Chapel of the Hospital of St John at Whittlesford Bridge


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Chapel of the Hospital of St John at Whittlesford Bridge
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 48497 47274

Reasons for Designation

A medieval hospital is a group of buildings housing a religious or secular institution which provided spiritual and medical care. The idea for such institutions originated in the Anglo-Saxon period although the first definite foundations were created by Anglo-Norman bishops and queens in the 11th century. Documentary sources indicate that by the mid 16th century there were around 800 hospitals. A further 300 are also thought to have existed but had fallen out of use by this date. Half of the hospitals were suppressed by 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Some smaller institutions survived until 1547 when they were dissolved by Edward VI. Many of these smaller hospitals survived as almshouses, some up to the present day. Despite the large number of hospitals known from documentary sources to have existed, generally only the larger religious ones have been exactly located. Few hospitals retain upstanding remains and very few have been examined by excavation. In view of these factors all positively identified hospitals retaining significant medieval remains will be identified as nationally important.

Unlike the majority of small wayside hospitals in England, St John's Hospital at Whittlesford Bridge is known not only from documentary sources, but can also be located by the presence of the surviving chapel building. This standing building, itself a notable example of 14th century architecture, is known to overlie the remains of an earlier chapel, evidence of which will have survived in the form of buried features. The functional relationship between the hospital and the adjacent road is of particular significance, and buried evidence for this association will remain to the north of the chapel, together with part of the hospital (and later, secular) cemetery. The relationship between the hospital and the later inn, which assumed the same position in relation to the road, is also of particular interest. The monument is accessible to the public.


