Metropolitan Benefit Societies Almshouses

Balls Pond Road, Kingsland, N1 4AH


The Metropolitan Benefit Societies Asylum had been established as a charity in 1829 by John Christopher Bowles. Its purpose was to raise enough money by voluntary contributions in order to build an asylum to accommodate aged and infirm members of benefit societies established within 10 miles of St Paul's in the City of London. Until sufficient funds could be raised for the building works, houses were rented for this purpose.

Some years later a plot of land in Balls Pond Road, located on the south side of the Tylers and Bricklayers Almshouses, was purchased. The foundation stone for the first building - the north block - was laid by the Lord Mayor of London, William Taylor Copeland, on 17th August 1836 - the birthday of the Asylum's patroness, the Duchess of Kent.

The building was completed in 1837 at a cost of £3,600. Built in the Tudor Gothic style of buff and grey brick with stone dressings, the 2-storey building faced the Balls Pond Road over a large courtyard. In its central part was a large chapel capable of holding 160 people. On either side were almshouses with accommodation for 28 residents. A further 10 others lived in rented accommodation nearby until the two wings could be built.

Eligible candidates, as well as having had to be members of their benefit society for ten years or more, had to be aged 55 years or more, unless otherwise incapacitated from following any occupation. They also had to be of good character.

The west wing was added around 1865. It was named after Mary Ann MacKenzie, who had left £9,000 to the charity in her will. The east wing was built in 1866.

The completed Asylum accommodated 64 residents. The buildings surrounded three sides of a quadrangle, which had a garden in the centre with trees, roses and a lawn.

The chapel was rebuilt in 1931 and made into a meeting hall.

At some time in the 1930s the Society changed the name of the institution from Asylum to Almshouses.

In 1959 the buildings were modernised, with the twelve 2-storey almshouses providing accommodation for 48 elderly residents.


Current status

Of the five sets of almshouses built in the area of the Balls Pond Road and King Henry's Walk, this is the only one to survive. The others - Cutlers Almshouses on the east side, Bookbinders Provident Asylum on the west, and Tylers and Bricklayers Almshouses and Dyers Almshouses to the north along King Henry's Walk - have all closed and been demolished.

The current buildings have become the Metropolitan Benefit Cottages, retirement housing consisting of 28 apartments and cottages for elderly people with limited income.

N.B. Photographs obtained in August 2017

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

The entrance to the Almshouses on the Balls Pond Road. The gate piers have been rebuilt in recent years.

The inscription on the left pier reads: This Metropolitan Benefit Societies Asylum was founded by John Christopher Bowles in 1829 and successfully raised by his untiring efforts for the good of his brethren. On the right-hand one it reads: In furtherance of the objects of this asylum for the members of all friendly or benefit societies Mary Ann MacKenzie who died in 1861 made a munificent bequest of nearly nine thousand pounds.

The signage to the right of the entrance reads Metropolitan Benefit Society Asylum - the plural 'Societies' having been lost.

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

The northern block with its central chapel was the first to be completed in 1837.

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

The west wing was built in 1865, following the bequest of Mary Ann MacKenzie.

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

The West Villa at the end of the west wing faces onto the Balls Pond Road.

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

The Catholic church adjacent to the West Villa, seen to its left, occupies the site of the Bookbinders Provident Asylum.

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

 The east wing was completed in 1866. The Cutlers Almshouses faced onto the back of it.

Metropolitan Benevolent Societies Almshouses

The East Villa at the end of the east wing.

References (Accessed 2nd October 2020)

Dale T 1844 The Metropolitan Charities. London, Sampson Low.

Lewis S 1842 The History and Topography of the Parish of Saint Mary, Islington, in the County of Middlesex. London, J.H. Jackson. (1) (2) (1) (2)

Last updated 2nd October 2020

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