Graduate student contribution

Pedagogical Partner contribution

Christ’s Hospital

roseAgas Map


Located in the northwestern corner of London in the ward of Farringdon Within, Christ’s Hospital and Christ Church lay just north of Newgate Market and St. Nicholas Shambles and to the west of St. Martin’s Lane. To the north, the City Wall followed the Town Ditch, which remained an open sewer until it was covered in 1553 for the opening of the hospital (Pearce 46-47). To add to the collection of unpleasantly named landmarks around the site, Stinking Lane, sometimes referred to as Foul Lane (which was likely named for its proximity to the sewer) lay just east of the Hospital (Pearce 46). The site of the hospital was originally occupied by the priory of Grey Friars, and is still labelled as such on the Agas Map, suggesting that the name remained in the minds of Londoners long after the site changed ownership. The priory dated back to the early thirteenth century after a group of Franciscan friars arrived in England (Pearce 2). The Greyfriars were dissolved on 12 November 1538, as part of Henry VIII’s suppression of religious houses. Though it was gifted to the city by the king in 1546, it sat empty for many years. What occurred at the site between 1546 and 1552 is largely unknown (Slack 230).


At the time of the dissolution, both Henry VIII and the leaders of the City of London acknowledged the need for a better method of aiding the poor and disabled. Following the Reformation, attitudes toward the city’s poor began to change. In a Catholic England, almsgiving was the traditional and widely accepted technique for assisting the needy. But following the break with Rome, the downgrading of the doctrine of Good Works, and the growing numbers of poor crowding into the city, Londoners saw the need for permanent hospitals as both their Christian duty and a civic responsibility. Though first granted to the City by Henry VIII, the five royal hospitals of London were officially founded under Edward VI. These included St. Bartholomew’s for the sick, St. Thomas’s for the disabled and those too old to work, Bridewell for the idle, Bethlehem for the mentally ill, and Christ’s Hospital for the orphans (Slack 231).
In January of 1552, Dr. Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, preached at Whitehall on the subject of charity, specifically calling for wealthy Londoners to help the poor of London (Manzione 33). Edward VI was present at the sermon and was immediately moved by Ridley’s speech, requesting a meeting with the bishop regarding plans to best alleviate the sufferings of London’s poor. Edward VI gave letters for Ridley to pass on to Lord Mayor Richard Dobbys concerning his wishes, and thirty men consisting of aldermen and citizens then formed a committee to create a hospital at the king’s request. The aldermen were to investigate the types of poor throughout their wards in order to decide what kinds of people were most deserving of aid. St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, given to the city in 1544 (Slack 235), was already serving the poor at this time, but, with room only to house one hundred people, its resources quickly became strained and the need for another hospital in London was recognized (Manzione 32).


Beginning with 380 children, Christ’s Hospital opened in November of 1552 (Our History and Governance). The hospital was one of Edward VI’s last projects as king. He officially chartered Christ’s Hospital on 26 June 1553, only days before his death on 6 July (Manzione 32). Originally, the admissions standards of the hospital were extremely strict. Policies published in 1556 mandated that only the children of London freemen could be officially admitted to the hospital (Coldham 6); they were expected to have a certificate from their parish signed by an alderman that verified they were baptized as Christians and not born out of wedlock (Pearce 40). The city had a legal responsibility for the children of the citizens of London, and Christ’s Hospital was therefore intended to be a charitable organization for children of proper Londoners only. In the sixteenth century, however, with a rapidly increasing population, more foreign-born (specifically meaning from outside the city, not from abroad) children were being brought to London and abandoned. Christ’s Hospital felt the need to respond to the rising number of orphaned children within the city. As a result, in despite of their official admission policies, Christ’s Hospital occasionally admitted children who did not conform to their guidelines. By the seventeenth century, roughly 10% of children at the hospital were considered foundlings, or children who were completely abandoned by their parents (Manzione 140). Because of a desire to admit as many children as possible, the hospital lacked the funds to care for all those admitted. Christ’s Hospital thus had to tighten its admissions criteria during certain years. In 1607, the governors announced that no foreign-born children would be admitted unless upon great consideration (Pearce 41). In 1624, no foreign-born child under four years old could be admitted, and, in 1640, no children younger than three years old would be received by the hospital under any circumstances (Pearce 41). The strictness of the age requirements reflected the tremendous expenses required to raise the very young. Infants needed wet nurses to care for them in the country until they were weaned (significantly more supervision than school-aged children required) and then roughly fifteen years of costly resources until they could be apprenticed, put in service, or possibly sent to university. Thus, to curb these kinds of extra expenses, Christ’s Hospital placed an age limit on the children admitted. Interestingly, over time the hospital loosened its proscriptions regarding the status of eligible children. Instead of restricting the hospital to the orphans of citizens, as originally intended, a more flexible approach was adopted even during the years when space and funds were limited.


