St Chad’s shrine continued to attract pilgrims, but by the middle of the 15th century, the ditch and ramparts had fallen into disuse and the gates remained open to pilgrims arriving late at night. By 1492, William Smythe was consecrated Bishop of Lichfield. Very early in his appointment, he devised a scheme for putting St John’s to better use. By statutes dated 3 November 1495, Bishop Smythe re-founded the priory as a hospital for aged men and as a free grammar school (the latter separated in 1692).
It was ordained in the statutes that there should be in the hospital “thirteen honest poor men upon whom the inconveniences of old age and poverty, without any fault of their own, had fallen”. In addition to their lodging, the men were to receive seven pence a week. They were to be honest and devout and attend prayers every day. There was to be a Master in Holy Orders appointed by the Bishop.
Bishop Smythe initiated a programme of rebuilding. The canons’ and pilgrims’ hall was enlarged into a house for the Master and a new wing added at right angles to the old building. The new building called an Almshouse with its row of eight chimneys provided a great advance with each almsman having his own room and fireplace. The history of almshouses dates back to medieval times when religious orders cared for the poor. Originally called hospitals or bede houses, today there are 1,800 independent almshouse charities providing 35,000 dwellings for older people throughout the United Kingdom.
St John’s continued its work caring for older people for five centuries and is still evident today.