Medieval Leper House, site of


Emmanuel Church, Northgate Street is built on a historic site. The site began as a medieval leper house and then subsequently received plague victims and later, the poor of the town. In 1847, the premises became a Ragged School for poor children and a new building was erected on the site. About 1875, this developed into a Town Mission Room and a school complete with a Town Missionary. By 1847, Emmanuel Pentecostal Church had been established on the site. 

The first known written mention of leprosy was in 600 BC. It is very infectious and affects the peripheral nerves and the skin, causing nodules. When the sensory nerves are damaged, they are unable to register pain. When the nerves, which supply the feet and hands, are affected, they are vulnerable to damage, which sometimes results in the loss of toes, feet, hands and fingers. Leprosy became treatable in the 1940s. The Crusaders probably introduced leprosy into Britain from the east, when it was described as a malignant and disgusting disease. The contagious disease led to the erection of houses outside the walls of towns for the reception of people afflicted with leprosy. The law in Leviticus states, they shall dwell alone; without the camp shall be their habitation. There was also an English law, dated 1100, de leproso amovendo, by which a parish could remove a leper. It is known that 345 leper houses were in existence in the country between the 11th and 13th centuries. In 1225, there were 19,000 leper houses in Europe. At a very early period, mention is made of Lazar or leper houses at Yarmouth, long before the completion of the town wall in the 14th century. Two were situated a short distance beyond the North Gate. Another one was probably erected outside the South Gate, as Nicholas Pykering, in 1466, gave to the lepers at each gate of the town, two shillings. The northern leper hospital was very probably on the site of where Emmanuel Church, Northgate Street now stands. The leper hospitals were the objects of many bequests from charitable persons. 

When the incidence of leprosy declined the leper houses were used for other purposes, for example, people who were infectious or plague sufferers. At the Reformation the leper hospital beyond the North Gate was acquired by Yarmouth Corporation and a warden was appointed. In 1637, when the plague was raging in the town, the leper houses were fitted up for the reception of the victims. Leprosy had declined in England by the mid-14th century and, by the mid-15th century, few leper houses remained. Some of the leper houses in Yarmouth were dismantled in the 18th century. One of the houses near the North Gate remained, but it was in a dilapidated condition and was occupied by some needy people, who were allowed to live there rent-free. Charles Palmer tells us, that in 1847, the site was used to build the Ragged School and that it was a red-bricked building. Ragged Schools commenced in the early 19th century to provide free schooling for the poorest children, as there was no free education for everyone. The schools were given the name, Ragged, because the children who attended wore very ragged clothes and they rarely had shoes. Many people believed that by giving the children an education they would be able to lead a better life in the future. 

Apart from Palmer’s statement in 1872, we know nothing else about the Ragged School in Great Yarmouth. However, a letter appeared in the Yarmouth Independent on 15th April 1878 written by Mr. S. W. Page, who is described as the Superintendent and Treasurer to the Ragged School, which is situated at the North Mission School. Mr. Page stated that the school had been in existence for many years, but had been materially altered in the last two years. The children used to assemble on Sunday evenings, when many came who had attended other schools during the day, only to while away an hour. Finding that the children did not work well, the Sunday evening school was discontinued and morning classes were substituted. In 1878, there were 100 waifs and strays on the register out of which 60 children usually attended. Mr. Page continued: although the school was an appendage of the North Mission it was self-supporting and was under the tutorage of Messrs. English, Flaxman and Warden. In 1874, the building was described as the North Mission conducted by Joseph English, who was the full-time Town Missionary. Joseph English died in August 1886 at the age of 55 years and is buried in the New Cemetery. A book surmounted by a crown is carved on his gravestone. A book usually denotes a Bible and thus, a devout religious person. The crown signifies victory over death. The building remained as a mission room until Emmanuel Pentecostal Church was established here in 1947. 

Emmanuel Church.