The Archaeology of the Medieval Hospital in England and Wales
The English medieval hospital has long been an institution that has defied clear classification. Historical debate concerning the origin of these institutions, the level of medical care provided and the nature of the daily activities carried out has relied heavily upon the historical documents with only limited work being carried out on the archaeology of these sites. Where archaeological study and excavation has occurred it has attempted to fit itself within the broader historical debate. Whilst some aspects of architectural study have also been carried out, they have relied entirely on the standing remains and have often studied them within the same historical classification system of leper hospitals, almshouses, pilgrim hospices and hospitals for the sick. These classifications have recently been brought into question as to their applicability for England and Wales given the different historical context in which they developed from Continental hospitals in mainland Europe. The importance of the hospital to medieval society and the influence of economic, social and religious factors has been an area of heightened study over the past decades, yet the underlying means of understanding these sites is still lacking.
This research aims to examine the material culture and architectural development of English and Welsh medieval hospitals on a country-wide basis to redefine how we classify these sites. While there are variations in the archaeological and historical development of these sites a case study of several sites has suggested underlying trends in the layout and material culture that may have applicability on a wider scale. The importance of orientation, zones of activity and similar ranges of material culture assemblage may provide a new avenue of investigation into the historical debate about how these sites functioned. The importance of hospitality to the activities carried out shall be pursued through material culture associated with food and drink, the clothing of the residents and indicators of social identity. Coupled to this will be an examination of geographical distribution of hospitals across England and Wales and how the archaeological remains differ across different regions.