17/02/2011 “Excavations at St.Mary Magdalen Hospital” By Dr. S. Roffey

On Thursday 17th of February we attended to the Hampshire Record Office in order to discover about the Excavations of St. Mary Magdalen Hospital. The Lecture was given by Simon Roffey. Dr S.Roffey is an archaeology lecturer in the University of Winchester. He studied his degree in the University College of London, and in Winchester for his PhD.

In his lecture Dr Roffey introduced us to the world of Medieval Hospitals, and Lepers Houses. Apparently the institution founded at the hill was a leper hospital but only for a small period. It is known that they deal there with leprosy because of the archaeological evidences provided by the human remains.

Leper Hospital in England

We know little about them before the Norman Conquest (maybe we are looking in the wrong places). Hospitals used to take care of those who suffer from leprosy from the late 11th century until the 14th century. Apparently by the 15th century the epidemic seems to disappear, decline or just transform into something else. Because of this reason many leper houses and hospitals turned into alms houses or they keep being hospitals but they changed their policies, patients and structures. It is known that quite often lepers were considered outcasts, reason why many of this institutions were in the outskirts of the towns. (However, C.Rawcliffe portrys the image of lepers as those who has been blessed by God: they experienced purgatory on Earth therefore their suffering in the after life would be shorter and less miserable). Unfortunately, not much is known about the origin of these institutions: although there are some surviving buildings in Norwich, Glastonbury and Stourbridge from which we can infer some material.

St.Magdalene’s Hospital in Winchester

Fortunately our hospital is an untouched site, potential for extensive excavations. There are historical records that refer to the ‘lepers on the hill’ (Winton Domesday c. 1148). Some other details that we know about it are the following. By 1336 the hospital was ‘slenderly endowed’ and in decline. During the 14th and 15th centuries it suffered reforms. From c. 1550 to 1600 it was an almshouse (went from being built by masonry to being brick-built) Later on, it became a royalist camp and then prison (1660s): there were  around 3,000 prisoners from the Anglo-Dutch war. In 1788 it was demolished. In addition, the place became one of the biggest First World War bases in Hampshire, and the site appeared in a Time Team show, 2000.

Some Notes and Details on The Excavations

  1. 10th century Reforms and the Building during the reign Alfred ‘The Great’: Regulation and enclosure of monastic space (same provisions also made for the sick?). Oswald’s lost monastery (perhaps the hospital?)
  2. Artefact from the 10th and 11th century: There was an earlier cemetery (other side of the chapel under the medieval layer: an under chapel?). Similar burials to ones in Lincoln. Mode of burial – Anglo-Saxon?. Carbon dates form bodies – 890-1040. Grave markers (had a structure and was given lids,people buried with respect)Early hospital?: Leech Books (set of books for medical treatments,treatments for leprosy are mentioned)
  3. Pre 12th Century period: Burials. There might be an earlier building under the chapel. Evidences of transitional architecture. 12th century wall sitting inside the structure – sits underneath the infirmary.
  4. From 12th to 14th century-Leper Hospital period: There was an infirmary and a parallel chapel with a yard in the centre. The chapel was a flint structure with dressed cornerstone with a structure in the middle. There were interior burials (they were plaster lined and had a marble slab)
  5. Late Medieval Period: Earlier structure – probably a master’s lodge. Earlier master’s lodge attached to the side of the infirmary (example of the growth of the idea of having private space)
  6. Post Medieval Period: 1570-depiction of the chapel. The Masters lodge had a red-tiled corridor. Rubbed out trenches and bricks were later reused. Latrine: in which Tudor artefacts were found
  7. Current Excavations Looking for: The early medieval infirmary under the chapel and underneath the infirmary, looking into the burials and outlying areas of the hospital for burial pits.

We would like to thank Dr Simon Roffey for this information, and to wish the excavation team good luck for the future. The unknown world of St. Magdalen’s Hospital is in your hands- in good hands.

Lillian, Sophie, Scott and Caroline


-Dr. Simmon Roffey-University of Winchester:


-Simon Roffey´s Website:


-Winchester Archaeology:


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