Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Aged Pilgrim's Society Almshouses
Bethel Asylum Almshouses
The attractive Aged Pilgrims’ Society Almshouses in Sedgmoor Place and Bethel Asylum at the back in Havil Street were built in 1837 and 1838 respectively. The Aged Pilgrims’ Friends Society was founded in 1807 by a group of people, notably James Bissett, who were perturbed how many elderly Christians were living in a state of abject poverty. Only the workhouse saved them from starvation. James Bissett wrote “amidst the great number of charitable institutions with which this highly favoured land abounds it is to be lamented that one numerous class of deserving person is left deserted and forsaken, namely the aged and infirm Christian poor. There are many of this description, who after having spent a laborious life in honest poverty, and worn down with old age and bodily infirmity are, in the winter of life, shut up in garrets and cellars, lingering the remainder of their days in distress and wretchedness … Some of these dear people of God have been found so distressed as to be literally starving with hunger, and no bed to rest their infirm limbs but a little straw on the floor, without any other covering but what their miserable clothing afforded them.” The Society was founded for the purpose of giving life pensions of five and ten guineas to poor and infirm Protestant Christians of both sexes over 70. The Society initially found it difficult to raise funds but donations became more forthcoming when it received support from Lord Shaftesbury, Charles Spurgeon and William Wilberforce.
The almshouses erected in Sedgmoor Place, then called Westmoreland Place, were a collaboration between the Society and local landowner William Peacock who donated the land. The cost of the building was raised by public subscription and modelled on an Oxford college with a four sided building built around a central garden. With crenulations, turrets and large stone windows the design of the almshouses might have been inspired by the novels of Walter Scott. It offered apartments for 42 people, mainly aged women, who also received a pension from the Society, and included a committee room, a warden’s room and a chapel.
Bethel Asylum in Havil Street was built and established solely by William Peacock on more land he donated. It offered accommodation for 12 aged women.
William Peacock died in 1844 and is buried along with his wife Fanny in a vault in the garden of the Aged Pilgrims’ Society almshouses and is remembered by a memorial plaque. These almshouses were updated in 1961 and are now called Pilgrims’ Cloisters. Both asylum buildings are Grade II listed and now privately owned. The Pilgrims’ Friend Society continues to offer assistance to the elderly within a Christian framework.
The Quadrangle of the Aged Pilgrims' Society Almshouses showing the vault of William Peacock and his wife Fanny. Painting by Guy Miller, 1928 from the Southwark Art Collection