Ensuring that the children appeared well dressed to the public was crucial for Christ’s Hospital, because the leaders wanted to show Londoners that their donations were being put to good use (Manzione 37). Doing so could help bolster the donations from sympathetic citizens on which the hospital depended. To ensure that they always looked tidy and well kept, the children would receive at least one new set of clothes a year at Easter (Manzione 37). The year Christ’s Hospital opened, Stow described the children as dressed in russet, but they soon after were dressed only in blue (Stow 1:319). This resulted in the site being called the blue coat hospital, and the children blue coats or simply blues. The academic uniforms consisted of long, blue velvet coats that hung loose to the heels, a black cap, a yellow smock, a red belt, yellow stockings, and low heeled shoes with a buckle (Manzione 35-36). Yellow stockings were chosen because it was believed that yellow warded off lice (Manzione 36). The concern over lice and other pests must have been significant at the hospital, because in 1638 it was decided that the linings of the coats would also be made yellow to avoid vermin by reason the white cotton is held to breed the same (Pearce 187). The children’s coats were adorned with metal buttons displaying the head of Edward VI (Pearce 187). Girls were dressed in clothing similar to the boys. They were described as wearing a blue coat that was open in the front to show a yellow petticoat with a blue, green, or white apron wrapped around the front, and a white, close fitting cap (Manzione 36). During the early years, Christ’s Hospital generally treated their male and female children equally. In addition to their similar style of dress, both boys and girls attended the same services at Christchurch, were educated at the hospital’s school, and had their meals in the same hall (Pearce 168-169).

Donations and Expenditures

Because Christ’s Hospital was a charitable organization depending on the donations of citizens and others, there were many years where financial ruin loomed. However, in the early years, it was flooded with enthusiastic donations. For example, more than six thousand pounds were raised by the citizens for Christ’s Hospital and St. Thomas’s Hospital between the winter of 1552 and the summer of 1554 (Manzione 34). After the excitement over opening the hospital faded and Edward VI was no longer present to garner support, donations slowed to a trickle. As a result, there were few long-term sources of revenue, income becoming unpredictable each year. With about £2,751 in credit and £2,745 in debt accumulated annually between 1553 and 1597, Christ’s Hospital struggled to stay afloat (Manzione 77). The hospitalʼs main sources of income were from parish collections, Blackwell Hall, rents from various properties, legacies left by individuals, donations from the car men of London, burial charges, and income from Worsted Hall (Manzione 80). Parish collections and income from Blackwell Hall were by far the most significant, accounting for nearly two-thirds of Christ’s Hospital’s revenue (Manzione 72). Collections from the parishes varied greatly from year to year, however, depending on the resources and generosity of Londoners. Generating £757 annually, Blackwell Hall provided the second largest source of income through the sale of woolen clothes from which the hospital was given a share of the profits (Manzione 82). The last significant source of income was from the various properties rented out by Christ’s Hospital throughout London, such as houses, tenements, and agricultural plots that provided about £231 annually (Manzione 82).
Like its income, the hospital’s expenditures were equally complicated and changed drastically each year. The largest regular expenditure was the payment of the nursing staff, followed by the vague category of necessaries, such as food, pensions, and clothing (Manzione 98). The 1553 record of expenditures lists a few of these necessaries, including ink, rope, baskets, soap, and money paid to a physician (Manzione 104). It seems that this term was a catchall for any unexpected purchases for the hospital. Nearly half of the money spent on food went to the purchase of wheat and bread, with the remaining 52% going to meat, spirits, butter, cheese, milk, and fish (Manzione 102). Though seemingly unrelated to its purpose as a hospital for fatherless children, Christ’s Hospital was also responsible for giving allowances or pensions to groups of people like the elderly or disabled who were deemed prone to beggary. Six hundred decayed householders were given a weekly pension by the hospital (Pearce 28). Pensions were the fourth largest expenditure of the hospital, payments averaging £248 a year and making up nearly 13% of the budget (Manzione 109).


