Pest Houses in England that are Still Standing Today

Pest houses were small, cramped, and unwelcoming buildings located on the outskirts of English towns and villages. They were often the first site a weary traveler would stumble upon when coming to a new town and they would be well aware of the terrors that lay within.

Today they are often seen as an early precursor of the modern-day hospital but for many in the past they were not seen as places of health and recovery but rather of pain and suffering.

These basic and isolated homes provided a way to quarantine individuals or in some cases entire families, who had been infected with contagious diseases. For many, the thought of being sent to the pest house was not pleasant and doing so was actively avoided.


Records show that pest houses were used for a great number of diseases, as far back as the 14th century. In the beginning, they were used by people with leprosy and then they were used for the plague when it came to England in the middle of the 14th century.

It was due to the plague – hence some of them being known as ‘plague houses’ – that many of the houses were constructed in the first place.

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After the plague died out, the houses were used for smallpox which, just like the plague and leprosy, was incredibly contagious. The houses were often rented or constructed by the local community, funded by taxation or paid for by a local wealthy gentleman. They would have contained very basic amenities such as beds, a kitchen and a fireplace.

There are just a few pest houses which remain standing in England today. Many were either demolished or renovated into small cottage hospitals. Nevertheless, they offer insight into incredibly early public health measures which in turn can reveal much about the country’s medical past.

Odiham Pest House

Odiham pest house is located in Hook, England and is thought to date from around 1620. This tiny, single-story house, which stands in the grounds of All Saints Church, once contained a fireplace, a chimney and a sleeping loft.

Odiham pest house
Built in 1622 the Odiham pest house is unique, and stands in a corner of a graveyard. Most early ones have been pulled down to be replaced by larger purpose built houses. Some of these became cottage hospitals.

The exact purpose of this house is contested, however. This is because pest houses were normally built on the outskirts of towns to prevent diseases from spreading among the population. It is, therefore, curious that such a building was constructed in what was once the heart of every English village – the church grounds.


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Odiham pest house is also unusual in that it survives in its original form. Many of the oldest pest houses, like this one, were later converted into small hospitals or almshouses and their original structure lost.

The building was paid for by a local gentleman called Julian Smith who intended for the house to be used by those who would be most affected by an outbreak of smallpox (which was ravaging the country at the time) living in poverty.

Odiham pest house
Odiham pest house, I am sure looking over a graveyard didn’t help…

It is thought that the house stopped being used as a pest house in 1781 when a new pest house was built not far away at Colt Hill.

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The house was not abandoned, however, and it remained occupied by the poorest members of society, the last resident leaving in the 1930s. It was converted in 1981 by the Odiham Society and now operates as a Heritage Centre.

Findon Pest House

Findon pest house is just north of Findon Village, Worthing, England and is now a private home. It is a beautiful building constructed using ancient Sussex flint and its isolated location in the Downs, on the outskirts of the village, is very typical for pest houses.

Findon Pest House
Findon Pest House

It is thought that the house was constructed whilst the plague was spreading through the country and records show that infected individuals from the surrounding villages, like Broadwater and Tarring, were transported to the site via horse and cart to be isolated from the rest of the local population.

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Findon, along with the other villages in the area, suffered heavily in times of plague because of the mass exodus of people from London. People fled the crowded, disease-infested city, in the hopes of reaching the fresh and clean air of the open countryside. However, with them, they brought the very disease they were trying to escape.

Because of this, the towns and villages in the countryside surrounding London were often inundated with cases of the plague and Findon was no exception.

Grantham Pest House

Grantham pest house is located, as the name would suggest, in Grantham, England. Thought to have been built at the end of the 16th century, it is now a Grade II listed private home (renovated in the 1880s). Throughout history, it has been given the name the ‘White Cottage’ as well as pest/plague house.

The Warrington pest house much as it appeared until its demolition
The ‘Pest House’ in Grantham on Manthorpe Road, built in 1584

Whilst the original structure was built in the 16th century, it was rebuilt between 1789-90. The lease of the property was issued in 1584 by the Alderman of Grantham in fear that the plague may one day visit the village. He wanted to ensure that should such an event take place, those who were infected could be isolated from the rest of the town.

This lease states that:

‘if it shall happen or chance hereafter … the Town and Borough… to be visited with the plague called the pestilence or any other smiting disease or contagious sickness whereby it shall be thought good to divide the infected people from the whole… better safeguard of the said Town … upon two days warning … all the tenants and dwellers within said messuage or house to depart … to permit and suffer the infected or visited people to enter into the house …’

Great Chart Pest House

Great Chart pest house is located in Kent, England. The house is a tiny, timber-framed, single-story structure and, like Odiham pest house, is situated in the churchyard of the village and its origins are murky.

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A plaque on the building gives it the name ‘Pest House’ claiming that it dates from the 15th century and was restored in 1957.

The Pest House, Great Chart
The Pest House, Great Chart

Although it was unusual to find a pest house in the middle of a town, it was common for them to be built alongside some kind of religious structure. These religious buildings tended to be small chapels, constructed to serve the pest houses in their isolated locations.

They offered comfort as well as religious guidance for those in the pest house who were often extremely close to death or suffering from considerable pain.

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It could, therefore, be feasible, that this pest house (as well as Odiham) was constructed on the site of the church for these reasons. It was certainly too small to have been a priest’s house and in 1913 in his book titled ‘Saunters through Kent with a Pen and Pencil,’ Sir Charles Iggglesden refers to the building as a pest house. Today, the building is used as a library, a museum and as a meeting house.

Cranbrook Pest House

Pest House, Frythe Walk, Cranbrook, Kent
Pest House, Frythe Walk, Cranbrook, Kent

Cranbrook pest house is in Kent, England and is now a private home. Little is known about the structure but it is one of the few to remain standing today. It is thought to have been built in the 16th century and was either a pest house or an isolation hospital.

It is a two-story timber framed, red brick and tile hung structure. Records imply that the house was used particularly for smallpox but it most likely would have been used for other contagious diseases too, like plague.

Deddington Pest House

Deddington pest house is located in Banbury, England. The first concrete evidence of its existence comes from the early 1800s but it could be older than that. 

Historians know for certain that it was in use between 1835 and 1848 because the diary of Reverend Cotton Riley mentions the house during some outbreaks of smallpox. In one entry from the beginning of 1837, Risely notes that smallpox was in the local area.

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It had been brought to Deddington by an infected man named Richard Bliss. His three children were also infected and it can be assumed (although Bliss doesn’t mention it) that they were sent to the pest house.

Then, just over two weeks later, he explicitly mentions the house in use. He states that ‘a family named Payne moved to the pest house’ after they all caught smallpox.

A year later he mentions the house again when an infected man named Matthews was brought to Deddington by boat from Birmingham. He was transferred to the pest house and luckily the disease didn’t spread around the town.

The site was abandoned in 1896 and was never reinhabited. Records from the 1980s describe the pest house as resembling a run-down cow shed, located in the middle of a field in Deddington. Despite its eventual abandonment, the simple structure must hold a rich history which could uncover much about early health care in England.