What is an almshouse?
a ‘house founded by private charity, for the reception and support of the (usually aged) poor.’ [Oxford English Dictionary] The term ‘hospital’ is also used for almshouses, and certainly some were originally founded to care for the sick poor.
My interest in the history of almshouses was sparked on a field trip to Abingdon in Oxfordshire while studying for my first degree. The church yard belonging to St Helen’s parish is surrounded by almshouses. Known as Brick Alley, Long Alley and Twitty’s almshouses, they date from the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. I came away with an overall impression of not only the durability of these institutions – many are still functioning as sheltered homes for the elderly – but of their valuable role in society.
I became fascinated by almshouses, their history and their inhabitants while doing my first degree, also wrote about them for my MPhil, and have continued to research them ever since.
There are many websites available which include references to almshouses, and they vary considerably in the type of information they contain.
Here are just five for you to peruse.
# 1 Almshouses in Kendal are mentioned as part of tourist information for the county of Cumbria. There are several photographs of the almshouses and chapel
# 2 Many almshouses, particularly those which are still serving their useful purpose have their own websites, such as the Hospital of St Cross,Winchester. There are sections on history, the church, the brothers, and visiting St Cross.
# 3 Primarily about walks in the capital, london-footprints has a section onalmshouses. There are over sixty of them, which have featured on walks in Greater London devised and lead by london-footprints. Included are addresses for the buildings, and brieffurther information about them. Those marked with an asterisk * are linked to a gallery of photographs.
# 4 The Great Hospital website has a wealth of information contained within four sections :
- History – of the medieval hospital, tracing its development up to the present day.
- Exploring – several videos illustrate the layout, architecture, and decoration of the buildings.
- Resources – includes images of original medieval documents from the archive, along with translations of several of them including the thirteenth century foundation charter, plus suggestions for further reading.
- Links – to recommended websites.
Created by University of East Anglia this is a comprehensive introduction to medieval hospitals generally, and to the Great Hospital in Norwich in particular.
# 5 Many almshouses have become redundant over time, for various reasons, and sadly these buildings often become derelict and end up being demolished. Happily, others have been successfully restored and converted to other uses.
Such as the Almshouse Tea Shop in Axbridge, Somerset.
Just look at the lovely cakes on the Home page!
The About us section includes a history (built in the fifteenth century, it become redundant in the eighteenth century and then used a brewery) and tells us that the present owners bought the property in July 2011.
A Virtual Tour gives inside views of the shop
The tea shop is definitely on my list for a holiday visit to Somerset.
Is there an almshouse where you live?
Which historical research topic do find absorbing?
Get in touch and let me know.