Though Christ’s Hospital was known as a home for fatherless children, it offered more to its inhabitants than just meals and a bed; the hospital boasted a respected school. The schoolmasters at Christ’s Hospital were highly regarded and were considered extremely learned. Some pupils, referred to as day-boys, were the children of citizens who attended the school at Christ’s Hospital for a fee (Pearce 206). Based on their salaries of £15 a year in 1552 (the highest pay given to any employee of the hospital that year), it can be deduced that schoolmasters held a prestigious position at Christ’s Hospital (Pearce 24). The school established a high academic standard that rivalled other schools in London at the time (Coldham 7). Students were taught by a grammar master, a writing master, elementary teachers, and a music master. The elementary students were separated from the older students and had their own master responsible for teaching basic reading to the petites (Pearce 146). All of the older children had their own writing teacher. In addition to learning how to read and write, most of the children were taught a skill or trade to prepare them for later life. For example, the leaders of Christ’s Hospital saw the importance of music training for their students. Because no music master is identified in the records, it is likely that one of the teachers taught music in addition to their main duties (Pearce 135). Originally, the music master was intended to teach prickesong, or music that was meant to be sung with the written notes, to about a dozen children who would then sing in the choir of Christ’s Church (Pearce 137). In 1624, the church organist also began to give lessons to a select group of students at the hospital (Pearce 143). Other children, usually girls, were trained in sewing and different forms of needlework, and most of the clothes that the children wore at the hospital were made by students (Pearce 170). Others were trained to spin flax, make pins, and create tapestries and carpets (Pearce 171). The children of Christ’s Hospital would be educated and trained until they were sent off to begin an occupation at age fifteen. Depending on their abilities, students were either placed into work immediately, or became apprentices. The few children who remained at the school past the age of fifteen were educated at the hospital’s grammar school, and the brightest students could then move on to university. The first record of a Christ’s Hospital student attending a university occurred when John Prestmen matriculated at the University of Cambridge in 1556 (Pearce 27). Regardless of their placement after Christ’s Hospital, students were provided rigorous training and an education which afforded them numerous opportunities once they left the school.


