South Mimms. John Howkins

Colin Wilson

The site of John Howkins' almshouse. The house to the right is the rectory, while the gate to the left leads to St Giles church. 2017
Colin Wilson
Sketch map showing the location of Howkins' almshouse.

There’s nothing new about ‘nimbyism’ – Not In My Back Yard. John Howkins’ will reveals that the locals were not too happy about an almshouse in their neighbourhood, and he had to take steps to have a decree reversed. He also states he felt very wronged by this and stopped any payments until the decree had been nullified.

Some years before 1677 (possibly 1652) John Howkins built five almshouses for poor women on land between the church and the vicarage. Although described as houses, they only had one small room and an even smaller outhouse at the rear. The plot, still vacant in 2018, shows just how small they were.

Owing to the small endowment, during later years only two women were able to live there. The other empty houses soon fell into decay and they practically fell down after the last old lady died in 1925. They were completely demolished in 1927.

Pictures can be found in Potters Bar & District Historical Society; Occasional paper No 4 South Mimms and on the Genealogy in Hertfordshire website (picture dated 1908).

Even so, these almshouses survived for around 275 years.

Endowments and Charities

By his will dated 1677 John Howkins left a rent-charge of £5 a year out of a property called Angells for quarterly payments to the almspeople but did not provide for the upkeep of the houses, which fell upon the parish.
1811 Francis Barroneau left £100 stock, the interest to be distributed half-yearly among the inmates.
1837 Mrs. Kerney left £200 to provide bread and coal for widows in the almshouses.
1844 Elizabeth Barroneau bequeathed £50 stock on similar terms to Francis Barroneau.
George Pooley, by will proved 1883, left £2,500, the income on which was to be paid in doles.
Before 1928 an unknown donor had given £24 and F. Abraham made a gift to Howkins’ almshouses which, in 1899, was represented by £32 stock.

It would be interesting to know about repairs, as the payments mentioned above refer to help for the residents, not for the buildings.

John Howkins

He was born at Brownsover in 1579, and had family links with the Lawrence Sheriff who founded Rugby School. He became a lawyer and owned Pinchbank [in Hadley]. His memorial slab in St Michael’s church Brownsover reads, ‘Here lyeth ye body of John Howkins late of ye Honorable Sosiety of ye Middle Temple London who dyed November 16th in ye 99th year of his age 1678’.

Cass records John Howkins died in 1703 and has no memorial. Other sources put his birth in 1650 or 1653. He adds that there are memorials in St Giles church South Mimms to his children John and Elizabeth, along with his wife Mary. It seems that Cass has mistaken this latter John Howkins for the one who built the almshouses. This can be confirmed by reading his will, which clearly states that the John who built the almshouses was the elder cousin and godfather of the John who died in 1703. Any genealogist will understand the confusion as there are many people named John Howkins and William Howkins in different branches of the family. Note also the age difference between them.


Following the demolition of the almshouses, the income was distributed as pensions.

Under a Scheme of 1941 the gifts of Howkins, the Barroneaus, Kerney, Pooley, the unknown donor, Abraham, Bradshaw, Bates, and Nicholson were consolidated as the South Mymms Parochial Charities. The charities were to be managed under that title, although each would retain its own identity.

The annual income of £77 7s. 8d. from Howkins’ and the six other related charities was to be applied in pensions of between 6s. 6d. and 10s. a week to poor women of good character who had resided in the parish for at least two years. One of the pensioners was to be a widow and called ‘the Kerney pensioner’. The annual income of £8 15s. from the charities of Bates and Nicholson was to be spent on coal for poor persons living in South Mimms and not in receipt of poor law relief, as selected by the trustees. The £3 from Bradshaw’s charity was to provide 20s. to the vicar as before and 40s. in cash or bread for distribution among parishioners attending the ‘Bread Service’.

According to the Charity Commission website, accessed 1st May 2018, the South Mymms Parochial Charities is still active, the Charity Commission reference being 210589.


Address:                       Blanche Lane, Potters Bar, Herts EN6 3PE.
Situated between between St Giles Church and the Old Rectory.
OS grid reference:     51o 41′ 46″N  0o 14′ 00″W
Georeference:            522219 201170


South Mimms, Story of a Parish, by F Brittain [a churchwarden at South Mimms]
Pub W Heffer & Sons Ltd 1931

South Mimms, by Frederick Charles Cass [rector of Monken Hadley]
Pub Westminster, printed by Nichols and Sons, 25 Parliament Street 1877
Relevant pages are 57 onwards. Copies held by HALS and Enfield Archives.

The Story of Potters Bar and South Mimms, ed K Rutherford
Pub Urban District of Potters Bar 1966

Genealogy in Hertfordshire Site accessed July 2018

The Victoria County History of the County of Hertford, Ed. William Page
(part of Victoria County History of the Counties of England Ed. H Arthur Doubleday)
Issued Archibald Constable & Co. Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall 1971)
vol 5 pp306-7 Pub 1976
This text is also available to view on-line on the British History On-line website

John Howkins will is in England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858.
An extract of the parts referring to the almshouses is attached.
The full text can be accessed on-line at  Site accessed July 2018

The Charity Commission link (accessed July 2018) is

This page was added on 17/05/2018.

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