The Register of the Hospital of St. Mary, Great Yarmouth, is written on vellum in a fair script. A compilation of various documents relating to the hospital may have been begun soon after the borough authorities took responsibility for the hospital in 1386 an initiative which it is tempting to associate with the same spirit that produced constitutional reform of the same year, although the two survivals are probably only coincidence. On the other hand, medieval pagination suggests that the 1398 rental of the properties which provided the operating fund for the hospital was originally a separate document entirely. The creation of a register incorporating the rental would therefore seem to post-date 1398. Various hands are seen in the register, whose compilation continued into the reign of Henry VIII, if one includes amendments to the rental. Henry Manship, who had been town clerk of Yarmouth from 1579 to 1585 and thereafter served the corporation in a variety of roles, was engaged from 1612 in a project to organize and catalogue the borough records. He added to the hospital register an English translation of the whole, and the binding together of the original document and his translation may also be his work. The register, like many of the other documents listed in his catalogue, subsequently disappeared from the borough archives. It is now to be found in the Bodleian Library as Ms. Gough Norfolk 20 (Bodleian 18076).
The hospital is said to have been founded by Thomas Fastolf, in the early years of the reign of Edward I; the Fastolfs were one of the most prominent and longest-lived of the medieval dynasties in Yarmouth (and are best known for being the source of Shakespeare's Falstaff). At about the same time, a leading member of another important (and sometimes rival) local family, William Gerberge, bequeathed money to support priests at the hospital. Its purpose was to support 8 men and 8 women possibly impoverished or disabled townspeople, although there is mixed evidence in this regard living a semi-monastic life. It should be remembered that today "hospital" is applied specifically to health-care facilities, but its medieval use was broader more akin to uses to which we would apply terms such as "hospice", "lodgings" and particularly "a home". St. Mary's hospital was established on a chunk of territory apparently carved out of the marketplace (in the north-east sector of town); an Elizabethan plan of the town shows a fairly extensive structure with a north-south orientation, but with two wings on the east side and a large house at the south end. The marketplace was on the west side of the hospital and the town wall formed its western boundary (there being gates in the wall on either side of the hospital precinct, which may indicate the hospital predated that section of the town wall.
From the time of the original foundation, bailiffs and community were given a certain amount of control over the hospital. It appears to have been a jurisdictional claim over the hospital by the cathedral-priory of Norwich that prompted the local authorities to intervene and assert their own rights (although the decline or disappearance of the rents bequeathed by Gerberge may also have warranted intervention); a compromise settlement of the dispute between the rival claimants, largely in Yarmouth's favour, resulted in the promulgation of a set of regulations in 1386 to provide a framework for governance. This was a prelude to the corporation taking firmer possession of the hospital, a fairly involved process due to the obstacles of the statute of mortmain and the lack of formal borough incorporation; the process was completed by 1398. In addition to this hospital, the borough government oversaw the running of leper houses outside the north gate.
My aim here is to provide a calendar, not a complete transcript, of the document, although in a few, select cases the calendared text follows the original closely. The abbreviations N., S., E. and W. are used in regard to locations of real estate, to refer to abutting property or topographical features lying to the north/south/east/west of the real estate being itemized.