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Medieval manuscript used as a cover for a later document.The Statutes of Guisborough Hospital

The Statutes of Guisborough Hospital is a set of rules written by hospital founder Robert Pursglove in or before 1561. These rules controlled the governance and everyday operation of the Hospital of Jesus, from the management of the schoolboys and pensioners to the Master’s pay and the election of Wardens.

We have several copies in the archive. The oldest were hand written by Pursglove himself on parchment (animal skin). These are bound in richly decorated covers made of re-used pages from an early thirteenth-century illuminated manuscript. The writing on the covers has nothing to do with the content of the Statutes, but the high quality medieval parchment served to protect the sixteenth-century documents.

The Statutes are written in English, and provide a very clear record of exactly what Robert Pursglove expected from his hospital.

You can read the statutes in full here, or browse the summary below. This copy was made by Ralph Dunn around 1800. It is not the only to be copy made over the years. Court cases and the special significance of the Statutes to hospital life led to many copies being made.


Robert Pursglove's rules: 

The Schoolmaster

  • He had to be well educated in Latin grammar, and honest ‘in conditions and living’.
  • He had to be a priest in holy orders, or an unmarried layman.
  • He could not be Scottish or a ‘stranger’ (foreigner).
  • If he was taken on as an unmarried layman, then got married, he would lose his job.
  • He had to swear an oath in the presence of the Wardens when he took up his post (see p.6 of the Statutes).
  • He wasn’t allowed to take on any job which would conflict with his duties as Schoolmaster.
  • He had to keep an admission book, listing the scholars’ names and the day and year they first came to the school.
  • He was to be paid £25 (this appears to have been reduced to £10 in reality).
  • He was to charge scholars eleven pence on their first admission to the school, but otherwise had to teach them for free.
  • If the scholars or their families gave him gifts (for example of food or household items), he was allowed to keep them.
  • He was given accommodation consisting of two rooms over the school house.
  • He was not allowed to leave the school for more than twenty days in any year, except with the permission of the Wardens.
  • If he became ill or needed to take time off, he had to organise a suitable replacement.
  • He had to give four months notice before leaving the job, unless he could negotiate a shorter period with the Wardens.
  • If he turned out to be a ‘common drunkard, dicer, carder, or do use any other evil or notable vice, or be negligent in teaching’, the Wardens were to give him three warnings/chances to improve before sacking him.
  • He had to teach according to the curriculum set out by Pursglove (see. pp10-11 of the Statutes).
  • He was to lead prayers every morning at the start of the school day. Pursglove outlined which prayers and psalms were to be used.  


The Scholars

  • Boys had to pay eleven pence on admission to the school, but they were taught for free.
  • In the summer, they studied from 6am until 6pm, with two hours for dinner from 11am until 1pm.
  • In the winter, they studied from 7am until 4:30pm, with the same two hour slot for dinner.
  • They had holidays at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun.
  • The school was divided into four forms, according to their progress.
  • Scholars in the first form (beginners, also called petits) were not taught by the Master, but by students from the third and fourth forms.
  • Scholars had to provide their own books or write the day’s lessons out by hand in the morning. If they could not do this, they were not allowed to stay longer than one month.
  • Scholars in the third and fourth forms were only allowed to speak Latin in the school house, unless they were teaching the petits.
  • Scholars who behaved poorly could be expelled. If they were allowed back into the school, they had to pay four pence.


The Wardens

  • There were two Wardens. They did not get paid, but they could claim expenses.
  • They had to live in Cleveland, preferably in the Parish of Guisborough.
  • They were elected for a term of one year, and could be re-elected each Michaelmas (29 September) or within twenty days of that date.
  • If no Wardens were elected within twenty days of Michaelmas, the Dean of Cleveland, the parsons of Lofthouse and Easington, and the church wardens of St Nicholas in Guisborough were to come together to elect new Wardens.  
  • New Wardens had to swear an oath written by Robert Pursglove (see p.5 of the Statutes), in the presence of the previous two Wardens and the Schoolmaster.
  • The Wardens were tasked with collecting the rents from hospital land, and keeping financial accounts.  
  • They had to make sure that any lands, property, money or goods given to the hospital was used for the benefit of the poor people, or to augment the Schoolmaster’s salary.  


The Pensioners

  • Pursglove gave provision for twelve pensioners in total: six men and six women.
  • They had to be at least sixty years old.
  • They could not be married. If they got married while in the hospital, they would lose their room.
  • They had to have lived in Cleveland for at least three years.
  • Poor people living in the parish of Guisborough were to be given priority.
  • The Wardens had to assign places in the almshouses according to need.
  • They were to be given twelve pence each every Sunday.
  • Every year, forty shillings was to be distributed among them for the repair or replacement of their beds, bedding and clothing.
  • If a pensioner died and their room was vacant for a prolonged period, the money that would have been paid to the room’s occupant was to be divided among the other pensioners.
  • They were to share two to a room, with their own separate beds.
  • They had to pray at St Nicholas’ Church at least two hours a day – one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon.
  • They were not allowed to leave the Parish for more than thirty days a year, unless the Wardens gave their permission.
  • They had to sweep the schoolhouse.
  • If their behaviour was very poor, the Wardens were to give them three warnings before taking away their place.


Roger Tocketts, George Conyers and their heirs were given the right to install new Schoolmasters, and to nominate poor people to the almshouses. This right passed to the Wardens if the heirs of Tocketts and Conyers did not use it.

The Statutes were taken very seriously, and were used as the basis for governance at Guisborough Hospital from 1561 until the reconstitution into Guisborough Grammar School in the 1880s.





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