27 to 38 Hen. VI. List of Foreign Accts. 54.
86 Cal. of Pat. 1461–7, p. 147.
87 Ibid. 82.
88 Ibid. 1467–77, p. 245.
89 Ibid. 259. According to Hennessy, op. cit. 379, he had been appointed before in 1462, but the appointment is not mentioned in the Calendar of Patent Rolls.
90 Cal. of Pat. 1467–77, p. 334.
90 a List of Foreign Accts, 54.
90 b Ibid.
91 Cal. of Pat. 1476–85, p. 285. He had been granted the reversion of the office in 1477. Ibid. 71.
92 Ibid. 462.
93 Newcourt, op. cit. i, 340.
94 Ibid.
95 Hennessy, op. cit. 379.
96 Ibid.
97 Ibid.
98 Ibid.
99 Ibid.
100 Ibid.
101 Ibid.
102 Ibid.
103 Ibid.
104 Ibid.
105 L. and P. Hen. VIII, xi, 202 (17).
106 Ibid.
107 Hennessy, op. cit. 379.
107 a Newcourt, op. cit. i. 341.
107 b Ibid.
107 c Ibid.
107 d Ibid.
107 e Ibid.
107 f Ibid.
107 g Ibid.
107 h Ibid.