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Infirmary hall to the north of St John's Farmhouse (formerly Barn to the north of St John's Farmhouse)

A Grade I Listed Building in Ely, Cambridgeshire

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Latitude: 52.3986 / 52°23'54"N

Longitude: 0.2548 / 0°15'17"E

OS Eastings: 553505

OS Northings: 280231

OS Grid: TL535802

Mapcode National: GBR M6G.R6P

Mapcode Global: VHHJ6.CZK4

Plus Code: 9F4297X3+CW

Entry Name: Infirmary hall to the north of St John's Farmhouse (formerly Barn to the north of St John's Farmhouse)

Listing Date: 23 September 1950

Last Amended: 13 December 2017

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1126455

English Heritage Legacy ID: 48778

Location: Ely, East Cambridgeshire, Cambridgeshire, CB6

County: Cambridgeshire

Civil Parish: Ely

Built-Up Area: Ely

Traditional County: Cambridgeshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cambridgeshire

Church of England Parish: Ely

Church of England Diocese: Ely

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Infirmary hall to the north of St John's Farmhouse, being three bays of the infirmary hall to the Hospital of Mary Magdelene first recorded in 1225. In 1251 it merged with the Hospital of St John the Baptist to become the Hospital of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdelene. The building currently (as correct in 2016) forms part of St Johns Farm, Ely.


Building: two-storey service building representing three bays of the infirmary hall to the Hospital of Mary Magdelene first recorded in 1225. In 1251 it merged with the Hospital of St John the Baptist to become the Hospital of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdelene. The building currently (as correct in 2016) forms part of St Johns Farm, Ely.

Date: first recorded in 1225 with later phases of alteration assigned to C15, C16, C18 and C20.

Materials: constructed largely of rubble and Barnack stone with a tiled roof.

Plan: rectangular in plan.

Exterior: the three-bay, two-storey service building is built largely of rubble and Barnack Stone and is substantially C16 in construction. The east and west elevations have crow-stepped gables. The north elevation has a blocked C13 arcade, buttressed between the arches and at the west end, but the stonework used to construct the buttresses and to infill the arches contains none of the evidently recycled material seen in the other three elevations. This may indicate that the alterations to the building for domestic use was undertaken over two phases, with the blocking of the arcade dating to before the dissolution. The conversion created two storeys, with a two-light, mullioned window inserted into both the ground and first-floor of each blocked bay of the arcade, the upper windows set directly beneath the apex of the arches. The ground-floor window to the east is the exception, and has a wider and deeper opening, with a relieving arch over. It has three internal mullions, its lower part bricked up, and has timber louvres rather than glazed casements.

The reconstruction of the three other walls may be contemporary with the addition of the hall to the south, and of a second domestic range to the east. Although there is no evidence in the stonework of the two-storey hall building and porch in the south wall, there is a C16 timber-framed door with a four-centred arch towards the east end of the ground-floor, in the same position as the porch door. A stone piscina is set into the wall above the door. A first-floor opening, blocked with brick and to the south end of the east elevation, may have given access to the long gallery described in the early plan. Amongst other reused stonework, the east gable end contains fragments of the piers of an internal arcade, either recycled from further bays of the north arcade, or perhaps from the arcade of a south aisle.

Interior: the ground-floor originally contained two rooms divided by a timber stud partition covered in wattle and daub. Both have an axial beam, chamfered and stopped at both ends, running east and west from a ceiling beam above the stud partition wall. In the east room a short beam containing mortices for joists extends north from the axial beam. A mortice in the same position on the opposite side of the axial beam suggests there was also a beam to the south. This room contains a fireplace to the east end which has been altered for more recent domestic use, perhaps in the late C19 or early C20, and is a brick structure containing a large copper for washing clothes.

A few glazed floor tiles beneath the cill of the door connecting the east and west rooms may represent the original floor of the infirmary hall. The door has a timber frame with a four-centred arch. Part of the east room has been partitioned off to create a coal store. In the east wall is a fireplace with a timber bressumer with an arched upper profile. The brickwork to the back of the fireplace is laid in a chevron pattern and does not appear to be fire-blackened. This is compatible with the room’s former use as a dairy, as described on the early plan, but the form of the fireplace suggests the room had been originally intended for polite domestic use.

