There are no more existing records until 1640, but apparently at some time or other the Hospital Estates were leased to Sir Robert Constable, who afterwards assigned the lease to William Cecil, Lord Burghley (afterwards Earl of Exeter), and on 20th September, 1608, the then master, Dr. Edward Jermyn, leased the hospital lands to Lord Burghley and the Lady Elizabeth, his wife, for the lives of their daughters, Elizabeth, afterwards the Countess of Berkshire, Diana, afterwards the Countess of Oxford, and Anne, afterwards Countess of Stamford, at a rent of £13 6s. 8d.
In 1640, an Act of Parliament was passed, which recited inter alia "That the deceased Earl of Exeter did in his lifetime at his great charge re-edifie the old and build a new Dwelling-house with the stables and other out houses upon the scite of the said Hospitall which in respect of the extent and largenes of the same and the small number of persons that the said Hospitall doth consist of will in all likelihood become rather a burthen and charge then yield any profitt or benefitt to the said Hospitall." The Act provided that the Countess of Exeter should retain the house and buildings, and three closes of land called High Close, Coney Grey Close, and Smiths Forge, containing about five acres, and give to the hospital a house, and forty-nine acres of land at Elston, a house in Castle Gate, now the "Royal Oak," a a messuage called Whitehall, now the property at the corner of the Market Place and Bridge Street, and three houses in North Gate. The Countess was also within three years to build "a House of Brick or Stone to be covered with Tile or Slate consisting of eight rooms viz. Fower lowe rooms and fower Chambers over the same for the receipt of the said Maister Chaplaine and two poore men in or near Newarke aforesaid togeather with the inclosing of one acre of ground with a brick or Stone Wall to make them an Orchard and a Gardaine which house soe built shall be from thenceforth called and reputed to be the hospitall house of St. Leonards aforesaid."
The Countess was to be granted a new lease, for the same lives as before, of the then hospital property, but at a rent of £20, but the Bishop of Lincoln was to have the appointment of the master, and the master the appointment of the chaplain and two poor men.
The house mentioned in the Act as having been built by the Earl on the site of the old hospital was erected before 1634, as among the Lansdowne Manuscripts is an account of a tour in that year, during which the writer came to Newark: ". . . and there the Earl of Exeter hath a fayre building called St. Leonards—sometimes an ancient hospitall it was—and is seated close to the banke of that sweet river, not to be omitted." Thoroton in his history confuses this hospital with that of St. Leonard of Stoke, but states that it was at the end of North Gate and that Sir John Henderson at the time of the first siege of Newark caused the house, which the Earl of Exeter had built, to be burnt so as not to protect the besiegers, and that it was near the King's Sconce.
In the Museum is a deed dated 9th August, 1650, by which the Countess of Exeter settled the property in the lease on the Countess of Berkshire during her life as she should appoint. By another deed dated 29th November, 1656, the Countess of Berkshire appointed the property during her life to her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Howard.
From this date down to about 1839, the property of the hospital was let on lease for lives at varying rents, but the rent reserved was never a very large one, the master taking a fine for the lease as his perquisite. In 1695, the Rev. Henry Smith, the then master, had the rent increased to £20 12s. 0d., and the lessee, in addition, had to pay eight shillings each month to the priest, and twelve shillings a month to the beadsmen, i.e., six shillings a month to each of them, and in addition, had to provide each year three great coats of cloth or Kersey, each of the value of sixteen shillings.
In 1839 an information was laid in the Court of Chancery by the Attorney General, for the purpose of having certain leases which had been granted by the Rev. Joshua Brooke, who had been appointed master in 1788, set aside and also for a purpose of having a scheme drawn up for the administration of the charity. At the time this information was laid the only evidence of the foundation of the hospital, and the objects for which it had been founded was the Act of 1640. It appeared that all the masters had interpreted this Act to mean that, after making due provision for the maintenance of the two poor men and the chaplain, the master was to have the residue of the income for his own purposes. As various leases fell in, Dr. Brooke, having purchased the residue of the term of some of them, in one instance paying £5,100 for it, granted fresh leases to Trustees for himself or his family, and although the rents were increased, the payments to the chaplain and the two poor men were kept the same as before, namely, about one pound a month to each of the poor men. Moreover, the chaplain, instead of being in Holy Orders as was the original intention, as the Act of 1640 sets out that there should be "one chaplaine to performe divine service to" the poor men, was a poor man who was able to read. Dr. Brooke had only followed the practice of his predecessors having, as the Master of the Rolls said in his judgment, " followed in the steps of those who went before him. He does not appear to have been actuated by the smallest intention to do wrong to anybody and the question brought forward in discussion is not whether there has been any moral fault on his part, but whether being the Master of this Hospital he has ignorantly, in following the steps of his predecessors, acted in a manner inconsistent with the strict duties that are imposed upon him, and this view of the case not only I think is taken by the Counsel at the Bar who had to open the case against Dr. Brooke, who certainly, whatever becomes of this, goes out of Court without the smallest imputation on his moral character or his honesty." The decision come to was that the stipends should be increased to not more than fifteen shillings a week, that the chaplain should be a person in Holy Orders and that the Master in Chancery should approve a scheme for the regulation of the charity. The master was to be entitled to have the surplus of the revenues for his own use and for supporting the charges, defending the rights and privileges, and repairing and building the hospital.
