Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
2017 celebrates the 300th anniversary of the Edward Edwards’ Charity, set up under the terms of a bequest made by Edward Edwards, parishioner of Christ Church. Some of Edward Edwards’ original conditions have been altered over the years to move with the changing times and conditions, and to comply with changes in the law concerning both charities and building regulations, but still the charity offers supported accommodation to the over 55s in the parish of Christ Church.
Edward Edwards died in 1717 when the charity was created in his name. Before he died, a deed had been drawn up whereby he transferred the leases of land and buildings he owned to trustees and the income to be used after his death for charitable purposes. The main parcel of land was situated in Upper Ground, Paris Garden and comprised “12 messuages or tenements, with the wharfs, gardens, backsides or appurtenances” held on a very long lease.
The deed instructed that the rent derived from this property after disbursements should be allowed to accrue until such time as:
1) £100 had been accumulated which was to be spent on the purchase of a freehold estate and the income to be spent in the supplying of one penny loaves to be distributed to the poor of the parish of Christ Church at the church door every Wednesday and Friday;
2) When a further £100 had been accumulated, this was to be paid to the trustees of the charity school of the parish of Christ Church to purchase freehold lands or tenements and the income to be used for the children of the charity school for ever;
3) When a further £100 had been accumulated, this also was to be spent on the purchase of freehold lands or tenements and the income to be used to supply 12 pennyworth of beef and a sixpenny loaf to poor of the Parish of Christ Church at Christmas;
4) When a further £500 had been accumulated this was to be used to purchase a piece of ground in the said Parish of Christ Church and to build one or more almshouses. The money left over from this £500 was to be used to purchase a freehold estate and the income used to pay a pension to the residents of the almshouses of 40 shillings per year and that every two years the residents should receive a gown of purple colour without any badge;
5) And as further sums of £500 accumulated from the rents of the land and properties in Upper Ground, these were to be used in a similar manner to build further almshouses.
Provisions were also made regarding the maintenance and insurance of the almshouses. A sum of £4 was to be spent annually on a feast for the Trustees (who were the same as those appointed for the John Marshall Charity) which should take place on the 29th May each year, the date of the Restoration.
Edward Edwards’ will stipulated the almshouses should be built of brick and 12 foot square with a chamber and a lower room, each resident to occupy one room only. On each parcel of land acquired for the almshouses there should be built into the wall a stone signifying the donor’s name and charity. The Trustees nominated the residents of the almshouses who were to be “poor decayed house-keepers or widows of the parish of Christ Church” and not receiving any alms or pension from any parish. Those who failed to attend weekly service or annual prayer days at Christ Church without good reason were to be evicted.
It was not until 1752 that the Trustees, having raised and applied as directed in the will the three separate sums of £100, had raised the further £500 stipulated to buy the land for the almshouses. They purchased a piece of ground known as The Physic Garden from Thomas Jordan. This was an area of land that was bordered by Church Walk (now Burrell Street) to the north and to the south by Charles Street (now Nicholson Street). By 1840 there were four ranges of almshouses built successively in 1753, 1777, 1786 and 1791 which became home for 44 people.
The land not used for the building of almshouses was let on a 99 year building lease to Charles and Martin Cole at an annual rent of £100. Their agreement with the charity stipulated the numbers of houses to be built: 15 houses costing not less than £400 be erected along the newly laid out Great Surrey Street (Blackfriars Road), 32 in Edward Street, 11 in Robert Street (on the Eastern boundary, now Chancel Street) and 23 in Charles Street. It was estimated that in the first decades of the 19th century the total rent received by Charles and Martin Cole was in the region of £3,000 per annum.
The pension of 40 shillings a year paid to the residents had been more than doubled to 7 shillings a month by 1821 as the original allowance became insufficient. This reduced the amount of surplus available for investing in further freehold land and building more almshouses, in 1821 the surplus after the outgoings of pensions, gowns, maintenance, insurance, clerk’s salary and other expenses was just over £22. Added to this, since the deed had been drawn up by Edward Edwards, most of the parish of Christ Church had been built upon making it difficult for the Trustees of the Charity to acquire more land for building further almshouses.
The almshouses were rebuilt in 1895 and an inscription from one of the original buildings was set into one of the elevations facing onto Burrell Street. The almshouses were rebuilt yet again in the early 1970s and the new building, Edward Edwards House, consisting of 38 bed-sitting rooms, was opened in 1973 by Princess Anne. Renovations took place in 2005 which reconfigured the building to create 20 one-bedroom flats and 8 studio flats. The future of the almshouses is uncertain for the current building does not meet the expected standards of the 21st century in regards to wheelchair access and other issues. One proposal put forward in 2014 was that the whole site extending from Nicholson Street to Burrell Street and from Blackfriars Road to Chancel Street was to be demolished and the almshouses rebuilt elsewhere in Southwark. At present (2017), it seems no firm decisions have been made.
Edward Edwards' Almshouse displaying the plaque stipulated in Edward Edwards' will. Photo licensed from the Collage image database, London Metropolitan Archives, City of London Corporation.