Bishops Stortford. King's Cottages

Colin Wilson

Kings Cottages Nos 1-8. The two blocks erected by Sir Walter Gilbey. Aug 2020
Colin Wilson
Kings Cottages Nos 9 - 20. The three blocks erected by Vander-Meulen family members Aug 2020
Colin Wilson
One of the plaques on the Gilbey almshouses. Note the date. It is not known why this date was chosen. Feb 2017
Colin Wilson
One of the Vander-Meulen plaques. Note the king's head is different from the earlier plaques. Feb 2017
Colin Wilson
The plaque listing the secretaries. Later moved from the end of No 9 to the front of No 13. Feb 2017.
Colin Wilson
The plaque in memory of Walter Gilbey. Aug 2020
Colin Wilson
OS map Hertfordshire XXIII.10 pub 1935 showing location of Kings Cottages
Courtesy of Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Edward VII passed along South Street on the day the almshouse foundations were laid, and allowed them to be named King’s Cottages. They were founded in 1906 by Sir Walter Gilbey of Elsenham, the gin magnate, in memory of his wife. Members of the Vander-Meulen family added further buildings over the next decade. One of the stipulations was that there should always be a descendent of Gilbey as one of the trustees.

Beneficiaries were to be aged over 60 (now reduced to 55) and to have lived in Thorley or Bishops Stortford for at least 20 years. Residents of Thorley were preferred for the Admiral Vander-Meulen property as it was instituted in memory of his father, the rector of Thorley.

The properties were a mixture of single dwellings for women, and doubles for a husband and wife. The living space was small. The living room was 12ft by 9ft with a bed recess of 9ft by 6ft for single dwellings, and a little larger for double. The amenities were improved over the years, with oil lighting giving way to electric. Cooking and heating ranges were installed. With further improvements the cottages are now up to date, and from the outside look very attractive and well kept.

In the mid 1960s an alarm system was added when a resident warden, living in one of the cottages, was appointed. One of the warden’s duties was to visit each cottage on a daily basis. However, care was not provided; residents had to be independent or to arrange for some sort of care facility.

The rent was 9d for a double, 6d for a single dwelling. Should a spouse die, the survivor could continue in the cottage, still paying the rent as for a couple until such time as a single cottage became available. As is to be expected, rents did rise over time. Sub-letting was not permitted.

As is the case with other almshouses, fortunes and conditions varied over the years. Sir Walter provided some funds at the outset, and others made contributions. By the 1930s funds were exhausted, but some bequests and donations saved the day. In time various grants were a great help. By 1960 the dwellings were deemed as sub-standard for habitation. In 1964 the foundation was registered  with the Charity Commission ref 232955, and matters were stabilised by about 1970. The Henry Charles Cook charity was also set up in 1964 for the maintenance of the almshouses. The accounts filed in 2019 show that the charity seems to be stable, with income a little higher than expenditure. Mr Micawber would understand the 1930s situation and approve of the present.

The institution is also affiliated to the Almshouse Association.

With 20 dwellings in use for more than a century it is no surprise there were a couple of unfortunate incidents – but there were very few reported. One of the wardens had to be persuaded to leave as she wanted a man to live with her (this would have broken the sub-letting rule), a couple of residents caused a little bother, and a newspaper reported in 2018 that one of the dwellings had to be sealed off because of drugs-related activity. In other words life seems to have passed peacefully for most people for most of the time.

The minutes were transferred to the keeping of the Bishops Stortford Local History Museum in 1999. A booklet about the almshouses was published in 2006, the centenary year. This publication includes a history of the almshouses, notes about the founders, the contract with the builders and the tenancy agreement. It has been included in Paul Ailey’s article at


South Street, Bishops Stortford
Georef:      549048 220554
Gridref:     51o 51′ 50″N   0o 09′ 48″E
OS 25″ map Hertfordshire XXIII.10 pub 1935


Bishops Stortford. A History, by Jacqueline Cooper, p106
Pub Phillimore & Co Ltd. 2005  ISBN 1 86077 329 X

Websites accessed Aug 2020

Charity Commission
Kings Cottages Trust and the Henry Charles Cook For Kings Cottages includes notes about the Kings Cottages almshouses. Site accessed Aug 2020

Newspapers can be accessed on the British Newspaper Archive website

Herts and Essex Observer 22 May 1937 page 5 col 3; 28 May 1938 page 8 col 4; 27 May 1939 page 4 col 7
Occupants of Almshouses and widows resident in King’s Cottages are allowed the services of the nurses free of charge.

Herts and Essex Observer 12 June 1937 page 5 col 3
[Baptist church Sunday School anniversary]. The gifts were afterwards taken to the tenants of the Almshouses, the King’s Cottages and the Hospital.

Herts and Essex Observer 29 July 1944 page 5 col 1
[Baptist Sunday School Anniversary]. A gift service was held in the afternoon…. which were afterwards distributed to the sick and aged friends of the church, also to occupiers of King’s Cottages and Almshouses.

Herts and Essex Observer 29 May 1953 page 1 col 3
Stortford Council on Tuesday decided that the general and water rates in respect of King’s Cottages, South Street, should no longer be remitted. [Then explains reasons]

Herts and Essex Observer 27 November 1953 page 1 col 2
Mentioning the Council’s refusal some time ago to remit the rates on the almshouses he asked that they should be consistent. It was surely quite illogical to take money away from old people because of financial stringency and then make a donation of £47 to the carnival. Councillor J E Barry opposed the amendment on the ground that it would create a precedent.

Herts and Essex Observer 10 May 1968
Pupils of Bishops Stortford Boys’ High School spent their religious instruction lessons gardening and tidying up at the Kings Cottages Almshouses in South Street. ‘The old people welcome the boys’ said Mr Robinson. ‘Many of them have even continued to help the old people after leaving school’

Herts and Essex Observer 14 March 1969 page 6 col 5
Miss Cribb also left …. £l,OOO to King’s Cottages Almshouses, Bishop’s Stortford.

Herts and Essex Observer 11 February 1982 page 10 col 5
Two of the almshouses are intended for Thorley people.


This page was added on 07/08/2020.

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  • My Grandfather was a builder and brick layer and helped build these cottages. He worked for Walter Gilbey.

    By Nick Martin (23/02/2021)