ALMSHOUSES OF LONDON

 

 

Alms: clothing, food or money that is given to poor people.

 

What is an almshouse?

An almshouse is residential accommodation provided, through some form of charitable impulse, for members of a community who are generally elderly, impoverished, disabled rt some combination of these states.  They represent a significant strand of social housing, long before that phrase came into use.

Early examples spring from the medieval hospitals for the sick, provided by religious communities, but later evolving as residences for the elderly.

By the 16th century many more establishments began to be created, generally by gift or bequest of aristocrats.  By the 17th century the donors expanded to include wealthy merchants and the like.

The original gift would serve to cover the construction costs, with further provision, often in the form of rentable lands, to endow ongoing operations.  The motives centred on the gratitude or spiritual welfare of the donors and their families, and the almshouses usually included a chapel (sometimes containing the founder's tomb).  As the years passed there were often other donors contributing to their upkeep.

In parallel, by the 17th century there were also civil almshouses being established, typically from the funds of a local parish - and they were often associated with a nearby workhouse.  Admission to an almshouse would depend on the policies of the sponsoring authority or trust.

Such almshouses continued to spring up, with a hiatus in the 18th century,  followed by a surge in the 19th century, and even into the 20th.

Again in parallel, as the power and wealth of merchants and tradesmen advanced, Guilds and Companies were moved to establish asylums for their own aged members and relicts - almshouses in all but name, for their specific communities. And, eventually, widening their embrace.

While most almshouses have traditionally been supported by dedicated charities, in the 20th century there has been a tendency for these to merge, either in their local communities or by absorption into more wide-ranging charity groups for whom the almshouses are only a part of their social welfare efforts.

 

Why here?

That is, justify their presence associated with Lost Hospitals of London.  Almshouses are not hospitals (except in the limited medieval sense), they are not medical facilities and their links with public health are indirect.

The justification is that over the centuries, when there was so little provision for the poor, ill and needy, almshouses were a significant aspect of caring by the community; and they are complementary to more strictly medical provisions.  (We also include many old people's homes, on a similar basis).

Otherwise, they are often interesting - architecturally and historically - and there are so surprisingly many of them surviving, often operating on the same charitable basis.

With notable exceptions, there is a dearth of comprehensive coverage of almshouses in London, and particularly of consistent photographic records of their present states - in the same sense this site has been doing for lost and (pre-lost) hospitals.

This survey cannot be called complete or comprehensive, but it is intended to cover the great majority of existing and recently lost almshouse sites in the London area.

 

Varieties of almshouses

The nature of an almshouse site relates very much to its age and origin.  For the purpose of this survey, consider them in four categories.

Traditional almshouses

The majority of early - and some late - almshouses tend to one of two plans:

  • A terrace of cottages in a line, with usually shared front and/or back gardens.
  • Three terraces of cottages around the sides of a large quadrangle with gardens or an open square, usually with a chapel in the centre of the middle range.

'Cottages' implies either adjoining buildings, or separate dwellings in a common building, but always with individual entrances.  Most are single-storey, but often enough two-storey (which must have been a challenge for the feebler residents).

Corporate asylums

The asylums created by trade guilds and companies are usually much larger - and deliberately grander - than those traditional almshouses.  To project the prestige and wealth of their founders, they tend to be ornate and substantial.  Often in large grounds, they resemble urban mansions or country houses, or (perhaps) even palaces.

Modern almshouses

Rows of cottages and palaces not being in fashion, there are a variety of new establishments still calling themselves almshouses, but are structurally apartment blocks for subsidised social housing.

 Provided they have come into being through an existing almshouse charity, and are used for the same purposes, these are included in the survey.

In the spirit

There are a small number of residential establishments at present which are not almshouses, not used for charitable housing, but give a strong impression of designs related to those of the traditional almshouses.  They are included case by case.


Our approach

This is a photographic survey of the sites occupied - at present or in the recent past - by an almshouse establishment.  As well as photos, there is a brief description of its history and location, and occasional references to other sources of information.

In line with our focus on the recent past:

  • where almshouses have survived at least physically into the present, we endeavour to provide photographs,
  •  where they survived into the 20th century, but not to the present, we aim to photograph their former sites if possible,
  • where the loss was before 1900 we provide just a brief text history.

For want of a better organising principle, the entries are arranged alphabetically in tables for each postcode district, within a page for each main postcode area.  For example, the Thrale Almshouses in Streatham are covered in a link table for SW16 (Streatham), within a table page for SW (Southwest London) postcodes. (For pre-1900 almshouses, without photographs, a brief text history is within the postcode table page, rather than in a separate page.)

 An overall alphabetical list (see below) provides links to the individual almshouses.

 

 

 

THIS SITE IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Last updated 11th July 2020