The Lord Leycester Hospital is considered to be one of England’s best-preserved examples of medieval courtyard architecture.
Its origins date back to 1126 when the Chapel of St James the Great was built on the site by Roger de Newburgh, 2nd Norman Earl of Warwick. In the late 14th centuries, it was rebuilt by the 12th Earl of Warwick and this resulted in the medieval courtyards that the Lord Leycester Hospital is known for today. In 1450, the Guildhall was added by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick. Most of the building that you visit today dates from between the 12th and late 15th centuries.
Despite being called a hospital, the Lord Leycester Hospital was used mostly as a guildhall and as a charity supporting returned soldiers. It was home to the Guild of St George in 1386 which became the United Guilds of Warwick when it merged with the Guild of the Holy Trinity and the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Around this time, guilds had a religious focus as opposed to today where they operate primarily as trade associations.
In 1571 Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, founded an organisation to care for aged and injured soldiers, which continues to operate to this day. The 450-year-old organisation maintains many traditions and its residents, who are known as brethren, dress in ceremonial uniforms.
It is considered one of the best-preserved examples of medieval architecture in England and it is one of only a handful of buildings to have survived the 1694 Great Fire of Warwick.
It has also been used as a set for many historical television shows including Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators, the 2007 Doctor Who episode The Shakespeare Code and television adaptations of A Christmas Carol, Moll Flanders, Pride and Prejudice and Tom Jones.
What to see at the Lord Leycester Hospital
While the Grade I-listed building may be overshadowed by nearby Warwick Castle, it is steeped in history and definitely worth a visit.
Brethren dressed in ceremonial robes similar to those that would have worn during the Elizabethan era conduct guided tours of the hospital. These tours not only show you around the unique and deeply historic building but they also give you an insight into a 450-year-old charitable organisation that is still run in a traditional manner that is not too different from its medieval origins.
The Master’s Garden, to the rear of the building, has several unique features including a 2,000-year-old nilometer from ancient Egypt and a Victorian-era pineapple pit.
Visiting the Lord Leycester Hospital
The Lord Leycester Hospital is near the southern end of Warwick’s town centre and most points of interest in Warwick are no more than a 5–6-minute walk away. It is a five-minute walk to Market Hall Museum, it is around a three-minute walk to the Warwickshire Yeomanry Museum, it is five minutes to St Mary’s Church and the entrance to Warwick Castle is a six-minute walk from here.
Admission costs £8.50 and includes access to both the medieval building and the Master’s Garden. It also includes a guided tour by one of the brethren dressed in Elizabethan robes.
The Brethren’s Kitchen is the Lord Leycester Hospital’s 500-year-old cafe. It serves breakfast, light meals and a nice ploughman’s lunch but it is best known for its cream tea.