The Leper Hospital at Clattercote Priory
6 August 2021 (Updated 23 November 2021)
Leprosy, today known as Hansen's Disease, was widespread in England between the 11th and 14th centuries. What caused it was not understood and fear of contracting it was high amongst the population.
Some considered the disease to be a punishment from God and believed the outward symptoms of leprosy to be signs of inner sin. Others took a more sympathetic view, seeing the suffering of lepers as akin to the suffering of Christ. Some believed that because lepers were suffering purgatory on earth, they would be sure to go to heaven and were thus closer to God than others.
A place of safety for lepers
It often fell on religious orders to care for those who suffered from the condition, usually housing them in fairly remote spots outside of towns and villages where their patients could live and be treated in peace.
One such religious order was the Gilbertine Order at Clattercote Priory a few miles North of Banbury, which served as a leper hospital for the area.
There were little or no medical treatments available for leprosy during this period, so the emphasis at leper hospitals of this sort was on eating a wholesome and varied diet, as well as prayer and the benefits of physical work such as farming. This work allowed the patients to help subsidise their treatment, and sustained the priory as a whole.
Cleanliness was believed to be very important for the treatment of leprosy, and the patients at leper hospitals would be regularly bathed. At Clattercote this took place in a pool that was for a long time known locally as 'Leper's Pool'. The pool was on the site of what is now Clattercote Reservoir, a short distance to the South West of Clattercote.
The end of Clattercote Priory
By the 14th century, leprosy had become less common in England and fear of it had been supplanted by a greater threat: the Black Death.
Clattercote Priory ceased to be a hospital for lepers and became a regular Gilbertine Priory. During the 16th century, the priory fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries. Its buildings fell into disrepair and were pulled down and a manor house was later built on the site. The buildings that can be seen today mostly date from the 17th century.
- 'Folklore of Oxfordshire' by Christine Bloxham (Tempus Publishing, 2005, ISBN: 9780752436647)
- The Time of Leprosy: 11th Century to 14th Century (historicengland.org.uk)
- Parishes: Clattercote (www.british-history.ac.uk)