The Holy Jesus Hospital is a grade II listed historic building in the centre of Newcastle. It is the headquarters of the National Trust.
Hidden on the edge of Pilgrim Street roundabout in the centre of Newcastle, surrounded by roads, railway bridges and modern buildings you will find the Holy Jesus Hospital.
This is a historical gem which has a mix of buildings dating back to the 14th Century. On the site over the years there has been an Augustinian Friary, a kings manor with a Tudor tower and finally the Holy Jesus Hospital.
The Holy Jesus hospital was opened in 1682 to house the Freemen of Newcastle and also had a soup kitchen to dispense soup to the deserving poor. The Holy Jesus Hospital is one of only two 17th century brick buildings surviving in Newcastle. When you see how close it is to the main roads it is amazing that it has survived.
Many years ago the Holy Jesus Hospital was the Joicey Museum and I remember visiting then. Now it is a working office, used by the National Trust and is open for tours occasionally. When I noticed it would be open on the recent Heritage Open Days I decided to go for a visit along with my son. It was a really fascinating tour which brought to life a lot of the history of Newcastle.
Entry into the Holy Jesus Hospital is difficult to find. You can see it but to reach it you need to cross over and under a myriad of passes and underpasses. The juxtaposition of the modern buildings with the old is jarring but from certain angles it does feel like you have stepped back in time. The noise of the traffic serves as a reminder that the city is just outside the door. In the entrance way is a model to show how the buildings look in relation to each other which is interesting. We were also shown some photos that showed how the buildings used to look. It is hard to imagine now that the area used to have large lawns and gardens. It must have looked very impressive as well as being a lovely place to stroll.
To start the tour we were shown around the outside of the Holy Jesus Hospital. It is only when you look outside you realise how close the building is to the road. If you were driving past in a car you could touch some of the walls. You can see the outlines where parts of the building used to stand which have not survived the test of time. Hauntingly in one of the bricks is the imprint of a child’s hand. When the building was built in the 17th Century children were often used in labour. The bricks were made by hand and this imprint survives to this day.
Originally the building was a friary but little trace of it remains. Part of a wall can be seen attached to the tower. When the monasteries were dissolved in 1539 King Henry VIII used the friary buildings as a base for the council of the North. He added to the building to make it more secure and the tower was added at this time. It was used as a strong room and survives to this day. It is still accessible and rather creepy inside.
Leaving the outside we went into the Holy Jesus Hospital itself. This was set up in 1682 to provide accommodation for the Freemen of Newcastle and their families. Freemen were workers or tradesmen who had completed an apprenticeship, which often took up to ten years. They were then allowed to join a guild, like the Cooper’s Guild or the Silversmiths Guild. Once they were a guild member they became a freeman of the city. This was passed down the male line to each son when they became twenty. Interestingly freemen of Newcastle also have the right to graze their cows on the town moor and you will still see cows on the moor today.To enter the Holy Jesus Hospital we went though a window which is the only surviving window and wall from the Augustinian friary. When this was discovered some interesting remains were also unearthed including a skeleton. It really is a window on the past.
The Holy Jesus Hospital has 42 rooms over three floors. The freemen were allocated rooms once a committee decided they were eligible. They did all their cooking, eating and sleeping in this one room. They are now offices but you can still get an idea of the size. Along the corridor are small alcoves set in the wall which may well have been used to store food as they would have been colder than inside the room. It must have been a nice community in its time. It remained in use as an alms house until 1937 when it moved to Spital Tongues.
The main staircase has several ornate carvings; at the bottom is a carving of Charity which would have also been alms box. Midway up the stairs is a horse and at the top of the stairs is a lion. These are not the original sculptures which went when the building moved, but are exact replicas.
In the 19th Century the building was used as a soup kitchen and soup was dispensed to the deserving poor. Up to 400 gallons of soup a day would be given out. At the end of our tour we were served with a cup of soup in the kitchen and could smell the gorgeous aroma drifting down the corridors towards us.
The Holy Jesus Hospital is a fascinating place to visit and if you do get a chance to take a tour it is well worth it. If you are interesting in finding out more about Newcastle’s history then you should also visit Newcastle Castle and the Lit & Phil which are both well worth a visit.