The Hospital of St James, Thornton Abbey, the investigation of a rural medieval hospital.
PhD project Summary
This PhD will explore the social context of medieval hospitals in Great Britain through a contextualised study of the cemetery assemblage from St. James hospital, Thornton Abbey, Lincolnshire. During the Middle Ages, the hospital was not only a medical facility, it was also an institution of wider social and spiritual welfare run according to monastic principles. Despite the hospital preforming a central role in the welfare of society, its cemeteries have been overlooked in the archaeological study societal health.
In order to determine the social complexities of a medieval hospital it is necessary to have an understanding of the means of health care and the influence of religion over the provision of care. An investigation of the burial practices and cemetery use that took place at St James will be provided. The primary focus of this is to characterise variation within the cemetery, whether it be between phases of burial or population demographics. This will in turn, progress our understanding of how social distinctions were made in burial practice. Comparisons of these findings will be made to contemporary hospital cemeteries; including but not limited to St. Mary’s Spital, London (Thomas et al. 1997 ; Connell et al. 2012); St. John’s, Cambridge (Cessford 2015); and St. Bartholomew’s, Bristol (Price & Ponsford, 1998). The timespan of the hospitals referenced covers the late-twelfth to early-sixteenth centuries, thus encompassing the estimated lifespan of the hospital of St. James (late-fourteenth – late-fifteenth century) and culminating with the end of the medieval hospital in England.
The thesis will go on to analyse the cemetery population of St. James, consisting of 195 excavated individuals, to attain an assessment of the cemetery’s demographic profile. This will be achieved via osteological analysis and statistical demographic modelling. Preliminary analyses of 110 skeletons indicates that an unexpectedly high percentage of the population are non-adults and thus calls for an exploration of the position of children in the medical hospital and of ailing children in later medieval society.
In conclusion, this project seeks to employ archaeological and historical data for the comparative investigation of medieval hospitals and more specifically their cemetery population. It will examine the vast and changing nature of the medieval hospital with a specific interest on the social history of its function. The thesis will provide the primary analysis of the medieval hospital of St. James at Thornton Abbey, and it will contribute to a growing field of interest with in archaeological research.
Non-Commercial fieldwork experience:
I have been involved in the excavation of Thornton Abbey and Little Carlton research excavations since 2012, where I acted as a site supervisor and principal onsite osteologist.