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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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The almshouses were described as “quaint, old-fashioned, quadrangular piles of building, of Gothic architecture, with mullioned windows; they were enclosed by low walls, and in part surrounded by patches of garden-ground, sunk below the roadway.” (London Old and New Vol 6)


The land was bequeathed to the Company of Fishmongers by livery man Sir Thomas Hunt on condition that that the company “build an hospital, containing houses for six poor freemen, and to have the houses rent free, and a yearly sum of 40s. a-piece, to be paid quarterly; and every of them, on St. Thomas's Day, to have a gown of three yards of good cloth, of 8s. a yard, and also 6s. in money to make it up.” The almsmen’s wives could continue to live there in the event of their husband’s death but should they remarry they had to leave.   In addition, a further bequest from Robert  Spencer in 1616 enabled the building of further almshouses and by 1636, the hospital had a total of 22 houses, a hall and chapel.  


James Hulbert was a member of the Fishmongers’ Company and bequeathed a sum of money to build more almshouses to the south of St Peter’s Hospital in 1719.  Called Hulbert's Almshouses, they were described as “a neat and imposing little pile, consisting of three courts with gardens behind, together with a dining-hall and chapel, and a statue of the founder on a pedestal in the centre of the enclosure.”


The almshouses were relocated to East Hill, Wandsworth in 1851 and the almshouses demolished.  The Metropolitan Tabernacle was built in 1859 and the Ordnance Survey map of 1872 shows a warehouse, a bank, a store and Taylor’s Depository had been built on the land to the north.


Some Almshouses demolished long ago

Almshouses have been built in Southwark since the late 16th century, often with money left in a bequest specifically for this purpose. There are many lovely examples of old almshouses still standing in Southwark  including Hopton’s Almshouses on Bankside, the Licensed Victuallers Asylum just off Old Kent Road, the Friendly Female Society Asylum in Burgess Park and the Metropolitan Beer and Wine Trade Society almshouses on Nunhead Green.  Many though have disappeared with the passage of time and the need for land, in a growing city, to be used for other purposes.

Alleyns Almshouses Cure's College

Perhaps the earliest almshouses in St Saviour’s parish were built by Thomas Cure, saddler to Queen Elizabeth I, and a driving force in the setting up St Saviour’s Grammar School. Cure's College (left) was built in 1584 in Deadman's Place in the Liberty of the Clink for 16 poor parishioners of St Saviour's who also received a small weekly sum.   The land was compulsorily purchased in 1863 by the Charing Cross Railway Company to make way for the London Bridge to Charing Cross extension and new almshouses built, at the railway company's expense, in Norwood.  


Also in Deadman's Place, in Soap Yard, almshouses (right) were built by the terms of Edward Alleyn's will for five poor men and five poor women in addition to those he built in Dulwich in 1618 which are still in use as almshouses

James Hedger, proprietor of the Dog and Duck, built 8 cottages in 1805 on Webber Row which became known as Hedger Court.  The almshouses were for the benefit of unmarried or widowed women who were over 50 so they may "enjoy freedom from worldly care ... live in mutual affection ... contemplate their eternal happiness."  

T H Shepherd, Hedgers' Almshouses, Webber Row 1857

Priority was given to widows or daughters of James Hedger's former tenants and out of their number a matron was elected.  The matron received 5 shillings per week, and the other women 4 shillings a week.  Each woman received a bushel of coal between the end of September and the end of March and half a bushel for the rest of the year. The Trustees also paid for roast beef and entertainments on Founders Day.  The lease to the site expired in 1895 and new almshouses built in Lambeth.  This site was sold in 1957 and new almshouses completed near Guildford in 1968.

Mrs Vaughan's Charity

Mrs Vaughan's Charity was founded in 1863 by her daughter Mary Sancton who bequeathed £25,000 to be held in trust to pay a weekly allowance to 24 poor women over 60 years of age who lived in Christchurch.   Subsequently the trustees founded almshouses in Gravel Lane (now Great Suffolk Street) for the beneficiaries which were designed by Gilbert Scott.  A condition of being offered an almshouse by Mrs Vaughan's Charity was that potential residents had to attend either at the Surrey Chapel or Christchurch.  As a result, those hoping to be offered an almshouse attended at the one which held the right of nomination for the next vacancy, as they were in the main "impartial as between Church and Chapel."  The almshouses building was converted into flats in 1907 and the almswomen moved to new accommodation in Ashford, Kent.

Mrs Vaughan's Charity Almshouses from Southwark Collections

Rowland Hill Almshouses were established and named after of the founder of the Surrey Chapel in Blackfriars Road in 1812 near Gravel Lane. They provided accommodation  for 24 poor widows who were members of the church. The almswomen were moved to new accommodation in Ashford at the beginning of the 20th century.

Rowland Hill's almshouses 1852 Fishmongers Almshouses

The Fishmongers’ Almshouses were located on the site where UAL College and Communication and the Metropolitan Tabernacle now stand and built when the area was mainly open fields.  They comprised two main buildings: St Peter’s Hospital, named after the patron saint of fishmongers, built in 1615, and Hulbert’s Almshouses built just over 100 years later.  

Images (except where marked otherwise) © The Trustees of the British Museum