Stevenage. Parish and Dog and Bitch Yard
It’s no problem imagining what Stevenage looked like in the days of George IV and William IV as there are so many listed buildings. The area we are talking about is what is now known as Old Stevenage, situated at the northern end of the new town. It was a fairly small place. The population in 1801 was about 1400, growing to about 4000 in 1901.
An almshouse was built in 1676. This may be the one located in Dog and Bitch Yard. There are a few references to repairs and rents till 1709. With one exception references cease until 1831, though there are references to House of Maintenance, Poor House or Workhouse. A 1764 entry reports done on the workhouse and almshouse, suggesting they were regarded separate entities. A conjecture (with no evidence), may be that the Dog and Bitch Yard almshouse was destroyed in the fire of 1807, whch did destroy Hellard’s amshouse. Entries starting in 1831 mention 14 almshouses in Back Lane, where paupers could live rent free. A minute from 1834/5 refers to both the almshouse and the poor house. They were sold off in about 1852, the sale proceeds being used for the Hitchin workhouse. Hence the likelihood is that there were two almshouses, one in Dog & Bitch Yard, and a later group in Back Lane.
There is little information. The standard Hertfordshire histories refer to the Hellard almshouses but no others except that Victoria County History refers to Cholwell’s poor house. That is no surprise as they normally only describe establishments with foundations, or specific charities, not parish provision. Wittering mentions Dog and Bitch Yard; Short mentions the parish. The principal source found so far is the Stevenage Vestry Minutes. Those read so far cover the period 1575 to 1879, but for this article they have been consulted up to 1860.
2 Letchmore Road was used as the parish workhouse from 1759 till 1835. It was given to the churchwardens in 1773 by Rev. Cholwell. It was never an almshouse. The Poors’ Lands were property let out, the income being used to benefit the poor. The Hellard almshouses are not part of this discussion.
The terminology used causes some confusion. Workhouse, House of Maintenance, Poor house, and almshouse are all used. Sometimes two terms are used in the minutes of the same meeting, suggesting they are different. Workhouse, House of Maintenance and poor house are used until mid 1831. After that the references are to poor house and alms house. Workhouse reappears in 1836, when it was sold. The date is important as that was when workhouse provision became centralised in large institutions, replacing local provision. The Hitchin Union workhouse was built in 1836. In 1833 Benjamin Shelford was required to quit the Arms House, and all almshouses were to be inspected in that same year. These in turn were sold in 1852, the proceeds helping with the financing of the Hitchin Union.
The people described correspond more to workhouse provision in the 1800 – 36 period. There are references to families, sons, and one case where someone seeking work was sent to the poor house. The sick were also allowed in. A few people with the same names are recorded in Stevenage Gifts for the Poor as receiving financial help, but it seems that receiving parish relief was a hindrance to acceptance in the Hellard almshouse.
Transcripts from the Stevenage Vestry Minutes
The extracts below have been transcribed to help readers form their own opinion. They seem to be all the almshouse references in the Vestry Minutes 1575 – 1860, along with relevant references to the workhouse, poor house and house of maintenance. Note there is no reference to Dog and Bitch Yard – but maybe a more careful reading is needed or earlier minutes consulted.
Apr 26 1676 To Richard Blow to ye building of ye almshouses £2 16s
For lime and bricks to Edward Brown for ye almshouse £1 10s
Nov 9th 4 almspeople 4 weeks pay 18s […]
?? To ye 4 Alms Hous people 5 weeks pay £1 0s
1695 The overseers of the poor received ye rent of ye almshouses £8 10s
[memorandum] those has been laid out for organ […….] and in repairs of ye almshouse £2 2s
1698 Add rents of ye almshouse £8 9s
Apr 10 1699 of rents due to ye almshouses
1709 Memorandum. That there was due from the Town to the Trustees of the almshouses at Lady Day 1709 which sum is ordered to be paid by the Overseers John Cuckow and Solomon Pratt […..] to the Trustees
There seem to be no further almshouse references until 1831 except for 1764. By 1724 the references are to the House of Maintenance, Poors House and Workhouse.
10 May 1764 Paid John Blow a bill £3 19s 7d
Paid John Hogard a bill 8s 71/2. Both noted as for works at the workhouse & the almshouse.
[Date unclear] The poor should go to the workhouse on Monday next at 5 o’clock in the evening to have their children vaccinated. [This would be for smallpox, only 20 years or so after Jenner developed the procedure].
Oct 30 1825 Maria Rays Boy to go to the workhouse.
