History of the Hospital of St. Thomas the Martyr, Eastbridge

St Thomas Becket was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December 1170. Soon after his tomb and the place of his death became a focus for pilgrimage.  The city needed to provide accommodation for the large number of visitors so in 1190, Edward FitzOdbold, a local merchant founded a hospital on the bridge in the High Street.

Becket’s nephew Ralph was probably the first Master. The hospital initially prospered but declined after 150 years. It was refounded in 1342 by Archbishop Stratford, and was probably at its peak in the 1380s when Chaucer was writing his Canterbury Tales. In Chaucer’s words pilgrims ‘from every shire end of England to Canterbury they wend, the holy blissful martyr for to seek’.

At this time, too, the Masters were even responsible for maintaining the East bridge over the River Stour. In the Reformation period, following the rift between Henry VIII and the Church of Rome, monasteries and places of pilgrimage came under government control and many were sold off to the rich. In 1538, the shrine to St Thomas was destroyed and the hospital went into decline, but in 1584 Archbishop Whitgift made reforms which were protected by Act of Parliament. The hospital had thenceforth to provide accommodation for ten poor people of Canterbury and pay dole to ten more. A school for twenty boys had already been founded in 1569, and this stayed open until the 1880s.