The Reverend Septimus Harding, a man of 60 years old, is a clergyman residing in the cathedral town of Barchester. He lives with his 24-year old daughter Eleanor. His wife has passed away while his first daughter, Susan, lives with her husband, Rev. Dr. Theophilus Grantly, the son of the bishop, archdeacon of the Barchester and the rector of the Plumstead Episcopi.
Aside from his profession as the clergyman, Mr. Harding is the warden of the Hiram’s hospital. Hiram’s hospital is a place that refers to the alms-house that is occupied by 12 old, unfortunate men with no families to support their old days. Not only that. The place is equipped with butts and patches which are for lease. Both the alms-house and butts and batches become the source of income for the elderly men. Two people, the warden and Mr. Chadwick, are the appointed people to take care of the hospital. John Hiram, the man who owns the hospital then bequeaths it back in 1434, has stated the income provision for both the elderly men and the warden.
The hospital and the butts and the patches have gone so many things throughout the hundreds of years until Mr. Harding becomes the one who takes care of the poor men. There are times when they land have been unproductive and have been flooded. But as years go by, the land gets pricier. The butts and the patches now become expensive as more and more properties are established.
Along with the changes in the price of the estate so is the provision of the income that comes from it. There are moments when wardens get nothing as the land is barren and there are times when wardens receive more during good times to compensate what he hasn’t properly got when the income is so low.
The subject of alleged unfair income disbursement has been a hot topic among the residents of Barchester. The warden, however, does not feel there is suspicious about that. Apart from the money that he gives to the elderly men, he sets aside some amount of money from his own pocket for each of them. What he does is not stated in the provision.
About 10 years working in the hospital, things start becoming complicated with the coming of John Bold, a young surgeon who has spent his boyhood in Barchester. His father, old Dr. John Bold, is a physician who works in London. The old Dr. John Bold dies then leaves his property in Barchester to his children, John Bold and Mary. Despite his surgeon skills, John Bold opts to focus his live to help the poor or those who are unfairly treated in Barchester.
As such, the alleged improper provision of the hospital becomes his object of investigation. He does not think much about this will effect his romance with Eleanor. So he begins communicating the issue to the warden, which does not welcomed with criticism. The only person who is strongly against the launch is Dr. Grantly.
A petition is launched. The majority of the elderly men support the investigation. They want a bigger share than what they currently receive. Mr. Bunce is one of those who oppose the movement. The warden who initially seems calm gets his world shaken after reading an article in the ‘Jupiter.’ He then restarts thinking that the article is true; that his payment is too much and that he has robbed what the poor men should have got.
While the warden begins thinking to raise a white flag on the case by resigning, his son-in-law persuades him not to do so. He bases his opinion according to the opinion of Sir Abraham Hapazard, a respectable attorney general, who says John Bold has no legal standings to sue both the warden and Mr. Chadwick. Despite this plea, the warden can’t help being very disturbed with all of the things written in the newspaper. The explanation from his son-in-law seems unable to change his view on the subject.
How the case has influenced him is very much clearly seen by Eleanor. She then takes initiatives to talk with John Bold on the subject in private. At the reformer’s house, they both have discussions on the topic. She persuades John Bold to cease the case and affirms how good the warden to the men, the hospital and the Barchester people is.
John Bold decides he stops the case in spite of the rejections from Tom Towers who write the article in the ‘Jupiter’. He chooses to meet Eleanor’s requests in spite of the big money he has spent to process the case. Dr. Grantly is, however, adamant to resume the case. While the warden learns the case will be immediately withdrawn, he is obstinate with his stance; that he will resign then move to a smaller, modest place with a small income for his and his daughter.
He decides to go to London to meet Sir Abraham without the consent of Dr. Grantly. Again, despite the attorney general’s objection with his planned resignation, the warden sticks with his choice. By the time the warden’s meeting with the attorney general is over then he returns to his hotel, his son-in-law and his daughter are waiting for him. No matter how hard they persuade him, along with the possible dark future for Eleanor, the warden is certain with all he has decided.
Mr. Harding is no longer a warden eventually after he submits his resignation to the bishop. Mr. Bunce is the one who feels so alone when the former warden is no longer there. The elderly men, too, do not get what they want. Their share remains the same minus the extra pence they used to have got from the former warden.
At last, the hospital is without a warden a few years after Mr. Harding resigns. Bunce remains his best listener who follows his sermons. Mr. Harding, although he resides away from the city, is often seen in the place for visiting the bishop and Eleanor who later on is married with John Bold.