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Early Roofing Systems in Northern Europe
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Great Britain, Warwick, Lord Leicester Hospital
Professor Lynn Courtenay

The Lord Leicester Hospital in Warwick is a rare survival of a complete urban complex associated intimately with a late medieval town, its inhabitants, and patrons. Moreover, it is still occupied by a resident Master and a small number of brothers, so that the confraternity functions today much as it did in the late Middle Ages. The so-called 'Hospital' originated as the meeting place for the Guild of Warwick and later became a charitable home for the aged. Thus, the hospital is not a medical institution for the sick but rather a corporate charity in the medieval sense of providing welfare services, and like the original guild fraternity, it is equally social, economic, and religious.

After the dissolution of the original confraternity in 1546, the property passed to the town of Warwick and was subsequently purchased in 1571 by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1533–1588, also owner of Kenilworth Castle). As an act of piety, Dudley established the hospital for the care of aged, disabled soldiers and their wives. According to the foundation charter issued by Elizabeth I, the hospital was a corporate body consisting of a Master and 12 resident brothers who were endowed with estates for their support. Later patrons of this institution have remained in the families of Dudley's heirs since the 16th century. Our interest, however, lies in its earlier phase of existence when the 'hospital' functioned as the social and civic centre for the members of the united guilds of Warwick.

The building ensemble is remarkably intact and deserves further study using dendrochronology, since the guild's records do not survive and precise phases of construction remain unresolved. It is remarkable, for example, that within this complex are no less than three open-roofed halls: the Banqueting Hall which occupies the ground floor of the entire west range of the cloister; the former Guildhall on the first floor of the south range; and, a less known and partially obscured Chaplains' Hall on the first floor of the east range fronted by a timber-framed gallery.

Great Britain, Warwick, Lord Leicester Hospital, Plan

Great Britain, Warwick, Lord Leicester Hospital, Master House

Great Britain, Warwick, Lord Leicester Hospital, Exterior
One would like to know exactly how these various halls were used and how close they are in date. The Master's House, whose exterior walls exhibit a fine example of decorative panelling (restored), occupies the north range; and, a two-storied gateway and entrance block completes the southwest range, which faces onto an external forecourt. The assemblage is completed by a large chapel tangential to the outer court and Banqueting Hall and which rises above the West Gate of the town on the rampart wall facing onto High Street.

Apart from typological and stylistic criteria, the documentary parameters for dating the buildings in question are the establishment of the Guild of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary in 1342 and the reallocation of the complex as a hospital in 1571. More precisely, we can suggest that the above ground structures date from circa 1400 to 1546, when the guilds were dissolved and their property held by the burgesses of Warwick. It is likely that the socio-economic importance of the combined fraternities marks the amalgamation and expansion of the earliest structures on the site. Surviving records and charters tell us that four decades after the Guild of the Trinity and St. Mary had been established, the Guild of St. George was founded in 1383 under a charter of Richard II, and in that same year, St. George's guild acquired for the guild priests the Chapel of St James at the town's West Gate. Between 1392 and 1415 the two Guilds of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary and that of St. George combined into a single confraternity known as the Guild of Warwick, which comprised respectable tradesmen and townsmen, whose occupations ranged from employment in royal service, to lawyers, wool merchants, a coroner, a London goldsmith and a cloth seller. Five of the men who founded the Guild of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary were also members of Parliament.

The functions of medieval urban guilds were religious, social, and practical; for example, they met and celebrated religious feasts, arranged for their members' funerals and the care of widows and children, and were occupied with the civic business. From the evidence to date, it is highly suggestive that the major expansion of the physical site began between 1392 and 1415 when the guilds merged. Thus, whatever properties were built anew, remodelled, or acquired by the united guild probably evolved in the early 15th century and resulted in a quadrangular plan with buildings arranged around an open court or 'yard' like the London Guildhall ensemble, known from the famous Copper Plate Map of London dating to 1547–59.

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