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Medieval Period

LEPERS

DARTFORD'S UNCLEAN OUTCASTS

Leprosy was quite a common disease in medieval times and was thought to have been introduced into England as a result of the Crusades. The epidemic was most severe in the thirteenth century. Lepers were treated as outcasts from human society. Leper hospitals became a prominent feature of town life; there were over 200 in England, including one at Dartford.

The segregation of lepers and those suffering from skin diseases in purpose-built hospices away from the rest of the community was effective in bringing about the eradication of leprosy in England by the middle of the sixteenth century. In medieval times, leprosy was the name given to many skin diseases including eczema, psoriasis and smallpox. Lepers were forced to wear a distinctive style of clothing consisting of a mantle and beaver-skin hat, or a green gown. In their hand they carried a bell or clapper, through which they were to give warning of their approach so that everyone could get out of the way in time.

 

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DARTFORD'S LEPER HOSPITAL OR LAZAR HOUSE

Dartford’s leper hospital was known as the Spital House or the Lazar House (after St Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers). It was established some time before 1330 and was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and St Laud. The hospital was sited at the top of Spital Hill (West Hill) outside the boundaries of medieval Dartford.

The hospital building was owned by the priory of St. John of Jerusalem and was staffed by a prior and lay brethren. Income from land in Dartford and from bequests helped to pay the running costs. Dartford’s leper hospital accommodated men and women. It was reported that "some are weak, lame or infirm, and some blind and leprous, and they have nothing whereby they may live except by the helping hand of the faithful in Christ."

 

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THE COLLECTION OF ALMS FOR DARTFORD'S LEPERS

As time progressed, lepers were prohibited from begging in the community. Lepers were excluded from London by an ordinance of Edward III in 1346. Fund-raising could be undertaken on the leper’s behalf by a licensed proctor. A licence was issued to Thomas Gybson of Dartford in 1485. Those making donations of money or goods to the hospital were granted indulgences (remission of punishment for sins) by the pope against time that would later be spent in purgatory.

Document 1: Click the link below to view the document

Dartford hospital. A license to collect alms, 6th September 1485

 

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