This provision may be unique in that originally the almswomen lived in the main house, not in purpose-built dwellings. In their (so far) 400 year history there have been at least three sites. For half of this period the accommodation was shared.
It was in about 1613 that Dame Dorothy Morrison obtained a 100 year lease on Watford Place. She arranged for a lecturer (preacher) and four poor widows to live in her house. Her will is not easy to read but it does include a number of references to almswomen and widows. She died in 1618 and is buried in Watford churchyard, hardly surprising as she had links with the Russell family (Earls of Essex) by her first marriage.
In about 1626 the lease was transferred. Dorothy’s son, Charles Morrison (her son and executor) purchased the reversion and arranged it to be passed to trustees for their charitable purposes. He also arranged for an annuity of £50 from Kings Langley Park, to fund the lecturer and the almswomen.
Each almswoman was paid 2/- every Friday plus 10/- yearly. A new cloth gown worth 30/- was given each year, with a silver lion crest on the breast in memory of the founder, and a hat every 2 years. The Earl of Essex paid for this. It was minuted in 1832 that the gowns had not been provided for some time, and that new ones would be provided before next Lammas time (1st August). Chauncy recorded that the widows were given two shillings a week maintenance, two hundred of faggotts and cloth sufficient to make them a gown and new hats every year.
In 1824 (or possibly earlier) the house was exchanged for a property in High Street, known as The Lecturers House. It seems the almswomen lived there for a while. New almshouses were built by Stewart Marjoribanks in 1824. There was a land swap, and 8 almshouses were built in Vicarage Road (which may have been known as Loates Lane). Stewart Marjoribanks paid for the construction of the new almshouses, and had a dedication stone recording the matter. His inclusion of the words that he constructed them at his sole expense did not go down too well as it was felt it reduced the significance of the foundation. Clutterbuck’s comments should be reliable at this stage as he was one of the trustees. The almshouses did have a well. A pump was fitted in 1838, with a covering added in 1842.
The 1820s and 1830s saw some disagreements about nomination rights. As noted above, the Earl of Essex funded some of the provision and thought he had some right of nomination, probably because he was consulted about residents. Anyway, the trustees thought they had the right of nomination according to the original deed. The trustees were advised not to pursue their claim due to lack of funds. They were, however, advised to object to some of the Earl’s nominations and record the fact, creating a form of precedent. It would be interesting to know if the nominees were unsuitable or the trustees were making a point – probably the latter – and how many were appointed. However, by 1839 the Earl recognised the trustees’ right to nomination, and the minutes record the trustees’ gratitude. The terms of the deed trumped usage. One minute from 1836 noted the trustees appointed two almswomen, with the approbation of the Earl. Similar minutes are recorded in the early 1840s, suggesting cordial relationships. An article in Watford Observer 6 Oct 1894 goes into some detail about what took place.
Benefactions and Trustees
Some benefactions are recorded. In 1791 Hannah Pocock by deed endowed the almshouses with £350 stock (now consols), In 1835 Ann Phrip left £1000 bank stock by her will, the income to be divided equally among the four occupants of these almshouses and the eight occupants of the almshouses founded by the earl and countess of Bedford. In 1904 each of the twelve almswomen received £7 16s. from this trust fund. Funds from land sale were added to the assets.
A trustees meeting in 1883 mentioned their loss due to the death of John Sedgwick. He had served as a trustee, clerk and treasurer for 20 years. Henry Turner, a solicitor, was appointed to take his place.
The Vicarage Road almshouses existed till about 1961 when they were demolished. The site is now under Exchange Road, the new ring road. A replacement block of flats was built nearby adjoining the Bedford & Essex almshouses, known as St Mary’s Close. The complex is now called the Bedford, Morison and Cordery almshouses. As yet I have not found any information about Cordery, but the address is a distinct part of the complex.
The almshouses are affiliated to the Almshouse Association. The charity is also registered with the Charity Commission ref 207042. There is a maximum of 9 trustees, consisting of the vicar of St Mary’s church, 3 Borough of Watford nominees, 1 parish council nominee plus 4 co-optative persons living or working near Watford. These last are appointed by the other trustees.
As at 2022 the almshouses cater for men and women over the age of 60 who have lived in Watford for a significant part of their lives. They have to be of limited means, must not own any property, and be able to live independently. A site manager is employed to oversee the day to day running of the almshouses and arrange for maintenance. Social activities are arranged. Links with the local community are reflected in schemes such as Christmas lunch being sponsored by Sainsbury’s, and students from West Herts College helping with bench restoration.
OS 25” map Hertfordshire XLIV.2 pub 1914
Georef: 511088 196141
Gridref: 51o 39′ 12″N 0o 23′ 45″W
Georef: 510995 196194
Gridref: 51o 39′ 13″N 0o 23′ 49″W
St Mary’s Close
Georef: 511005 196236
Grid ref: 51o 39′ 15″N 0o 23′ 49″W
The Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire, by Sir Henry Chauncy
1700 2nd ed 1826 pub Kohler & Coombs of Dorking
The History & Antiquities of the County of Hertford, by Robert Clutterbuck
vol 1 p 270
London 1827. Printed by and for John Bowyer Nichols, 25 Parliament Street, London
The Book of Watford, a Portrait of our Town, by Bob Nunn
Pub Pageprint (Ltd) Watford 1987
The Victoria County History of the County of Hertford, ed William Page
Issued Archibald Constable & Co.1908. Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall 1971 ISBN 0 7129 0476 X
This publication is available online at https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol2/pp464-469
Documents held at HALS
DE/Ls/B480 Date: 1740 – 1851
Exchange of lands
D/EX372 QI Date: 1818 – 1844
Minutes of Lady Morrison’s almshouses
DZ/119/3/268B Date: 1833
Drawing of Morrison’s Almshouses, Watford. By John Buckler
Websites accessed Oct 2022
https://www.ancestry.co.uk/discoveryui-content/view/909954:5111 is Dororthy Morrison’s will
Newspapers can be viewed on the British Newspaper Archive website
March 10, at the Eight Almshouses, Watford, Susannah, widow of Mr. Charles Beard, aged 73.
Herts Advertiser 26 March 1870 page 8. Death of Susannah Beard, almswoman at the Eight Almshouses, on March 1, age 73
Watford Observer 20 January 1883 page 4 col 4 reports on John Sedgwick
Herts Advertiser 8 Jan 1887 page 8 col 2 Drainage issues
Watford Observer 5 Nov 1887 page 4 col 4 drainage issues
Hertford Mercury 02 October 1886 page 3 col 6 mentions benefactions by the Morrison family
Herts Advertiser 31 August 1889 page 7 col 1. Obituary of Ronald Pryor, a trustee of Morrison’s almshouse
Herts Advertiser 27 December 1890 page 6 col 3. Obituary for J W Robins, a trustee
Watford Observer 29 September 1894 page 5 col 5. Describes apprenticeship benefaction, with brief reference of £20 16s paid to the almswomen
Watford Observer 6 Oct 1894 page 6 col 1