Bolton Hospital

Has been described as a Certain Pele Tower, and also as a Certain Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameBolton Hospital
Alternative NamesHospital of St Thomas the Martyr; Boltone; Boulton; the Guards
Historic CountryNorthumberland
Modern AuthorityNorthumberland
1974 AuthorityNorthumberland
Civil ParishHedgeley

The hospital at Bolton was founded c 1225 for a master, three chaplains and thirteen leper brethren, and for the relief of the poor and strangers. It was dedicated to St Thomas The Martyr and was under the supervision or granted to the monasteries of Kirkham and Rievaulx. The brethren were under a religious rule. Licence to build a chapel was granted during the priorate of Ralph Kerneth (1216-1233). In 1335/6 licence to crenellate the "dwelling place of Boulton hospital" was granted.

Lepers do not appear to be mentioned after c1338 and it then seems to have become more in the nature of a monastery, the brethren being called canons by Leland.

The hospital was dissolved c1547. The site of the cell, with a garden, about six acres of meadow and a croft called Ryecrofte was granted in 1575 to John Sonkye and Percival Gunson.

In 1233 the Master and Brethren obtained licence to stub 80 acres of land adjoining the hospital on the north and east. This land is represented by the enclosed fields on the north side of where the moor slopes down from the old watch tower (Jenny's Lantern ? at NU11961531) on Jenny's Lantern Hill to the Bolton Road. In 1234/5 a grant was made to the hospital that 150 acres taken out of Birchefald Wood on the east shall be disafforested. East Bolton (Name 13051613) went by the name of Birchhope till the beginning of the 19th cent and some of its fields (below the cottage of Midstead) still go by the nane of the Spital Fields.

The site of the chapel attached to the hospital, or the 'chapel on the island' was apparently in the grass field called the "Guards", on a spot which except for the draining of surface water from the boggy land is almost an island at the present day

There are still traces of foundations of buildings visible (Knowles and Hadcock 1971; Hodgson 1904; Miller 1951; Maclauchlan 1864).

The area concerned is the higher point of the field called The Guards, locally known as Leper's Colony, the remainder being low lying and marshy. The whole area is under pasture. In the NW corner of the area there are several mounds, maximum height 2.0m, with undressed masonry and old foundations visible in places. Many of the stones are reddened by fire. The mounds are somewhat formless, but one does appear to conceal the remains of a large rectangular building with an E-W orientation, possibly the chapel.

On the mound in the extreme NW corner of the area, and partly buried, is a stone trough of crude workmanship. It is 0.7m square and 0.1m deep, and in the bottom is a hole 0.15m square. Purpose and age unknown. The remaining part of the area is ridge and furrow ploughed but with the buried foundations of old walls visible in places. The ridge and furrow either cuts these remains or swings to avoid them, and thus postdates the foundations.

The northern boundary of the area is marked by the foundations of a wall up to 0.7m high in places. On the south side of this wall is a wide ditch-like depression. Being inside this wall its purpose could not have been defensive, but it possibly represents the remains of a fish pond.

From the above information and the local traditions there seems little doubt that the remains are those of the Leper Hospital. Before the era of modern drainage the area would be quite isolated and a suitable site for such an establishment.

Authorities refer to the "Camp" and "Native site" at the Guards, but the topographical situation is not indicative of such, and it is concluded that the stew pan now in Black Gate Museum was a chance find and not in situ (F1 EG 03-FEB-55)

The area is still generally as described, although no large building site can now be identified amongst the amorphous mounds. The suggested fish pond appears to be part of a perimeteer drainage ditch to the hospital. Several similar features occur to the north and south-west of the site (F2 DS 12-FEB-70). (PastScape)

Despite the fact that the leper hospital at Bolton has been partially levelled and obscured by medieval cultivation, substantial and significant archaeological deposits survive. This monument is of particular importance as it is well documented and is a rare survival of a medieval hospital in Northumberland.

