In the 13th century, Newcastle upon Tyne had a population of around 4,000, and it was difficult for the four parish churches to care for the needs of such a large population. The priests were expected to be educators, doctors and counsellors, as well as meeting the spiritual needs of their parishioners. Therefore, in 1291 land was donated by William Baron of Wark on Tweed to found an Augustinian friary on the land on which the museum now stands. The friary was also used as a lodgings house because it was on one of the main roads to the north. On the day that King Edward I passed through Newcastle in December 1299 the brethren each received three shillings and four pence (3s. 4d). In 1306, the King also granted the monastery additional lands to enlarge the burial ground. Richard II directed the bailiffs of the city to issue a proclamation against dumping waste near the site. Apparently some local people threw "excrements, filth, and garbage, in a certain way that led near to the house of the Austin Friars, to their great annoyance and peril." In 1539, the friary was seized by the crown along with five others in the area including the Dominican monastery of Blackfriars. The monks and nuns were pensioned and the friars received gratuities. Some took jobs as chantry priests or accommodation in parish livings. Those nuns who were of good birth returned to their families. The bells, lead plate and vestments were turned over to the crown. Most of the building and lands were sold to the lesser gentry, new nobility, and town merchants or to borough corporations. At the time of the Dissolution there were a prior, ten friars and three novices.
In 1537, Thomas Cromwell was asked if the Austin Friary site could be left intact after the dissolution, to be used as northern headquarters of the King's Council of the North when it was not sitting at York. It was rarely used for this purpose (Elizabeth I decreed that the council spend 20 days a year there). It appears that in 1551 the site was granted to John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland "as parcel of Tynemouth Monastery." In 1553, Richard Benson occurs as keeper of this house for the crown for a fee of 40s per annum. In the map of the city by John Speed in 1610, the site appears as 'Kings Manour'. It was much dilapidated by 1595. The tower was constructed sometime between the Dissolution and the Union of the Crowns but the exact date is not known. It was probably constructed as a strong room to store munitions or provide a secure location if the city walls were breached. This turned the ground floor room into a lock up where troublesome citizens would be thrown until they came before the law to be punished. The Holy Jesus Hospital was built in 1681 by public subscription to house retired Freemen, their widows or unmarried sons or daughters. The hospital was commonly known by local people as the "Freeman's Hospital" and the "Town's Hospital" but on 26 March 1684 the building was incorporated by the name of the master, brethren, and sisters of the Hospital of the holy Jesus.
The Mayor, alderman and Common Council of Newcastle were appointed as visitors and charged with setting the rules for the hospital. Shortly afterwards the founders bought a quay and garden, in the Close for £700 and an estate in Edderly, County Durham for £1610, and another estate at Whittle, Northumberland for £1300 and the master and brethren of the hospital were settled across these properties. The building itself was constructed using brick construction which was then a relatively new method (brick was usually used as an infill for timber-framed buildings). To be allocated a room, one had to meet the committee’s criteria and once were admitted one had to abide by the master’s rules. It remained in use until 1937, when the new hospital was built at Spital Towers. Strict rules governed the "inmates" including being locked in their rooms at 9 pm and having their doors unlocked again at 6 am. There were no children allowed, and the inmates were instructed to attend church each week and take the sacrament. Each year the residents would have been given a free suit of clothing, a measure of coal and, if the charity allowed it, some pocket money (Alms). The original allowance for the inmates of the hospital was 20 shillings per 'quarterly', while the master would get 30 shillings. On 2 January 1752, the council decreed that forty 'fothers' of coal be given to the hospital annually and, on 18 December 1769, the master was required to be paid £8, and each inmate sister £6 per annum. By the early 19th century this allowance had increased to £13 for each inmate per annum, four fothers of 'best Benwell' coals as well as providing clothing. In addition to this the inmates were required to see the Mayor at the Guildhall once each quarter where grievances would be heard. The inmates could also receive money from charities, and this was often called escutcheon money.
A soup kitchen was built in 1880, replacing the police station which adjoined the hospital on the west side, by public subscription and dispensed soup to the ‘deserving poor’ until 1891. The soup was not free: it cost half a pence per pint. People who had donated each had a number of tickets which they could give to those people who they believed qualified for the ration. The deserving poor in Victorian times were those unable to work during the winter months. Those individuals classed as undeserving were those whose poverty was deemed to be caused by indolence and alcoholism. A recent article has suggested that the soup provided by the kitchen was highly nutritious. The kitchen was open from December to March, seven days a week, weather permitting. The 19th-century soup kitchen inspired 'The People's Kitchen', a 20th-century charity organization dedicated to helping Newcastle's homeless. From 1950 to 1993 the building was a museum, most of the exhibits are now with the Discovery Museum. The National Trust now use it as the administrative offices for their Inner City Project. The building may be seen from the outside at any time and is wheelchair accesssible for this purpose.
Location : City Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE1 2AS
Transport: Manors (National Rail) 5 minutes. Bus routes 53, 96 and X34 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Always viewable. Guide Tours on Heritage Open Days
Tickets: Free Guided Tours on Heritage Open Days
Tel: 01912 557610