Christ’s Hospital was essentially self-governing. It had its own governors, received independent sources of income, and spent as it saw fit (Manzione 25). The hospital workers were either governors or paid employees. The men who held the office of governors were often unpaid for their duties, as the voluntary positions were seen as an impressive charitable act and leadership experience that could then be used to climb the ranks of city government. The governors were elected yearly to a wide range of positions and duties including president, treasurer, almoner, renter, and surveyor. The president of the hospital was the chief governor and was responsible for fundraising and overseeing the duties of the other governors (Manzione 42). The treasurer predictably kept track of bills, accounting, wages, and inventory of the hospital (Manzione 46). Almoners had a host of seemingly unrelated tasks, but their duties must have been deemed similar to the president, only with less power than the other governors. Almoners had to make sure that the hospital staff were satisfactorily performing their jobs, that the buildings were well kept, and that the children were receiving proper care (Manzione 47). The renter was in charge of overseeing the space of the hospital as it pertained to the hospital’s responsibility for payment of rent, as well as any repairs made to the hospital (Manzione 48). The surveyors had a similar job to that of the renter, but instead of the hospital itself, they were concerned with the property being rented out to others. Surveyors oversaw rented property belonging to Christ’s Hospital, including tenement buildings (Manzione 48). Unlike the voluntary nature of the governor’s work, the other employees were paid for their services. These positions included a clerk, a matron, nurses, a steward, a cook, a butler, a porter, beadles, a shoemaker, and the teachers (Manzione 40). Most of the positions are self-explanatory, but the clerk kept records about the children, the income and expenditure, and the decisions of the governors. Records were kept on each child concerning their admission and their current whereabouts (in the hospital, with a nurse, working, or dead). The clerk also kept track of the hospital staff, the pension program, and donations (Manzione 50). The matron oversaw the nursing staff and the cleanliness of the hospital. She lived on the grounds, and she personally oversaw the day-to-day concerns with the staff and supplies (Manzione 51).


Housing so many children and employing numerous staff, Christ’s Hospital was threatened by rampant disease on a number of occasions. Records from 1603 mention the payment of a surgeon for helping children affected by the plague (Pearce 206). In the same year, a quarantine was put into effect at the school, and school masters and non-resident students were not permitted to enter in an attempt to ward off further infections. Quarantine was also imposed in 1637 and 1665 (Pearce 207). The rapid spread of disease was attributed to the proximity of the school to slaughterhouses and the high density of children in the walls of the hospital, as well as the large number of workers coming in and out of Christ’s Hospital (Pearce 208).

Literary References

Christ’s Hospital is mentioned in a handful of early modern plays, with one play actually set on site. Robert Armin’s The History of the Two Maids of More-clacke tells the story of John in the hospitall, a clown character who winds up in Christ’s Hospital by working as a guide for his blind mother (The Christ’s Hospital Book 13). The playbook’s title page appears to show John dressed in the Christ’s Hospital uniform. In Thomas Middleton’s The Widow, one of the widow’s suitors mentions that his bastard children are well cared for in Christ’s Hospital, while in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour, the character Kitely explains that Cash was a foundling who was sent to Christ’s Hospital to be raised. In Thomas Heywood’s Edward VI, the character John Crosbie admits to having been raised in Christ’s Hospital (Sugden 118). This is anachronistic, of course, as Christ’s Hospital was only formed in the last months of Edward VI’s reign. References to the hospital in these plays suggest that it was viewed as both a safe haven for children to be raised and a place where irresponsible men could hide their illegitimate children.

The 17th Century and Beyond

The Great Fire of London caused severe damage to the site, but parts of the hospital survived. Though the church itself was consumed, four cloisters and three wards toward the west were unaffected (Pearce 208). No children died in the fire because everyone was evacuated to the Nag’s Head Inn in Islington, a property owned by the hospital (Pearce 209). With the hospital in shambles, few students could return to the original site in London, so most stayed at another property owned by the hospital in Hertfordshire; Christ’s Hospital would not be fully rebuilt untill the early eighteenth century (Our History and Governance).


Cite this page

MLA citation

Hubschman, Brenna. Christ’s Hospital. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022,

Chicago citation

Hubschman, Brenna. Christ’s Hospital. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022.

APA citation

Hubschman, B. 2022. Christ’s Hospital. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Hubschman, Brenna
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Christ’s Hospital
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

<bibl type="mla"><author><name ref="#HUBS1"><surname>Hubschman</surname>, <forename>Brenna</forename></name></author>. <title level="a">Christ’s Hospital</title>. <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>, Edition <edition>7.0</edition>, edited by <editor><name ref="#JENS1"><forename>Janelle</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></name></editor>, <publisher>U of Victoria</publisher>, <date when="2022-05-05">05 May 2022</date>, <ref target=""></ref>.</bibl>




Variant spellings