St John Medieval Museum and Coningsby Hospital

St John Medieval Museum and Coningsby Hospital

A brief history of Coningsby Hospital, Hereford

The Hospitallers and Templars arrived in England in the first half of the 12th century with the purpose of administering the land and estates they had been given to support their work in the Holy Land. The Hospitallers had many gifts of property and land in Herefordshire which were governed from their Commandery at Dinmore Manor. In Hereford the Hospitallers were granted land outside the City walls beyond Widemarsh Gate under Charter by King Richard I in 1190. From about 1200 the Hospitallers had their house on the present site which was in close proximity to the Priory of the Dominican Order of Blackfriars which was begun in 1322 on land granted to the Blackfriars in 1319 by King Edward II. The Priory was demolished at the Dissolution leaving part of the West Range and the 14th century Preaching Cross which, according to Pevsner, is the only surviving example in England of a friars` preaching cross. The east end of the house of the Hospitallers also suffered damage at this time. After the Dissolution the Priory and Hospital came into the ownership of Sir Thomas Coningsby, Knight of Hampton Court, Bodenham, Herefordshire.

The present almshouses were constructed by Sir Thomas Coningsby in c.1614 using stone from the demolished 14th century Priory. The buildings which are constructed in local sandstone under a stone tiled roof occupy three sides of a quadrangle having been built to house 10 ex-servicemen or servitors, a corporal in charge and the chaplain to minister to their spiritual needs. The Chapel, hall and the infirmary occupied the fourth side of the quadrangle and were repaired by Sir Thomas to the form we see today. The cottages were refurbished in 1984 to house 6 tenants, both men and women, who no longer have to wear the distinctive red Coningsby uniforms.

Nell Gwynne, a favourite of King Charles II, was probably born in Hereford and as a girl would have seen the servitors in town in their walking out red uniforms. After joining her mother in London it is thought that Nell influenced the King in deciding to clothe his Chelsea pensioners in red uniforms when their Hospital was completed some 78 years after Coningsby Hospital was established.

The hall, entered from the quadrangle, was previously the communal hall for the servitors and now, together with the first floor previously used as the infirmary, forms part of the museum. Access to the chapel is from the hall.

The present Chaplain holds a service of either the Eucharist or Morning Prayer at 11.00 am on the first Tuesday of each month throughout the year.

Photography by Gordon Taylor.

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