One of the oldest hospitals in the Canterbury area is St John’s Canterbury founded in 1085 by Archbishop Lanfranc. This was built on a large scale making provisions for 100 old and needy folk with `watchers’ to care for them in sickness and a priory over the road.
Juliana of Wye, one of Queen Eleanor of Provence’s ladies in waiting took up residence in Maison Dieu in the mid 13th century and received money for milk and butter which she used for making ointments which she sold out of a ‘schoppa’ in the building. Though some think she was a medieval beautician, her concoctions could also have had pharmaceutical properties.
The famous author of the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer would have stayed at the Maison Dieu complex during his own pilgrimage to Canterbury. He lived from 1343 – 1400. One of his most memorable creations, the Wife of Bath, is deaf. Historical records which date back to Chaucer’s time are held at Canterbury Archive, a good source for Maison Dieu and other local almshouses.
Another character in the records is Arnold Knyght – a Lancastrian Falconer and Yorkist yeoman. He had been a falconer to three kings. Suffering from leprosy, he himself built a house on the site of the hospital by Whiteditch near Rochester in order to spend his life in divine service. Not all those seeking sanctuary in medieval hospitals were poor.
Eastbridge Hospital was founded in 1180. When Edward the Black Prince lay dying in 1376, he asked for water from the spring at Eastbridge Hospital, which was rumoured to have healing properties, because the common medieval disease of leprosy had by then become rare at the hospital. Eastbridge Hospital continued to function until the 1920s.
Maison Dieu was commissioned by Henry III, to be one of the major stopping off points for pilgrims on the road from London to Canterbury. The house that stands today is all that remains of a much bigger complex, and was probably a chantry house for monks. This map from the 1950s shows that the building has been added to and modified in nearly every century since it was first constructed.