Westmill. Greg or Pilgrims Close
Westmill is a particularly attractive village, located a few miles south of Buntingford. The view towards the village pump, an iconic view of an English village, has frequently been photographed. There is a delightful watercolour dating from about 1940 held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In the background is a row of cottages – the village almshouses, along with the village hall, post office, and the church tower in the background. The road is known as Pilgrim’s Close.
The origin of the almshouses requires further research. The building itself dates back to the 18th or 19th century. It may be significant that neither Cussans nor Victoria County History mention the almshouses, even though VCH obtained information about the village from T. T. Greg himself. However, the relevant volume was published in 1912, maybe before Greg had any almshouse involvement. Nathaniel Salmon, the Hertfordshire historian and curate at Westmill, published his book in 1728 so too early to be of use. A search through the owners and occupiers in the 1838/42 Westmill tithe map provides no further information about provision for the poor.
There were ‘poor houses’ in the village, opposite the church. Note that ‘poor house’ does vary in meaning; it may be an almshouse or a workhouse. The fact they were not mentioned by VCH could be explained as that publication tended to record personal charities, not parish provision. Maybe the Pilgrims Close building was the almshouse, adopted by Thomas and Mary Greg. Maybe Thomas and Mary Greg set the building up as an almshouse.
Some sources note that Coles was purchased by Thomas Tylston Greg, a West Indian planter, in the late 18th century. There is an 1839 death entry for a Thomas Greg, age 97, at St James, Westminster, though that may not be the same person. No notes about his involvement with almshouses have been uncovered.
Another Thomas Tylston Greg (born 1858 at Wilmslow, Cheshire) married Mary Hope Greg in 1895. The 1911 census shows they lived at Westmill. The wall plaque and the Charity Commission records show they were definitely involved with the almshouse. The plaque on the cottages is dedicated to Thomas, with a date of 1929, and includes the initials T T G and M G. The Oxford list of Oriel College alumni records a Thomas Greg as coming from Handsforth (Cheshire). He graduated in 1881 and became a barrister at the Inner Temple the following year. 1900 saw him admitted to the Company of Fishmongers, where he was noted as a solicitor. Thomas died in 1920; Mary lived until 1949. The present charity is in the names of Thomas Greg and Mary Hope Greg.
As far as the building is concerned, there were originally four dwellings, now combined to make two. Hence two doors have numbers and letterboxes; the other two have neither. They were modernised in 1929, in memory of Thomas Greg, as recorded on plaques attached to the front. The building was grade 2 listed by Historic England in 1984, ref 1102238.
It seems the building is still used as an almshouse. The 2020 accounts reveal that a tenant who had lived in the almshouse for ten years moved out and a new tenant was being sought with the necessary Westmill connections. The vacant property has been upgraded in various ways. One feature about renting the Charity’s properties is that many are let at below market rates to reflect the charitable origins.
The organisation is listed as affiliated to the Almshouse Association and registered with the Charity Commission ref 232669. While the charity is T & M Greg, the almshouse section is in the name of Mary Hope Greg; a linked charity also in her name has the object of providing a rest garden for almspeople.
The chairman as at 2021 was Lady Julia Carter, of Coles, maintaining the link with Coles.
It was also reported in the accounts that discussions were under way with the Almshouse Association and the Charity Commission so that the regulations could be modified to reflect modern needs.
1 – 4 Pilgrims Close, Westmill
Georef: 536859 227106
Gridref: 51o 55′ 33″N 0o 00′ 41″W
OS 25” map Hertfordshire XIV.9 pub 1878, 1898 and 1921. The buildings are shown but not annotated as almshouses.
Westmill: the Story of a Hertfordshire Parish, by G Ewing
Preface and pp 121, 128 and 179
Pub Courier & Co, Tunbridge Wells
Items held at HALS
DE/X1024/1/161/43 Photograph of memorial for Thomas and Margaret Greg in Westmill church, April 2005. DE/X1024/1/161/45 Photograph of memorial for Thomas and Mary Greg in Westmill church, April 2005.
DE/X1025/2/97/1 Postcard: view of Westmill (nd [1900 -1922]).
DE/Sm/P5 and DE/Sm/P6 are 1825 maps of Westmill. Not examined at the time of writing.
DSA4/114/1 is the 1842 tithe map
DE/X1025/1/120/2 nd [c1935]. Slide mount records ‘West Mill. Herts. H Rose’. Part of the almshouseds can be seen to the left of the image.
Websites accessed Sep 2021
Charity Commission https://register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-search/-/charity-details/232669
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1102238 is Pilgrims Close
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/results/?searchType=NHLE+Simple&search=1295943 is Church Cottages, (formerly the poor house?)
http://www.hundredparishes.org.uk/FreshFiles/PDFs/WESTMILL.pdf Dated c2011
Victoria and Albert Museum https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O596853/the-village-green-westmill-watercolour-hawkins/
Watercolour held at V&A. C1940, by Hawkins
https://www.ancestry.co.uk/family-tree/person/tree/77790778/person/120163067883/facts?_phsrc=uVY64&_phstart=successSource has details of Thomas Tylston Greg’s life (1858 – 1920)
https://www.ancestry.co.uk/imageviewer/collections/8942/images/RDUK1500_0001-0573?pId=90722 Oriel College, Oxford alumni BA 1881, MA 1886, barrister at law Inner Temple 1882