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The Great Hospital

The medieval records of The Great Hospital in Norwich, preserved at the Norfolk Record Office (NRO), have been awarded UN Status by Unesco.

They are inscribed in its UK Memory of the World Register, which was created to promote the UK's documentary heritage globally and is part of a programme to support and raise awareness of archives.

The archive of the Great Hospital (also known as St Giles’ Hospital) is said to have no rival anywhere in the country.

It has been described as the “fullest and by far the most important set of British medieval hospital records to survive the English Reformation”.

They are catalogued and available online as part of the City of Norwich records and the City of Norwich Municipal Charities records.

The records run from the hospital’s foundation in c1249 by Walter de Suffield, Bishop of Norwich, until 1988.

They include the foundation charter, the will of the founder and the papal confirmation of the foundation.

There are also extensive records relating to the election and appointment of the Master, including the rules for such appointments.

The Hospital's cartulary (a book containing copies of legal records), known as the Liber Domus Dei, is one of only about 20 surviving in England from the Middle Ages.

Begun in the 13th century, with additions up to the 16th century, it includes copies of deeds arranged by parish and further copies of other individual deeds and rentals.

The hospital's very full series of accounts, dating from 1306, are unique in their extent and completeness for the medieval period, as are the numerous manorial records, from c1300 onwards, which cover a very wide geographical area of Norfolk.

There are also many hundreds of title deeds and other documents of title from c1260 onwards, plus a substantial body of miscellaneous legal records.

The deeds and the manorial records, taken together, give a very detailed picture of the extensive landholdings of the hospital and are indicative of the wealth which was generated to support its charitable and other work.

There are no comparable series of accounts, deeds or manorial records for any other medieval English hospital, although a few records survive for some.

There were more than 1,300 hospitals in medieval England, almost all of which were destroyed at the Reformation.

However, the Great Hospital survived as a functioning charitable and residential institution and it continues as such today.

It is also now one of the Norwich 12, the city’s collection of outstanding heritage buildings, which span the Norman, medieval, Georgian, Victorian and modern eras.

The Great Hospital Norwich Online is a guide to the hospital's medieval history, its buildings and, with the aid of video models, a view of what it might have looked like during its heyday in the 15th century.

Further reading:

  • Carole Rawcliffe, Medicine for the Soul: The life, death and resurrection of an English Medieval Hospital, St Giles, Norwich, c1249-1550 (1999)
  • Elaine Phillips, A Short History of the Great Hospital, Norwich (1999)