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The endowments of Guisborough Hospital

In 1561, Robert Pursglove, George Conyers and Roger Tocketts endowed Guisborough Hospital with lands and properties. This enabled the hospital to generate sufficient income to support itself in perpetuity. This was a standard practice at the time.

The largest parcels of land appear to have been the manors of Bolam in County Durham, and Ellerby and Picton in North Yorkshire. The hospital also owned land in Stainsby, Yarm, Harsley, Hutton Rudby, Foxton, Carlton in Cleveland, Langtoft, Snainton, Hinderwell, and  Hartlepool, as well as a property in or near Guisborough called 'Rownde Close'.

Robert Pursglove appears to have purchased Bolam specifically for the Hospital. We have receipts in our archive which detail that he paid £346. 14s. 2d. for the manor of Bolam in 1561. These documents tell us that the land previously belonged to the Rt. Hon. Lord J. Lumley (also spelled Lomley) and his wife Jane. The Lumleys quitclaimed Bolam to the Wardens of Guisborough Hospital on 14th December 1561, meaning that they relinquished all of their own rights to the land and, most importantly, all rights that any of their descendants might have claimed (Z154, ZJB 1/6/5).

According to the final concord of 1562 (Z154, ZJB 1/6/7, 8), the Manor of Bolam contained the following: 12 messuages, 6 cottages, 6 tofts, a dovecote, 12 gardens, 8 orchards, 60 acres of land, 30 acres of meadow, 50 acres of pasture, 10 acres of wood, 1000 acres of moor, 300 of acres turbary, 50 acres of heath and 10s. rent in Bolam.

A messuage was a dwelling house (some of the land documents list a ‘capital messuage’, which is always the most important house, usually the seat of the lord of the manor). Cottages and tofts were both types of farmstead, and the ten shillings rent in Bolam refers to the rental value of property in the village itself. Turbary was the right to cut peat or turf for use as fuel. Three hundred acres of this would have been very useful to the tenants.

The dovecote is interesting; in the sixteenth century – as it had been in the middle ages – only the rich kept doves (think of the dovecote in Guisborough, which is very large and richly decorated). The presence of a dovecote indicates that Bolam was a prosperous place, and the manor of Bolam was a significant gift to the hospital.

It was also a useful gift. No sooner had the transfer from the Lumleys to the Wardens been concluded than the hospital began to rent out the land. One of the first rentals dates from 1562, when a widow named Isabella Robynson signed a forty year lease for a messuage, eleven acres of farmland, small parcels of other land, and the right to take a given number of cattle to pasture in areas known as the oxpasture and the common moor. For all of this, Isabella paid a yearly rent of 9s. 4d. and a hen. Hens and chickens were considerably higher status in those days than they are now.

Forty years was a very long time. Indeed, this is exceptional for the hospital leases, and probably related to a prior claim on the tenancy held by Isabella or her late husband. It was written into the statues that leases should not exceed twelve years, and most leases until the eighteenth century hold fast to this rule.

As for rents, they weren’t paid monthly, as now, but at two points in the year. Robert and Elizabeth Trystram of Guisborough, rented Rownde Close in the Lordship of Guisborough (this was not necessarily in the town itself. Closes were parcels of fenced-off land that were close by towns and villages, hence Rownde Close would have been between the town and the regular open farmland). They agreed to pay ten shillings at the feast of St Martin, and ten shillings at Pentecost. Robert’s occupation is given as ‘gentleman’, which makes it very likely that either his servants would have worked the land, or he would have sub-let it.  

1561 didn’t mark the end of the endowments, rather it was the beginning. The Letters Patent of Elizabeth I (also called the Charter), which were granted in 1561, allowed the hospital to be endowed with lands that had a rental value of up to £60 per annum.

Langtoft, Ellerby, Snainton and Hinderwell together were worth almost one sixth of the total allowance, bringing in  £8. 9s. 4d. These were granted to the hospital all together in 1566.

Robert Pursglove had purchased the lands at Ellerby from Lady Katherine Bigod of Mulgrave (the Mulgrave estate is west of Whitby). The Bigod family had been significant landholders during the middle ages. The tenants in Ellerby included William Edeson, William Thomson, Jenet Ducke and her son Francis, Jenet and George Hogeson, and William Pursglove. These people are all listed as occupants of the land, rather than people who were themselves subletting.

Snainton brought in £4 in rental from a capital messuage, 4 closes and 7 bovates of land, all of which were occupied by Guy Langdale. A bovate was the area of land one ox could plough per year, and was usually around 15 acres. Langtoft and Hinderwell brought in a little less, although they had far more tenants.

In total these lands brought in the equivalent in today’s money of £150,000 per annum. It was enough to run the free school and almshouses, and to provide the twelve pensioners with forty shillings between them each year to renew their bedding and buy them any new clothing they might need. It also paid for their food and maintenance.


M. F. Prior, 2012


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