Nov 27 1825 Maria Rays Boy to go to the poorhouse.
Aug 13 1826 Agreed for James Day to go to the poorhouse
Apr 1828 Richard Normond is to go out of the poorhouse.
Jul 20 1828 The poor people is to attend at the Workhouse on Monday ….. at 9 o’clock to be vaccinated
Jul 27 1828 John Chambers is to go into the Poorhouse if any more applications is made. [Does this refer to his applications for poor relief?]
Nov 30 1828 James Field Wife is to go to the Poorhouse and he is to pay to the parish 1/0s per week
Sunday 20 1829 John Ray son to go to the poorhouse
Jul 26 1829 Wm Frederickson is to go to the poorhouse
May 16 1830 John Bunage and family is to go to the poorhouse. Geo Gilbey to go to the poor house.
May 22 1831 Maria Rays son to go to the poorhouse as agreed last vestry
August .. 1831 John Mayes Boy is to go to the poorhouse
Dec … 1831 William Rance to [mend] the almshouses. Linsey 1810 Wm Rance jun. [In 1830 he had received 1s 6d and £1 in 1831]
May 5 183 Benjamin Shelford is to have notice to quit the Arms House
Dec 12 1838 Agreed that [names given] should inspect all the almshouses ….
Jan 20 1836 Agreed that Thomas Chalkley and family to go in the Alms House No 20 …… Allow Willam Speller 10/- when leaving the Poor House.
May 6 1834 …. to have notice given her to get her daughter from [Leicestershire] to go in the poor house
Aug 1834 [a person to go into the poorhouse if she does not get better from illness]. John Andrew applied for labour and the Vestry agreed for him to go in the poor house
[date unclear] George [Chipenham] applied at this vestry and the Vestry allowed him a almshouse. Simon [……] to go into the poor house
May 14 1835 James Kimpton wife applied for relief. None was allowed but in case she could not do without she was allowed to go [into] poor house
Jul 19 1835 The assistant overseer was directed to give [Wm Slater] notice to leave [….] alms house by Monday next [or the family would be physically ejected]
 The Churchwardens produced the account of the sale of goods and furniture in the house lately occupied as the parish Workhouse ….. An inventory of goods not sold and in the use of Mrs Impey, the late [this means former as she was given alternative accommodation] Mistress of the Workhouse …….
It was ordered …… that that portion of the premises lately occupied as a workhouse …. To resume the use of the said premises for the benefit of the Parish whether as a workhouse or for other purposes.
Jan 5 1837 [The workhouse had been repaired in Jan 1836]
Feb 9 1837 [Possible single reference to almshouse]
Apr 16 1852 Whereas there are fourteen tenements situate in the Back Lane of Stevenage belonging to the parish which have been in time past and are still occupied by certain paupers without the payment of rent and that there are no funds [with which] the same can be kept in repair and it is desirable that the same should be disposed of. It is resolved that the said tenements with the assent of the Poor Law Commissioners under the provision of [statute cited] and the produce of sale be applied as, or in part of the proportion of the parish towards the expense incurred by the Board of Guardians of the Hitchin Union in the building of the Union Workhouse
Nov 7 1852 [The dwellings of the poor have been inspected following the above decision and found to be clean. More to be inspected]
Hellard Almshouses and Other Stevenage Charities 1482 – 2005 ed M Ashby
Pages 36-54 (Gifts to Poor), 58-61 (census) and 76-83 (Cholwell)
Pub Hertfordshire Record Society 2005
An Historical Atlas of Hertfordshire, ed David Short
Hertfordshire Publications 2011
The Victoria County History of the County of Hertford, ed. William Page
Vol 3 p 148
Issued Archibald Constable & Co. 1912. Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall 1971 ISBN ISBN 0 7129 0477 8
This publication is available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp139-148#h3-0012
The Almshouses of Hertfordshire, by W O Wittering
Article in Hertfordshire Countryside 29 (187) Nov 1974
Documents held at HALS
DP/105/5/1 Churchwardens’ accounts
DP/105/5/2 Stevenage Vestry Minutes Includes transcript of 1807 fire article.
DP/105/5/3 Stevenage Vestry Minutes 1700 – 1783
DP/105/5/4 Stevenage Vestry Minutes 1775 – 1809
DP/105/8/5 Stevenage Vestry minutes 1805 – 1841
DP/105/8/6 Stevenage Vestry Minutes 1820 – 1879
Websites accessed May 2022
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-50713991 is about early vaccination
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1348095?section=official-list-entry is about 2 Letchmore Road