Chapel of the Hospital of St John at Whittlesford Bridge
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1011721
Date first listed: 26-Oct-1934
Date of most recent amendment: 11-Aug-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: South Cambridgeshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: TL 48497 47274
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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
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.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
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
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
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
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.
Legacy System number: 24432
Legacy System: RSM
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.
End of official listing