Spital- where do you think of? I love placenames- especially ones which tell you hidden facts about the place itself. And Spital does just that…
Today I rode through a ‘Spital’ on the Merseyrail on my way to a conference in Liverpool & pondered what’s in a name. Perhaps the most well known ‘Spital’ is Spitalfields in east London, but actually there are quite a few all over Britain and abroad too.
Spital is a word derived from middle English ‘spitel’ and Medieval Latin ‘hospitale’. Look again, add the ‘ho’ and its suddenly obvious! The clue is quite literally in the name.
Spital on the Wirral’s hospital, however, no longer exists, so the name is one of the key reminders of the place’s history. The hospital, or spital house, was granted a licence to be built as a hospital for lepers in the Thirteenth Century, associated with an early Twelfth Century chapel there.
Spitalfields in London was originally fields and gardens belonging to St Mary’s Spital – the priory hospital built in the late Twelfth Century and one of the biggest hospitals in medieval England. Interestingly before this, however, the land was a Roman cemetery and excavations found a 25 year old lady buried in a lead lined sarcophagus dating from the 4th Century AD. Isotope analysis revealed her to be the first person from Rome found buried in Britain.
There are lots of Spitals in Britain, many of which make up an area of a larger town or city, such as Newcastle Upon Tyne, Chesterfield, and Stirling, giving clues as to where the original ‘hospital area’ of the place was once found.
So next time you pass through a place with a funny name, look closer and its history may be easier to discover than you first thought.