Watton at Stone. Lady Susan Smith
‘6 neat houses under 1 roof for 3 aged widows and 3 aged widowers’ is Cussans’ description of these almshouses founded by Lady Susan Smith (the wife of Abel Smith, of Woodhall Park). Abel Smith provided the funds, and selected and supported the residents. Do remember this was in 1867, before the Women’s Property Acts of the 1880s. Lady Susan died in 1875. There is a stained glass window to her memory in the local church.
The building and the outbuildings were listed by Historic England in 1986, refs 1089072 and 1352653. The architect may have been George Devey. He did work for other members of the Smith family, including designing Goldings (at Hertford for Robert Smith, a number of members of the aristocracy, and the Rothschild family. He kept many drawings and photographs of his work, but there is no catalogued record of this building. There is just the chance that it could be one of those listed as unknown, but it has not been possible to look at the drawings (which are held at Sheffield). He developed an innovatory ‘cottage’ style of domestic architecture based on timber-framed structures. The features were distinctive gables, high-pitched roofs and tall chimney stacks. He used traditional materials of timber, brick and tile. Historic England calls this the Domestic Revival Style.
The original provision was for 7 dwellings. By the time Vyse visited in 1983 that had reduced to 5, then to 4 according to the Historic England citation. A chance contact with one of the estate staff in 2017 provided the information that by then the cottages were let commercially, but some at a reduced rate to reflect Lady Susan’s original intentions.
Just a couple of incidents were recorded in the newspapers, both in 1881. It is not clear if they refer to Susan’s or Abel’s almshouses. Mary Banyan and Mary Giddens went to the sheep walks to collect sticks. Unfortunately Mary Banyan collapsed and died, probably from a heart attack. Phoebe Stoton (also aged 78) died as a result of a fire in her house. She was in the habit of sitting very close to the fire even though her husband warned her – her clothes had caught fire a couple of times before. This does show the almshouses were available to couples, not just widows or widowers (but may refer to Abel Smith’s almshouse).
Readers are referred to the article Watton at Stone. Abel Smith.
98 – 110 High Street, Watton at Stone
Georef: 530229 219258
Grid ref: 51o 51′ 25″N 0o 06′ 38″W
OS 25” map Hertfordshire XXI.10
History of Hertfordshire, by John Edwin Cussans
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 p165
Issued Archibald Constable & Co. 1912. Reprint by Dawsons of Pall Mall 1971 ISBN 0 7129 0477 8
This publication is available online. at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/herts/vol3/pp158-165
An Historical Atlas of Hertfordshire, ed David Short
Hertfordshire Publications 2011 ISBN 978-9-9542189-6-6
Victorian Almshouses in Hertfordshire, by J A Vyse
A Building Conservation thesis for A A Building Conservation course 1982 – 4
A copy is held at HALS
The Almshouses of Hertfordshire, by W O Wittering
Article in Hertfordshire Countryside 29 (187) Nov 1974
Herts Almanac 1893
Websites accessed Apr 2022
https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/library/special/devey has a biography of Devey and a list of drawings & photos.
Newspapers can be accessed on the British Newspaper Archive website
Hertford Mercury and Reformer 26 March 1881 page 5 col 5. Mary Banyan
Hertford Mercury and Reformer 17 December 1881 page 5 col 6. Phoebe Stoton