The first-floor is reached by a staircase in the east room. Formerly two rooms, it consists of a single open space, and has a principal-rafter roof without a ridge piece, and with collars and staggered purlins. Substantial repairs to the roof were undertaken in the 1980s. In the north wall plasterwork has fallen away to reveal two of the arches of the C13 arcade at the point where their shafts spring from head corbels. To the east is a brick-backed fireplace with a substantial chamfered bressumer, with an arched upper profile similar to the ground-floor west fireplace. To the south is a timber-framed doorway with four-centred arch. This opens onto a brick-backed alcove, visible as a blocked opening in the east elevation. To the north is a window with three, arched lights, the two outer lights infilled with brick. The east end contains a large centrally placed opening with moulded surround, formally a window, now blocked, to the south of which is an inserted opening containing double timber doors. This is thought to be in the position of the former fireplace.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 19/09/2018.


The present farm of St John’s, Ely occupies the site of a medieval hospital, institutions established to care for the infirm poor (and also other groups of people in need) from the early middle ages until the dissolution of the monasteries in the C16. Typically, hospitals formed a group of buildings housing a religious or secular institution which provided both spiritual and medical care. The idea for such institutions originated in the Anglo-Saxon period, although the first definite foundations were created by Anglo-Norman bishops and queens in the C11. Documentary sources indicate that by the mid-C16 there may have been about 1000 foundations in existence, most of which were run by a religious community headed by a prior or master. Half of the hospitals present at that time were suppressed as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Some smaller institutions survived until 1547, when they were dissolved by Edward VI, but others continued in use as almshouses.

Buildings of hospital complexes tended to adopt a monastic form, with a similar range of buildings, but with the nave or body of the church containing the infirmary hall and its inmates, their beds placed in the aisles. The chapel itself was generally confined to the east end of the building, often a single cell, perhaps with a sacristy attached. Other ranges included cloisters, refectory and dormitory, accommodation for the master and guests, as well as service buildings, depending on the size of the hospital. The complex as a whole would have been surrounded by a wall or earthwork enclosure.

The present farm known as St John’s is thought to occupy the site of the Hospital of St Mary Magdelene, first recorded in 1225 when it was gifted the church at Littleport. In about 1251 this hospital was merged with a second, St John the Baptist, by Bishop Hugh Northwold. This then became the Hospital of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdelene. The bishop also drew up a simple rule for communal living: the hospital was to be placed under the care of a Master, and was to have no more than 13 brethren, both lay and clerical. The Master was allowed a room of his own, but all others were to share a single dormitory, and all, including the Master, were to eat together in one refectory.

Specific hospital buildings mentioned in Bishop Fordham’s revised rule of 1303, include a chapel, refectory, dormitory and cloister, as well as the master’s own chamber. Guests are likely to have been separately accommodated. Bishop Northwold’s Rule of 1240 also made provision for the burial of the dead, specifying that the poor who died in the Hospital were to be buried in the parish churchyard, but that the brethren, both lay and clerical, were to be buried in the Hospital graveyard. The only reference to the buildings of St John’s Hospital in the earlier Rule is to a chapel, to be left at the disposition of the Sacrist of the monastery.

The C14 was a time of prosperity for the hospital, but by 1454 it had fallen into poverty. The Mastership was granted as a sinecure to Bishop Dunkeld, and it appears that by the late C15 and into the C16 many of the buildings had fallen into disuse. The dissolution of the hospital, however, did not take place until 1561, when it was presented by Queen Elizabeth I to Clare Hall (later Clare College) for the endowment of 10 scholarships. The farm and the Hospital were subsequently let, recorded in a rental of 1561. A lease of 1620, to John Orwell of Ely, a gentleman, describes both a mansion house and ‘a house called the Hospital with a yard thereto belonging’.

The earliest visual record of buildings on the site of the hospital is Speed’s 1607 sketch map of Ely. This depicts four buildings within an enclosed area of land bounded by to the north, west, and east by the roads currently known, respectively, as West End, St John’s Road and Cambridge Road. Three of the buildings are shown centrally placed in the northern part of the site, apparently arranged around an open courtyard, with gatehouses centrally placed to north and south; there is a fourth building set against the east wall. In the published version of 1610/11, the south boundary is obscured by the map key, but the north gatehouse is present.

