On this day in 1417, John Oldcastle was executed – by hanging in chains over a slow fire – at St Giles in the Fields for his role in the earlier so-called Lollard rebellion. The Lollardy of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries sought to restrict the secular wealth and power of the established church, and to return to apostolic poverty and mission, and has been described as the “Morning Star of the Reformation” of the sixteenth.
According to John Richardson’s “Annals of London”, nine hundred years ago, in 1117, a leper hospital was founded by Queen Matilda at St Giles in the Fields. The location of the hospital, quite literally “in the fields” in between the City of London and Westminster, was deliberately chosen so as to allow a degree of isolation, and yet at the same time to provide the opportunity for the inmates to beg for alms from the occasional passers-by (there would be up to fourteen inmates at any given time). The hospital was administered by the City of London until 1299 (and by a “lazar house” in Leicestershire after that date). It remained in use even after leprosy essentially died out in the later Middle Ages, but was closed down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the post-Medieval period. The chapel then became a parish church, which was rebuilt in the eighteenth century (by Flitcroft).