The Maison Dieu is a 13th,15th and 16th century flint and timber frame building on the corner of Water Lane and the A2. It is now a Grade 2* Listed building that was once part of a medieval hospital complex which came under Royal patronage. Situated on the former Roman road commonly known as Watling Street, and at a point in Ospringe where the then flowing Westbrook widened to a fordable stream on its way down to Faversham Creek, it provided a good site for the development of the Hospital of the Blessed Mary of Ospringe. The private residence on the opposite corner of Water Lane (not open to the public) was another subsidiary of the original medieval Hospital, both thought to have been priest’s Chantry Houses. The foundation of the medieval hospital is accredited to King Henry III with various grants and charters issued during his reign giving rise to its establishment in around 1234.
The site included a ‘camera regis ’– a chamber for the use of visiting royalty to conduct royal and state affairs or pilgrimages when travelling between England and Europe. It was also a Pilgrimage Hospital providing a resting place for pilgrims en route to Canterbury and the Holy Lands and came under the protection of The Knights Templar. Care was also given to the local poor, sick and needy by the priests and lay brothers. For more than three centuries the hospital provided a landmark on the pilgrimage route and a background to both local and national events. The Hospital was dissolved in 1519, on the instruction of King Henry VIII, to grant all its revenues and possessions to endow St. John’s College, Cambridge.
In 1925 the building was purchased and opened as a village museum by William Whiting, a local archaeologist, with funding from Ospringe residents, to display Roman finds from his excavations in Ospringe between 1920-25. A local Trust was set up to manage the museum and building but in 1947 the building came into the Guardianship of the State represented today by English Heritage.
The Maison Dieu Trust manages the site on behalf of English Heritage entirely independently of the Faversham Society. The building remains in public ownership and is open as a museum with both the Roman and medieval history reflected in the displays and collections. It is run by volunteers recruited from the local community.
The Maison Dieu contains a number of features of special interest. In the ground floor Hall, as you enter from Water Lane, there is a 13th-century window which came from the Chapel of the main complex of the Maison Dieu. The Lower Chamber beyond contains a fine early 16th century ceiling with original moulded beams and a stone fireplace of the same period. Displayed in the second, slightly later, open fireplace are 19th-century farming implements and trays for drying cordite from a nearby explosives factory. Off this room, the eastern Undercroft, with its restored door arch and surrounding stonework, contains windows dating from c.1200. Also displayed here, is the history of the Hospital Foundation and the village of Ospringe, together with a small collection of artefacts relating to the neighbourhood.
On the upper floor is the Great Chamber, a fine room with a magnificent Kingpost roof and a T-shaped arrangement of windows which are among the earliest surviving examples. The fireplace in this room is thought to be contemporary with the one in the Hall below and, on display in a number of showcases, is an impressive collection of Roman remains, principally from Burial Grounds in the vicinity. In the adjoining smaller room are housed finds from the 1977 excavation of the main complex of the early thirteenth century Maison Dieu Hospital buildings, demolished during Henry VIII’s 1538 Dissolution of the Monasteries, which were situated on the opposite side of the A2.
The museum has a summer open season – usually between Easter and the last weekend in October but may vary depending on annual variations in Easter and the setting of school half term dates in the Autumn. By prior arrangement, they also open for school visits, students and group visitors from a wide range of leisure and interest groups. These can be booked by contacting the Hon. Curator of the Maison Dieu. Thye hold an Annual Lecture, talks and social fund-raising events.
Those visiting the building should be able to find parking space if they drive further down Water Lane, or in the car park which is situated further along the A2, on the south side of The Street, at the boundary of the village on the road towards Sittingbourne. Because of the exceptional Listed status of the building, we are unable to facilitate wheelchair access.