The monument is situated to the south of Station Road some 50m to the east of Whittlesford railway station. At the time of the hospital's foundation in the 13th century, this road formed part of a major communication route between Royston and Bury St Edmunds. The bridge, which formerly stood some 200m to the east, provided the only means to cross the River Cam and the marshy ground to either side; and the hospital was therefore ideally placed to serve the needs of travellers and pilgrims. The hospital is thought to have originally comprised a chapel with an infirmary hall to the west, and perhaps some ancillary buildings such as kitchens and stables. Only the chapel, largely rebuilt in the 14th century, now stands marking the location of the hospital. The Red Lion Hotel (a Grade II Listed Building) constructed in the 16th century, is thought to overlie the area of the former infirmary hall, and reflects the continued importance of the river crossing. A small area to the west of the chapel is included in the scheduling in order to protect a sample of the buried foundations of the infirmary hall, and to preserve the archaeological relationship between these two major components of the hospital building. The small rectangular chapel (a Grade II* Listed Building) was rebuilt in the first half of the 14th century using flint rubble for the walls and limestone for the doorways and windows. Some sections of the building, including a small part of the southern wall, are considered to date from its 13th century predecessor. The chapel is a single storey building, measuring approximately 20m east to west and 6.5m north to south, and comprises a chancel and nave with no structural division. The main entrance, a two centred archway with quarter round mouldings, is located near the western end of the north wall. There are two similar doorways in the south wall, one directly opposite the main entrance, the other (a priest's door) located towards the eastern end. The north wall is pierced by four windows, dated to c.1330-1360, each containing a single light with tracery of trefoil design. These windows are deeply recessed, surrounded on the outside by square headed arches, and on the inside by pointed arches flanked by narrow columns with moulded caps and bases. The four windows on the southern side are of similar date and design, although each formerly contained two lights divided by a central mullion. The most easterly window in the southern wall is flanked by a sedilia (a seat for the priest officiating at the altar) to the west, and a piscina (a basin used for washing communion vessels) to the east. Both are contained within matching niches with pointed arches and cusped moulding. The window itself has a lowered internal ledge providing two additional seats. A plain, square-cut aumbry, used to contain books and sacred oils, is located in the east wall. A further arched niche, inserted in the north wall (opposite the sedilia) is considered to be an Easter Sepulchre; in which the sacraments were kept prior to being ceremonially revealed on Easter morning. The chapel was taken into the Guardianship of the Secretary of State in 1947 at which time it was in a considerable state of disrepair, and was restored over the following eight years. The west wall had previously been removed, and was therefore replaced in red brick to indicate that its exact position was unknown. This end of the chapel is considered to have originally adjoined the infirmary hall. An area to the west of the present wall is therefore included in the scheduling in order to preserve the buried foundations beneath the modern entrance to the hotel car park, which will provide an archaeological relationship between these two structures. The adjoining walls of the chapel were repaired using building materials comparable with the original fabric, and the westernmost doors and windows restored using salvaged masonry and new limestone. The east window, a large two centred arch, was badly damaged and only the upper parts of the tracery remained. This was infilled with brick surrounding a wooden casement with three leaded panes. Similar casements were added to the remaining windows. The two, two-staged corner buttresses supporting the east wall were repaired, and the roof was replaced using collared trusses and braces. The red tile cladding was renewed in 1985. A porch attached to the northern entrance was demolished in the 19th century; its foundations will survive as buried features although later repairs have removed all trace of its junction with the north wall. The area to the north of the chapel is considered to contain further remains, including burials and yard surfaces, connecting the hospital with the former course of the road. This area is therefore included in the scheduling. The hospital is thought to have been founded by William de Colville in the early 13th century. De Colville, who also endowed the preceptory of the Knights Hospitalers in Duxford, was involved in the unrest surrounding the signing of Magna Carta in 1215 and his property was subsequently seized by the crown. After King John's death in 1216, de Colville sided with Louis (the son of the French monarch) in his bid for the English throne. However, although he was captured after the surrender of Lincoln Castle in 1217, de Colville appears to have been reinstated by John's successor Henry III, and was in full possession of his property at the time of his death in 1230. The hospital, dedicated to St John the Baptist, was run under the Augustinian rule by a prior, first mentioned in 1236. The Hundred Rolls for 1286 list the hospital's possessions which included 30 acres of land, some meadows in the parish of Duxford, a water mill, a chapel and the right to hold a fair. By 1337, the hospital had ceased to function and was converted to a free chapel, and it was at about this time that the chapel was rebuilt. In 1353 the advowson lay in the gift of the bishop of Ely, and the officiating cleric at Whittlesford Bridge was termed `master of the chapel'. The office of `master' had changed to `warden' by 1374, by which time it was probably a sinecure. This was certainly the case by the mid 15th century when Robert Woodlark, provost of Kings College, was recorded as warden. The chapel, no longer a monastic institution, did not suffer as a direct result of the reformation under Henry VIII, but was suppressed in 1548 during the dissolution of chantries in the reign of Edward VI. An attempt to reinstate the chapel during the reign of Mary is suggested by the grant of a pension to the last warden in 1553. However, in 1554 an inventory of the chapel's contents listed only a single bell valued at 6s.8d. The chapel was subsequently abandoned and later used as a barn. It passed to various owners (including Lord Farnborough in 1832) before coming into the possession of the Binney Family of Pampisford Hall, whose interest in the monument eventually led to the restoration of the chapel. The surface of the path adjacent to the east and south walls of the chapel together with the surface of the driveway leading to the hotel car park are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these surfaces is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Haigh, D, The Religious Houses of Cambridgeshire, (1988), 21-22
Knowles, D , Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, (1971), 403
Pevsner, N, The Historic Buildings Of England: Cambridgeshire, (1970), 333-4
Leech, H R, McWhirr, A D, 'Bristol and Gloucester Archaeol Society Trans' in Excavations At St.John's Hospital, Cirencester, 1971 And 1978, , Vol. 100, (1982), 191-209
Richards, J D, Heighway, C, Donagey, S, 'The Archaeology of York' in Union Terrace: excavations in the Horsefair, , Vol. 11/1, (1989)
Rigold, S E, 'The Archaeological Journal' in Duxford Chapel, , Vol. 125, (1967), 229-30
Sayle, C E, 'Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society' in The Chapel of the Hospital of St John (Whittlesford Bridge), , Vol. 10, (1903), 375-79
discussion during site visit, Binney-Killander, A, Duxford Chapel, (1994)
discussion during site visit, Stocker, D, Duxford Chapel, (1994)
ref: 12/84, DOE, List of buildings of special architectural or historic interest, District of South Cambridgeshire, (1986)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

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