The remains of Bolton leper hospital are situated on an area of raised, dry land surrounded on all sides by marshy ground. The exact layout of the hospital buildings, which include a detached chapel, a group of individual cells for inmates, a well and a perimeter wall and drainage ditch are difficult to determine precisely as the remains are grassed over and parts of the monument have been levelled and obscured by later rig and furrow cultivation. The main area of above-ground remains lies in the north west corner of the monument where the lower courses of masonry walls are visible. They appear as grassy mounds on average 2m high which conceal the sites of hospital buildings; the exact nature and function of these buildings is not yet fully understood. On one mound there is a stone trough 0.7m square and 0.1m deep with a hole in the bottom 0.15m square; the purpose of this feature is, as yet, unknown. An aerial photograph taken in 1989 shows more detail and at least one small rectangular building platform is visible with an entrance in its south wall. Across the rest of the hospital site the remains of stone walls and building foundations are visible where the later medieval cultivation earthworks either cut through them or swing to avoid them; further remains will survive beneath the cultivation rigs. The northern boundary of the monument is marked by a broad ditch 7m wide and 1.5m deep below the top of a low bank on its outside. This is interpreted as the perimeter wall and drainage ditch of the hospital and traces of it can be detected on other sides. The hospital at Bolton was founded as a religious institution in AD 1225 for a master, three chaplains and 13 leper brethren, and for the relief of the poor and strangers. It was dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr and was under the supervision of the Yorkshire monasteries of Kirkham and Rievaulx.The brethren were under a religious rule. Licence to build a chapel was granted during the Priorate of Ralph Kerneth (1216-1233). In 1335/6 licence to crenellate (fortify) the "dwelling place of Boulton Hospital" was granted. Lepers do not appear to be mentioned after c.1338 and then it seems to have become more like a monastery. The hospital was dissolved c.1547. In 1575 the site of the hospital with a garden, about 6 acres of meadow and a croft were granted to John Sonkye and Percival Gunson. (Scheduling Report)

'Pele', mentioned as taken in 1317. Taken from the malefactors of Sir Gilbert de Middleton's faction; Cal. Docs. Scot. iii, 118 (no. 623). (King 1983)

Petition to the K. and Council by David de Langtone and Thomas de Hetone, shewing that Roger Purvays, who was taken with two others in the 'piles' of Boltone and Wytingam, resisting the K., by the garrisons of Bamburgh, Alnewik, and Werkworde, is an open traitor, and one of the greatest evil-doers on the March, and begging that he may be hanged and drawn, and asking the K.'s pleasure in regard to the others. ( Cal Docs. Scot. )

Gatehouse Comments

Coulson states "honour not danger is the probable explanation" for the licence obtained by a clerk with direct contact with the king. The much altered tower at Whittingham survives and was a three storey tower but King's transcription of 'pile' as pele is questionable. Bolton is a common place name but this site is only 4.2km north east of Whittingham. If the Boltone 'pile' was the same as Bolton Hospital (it is entirely probably the keepers house was a chamber block attached to other buildings of the hospital), rather than a house in the village (C17 Bolton Hall is said to built on the site of older building), then it may be the licence to crenellate was about trying to rehabilitate the reputation of the site associated with 'the greatest evil-doer on the Scottish March'. Despite the current lack of physcial evidence (the site has not undergone proper investigation) it is likely the keepers dwelling place licenced in 1336 was a small tower. Before modern drainage the whole site was isolated by surrounding marsh and several writers have seen it, with its surrounding drainage ditches, as a fortfied site. It is matter of opinion if this is enough to consider the site 'fortified' but it unlikely the inhabitants of the hospital would have been able to offer much defence if attacked, although the site may have been used as a refuge by locals who may have been better quipped to offer defence.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNU106137
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink

No photos available. If you can provide pictures please contact Castlefacts

Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

Calculate Print


  • Brooke, C.J., 2000, Safe Sanctuaries (Edinburgh; John Donald) p. 106
  • Dodds, John F., 1999, Bastions and Belligerents (Newcastle upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing) p. 149
  • Salter, Mike, 1997, The Castles and Tower Houses of Northumberland (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 114 (slight)
  • Jackson, M.J.,1992, Castles of Northumbria (Carlisle) p. 34
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 346
  • Knowles, David and Hadcock, R Neville, 1971, Medieval religious houses in England and Wales (Longman) p. 315, 344
  • Hodgson, John Crawford (ed), 1904, Northumberland County History (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) Vol. 7 p. 202-17, 227n online copy
  • Maclauchlan, H., 1864, Memoir Written During a Survey of the Eastern Branch of the Watling Street (London) p. 55-6 online copy
  • Hutchinson, Wm, 1776, A View of Northumberland (Newcastle) Vol. 1 p. 233 (mention) online transcription


  • Coulson, C., 1982, 'Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation: An Essay in the Sociology and Metaphysics of Medieval Fortification' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 26 p. 69-100 see online copy
  • Miller, E., 1951, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (ser5) Vol. 1 p. 78-9

Primary Sources

  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1895, Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward III (1334-38) Vol. 3 p. 279 online copy
  • Bain, Joseph (ed), 1887, Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland (1307-1357) Vol. 3 p. 118 no. 623 online copy