Ware. Crib Street

Colin Wilson

St Mary's almshouse from south east. Aug 2016
Colin Wilson
St Mary's almshouses looking along Crib Street. n Note the rebuilding stone on the end wall. Aug 2016
Colin Wilson
St Mary's almshouses looking south along Crib Street. Aug 2016
Colin Wilson
OS 25" map Hertfordshire XXIX.8 1923 showing the Ware almshouses
Courtesy of Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

Laurence Armatrading, James Birch James Hitch and unknown donors are the relevant names for this article. David Perman notes that there were so many almshouses in Ware that it is sometimes difficult to identify them by location and date.

Three brick almshouses in Crib Street are mentioned in a deed of 1612. DEWe/4/97 is a transfer of trustees. It cites ‘the Brick Almshouse in Crib Street with a house and two cottages adjoining’.

Salmon provides no name for someone who gave seven almshouses in Crib Street, for the dwelling of fourteen poor people, indicating two per dwelling.

James Birch, of The Priory, provided accommodation near the north gate of the churchyard for two poor widows, who receive parochial relief. It is noted on benefaction table in St Mary’s church dating from 1722. Unfortunately this table no longer seems to exist, nor is it mentioned by Cussans.

Opinion seems to be divided as to whether or not Laurence Armatrading actually provided almshouses. He died in 1645, during the Civil War. On the one hand his ‘almshouses’ consisted of 5 tenements in Crib Street, inhabited by 14 poor women (10 by the time VCH was published). On the other hand a church benefaction table dated 1722 (no longer existing in Oct 2023) recorded that he gave bread to 20 widows paid for by the rent from these dwellings. If there is rental income it seems odd that the poor effectively paid rent to subsidise the poor. Maybe this comes into the category of ‘for the benefit of the poor’ where rental income was used, but accommodation was not provided. Cussans is not specific. He notes that five tenements in Cribb Street, rebuilt in 1861 and now inhabited by fourteen poor widows, are supposed to have been devised by Lawrence Armatridinge in 1612. Note his use of the word ‘supposed’, about 80 years after Armatrading’s death. Could it be that they were set up in his name, using his funds? In his will Armatrading gave money to be spent on bread for the poor, specifying some in Cribb Street, but did not refer to an almshouse or almspeople.

Victoria County History refers to 14 almshouses in Crib Street, but that was after the 1861 rebuilding. Armatrading was noted as consisting of 5 tenements for 14 widows, with Birch providing 2 tenements. Salmon notes 7 tenements. That adds up to 14, hence does not include the three brick houses.

At any rate all were rebuilt as The Crib Street Almshouses by James Hitch in 1861. Victoria County History records fourteen almshouses in Crib Street under the control of the trustees of the combined charities, including the almshouses of Lawrence Armatridinge and James Birch. Records from the Ancestry website note a James who was just 21 years old at the time and a barge builder. His father George was a builder, as was his younger brother. It would be unlikely for someone so young to be involved with the building. However David Perman mentions another James Hitch who was a trustee, the father of George. The 1832 Poll and electoral register refers to a James Hitch who lived in a freehold house in Star Lane, Ware. Perman mentions that a James Hitch was often the surveyor in 1853. It seems that George (his son) was responsible for drawing up the plans. James Hitch’s tender (not the cheapest received) for £395 was accepted. The final cost was £428. However this was a period when there was some possible conflict of interests. James was a trustee. A decade later James was told he could not be the surveyor if his sons were tendering for work. It is a matter of interest that a James Hitch, a former trustee, received £5 poor relief (far more than poor people) in 1866.

There are some records at HALS to do with drainage provision in the almshouse yard. These date from 1928.

A scheme from 1996 records that the Crib Street and James Birch Charity now form part of the main charity. Its functions were 1) maintenance and repair of almshouses for poor persons not less than 55 years of age and of good character who have resided in Ware for not less than two years. A married couple may be appointed almspersons if one is or both of them are qualified as aforesaid. 2) income for the benefit of the almspeople. 3) surplus income for the general benefit of the poor.

Within 30 years they were sold off and converted into private flats, now known as Church Court.

Endowments are a rather more complicated matter as the finances were assigned to poor relief as well as almshouses. The Saracen’s Head is mentioned in 1425, the White Hart in 1503. The brotherhood 9trustees) owned the Saracens Head, White Hart, 2 tenements in Mill Lane  and a barn in Dead Lane. The churchwardens levied poor rate to maintain workhouse while the Ware Charities maintained almshouses and helped the ‘necessitous poor’. In 1612 Ware Charity estates was founded and it was then that the properties were combined into one feoffement, or trust. The properties owned are cited in Perman’s book and in Viuctiria County History. It appears that the title deeds were lost in about 1826-8.

Victoria County History notes that in 1911 the widows in the almshouses received £24 13s 6d.

The trustees varied a lot as far as their ability & appointment. David Perman records some unusual facts about trustees. In 1866 the Town Land Money payments included James Hitch, Henry Cobham and Charles Wells, all former trustees of the Ware Charities. It shows that fortunes can change rapidly. Even so, they received £5 each, rather more than any other recipients. Again you wonder about the extra payments.

Readers are referred to the articles about Ware Harrison, Ware Mill Lane and  Ware Roberts


Crib Street, Ware
Georef:     535724 214489
Grid ref:   51o 48′ 46″N  0o 01′ 48″W
OS map Hertfordshire XXIX.8 1923


History of Hertfordshire, by John Edwin Cussans
Vol 1 page 158
Originally published Stephen Austin & Sons 1870-81
Republished E P Publishing in collaboration with Hertfordshire County Library 1972

The Victoria County History of the County of Hertford, ed William Page
Vol 3  pp395-6
Issued Archibald Constable & Co. 1912. Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall ( ISBN 0 7129 0477 8)
This publication is available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp380-397

600 Years of Charity, by David Perman
Pages 23 – 6
Pub Rockingham Press for Ware Museum 1991  ISBN 0 9517045 6

The History of Hertfordshire by N Salmon
Page 428
London 1728

Documents held at HALS

DE/We/5/1 and DE/We/4/93

DE/We/4/97 is a transfer of trustees

DP/116/1/1 Register of births baptisms and burials 1558 – 1563 St Mary’s Church. Armatrading’s bequest is recorded after the list of burials

Websites accessed Dec 2023



Laurence Armatrading’s will can be viewed in the Ancestry website

This page was added on 23/12/2023.

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