Becket’s Birthplace and the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre

Seal of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre.
© The Worshipful Company of Mercers
Origin/Date: 16th Century

Thomas Becket was born to Gilbert and Matilda Becket (see Becket’s parents) in 1120, in a large house on London’s Cheapside, and lived there for much of his youth (see Becket and London in his lifetime). Following Becket’s murder the citizens of London sought to buy the house from his relatives so they could establish a church there.

In the 1220s the bishops of London and Winchester, the chief citizens of London, and Thomas Becket’s nephew founded a Hospital on the site under the care of the religious order of St Thomas of Acre (see crusade). As with the other hospital founded for Thomas Becket at a similar time in Southwark, the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre was to care for the poor and sick, but because of its importance in the life of Thomas Becket it also became an important site of city devotions and ceremonies. Before the Black Death it was the only large hospital within London’s city walls. The Hospital owned large parts of the East End of London, lands in Wapping, Stepney, Putney, and properties as far away as Doncaster, Ireland, and Cyprus!

Many wealthy Londoners paid large sums to be buried in the church and graveyard, and in 1466 a Bohemian visitor to the church thought he had seen the tombs of Becket’s mother and sister. Despite this, the costs of providing for hospitality and staffing, as well as periods of poor management, meant that the Hospital fell badly into debt in the early 1500s, and the administration was taken over by the Mercers Company. Following the Reformation, the site was transformed into Mercers’ Hall.


Order of St Thomas of Acre

Founded in Acre in 1191 for the care of pilgrims to the Holy Land and dedicated to St Thomas Becket. The Order was always very small and poor with few hospitals. From 1227 the main hospital for the Order was in London, on the site of Becket’s birth.

Black Death

Devastating plague which arrived in England in 1348 and killed around a third of the population by 1351. There were further outbreaks of plague at regular intervals until the 17th century.

Devotion - Venerate

1. A deep attachment or commitment to a cause or person. 2. A religious observance or act of worship, especially a form of prayer or worship for special use.

Thomas Becket

 English Archbishop (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162) and martyr, famously murdered by knights at Canterbury Cathedral after a dispute with Henry II. Miracles were soon recorded at his tomb. Canonised in 1173, his shrine became one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in Christendom. Patron saint of London with St Paul.


A medieval kingdom, now part of the modern Czech Republic

‘I, Thomas de Haverell [formerly sheriff of London]… give 20s annually for the service due on the land where St Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury was born in the parish of St Mary Colechurch… which the citizens of London are buying in order to build a chapel there in honour of St Thomas the Martyr’ Charter of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre, c.1220 [NB have image of this MS]

‘I, Thomas son of Theobald of Helles [nephew of Thomas Becket]… give to the master and brethren of the Hospital of St Thomas the martyr of Canterbury in Acre all the land which once belonged to Gilbert Becket, father of blessed Thomas the martyr and Archbishop of Canterbury, on which the said Thomas the martyr was born, in order to build a chapel in honour of God, the Virgin Mary, and the most glorious martyr.’ Charter of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acre, c.1228 [NB have image of this MS]

‘While we were in London we were taken into the church where St Thomas [Becket] was born, the tombs of his mother and sister are visited there.’ Václav Šašek, Bohemian Chronicler, 1466.