Proposed Almshouses

Colin Wilson

Proposed almshouses have been reported in local papers and the likelihood is that they were not pursued. Indeed most reached the suggestion rather than the more definite proposal stage. The main triggers were royal events, such as Victoria’s jubilees of 1887 and 1897 and later Kings’ coronations, followed by war memorials.

There may be a distinction to be made. The vast majority of the almshouses recorded were built by individuals or organisations such as guilds. They were not accountable to others in what they did. The almshouses proposed were different in that they were proposed by the public, to be built using public funds or subscriptions. Hence the debate included what was the best use of the money. Hospitals, libraries and recreation areas feature prominently in these debates. One proposal which did come to fruition was the Dr West almshouse in Hoddesdon.

Almost by definition these notes will be brief due to the paucity of information and this list is unlikely to be complete. Doubtless there were discussions in many places which have not been reported. Readers may find it useful to read the correspondence and reports in more detail as they then provide more background as to the pros and cons, and some will provide links to other letters or meetings.

The notes below are in date order. Note the various newspaper references can be accessed on-line via the British Newspaper Archive website.


The Common Meadow Fund and the Lammas Charity were under discussion. Two letters were published about this. S C referred to the funds available and the restrictions placed on their use. Apparently they were for the maintenance of the public baths and other purposes which would benefit the poor. Other monies could be applied for the use of the public library. This was the option S C preferred. The second letter was penned by G Lidcombe. His preference was for a public library and baths, the heat used for keeping the library warm being used also for the baths. In passing he mentions that further hospital amenities had been turned down as there was already sufficient provision, and almshouses had also been turned down as they did not seem to embrace the principle in view.
Watford Observer 04 May 1872 page 4 col 7


At the Local Board of Health meeting. Mr Ekins (a builder acting for Mr Parker) asked the Board to reconsider their previous opinion about a cottage which Mr Parker proposed to build in Priory Street. Mr Parker’s intention was to put up a cottage, as kind of almshouse, with a single bedroom to it, that the place could occupied by one person only if desired. If the Board objected to pass such a plan Mr Parker was willing to build a cottage which would contain all the accommodation the Board required. The Board preferred 2 bedrooms but legally could not object to one.
Hertford Mercury 19 May 1877 page 4 col 1


A letter to the editor, following on from a previous communication about a Jubilee memorial, discusses various options. To quote, “Almshouses have been provided in the parish of South Mimms to which residents at Potters Bar are eligible and I am certain that the requisite amount, which would be very large, could not be collected for the erection and maintenance of another set together with an endowment for securing a weekly endowment for the inmates”. The references to South Mimms almshouses are likely to be the Ridge almshouse rather than South Mimms. John Howkins, Parish or Pooley or Brewers, which were built a long time before.
Barnet Press 12 February 1887 page 7 col 3


William Clarke, assistant curate of Potters Bar, wrote a letter to the editor. “If the people of Potters Bar are really in earnest on this question [of a Jubilee memorial], I would venture to suggest the erection some almshouses. House rent is very high; there are several persons to whom such a shelter would be a great boon in their declining years, and the occupants could be elected by the parishioners independent of sect or party. There are few parishes where something of the kind does not exist;, it is much needed here and I think would commend itself to all sorts and conditions of the inhabitants”.
Barnet Press 29 January 1887 page 7 col 2

Samuel G Sheppard responded to a week later. “I have nothing specially to urge against the alternative proposition of erecting almshouses, but I firmly believe that the public house would prove the most beneficial to all classes”.
Barnet Press 05 February 1887 page 3 col 1


It seems there were 4 viable options for Watford. The hospital could be endowed, the public library augmented, a recreation ground established, or some almshouses built. However it does seem as if this proposal was formulated in greater detail than others.

At the time Watford’s population was in the region of 17,000. There were 5 almshouses, the Countess of Essex and Mary Bailey Smith being built only twelve and two years earlier respectively. Maybe the Drysalters almshouse should not be included as it was located in Watford but not really for Watford people. Some people thought more almshouses were needed; others thought there were enough already.

