High Street watercolour

The West Gate and Chapel of St James

The Chantry Chapel of St James the Great

The historic group of buildings which now comprise the Hospital is dominated by the ancient Chapel of St James the Great, built over the West gate into the town of Warwick.

The original chapel was built by Roger de Newburgh, the second Norman earl of Warwick in 1126.  It was used by travellers departing from, and returning to, the town.  Roger’s wife died quite young and so it became a Chantry Chapel in which the priests celebrated the Mass for the repose of her soul.

Under a licence issued by King Richard II on 20th April 1383 was created the Guild of St George.  In 1386 Thomas Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick, granted the benefice of the Chapel to the Guild and rebuilt it.  The tower was added and the gate underneath was extended.

Some time between then and 1413, the Guilds of the Holy Trinity and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, previously based at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, moved to the site and accommodation for the Guilds and the resident priests was erected together with reception, meeting and dining halls.  They became known as the United Guilds of Warwick.

In 1860 an extensive restoration was undertaken by Sir Gilbert Scott whose representative was summoned from his dinner in the nearby village of Barford by anxious townsfolk who feared that the chapel was about to collapse into the road beside it.

The town wall beside the West Gate was eventually demolished and the High Street now skirts the Chapel on the southern side rather than through the archway beneath it.

Hospital high street ancient pen & wash

West Gate, Chapel and Hospital buildings c1820



The pen and wash drawing of the Hospital buildings (left) was executed in about 1820.

On the left hand side you see the West Gate of Warwick with the Chapel of St James the Great built on top of it. Beside it are the wooden buildings constructed for the Guilds of Warwick in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries.  Sitting outside the arched gate, the entrance to the Hospital, in the centre of the picture you can just make out some of the Brothers sitting taking their ease.  There are a number of points worth noting.

The Chapel has no flying buttresses supporting the south wall; these were not added until the 1860s.  The Chapel has a pitched roof which is no longer the case today.  There is no  window in the east wall of the Chapel facing the viewer.  The window was bricked up by the Puritans after the Civil War and was not re-opened until later in the 19th Century.

The walls of the Hospital buildings are covered with plaster.  The wooden beams were not in view until it became fashionable to have them exposed later in the century.  The scale of the horse and cart passing below on the High Street is deliberately distorted to make the buildings look more impressive.


After the Guilds

Henry & Oken

In 1546 the Guilds of Warwick were dispersed by King Henry VIII as part of his policy of dissolution of the monasteries and other religious establishments.

Fortunately the United Guilds were able to save their property from seizure by the Crown through the admirable foresight of their Master, Thomas Oken.  He was a successful cloth merchant and great benefactor to the town of Warwick.  He realised what King Henry was doing elsewhere in the country and so, in Warwick, he cleverly arranged for the Guilds’ property to be transferred to the stewardship of the Burgesses of Warwick. His success in achieving this may have had something to do with the fact that not only was he Master of the United Guilds of Warwick but also the Chief Burgess of the town!  In his will Thomas Oken left the sum of one pound to be used to fund a feast.  In January every year, to this day, this feast is hosted by the Trustees of the charity which Oken founded at which a toast is proposed to “…the pious memory of Thomas Oken and his good wife Jane.”

The Burgesses then used the Guildhall for their meetings and Warwick School (today located on the other side of the River Avon in the south of Warwick) was located in the former Guild buildings for some 30 years.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester


Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1550

In 1571, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester acquired the buildings and founded, under charter from Queen Elizabeth I, a retirement home for aged or disabled soldiers and their wives from Warwick, Kenilworth and Stratford-upon-Avon.

The third of the five sons of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke of Northumberland, Robert married, at seventeen, Amy Robsart – a marriage “begun in passion, ended in mourning”.  On the early death of King Edward VI Robert was involved in his father’s conspiracy which put his sister-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne for nine days.  The plot failed and the Duke, his son, Guildford and wife, Lady Jane were executed.  Robert and his brother Ambrose were imprisoned by Queen Mary in the Tower of London under sentence of death.  Both survived and became powerful and influential figures at the court of Queen Elizabeth, Ambrose as Earl of Warwick and Robert as Earl of Leicester.  Robert (or “Robin” as she liked to call him) was the same age as Queen Elizabeth I and had known her well since childhood.  For thirty years he was her close friend, favourite and councillor.  After the death of Leicester’s wife, Amy, in 1560, there was even speculation that they might marry.

The Queen gave the Earl valuable estates and property amongst which were the park and castle at Kenilworth.  Whilst staying there in 1571 he visited Warwick and found the ideal solution to his plan to establish a retirement home for his old and disabled soldiers and their wives – in the former Guild buildings by the West Gate in Warwick.


Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex

Robert Dudley portrait

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1587

1578 Leicester married Lettice Knollys, the widowed Countess of Essex (left).   They had a son, an only child, Lord Denbigh, doted upon by his father, he was known as “The Noble Impe”.  Sadly, he died at the age of three.  Robert was devastated and had the child buried (below right) in the famous Beauchamp Chapel in St Mary’s Church in Warwick where, subsequently, he and his Countess were to be entombed (below left).

When Lord Leicester died in 1588 he left no legitimate male heir and so the earldom lapsed.  His considerable estate passed to his sister Mary, wife of Sir Henry Sidney of Penshurst in Kent, the mother of Sir Philip Sidney, soldier and poet.  As Heir-at-Law to Leicester, his nephew, Robert became Hereditary Patron of Dudley’s Hospital in Warwick.  The patronage has remained in the Sidney family ever since.  The current Hereditary Patron and Chairman of the Governors of the Hospital is Viscount De L’Isle, Lord Lieutenant of Kent whose family still lives at Penshurst Place in that county.

Effigies of the Earl and Countess of Leicester on their tomb in the Beauchamp Chapel

Effigies of the Earl and Countess of Leicester on their tomb

Tomb of Baron Denbigh, "The Noble Impe"

mb of Baron Denbigh, “The Noble Impe”

Leicester’s Hospital

Courtyard with brothers 1840 engraving darkened

Four of the Brothers in the galleried Courtyard

The Charter set up a corporation of a Master (a clergyman) in charge and twelve resident Brothers.  The Master moved into the house which Thomas Oken had previously occupied in the days of the Guilds and parts of the buildings, including the Guildhall itself, were divided into primitive quarters for the Brethren.  The establishment was endowed with estates producing an income of some £200 per year.

This 19th Century engraving (above) depicts the Courtyard of the Hospital with two of the Brethren in conversation, a third lurking in the corner and a fourth Brother on the stairway up to the Guildhall.

An arcade supports the gallery running along the eastern side of the courtyard.   Beneath this is the Brethren’s Kitchen where the Brothers prepared their food. The Archway leads through to the front of the hospital buildings facing the High Street of Warwick

The Brethren were clothed in a traditional uniform of Tudor hat and black gown.  This is adorned with a silver badge of the “Bear and Ragged Staff” device of the Dudley family surmounted by an earl’s coronet, reputedly given by Queen Elizabeth I to each of the twelve founding Brethren.

brethren 1902

The twelve Brethren with the Master in the Courtyard. 1903


Silver “Bear and Ragged Staff” badge