Chipping Barnet. Eleanor Palmer
London’s need for expansion may have been the catalyst for building these almshouses 280 years after Eleanor Palmer died a few months before Mary I. They still house the poor after another two centuries, and indeed have expanded greatly.
Eleanor’s father Edward Cheseman was cofferer (treasurer) and Keeper of the Wardrobe to Henry VII, well known for his close control of the finances. Her brother was an MP. Hence she had good connections. Her second husband was John Palmer of Kentish Town. There is a memorial plaque in the church of St John the Baptist, Chipping Barnet. Her connections with Barnet are not clear, but her son did live nearby.
On her death in February 1558 she gave 2 acres of land in Kentish Town for the use of the poor. Two thirds of the income was for use in Barnet, the rest in Kentish Town. The land was pasture land, but its value increased in the early 1800s as London expanded. Long leases were sold to builders, increasing the charity’s income considerably. In 1823 the accumulated funds were used to buy a plot of land just beyond the end of Wood Street, in Chipping Barnet, on which almshouses were built for 6 aged men and 6 aged women. This probably means married couples. A copy of the 1818 Copy of Admission is held at HALS, but some 1896 correspondence indicates that the trustees did not know what had happened to the Court Rolls. Mr Harris, a previous lawyer, had ceased practice and left the area. They did not know of any instance where the rolls would have been handed over as any surety.
The period 1885 – 1909 saw many discussions about merging the non-ecclesiastical Barnet charities into a Charity Board. It was mentioned that Palmer’s charity was well administered. Even so, it did rely on support from Jesus Hospital charity. In the same period the almshouses were reported to be in decay, but could not be repaired then as Jesus Hospital had not released funds.
The datestones record they (i.e. the charity) was founded in 1558, rebuilt in 1930 and modernised in 1987. Two further cottages were built round the corner in Blenheim Road in 1930. A further cottage was added later. These dwellings were rent and rates free. A care facility was not provided; residents had to source that for themselves.
Mrs Poulton was a resident from before 1837. She had a daughter who usually slept with another resident, a Mrs Yeovil, who was 75 years old, infirm and nearly blind. She was totally reliant on help and care from others. Unfortunately one day she wanted a handkerchief, which was given reluctantly after she promised not to air it. A few moments later she was in flames. While the flames were put out with the help of a young man called Blackbrow, she died.
Jane Poulton is mentioned again in 1853, being then 87 years of age. While out in the High Street she suffered a fit. She was taken home but sadly she died the following morning.
Mr and Mrs Williamson wrote a charming letter to the Board of Guardians, thanking them for the help they had received over the last two years. They would no longer need help as they had been granted one of Palmer’s almshouses. They lived there for 16 years. But by 1908 Mrs Williamson, 86, had become deaf in both ears. That did not stop her from going out. But she passed a large group in the High Street looking at a fire. A driver was unable to miss her as she stepped out from the crowd. He was acquitted of careless driving; he was going slowly but the magistrate quipped he was surprised that he could go that speed. Barnet traffic can’t have changed much over the decades. She didn’t die straightway. She was in hospital for a month before returning home. Her demise was caused by the resultant pneumonia. The newspaper report states Mr Williamson nearly broke down while giving his evidence.
The almshouses in Wood Street may not be that large, but in the background is a substantial organisation now providing 78 residences and a care home. Some have been added since about 1978. In these cases a contribution was payable by the residents. Just off Bells Hill opposite are 23 homes in Eleanor Gardens and Palmer Gardens (off Chesterfield Road) and a residential care home at the end of Spring Close.
The Samuel and Rebecca Byford almshouses were merged in 1999.
Gelder reports that there were 11 trustees in the 1970s. Six were appointed by the London Borough of Barnet, four by co-opted by the local body, and the rector of Barnet, ex officio. The scheme of 2015 changed this so that there was one trustee – a limited company, not an individual.
The charity is registered with the Charity Commission ref 220857. The area of benefit is the former urban districts of Barnet and East Barnet as they existed before 1965. Applicants must have no more than £50k in assets, savings and income and be of 55 years of age or over.
Wood Street and Blenheim Road, Barnet
Georef: 523844 196433
Grid ref: 51o 39′ 11″N 0o 12′ 41″W
OS 25” map Hertfordshire XLV.3 pub 1898
Eleanor Gardens & Palmer Gardens
Georef: 523589 195610
Grid ref: 51°38′45″N 00°12′55″W
Georef: 523523 196001
Grid ref: 51°38′57″N 00°12′58″W
History of Hertfordshire, by John Edwin Cussans
Originally published Stephen Austin & Sons 1870-81
Republished E P Publishing in collaboration with Hertfordshire County Library 1972
Barnet & Hadley Almshouses, by W H Gelder
Pages 13 – 15
Barnet Press Group 1979
The Victoria County History of the County of Hertford, ed William Page
Issued Archibald Constable & Co 1908. Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall 1971 ISBN 0 7129 0476 X
This publication is available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp329-337
Documents held at HALS
DE/Bt/Q46 (1725 – 1937)
Records relating to various Barnet charities
Palmer’s Almshouses Charity
Websites accessed Oct 2022
Newspapers can be accessed on the British Newspaper Archive website
Hertford Mercury 14 March 1837 page 3 cols 2, 3 Death of Mrs Yeovil
Hertford Mercury 15 October 1853 page 3 col 4 Death of Jane Poulton
Herts Guardian 22 October 1853 page 5 col 5 Death of Jane Poulton
Barnet Press 03 April 1880 page 6 Palmer’s almshouses accounts
Barnet Press 11 May 1889 page 3 Various charity accounts
Barnet Press 26 January 1895 page 6 Mr King’s appointment as trustee queried
Barnet Press 11 April 1896 page 6 Mr King’s appointment as trustee queried
Barnet Press 04 April 1896 page 5 James Hunt, of Wood Street, was elected an inmate
Barnet Press 09 July 1898 page 4, 5 Henry Morris appointed as almsperson following death of William Dale. Pension 9s per week
Barnet Press 18 March 1899 page 4, 5 Mr and Mrs Williamson, of Bells Hill, elected to an almshouse, rendered vacant three months ago.
Barnet Press 25 March 1899 page 5 col 6 Letter from A & F Williamson
Barnet Press 25 July 1891 page 5 col 1 10 candidates for almshouse. Mr & Mrs Harris of Arkley elected
Barnet Press 26 September 1908 page 6 col 1 Death of Mrs Williamson
Barnet Press 02 April 1910 page 6 Possible new scheme for almshouses
Barnet Press 17 September 1910 page 5 col 3 Discussion about almshouse administration