Founded By Royal License in 1412
The Hospital of Saint Katherine, or, as it was generally termed, the Maison Dieu or Maison de Dieu, was situated upon the Sandhill, Newcastle-on-Tyne, to the east of the Guildhall. It was founded by royal licence, June 10, 1412, by the celebrated Roger Thornton, for a warden (being a priest), nine poor men (brethren), and four poor women (sisters), who were to be provided with meat and clothing in this " House of God", where they should pray daily for the health of the mayor, sheriff, aldermen, and commonalty of Newcastle, and, after their respective deaths, for their souls, the souls of the father and mother of the founder, and of all the benefactors of the hospital.
An Early Wedding Venue in Newcastle
Dedicated to Saint Katherine, the institution was also called Thornton's Hospital. Mackenzie and other historians inform us that Roger Thornton, by will dated 1429, bequeathed to this place, which he styles "The Meson-Dieu of St. Katherine of my foundation, for their enorments", twenty pounds. In 1456, the son of the founder granted to the Mayor and community the use of the hall and kitchen belonging to this hospital "for a young couple", says the Millbank MS, "when they were married, to make their wedding dinner in, and receive the offerings and gifts of their friends; for at that time houses were not large".
The establishment was dissolved in the 37th year of the reign of Henry VIII, but the property still remained in the Thornton family. In Speed's plan of Newcastle, the Maison Dieu is the only public place, or building, marked on the Sandhill.
Replaced by The Merchant's Court
Grey, in his "Chorographia", printed in 1649, says that "the Merchants' Court was built upon the Maison Dieu". The building was at a later period converted into warehouses; but in 1823 it was pulled down altogether. It was when the place was being demolished that T. M. Richardson made the sketch which is shown on the above.
An old oak chest, or "hutch," was formerly kept in the Maison Dieu, in which money and valuables were placed for safe keeping. As an interesting relic of days gone by, a drawing of it (kindly lent us by the secretary of the Society of Antiquaries) is here given. Bound with strong iron bands, and secured by a formidable padlock, the hutch is a veritable "strongbox" It is about four feet long, by nearly two feet broad, the height being about two feet, and may be seen any day in the museum of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries at the Old Castle. So far as we can ascertain, the "hutch " has no individual history ; it served its purpose, and is now relegated to the company of curiosities and antiquities.
A French Trough or Bahute
The hutch derives its name from the French huche, a hutch, trough, meal-tub. It retains its name as such in France, where it now serves, as in England, for country people for keeping flour. In very early times, down to the 15th century, it was called a trunk (or bahute in French). From that date, trunk and hutch seem to have been synonymous. In the Middle Ages no chamber was without its trunk. In it was enclosed either clothing, silver, linen, or precious objects. It served at times as a table or bench, and formed, with the cupboard, press, and the bedstead, the principal piece of furniture of rich as well as poor people.
A Useful Storage Box
In the dependencies of churches, such as sacristies, chapter-houses, friars' vestries, trunks were placed. There were enclosed in them hangings, tapestries, curtains destined for the decoration of choirs on festive or solemn days, parchments, charts, Acts, &c. The most ancient trunks are strongly bound with wrought iron, often forged with great luxury, the wood being covered with skins or well-painted linen cloth.
Used as a Coffer
The ordinary fixed trunk was a long coffer, placed upon four short legs, furnished with one or more locks, according to the preciousness of the objects enclosed. The trunk was a coffer, hutch, bench, sometimes a bed press, and treasury, and it was the most common piece of furniture in the Middle Ages.
Huchers - Carpenters
In the 13th century, the "Huchers" formed part of the corporation of carpenters, for whom there were special regulations. Thereis a large number of these chests (cists), trunks, or hutches still preserved in the kingdom, and an immense number in France. The plainer or massive ones, bound with iron, are not unfrequently seen in the offices of solicitors. The richer ones, beautifully panelled and carved in their fronts, are found in vestries of churches.
A Chest Rescued
There is a fine one in the old church at Alnwick, and I have an exquisite one, which I rescued from being used as a bacon chest at Thropton, which had formerly contained vestments at Brinkburn Priory. Lincolnshire abounds with them in farm-houses and the like, where they are used as blanket chests, whence many of them are being bought by old furniture-dealers for sale. The hutch now in the Old Castle contained, no doubt, some of the documents or precious things belonging to the Maison Dieu.
Fred R. Wilson
Author of "The Churches of Lindisfarne" &c
Published in North Country Lore and Legend in 1887