Leprosy was quite a common disease in medieval times and was thought to have been
introduced into England as a result of the Crusades. The epidemic was most severe in the
thirteenth century. Lepers were treated as outcasts from human society. Leper hospitals
became a prominent feature of town life; there were over 200 in England, including two in
Wirra; the second being at Irby.
The segregation of lepers and those suffering from skin diseases in purpose built hospices
away from the rest of the community was effective in bringing about the eradication of leprosy
in England by the middle of the sixteenth century. In medieval times, leprosy was the name
given to many skin diseases including eczema, psoriasis and smallpox. Lepers were forced to
wear a distinctive style of clothing consisting of a mantle and beaver skin hat, or a green
gown. In their hand they carried a bell or clapper, through which they were to give warning of
their approach so that everyone could get out of the way in time. Lepers were kept away from
contact with non infected people and they were made to have there own water supply.
In the times that Leprosy flourished it was considered an extremely filthy disease and the
victims were looked down upon and ill treated by many. At that time the population thought
that Leprosy was contracted through sex, and therefore the disease carried with it a heavy
stigma, it was much like AIDS today. The disease had many effect upon the victim. Nausea
and vomiting were frequent. The victims eyes blackened and the skin developed lumps and
open wounds. The victims nose begins to turn up and the teeth protrude. For this reason
many Lepers wore long clothing and hoods to cover their features. Most of the time this
disease constitutes a chronic and crippling condition but it is not directly responsible for the
death of the patient.
The Leper House would have run much like a society today in small farm stead. They were
taught to grow corn, farm animals and be self sufficient. They were given medical supplies to
treat the sick and stem the flow of further infection. Sometimes if the community of Lepers
grew they village would have a masters house and a small chapel with graveyard. There were
over 350 Leper villages known across the UK and probably some that we don’t know about.
Despite extensive research the exact site of the Irby Leper house is still unknown but it is
though to be on the site of Spital Old Hall.
Click here to see the affects of Leprosy.
Please note that people of a nervous disposition should not view these as they are not very