'Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be'
Lying between the Saxon palace and abbey of Westminster, half a mile upriver, and the Saxon fish-market beneath the modern Strand, the village of Charing was initially overlooked as settlement began to move eastward under William the Conqueror and his successors. As late as 1229 Henry III considered this marshy stretch of riverbank worthless enough to make it the site of a hospital – St Mary Rounceval.
Like all medieval hospitals St Mary Rounceval was a religious house, run by monks and drawing its priorities from the Christian Works of Corporal Mercy. Poor inmates’ souls were more important than their bodies, and the importance of repentance and humility in obtaining a cure was driven home by regular mass and confession on the wards. They may have benefited from the proximity of Covent Garden, then the walled garden of Westminster Abbey, which grew fresh vegetables and medicinal herbs. But no amount of prayer and parsley could save St Mary Rounceval from the attentions of Henry VIII: in 1544 he dissolved the hospital and seized its treasures.