History and buildings

The Hospital was founded by William Browne, a rich wool merchant of Stamford, and built in 1475 in the reign of Edward IV. With his brother, John, William Browne was largely responsible for enlarging and embellishing the Church of All Saints nearby. He and his wife are believed to have lived in a house adjacent the western side of the Hospital, and so would have been parishioners of All Saints', where brasses to three generations of their family may be seen.

In 1485 William was authorised by letters patent of Richard Ill to found and endow the almshouse, but after his death and that of his wife Margaret, in 1489, the management of the Hospital passed to her brother, Thomas Stokke, Canon of York and Rector of Easton-on-the-Hill, just outside Stamford. Stokke obtained new letters patent from Henry VII in 1493 and the chapel was consecrated by the Bishop of Lincoln on 22nd December, 1494.

The Hospital or Bedehouse - a name by which it was also known - was established as a home and a house of prayer for 10 poor men and 2 poor woman, with a Warden and a Confrater, both of whom were to be secular, i.e. non-monastic, priests. The statutes required attendance at chapel twice daily, where masses for the repose of the souls of the Founders were said, but on Sundays it was to All Saints' Church that they had to go. The title "bedesman" or "beadsman" given to the poor men was derived from the beads of the rosary. With the passage of time, a new licence became necessary and this was granted by James I in 1610.

COMMON ROOM - From the entrance porch, having a statue of the Founder over the arch, the door on the right is that of the Common Room which housed the "ten poor men" in cubicles on either side, each man having a window. The space allotted is delineated by the strips of darker wood on the floor. Two windows in the north wall were removed in the 1870 alterations, when the fireplace was inserted. The two women had a room in a range of buildings to the north of the main block. The Common Room was open to the chantry chapel through the carved screen of 1475 so that sick or bedridden men might hear the services. The sliding panels, forming a more substantial division from the Common Room, were put in place in 1870.

In 1870 the dilapidated state of the other buildings on the site led to their demolition and James Fowler designed the cottages which are linked to the cloister by a covered passageway. A new porch with its elegant tower and clock was built in line with the cloisters. The Common Room was shortened by the insertion of a wall and door to seaparate it from this new entrance. A new Warden's House was built on the site of a smaller residence purchased by the Governors in the early 1860s.. The former Common Room became the Board Room of the charity.

CHAPEL - the chapel was separated from the Common Room by the fine late medieval wooden screen and a passage.Originally the 'poor' would have sat to the west of the screen for services. Attached to the screen are six misericords - or 'mercy' seats - with fine carvings beneath. The magnificent stained and painted glass windows are contemporary with the original building. They were created by a workshop local to the area. They were very expensive and show great skill in their construction. The four major figures shown are St James, St John, the Holy Trinity and an unidentified English king. Below are depictions of the Virgin Mary or female saints with one window, unique in England, of the Virgin holding a window (she was the Window on Heaven). Sadly neglected for centuries they were reconstructed in 1870, re-leaded and repaired in 1967 and external protective glazing added in 2023. The stone altar slab is a rare survival and was saved at an unknown date by being placed in the floor of the chapel. Also a rare survival is the small cope chair to the left of the altar. A second chair disappeared during the 1870 restoration. The reredos is late 19th Century with inserted 20th Century painted panels. The kneelers were designed by Pam Sharpe, Museum Curator 1998-2018 and worked with the help of residents and friends of the Hospital

STAIRCASE AND CROSS PASSAGE. At the foot of the staricase is a brass plaque dating from 1497 which records the origina and purposes of the Foundation. Through the original door at the head of the stairs is a cross passage with double doors on the left leading into the main hall and on the right into what would have been the kitchen and buttery for the Guild Hall and led to a suite of rooms over the cloisters (removed in 1870).

THE AUDIT ROOM/GUILDHALL Recent reserch has revealed the fact that this upper room was created by William Browne as the Guild Hall of the Guild of All Saints of which he was the Alderman. When the guilds were swept away (around 1548) this room became the Audit Room of the charity. It is dominated by the large oak topped table given by Warden Peter Routh in 1583 and inscribed with his initals and the date. From around the same time are the two painted panels on the screen separating the room from the cross passage.

The stained glass windows are no earlier than 1485. In the cupboard at the east end of the room is an ancient almsbox which was recovered from a wall during the 19th Century alterations The massive iron-bound chest was used to store the Foundation Documents and other precious possessions of the Hospital. It was secured by three padlocks and could be opened only when the Warden, the Vicar of All Saints' Church and one of the men were all present each with his own key. The carved chest of 1629 has a candle-box and a drawer at the foot. The fireplace is original and the carved oak cornice around the top of the walls carries hooks ("tenterhooks") for the suspension of hangings. The Windsor chairs are of a local pattern and one was placed in each cottage after completion.

THE CONFRATER'S ROOM was created around 1720 following a dispute between the then Warden and Confrater who had shared the Warden's House from the foundation of the Hospital. The Confrater ceased to be resident from 1870 but this room was retained as his sitting room when he was on duty and ontains original furniture and was retained as a sitting-room. The sitting-room was last used in 1950s by Canon John Parker. The stained-glass window in the light-box was found in a cupboard and is presumed to have been removed from one of the dismantled rooms which lay beyond the adjacent oak door. It is a mixture of mediaeval and later glass.

Visitors may remember that Browne's Hospital featured as "Middlemarch Hospital" in the film adaptation of George Eliot's novel "Middlemarch" much of which was shot in Stamford. The Hospital is today home to 12 residents as specified in the Foundation, but at the present we have 10 ladies and 2 men. The cottages around the beautiful cloister garden were updated in 1963 to flats, each with a living-room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom.