Northchurch. St Mary's or Church Houses
These buildings go back to the 15th or 16th centuries, in rough terms the days of Edward IV and V, Richard III and Henry VII. A later addition formed the churchyard wing. They were restored in 1966 and further refurbished in 2012. There are a few photos, often listing them as ‘old cottages’. Indeed they are not obviously almshouses; the only sign was a small metal plaque at the end. The occupants were aged poor; Cussans says they were widows.
Clutterbuck includes these almshouses under Berkhamsted. There are four tenements called the Church Houses, belonging to the parish, but it is not known who originally gave them. He also notes some endowments. Cussans does not mention these buildings.
According to Victoria County History most income was provided by land rents. Benefactors listed are Edmund Young in 1672, with gifts for the poor of £50 by Mary Daubney and of £5 by John Edlin. The 2012 refurbishment was funded by Warwick Payne, a Northchurch resident.
There is a Northchurch United Charities ref 207010, registered in 1962. It includes the John Edlyn charity. The Charity Commission website notes the charity is for general poor use, and does not own land or property. The almshouses are associated with the Almshouse Association.
The buildings were listed as grade II* by Historic England 1950, ref 1078147. In that respect they are architecturally the most important of Hertfordshire’s almshouses. The two-storey timber-framed buildings could easily be used as a jigsaw puzzle design. Another photograph dated 1908, from the E. Needham & Co collection can be found in Sturgess’ book. It shows the almshouses were opposite the George and Dragon Motor Garage. There are people walking along the street – that would be risky nowadays, to say the least.
The only document found so far at HALS is an insurance document dating from 1964. There may be other references in the St Mary’s parish vestry minutes, but it would take a very long time to read through 450 years of records.
Like many another almshouse, these buildings existed for over five centuries but rarely appear in the public record.
HIGH STREET (North Side) Nos 84 to 96 (even).
Geo ref: 497432 208779
Grid Ref: 51o 46 10″N 0o 35′ 22″W
OS 25” map Hertfordshire XXXII.4 (Berkhampstead Urban; Northchurch; Wigginton)
Published: 1898, 1924 and 1941. The almshouses are not annotated.
The History & Antiquities of the County of Hertford by Robert Clutterbuck
Printed by and for John Bowyer Nichols, 25 Parliament Street, London, 1827
Bygone Berkhamsted, by Percy Birtchnell, pub author by White Crescent Press 1975
p73 has a photo of Northchurch almshouses with people lined up outside. Shown as half-timbered
ISBN 0 900804 14 9 (hardback) or ISBN 0 900804 13 0 (paperback)
Berkhamsted, an Illustrated History by Scott Hastie
Photos dated 1988 p92 and 1892 p 139
pub Alpine Press 1999 ISBN 0-9528631-1-1
Berkhamsted. A Gateway to the Chilterns, by E G Meadows
p82 Photo of almshouses.
pub the Bookstack, Berkhamsted, 2001, ISBN 1871372054. Copy held at HALS
The Victoria County History of the County of Hertford (4 vols). Ed William Page
(part of Victoria County History of the Counties of England Ed H Arthur Doubleday)
Vol 2 pp 245-50 1908
Issued Archibald Constable & Co. 1908 Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall 1971(Dawsons ISBN 0 7129 0476 X)
This publication been digitised by British History Online (BHO) and is available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp245-250
Dacorum – Within Living memory, by C Shipman & D Jackson
p40 has photo showing Northchurch almshouse in the late 19th century. Shown as half-timbered.
© Dacorum Borough Council, Pub Pageprint (Watford) Ltd 1988 ISBN 0 0511777 37
Hertfordshire vol 1 South & West. A Portrait in old Picture Postcards, by Margaret & Roy Sturgess
Pub S B Publications 1990. ISBN 1 870708 30X
Items held at HALS
Northchurch St Mary parish records (1564 – 2004)
Insurance policy for the Church Almshouses
Date: 7 Sep 1903
Title: old cottages
A. Whitford Anderson photographs
Date: (nd [1900 – 1925])
Postcard: view of Northchurch village showing Church Houses or almshouses
Copy of lantern slide showing two half-timbered houses
by H Rose]
Photograph by H Rose The almshouses / Church House in High Street
Date: (Dec 2004)
Connell’s Topographical Survey of Hertfordshire
Photograph of Church House in High Street, Northchurch
Date: (Aug 2005)
Connell’s Topographical Survey of Hertfordshire
Photograph of Church House from the churchyard
Internet Sites (accessed Feb 2021)
Charity Commission ref 207010
https://www.gettyimages.dk/detail/news-photo/church-cottages-northchurch-hertfordshire-it-is-believed-news-photo/896473604. This site suggests the almshouse was once the rectory, and calls them Church Cottages. The image is dated 1943.