In 1840, the third Almsman who had officiated as chaplain, died, and in the following year Dr. Brooke appointed his son the Rev. Joshua Brooke, who died in 1888, to be the chaplain.
Later on, the documents at Lincoln were discovered and the action was revived. Dr. Brooke however, had died in 1851, and the then Bishop of Lincoln appointed his son, the Rev. William Frederick John Kaye, afterwards Archdeacon of Lincoln, who died in 1913, to be the master, and he was joined as a party to the suit.
A decree was made on 9th May, 1854, which amongst other things, ordered an enquiry as to what the property of the hospital consisted of, to what leases it was subject, the income of the charity, and the value of the property. The enquiry was not completed until i860, when the chief clerk certified that the property was subject to twenty different leases for lives at a total annual rent of £80 16s. 0d., while the actual annual value of the property was given as £1,267 4s. 9d.
Steps were then taken to have a scheme for the management of the hospital drawn up, but it was not until 20th February, 1864, that the first scheme was approved by the court. On the 3rd June, 1881, the scheme under which the hospital is now governed was approved by the court. The trustees are, ex-officio, the Vicar of Newark, the Mayor of Newark (who is the chairman), the Vicar of Balderton, the Rector of Elston, and the Vicar of Girton, the hospital owning property in all these parishes nominated. A layman, resident in Newark, to be nominated by the Bishop of Lincoln, six trustees to be nominated by the Town Council of Newark, but who need not be members of that body, and three trustees to be elected by the other trustees.
After providing for the management of the hospital, the scheme provided that on the death or retirement of either the then master or chaplain, the survivor should become master and chaplain, and that on the death or retirement of such survivor the offices should be abolished. It was a great mistake to allow an office which had been in existence for over 700 years to be dropped, especially as under the scheme the master was to have nothing to do with the management of the hospital property, and so the office could have been continued without injury to anyone. The trustees, after the death of the last master, considered applying for an alteration to the scheme, but were unofficially advised not to do so.
I should like to mention some of the properties belonging to the hospital, and where possible how the hospital became possessed of it.
The old houses in Kirk Gate, opposite the Post Office, and the west side of the adjoining yard, known as St. Leonard's Court, were the property of the hospital before the Act of 1640, and were in the original lease to the Earl of Exeter, but are not specifically mentioned by name until a lease of 8th July, 1783, to Robert Wilson Cracroft. They originally consisted of two houses in Kirk Gate, three houses in a yard and a stable. In 1805 the present cottages in the yard are mentioned as having been built. The last lease fell in in 1906, since which date the whole of the houses have been thoroughly repaired.
It is believed that Lady Leake used to live in the Kirk Gate house, and that Queen Henrietta stayed there during the sieges of Newark.
Then we have the block of property at the corner of the Market Place and Bridge Street, where Lord Byron's Poems were first printed. This property was received in exchange from the Countess of Exeter, and in 1687 was held by Samuel Ellis, who on 31st January in that year assigned to his son-in-law, William Rastall, an apothecary, "a messuage in Newark next adjoining to a place commonly called the Bridge with a shop belonging thereto (one door and one window whereof opened to the said Bridge and the front of the shop opened into the Pavement or Market Place) with certain rooms thereunto belonging and also certain rooms part of another messuage of the said Samuel Ellis then in the occupation of William Ellis, Woollen Draper."
The present large block was apparently built prior to 1732, as in a lease in that year the property was described as "All that one messuage house or tenement in the Market Place Newark theretofore two houses or tenements but pulled down by Samuel Rastall and re-built in a very handsome manner and at a very great expense."
The Ridge family first occupied the property in 1796, and the last lease granted to them was in 1851, for three lives at a rent of £4 5s. 0d. This lease fell in this year, and the gross rental of this block is now £300.
The shop and wharf in Mill Gate are mentioned in old deeds of 8th November, 1445, 24th January, 1456, and 7th February, 1489, as belonging to the hospital.
The Grange Farm at Balderton is first mentioned in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1534 as "Arable lands in Balderton of the yearly value of 33s. 4d." According to the Balderton enclosure award there were 140 sheep gaits belonging to the hospital land. On 6th December, 1792, the lease of the farm was assigned to George Tomlinson, the tenant, who gave £3,240 for it, and in 1808 Dr. Brooke purchased the residue of the term for £5,100, and in 1826, granted a new lease to trustees for his family in consideration of a fine of £1,500 and an annual rent of £9 9s. 6d. The present rent of this farm is £240.