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The History of the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick.

 

Bidford History Society got its new season off to a cracking start on Friday 21st September with an excellent presentation from Lt. Col. Gerald Lesinsky, the Master of Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick. Mr. Lesinsky is a retired Guards Officer, and the 32nd person to hold the title of Master.

 

He gave a packed audience a really interesting and witty talk, illustrated with photographs and pictures, about the history of the Chapel of St.James and the ancient timber-framed buildings located at the West (or Hanging) Gate of the old town of Warwick. The Chapel of St.James was built on top of the West Gate in 1126 by the Second Earl of Warwick for use by travellers, both leaving and entering the town, and later by the Guilds of Warwick. This Chapel also became a Chantry Chapel, as Latin was sung there. The original statue of St. James that adorned the façade may still be found in the Master’s garden.

 

The timber-framed buildings date from around 1450. The Guildhall was used by the United Guilds of Warwick to carry out their business and the Great Hall was built for celebrations and banquets. During the reign of Henry VIII, the Guilds transferred the ownership of the buildings to the Burgesses of Warwick, when the King turned his attention to seizing property and land owned by religious guilds.

 

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the buildings became the property of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In 1571, he established a “Hospital” for disabled soldiers to provide a home for a Master and 12 brothers or “Brethren,” as they are still known today.

 

The brothers dress in black top hats and gowns and each wear a silver badge, dating from the reign of Elizabeth I, with the bear and ragged staff emblem. The Master wears a frock coat. Every morning at 9.30am, except Monday, the Master and brothers hold a short service in the Chapel of St. James, where they recite the same prayers as laid down by Robert Dudley. There is no heating and the Chapel is lit only by candlelight!

These days, marriages may be celebrated in the Guild Hall, while the Great Hall is used by local bodies for dinners, receptions and other formal occasions. Among the more interesting visitors to the Lord Leycester Hospital over the years have been the 19th century American novelist and critic Nathaniel Hawthorne who brought his family, and the Dimblebys, father and son Richard and David, who both featured it in TV programmes, the one 55 years before the other. The Hospital also featured as a backdrop in an episode of Dr. Who, starring David Tennant.

Animated by a wealth of amusing stories, Lt. Col. Lesinsky’s encyclopaedic knowledge and bonhomie ensured a thoroughly entertaining evening.

 

 


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