Friendly Almshouses

Chumleigh Street, Camberwell, SE5 0RJ


The Friendly Female Society was founded on 20th January 1802 by a group of women who wanted to provide financial help for poor elderly women "of good character residing within ten miles of St Paul's Cathedral". Its membership was not restricted to any religious sect or creed; it was to be ruled by "love, kindness, and an absence of humbug".

Applicants for its charitable grants were considered with sympathy and kindliness by the Committee, despite being referred to rather uncharitably as "old objects".

In 1819, noting that many of the applicants also need accommodation as well as financial assistance, the Society decided to build an almshouse. Fund-raising began and a suitable site was found in Camberwell.

The Friendly Female Asylum opened in 1821. A stone tablet on the front of the building declared it to be "The Friendly Female Asylum for aged persons who have seen better days. Erected and supported by voluntary contributions, 1821".

The terrace of houses provided accommodation for 20 women, about half of whom were aged 90 years or more. In front of the building was a large garden with paved walks, enclosed by iron railings.

In the 1840s the Asylum was extended, so that 40 women could be accommodated.

In 1863 a second Asylum opened in Stockwell Park Road, Brixton, with accommodation for 28 women.

In 1938 the Friendly Female Society renamed itself the Friendly Almshouses.

In 1939 both almshouses together accommodated 68 women, each with her own room and a small garden. The use of a small kitchen was provided, as was coal in winter and an annual pension of 8 guineas (£8.40). The Committee also supported out-pensioners, who lived in their own homes, supplementing their Old Age Pensions with small grants from £3 to £10 a year.

During WW2 (1939-1945) the buildings were damaged by bombing in 1940 and again in 1941. They fell into disrepair and the Committee relinquished the site at the end of the war, but continued its involvement in the Brixton site.


Current status

The three 2-storey terraces - south, west and north - were renovated in 1981 and have been renamed Chumleigh Gardens. A multicultural garden was established in the central quad in 1995. The buildings were Grade II listed in 1996.The almshouses are owned by Southwark Council and located within Burgess Park. They contain Council offices, a conference centre and a community-run cafe.

N.B. Photographs obtained in June 2020

Friendly Asylums

The complex of almshouses with its multicultural garden.

 Friendly Asylums

The northern block of the almshouses has been converted into a cafe.

Friendly Asylums

The southern elevation of the northern block overlooks the garden.

Friendly Asylums

The southern block.

Friendly Asylums

The complex as seen from the north, with the western (centre) block on the right of the image.

References (Accessed 12th June 2020)
Brazil E 2018 Camberwell from Old Photographs. Stroud, Amberley Publishing.
Martindale H 1939 The Friendly Almshouses. London, Unwin Brothers Ltd.

Last updated 29th June 2020

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