The most detailed record of the main complex of buildings to the north is a plan thought to date to the C17, but which may be as late as the early C18. This records a number of buildings grouped around a courtyard, possibly part of the former cloister, and describes an apparently high status dwelling, compatible with the standing of the C17 tenant, John Orwell, but perhaps in the early stages of decline. This includes a partly ruinous building to the south, described as a ‘chappell without any roof’, with single-storey service buildings attached to the west. Two further, former hospital ranges, the east side of the cloister and a building to the north (the latter now a two-storey service building) are shown as converted to domestic use, the northern building described as having ‘two large chambers over a kitchen and large parlour’, the parlour ‘now used as a dairy’. The plan also illustrates a substantial two-storey building, west of the cloister and attached to the south of the two-storey service building, its ground-floor rooms described as ‘The Hall’ and ‘a little parlour’, with two chambers and a narrow gallery over. A porch with a staircase, set in the east corner where the two buildings meet, provides the only access between them.

The immediate surroundings of the buildings are also described. The property boundary to the north and east, which separates the north complex from ‘the towne street’, is a stone wall, with a short section of mud or clay fence. Immediately to the west of the surviving two-storey service building is the entrance from the street, running beside and around the south of the hall into the court. To the south of the ‘chappell’ is the garden and to the east and north is an orchard, on the west side of which, just east of the chapel, is the dove house. A ‘pale’ to the south divides the orchard and garden from ‘the close’. The orchard is still described as such on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, but was developed for housing in the late C20, along with the east side of the close.

Of those buildings shown on the early plan, the two-storey service building (the subject of this List entry) is the only hospital structure that remains, though radically altered. This seems to represent the remains of the hospital’s infirmary hall, built in the C13, and probably originally a four or five-bay building. It was converted for domestic use in the late C15 or early C16, when it was reduced to three bays, and its north (and possibly a south) aisle demolished. A survey of the building undertaken by Historic England in 2014 suggests that its fabric demonstrates four phases of alteration, relating to two key changes in its function. The first was when its mastership was held by Bishop Dunkeld, before its dissolution but following the loss of its brethren. The second after its dissolution, when it became part of a more extensive high status dwelling around 1700.

The surviving post-dissolution Grade I listed dove house (NHLE 1331739), is also shown on the plan.

About 120m south-west of the service building is a Grade I listed stone barn: 'Barn to the South-West of St John's Farm' (NHLE 1126456) and three further agricultural buildings. Although this is referred to as the second complex, the other structures associated with the barn are relatively modern agricultural buildings. The barn is the only one of these structures to contain early fabric. Traditionally described as a chapel, neither its purpose nor its relationship to the hospitals of either St John or St Mary Magdelene is understood. It lies within the historic curtilage of St Mary’s, defined by a ditch to the south, but contains early-C13 fabric, apparently predating the merger of the two hospitals. Although evidently a freestanding structure, it is likely to have been associated with other buildings.

By 1792 the cloisters and ruinous chapel had gone, as well as the later hall, and had been replaced by the present farmhouse in the north complex. The buildings are described in a survey of that date, which also refers to an old, stone building with two rooms and a dairy. This is evidently the surviving two-storey service building. The document also refers to four barns, which may have been located in the complex to the south.

The Tithe map of 1838 and later C19 Ordnance Survey mapping show relatively minor changes to both the south and north complexes. A lean–to was added to the farmhouse between 1838 and 1848, and there were alterations to the arrangement of farm buildings in the south complex. These are shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1885. Later alterations include the removal of a structure attached to the south of the west end of the stone barn in the south-west complex.

Reasons for Listing

Infirmary hall to the north of St John's Farmhouse, part of the former medieval Hospital of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdelene, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Degree of survival: it retains a significant proportion of original C13 fabric which contributes to the understanding of the principal elements of the hospital and the evolution of the site;

* Rarity: as a rare example of a former medieval hospital building that has remained in use, though altered, to the present day;

* Architectural interest: the building represents three bays of the infirmary hall that was converted for domestic use in C15-C16, and retains architectural detailing to demonstrate medieval masonry, craftsmanship, status and to contribute to the understanding of the evolution of the hospital complex to the present day;

* Historic interest: as the standing remains of a hospital founded in the early C13 which has continued in use and, in combination with the C17 or early-C18 plan, provides further understanding of the evolution, location and possible arrangement of other buildings in the hospital complex;

* Group value: it has a very strong group value with the three other Grade I listed buildings, the Grade II wall to St John's Farm, and the scheduled site of the Hospital of St John the Baptist and St Mary Magdelene, all of which are understood to contain medieval fabric. Together they form a historically coherent group which reflect changes to the status and use of the site over 800 years.

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