Maison Dieu ('House of God') is a hospital, monastery, hostel, retirement home and Royal lodge commissioned by Henry III in 1234. Situated on the former Roman road commonly known as Watling Street, and at a point in Ospringe where the then flowing Westbrook widened to a fordable stream on its way down to Faversham Creek, it provided a good site for the development of the Hospital of the Blessed Mary of Ospringe. The private residence on the opposite corner of Water Lane (not open to the public) was another subsidiary of the original medieval Hospital, both thought to have been priest’s Chantry Houses. The foundation of the medieval hospital is accredited to King Henry III with various grants and charters issued during his reign giving rise to its establishment in around 1234. Currently it is used to display Roman artefacts from the surrounding area including the ruined 'Church of Our Lady of Elwarton' in Stone.
Edward Hasted in 1798, notes, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It consisted of a 'master' and three regular 'brethren', of the order of the 'Holy Cross'. Also two secular clerks, were used to celebrate mass for the soul of the founder, and the souls of his royal predecessors and successors. They were to be hospitable, and give entertainment to the poor and needy passengers and pilgrims (heading along the Watling Street). There was a chamber in it, which the king used to repose himself when he passed this way, which was then called Camera Regis, or the king's chamber. In 1245, 'Robert de Bathel', the abbot of St Augustine's Abbey, in Canterbury, granted to the brethren of this hospital, wearing the habit, and the diseased who happened to die here, but to none else, the right of burial. Also King Henry III in 1240, granted to the master and brethren of the Maison Dieu, founded by him not many years before, the privilege of a market and a fair to be held in this parish of Hedcorn. The fair used formerly to be held on St.Peter's day, June 29. But it had been for some years past, held on June 12. In 1314, 'Nicholas de Staple' (the master), left the hospital after an argument with the other brethren, and went to the hospital of St. John the Baptist, Oxford. The brethren of the Oxford hospital sent a brother to Ospringe in his place. In 1334, he returned to Ospringe. In 1384, on a taxation, the revenues of this hospital were valued at the church of Hedcorn, at 13£ 6s 8d. On 28 September 1511, Archbishop Warham made a visit to the hospital. In November, 1518, the last brethren of the Holy Cross order died, supposedly of the 'plague', which scared away others from the place. Afterwards the hospital became secular. The estate was then passed to St John's College, Cambridge. The contents were given to the abbots of St Augustine's Abbey. The building then became a public house. In 1573, the building was leased to Robert Transham (a friend of Thomas Arden (from the 1592 play Arden of Faversham)). He also rebuilt the Parsonage (also leased from St John's College), using materials from the Maison Dieu chapel. Robert was later buried in Ospringe Parish Church.
The site included a ‘camera regis ’– a chamber for the use of visiting royalty to conduct royal and state affairs or pilgrimages when travelling between England and Europe. It was also a Pilgrimage Hospital providing a resting place for pilgrims en route to Canterbury and the Holy Lands and came under the protection of The Knights Templar. Care was also given to the local poor, sick and needy by the priests and lay brothers. For more than three centuries the hospital provided a landmark on the pilgrimage route and a background to both local and national events. The Hospital was dissolved in 1519, on the instruction of King Henry VIII, to grant all its revenues and possessions to endow St. John’s College, Cambridge. In 1925 the building was purchased and opened as a village museum by William Whiting, a local archaeologist, with funding from Ospringe residents, to display Roman finds from his excavations in Ospringe between 1920-25. A local Trust was set up to manage the museum and building but in 1947 the building came into the Guardianship of the State represented today by English Heritage.
Maison Dieu contains a number of features of special interest. In the ground floor Hall, as you enter from Water Lane, there is a 13th century window which came from the Chapel of the main complex of the Maison Dieu. The Lower Chamber beyond contains a fine early 16th century ceiling with original moulded beams, and a stone fireplace of the same period. Displayed in the second, slightly later, open fireplace are 19th century farming implements and trays for drying cordite from a nearby explosives factory. Off this room, the eastern Undercroft, with its restored door arch and surrounding stonework, contains windows dating from c.1200. Also displayed here, is the history of the Hospital foundation and the village of Ospringe, together with a small collection of artefacts relating to the neighbourhood.
On the upper floor is the Great Chamber, a fine room with a magnificent Kingpost roof and a T-shaped arrangement of windows which are among the earliest surviving examples. The fireplace in this room is thought to be contemporary with the one in the Hall below and, on display in a number of showcases, is an impressive collection of Roman remains, principally from Burial Grounds in the vicinity. In the adjoining smaller room are housed finds from the 1977 excavation of the main complex of the early thirteenth century Maison Dieu Hospital buildings, demolished during Henry VIII’s 1538 Dissolution of the Monasteries, which were situated on the opposite side of the A2.
Maison Dieu has very limited access for the mobility impaired. The entrance to the hall has four steps; there steps into the undercroft; there are stairs to the first floor. Chairs are available in the museum, and there is a bench in the small courtyard. There is one unisex toilet on site, but nearby establishments do have further facilities available. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Maison Dieu, Ospringe St, Faversham ME13 8NS
Transport : Faversham (National Rail) then 15 minutes or bus. Bus Routes : 5, Chalkwell 324 and Arriva/Chalkwell 333 stop close by
Opening Times : April 1st to October 31st, Weekends - times to be announced
Tickets : Adults £2.50; Concessions £1.50; Children Free when accompanied by adult.
Tel. : 0370 333 1181