Watford Observer 09 April 1887 included details of funds raised so far. Dr Hood had given £105, Mr Grover had given land worth £150; promised donations and subscriptions amounted to £8 18s 6d. This made a grand total of £284 18s 6d.

Under the pen-name of A Looker-On, a letter was published in the Watford Observer April 1887 noting that ongoing funding was unlikely, and that other schemes would probably fare no better. The same issue carried a report about a meeting held to start the project. The Vicar’s suggestion was that it should be called The Jubilee Retreat with the governance based on that of the London Orphan Asylum. The estimate was £1000 for building plus £1200 as an endowment. The money reported in the earlier issue was but 8% of this.

P Hood was offered the position of president. He declined. While he had much experience from the Marylebone almshouses, he thought the establishment would be more successful if it was spread over a wider area than Watford, and he hoped the Earl of Essex would put his influence behind the scheme.

Watford Observer 4th June 1887 printed a letter from Charles Lovejoy (the secretary of the committee). The almshouses were to be erected on land given by Mr Grover so that aged and infirm tradespeople and inhabitants may live comfortably in their declining years. A donation of £5 5s would give a voting right for life; 10s 6d would give a one year vote. The constitution was to be based on Licenced Victuallers and Booksellers Retreats, London Orphan Asylum and Reveley Almshouses. There were twenty one members on the committee.

There doesn’t seem to be activity reported after that. A search for ‘Jubilee Retreat’ or ‘Retreat’ in Watford Observer for the next decade produced no responses. So we could say it was a scheme which was actively considered but in the end was not viable.

However, in 1888 there are reports that land was being sought near the Countess of Essex almshouses at Cassiobury, so maybe the recreation ground scheme came to pass instead of the almshouses, but this has neither been confirmed nor investigated for the purpose of this article.
Watford Observer  09 April 1887 page 4 col 7
Watford Observer 16 April 1887 page 3 col 3
Watford Observer 16 April 1887 page 4 col 2
Watford Observer 23 April 1887 page 6 col 7
Watford Observer 04 June 1887 page 4 col 7


At a meeting of the Boxmoor Trust Fund, a Mr. Pearman proposed £5O trust fund for almshouses. The report does not record what decision was made.
Herts Advertiser 27 October 1888 page 7 col 5


At a meeting discussing the William Lee’s Charity, commonly known as the Cave Estate, Mr Higgins said he would like to suggest that as the Testator intended his Charity to relieve the poor, some almshouses be built, with possibly a small endowment for aged men or aged couples. The Commissioner asked where the money for an endowment was to come from. Mr Higgins thought 2s a week could be raised. The Commissioner thought that was unlikely to be enough.
Herts & Cambs Reporter 10 February 1893 page 8 col 3

 At a meeting of the William Lee’s Charity on Monday 13th Feb, Mr Higgins felt strongly that something ought to be done for the necessitous poor after all these 360 years. His pet idea was that some almshouses might be established, but the Commissioner very properly found out the weak point in it as he could only show an endowment of 2s a week which would not be sufficient to allow the occupants to live upon.
Herts & Cambs Reporter 17 February 1893 page 8 col 3


Discussions following World War I about a memorial included a suggestion that an almshouse, initially for veterans, would be more appropriate than the usual monument as it would apply to those more specifically affected by the War.


Only 18 people attended a public meeting to discuss a memorial for the coronation of George VI, hence the meeting was officially adjourned until enough interest could be demonstrated. Even so, there was some informal discussion.

A suggestion, by Mr. W. J. Harris, was the provision of houses, somewhat similar to the almshouses in South Street [aka Kings Cottages], for aged and poor people. Twelve houses would cost £3OOO and he thought it was a laudable object. The matter was not discussed further as the meeting was so small. The observation was made that the people had spoken by not turning up.
Herts and Essex Observer 19 June 1937 page 3 col 4


At the annual Braughing Parish Council meeting the clerk reported that Mr Gerald Mole, a nephew of the late Mr. Chas Mole (a former chairman of the council) had written offering to give a site in the village for the erection of almshouses. Mr. R. P. Kennedy was asked to report the fact to the Rural Council.
Herts and Essex Observer 08 June 1951 page 5 col 3

This page was added on 27/01/2024.

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