Friday, 18 March 2016


Almshouses are buildings which provide accommodation for elderly or frail people. They were established at a time when there was no alternative welfare provision. The earliest almshouses were built by medieval monasteries as buildings from which alms and hospitality could be dispensed. At this time they were also known as hospitals or maison dieu (house of God).  The first recorded almshouses were founded in York by King Athelstan in the 10th century.

By the early 14th century the endowment of almshouses had become a popular form of charitable bequest by rich benefactors, for example kings and queens, aristocrats, bishops and merchants.  Many of the benefactors were women.  They set out their wishes in a deed, which detailed the eligibility criteria for their almshouses. Entry requirements often stipulated that residents should have lived in a specified place and be of a particular gender, marital status, occupational background, religious denomination or minimum age at admission. 

The almhouses, which were sometimes known as bede-houses (bede was the Middle English word for prayer), sometimes included a chapel and the residents were often required to attend regular services to pray for the soul of the benefactor. The residents had to abide by rules and were supervised by a master, chaplain, lecturer, reader, matron or mother. Some almshouses catered for the terminally ill.  Sometimes nursing care was provided by fellow residents if they were well enough to do so.

Many almshouses are comprised of a range of houses around a courtyard.  This arrangement provided residents with a sense of safety and security.  The more generous benefactors established funds to pay for fuel for heating, lighting and cooking; clothing (sometimes a uniform) and even some food and drink.

Many of the monastic almshouses disappeared at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII (1536-40).  However after the Reformation, almshouses continued to be established in many towns and villages. Many almshouses still survive from the 17th and 18th centuries and many more were established in the 19th century.  There are currently about 1,700 almshouse charities in the UK, which together provide homes for around 35,000 people.  Over 30% occupy listed buildings, many of which are architecturally distinctive.

Somerset has a large number of surviving almshouse buildings, although not all are in use as almshouses today.


In the 11th century Queen Margaret of Scotland paid for a hospital for 13 sick men and a chapel in Glastonbury, which was by this time a major pilgrimage destination.  The hospital in what is now called Magdalene Street was replaced by two rows of men’s almshouses in the 16th century.  One row was demolished in the 1960s.  Its foundations are under the current garden. A major refurbishment and repair programme was carried out in 2012.  St Margaret’s Chapel of Ease is open to the public during the day for prayer, quiet and contemplation.

Inside one of the almshouses - there would originally have been a ceiling across the whole room but it was less than 5 feet high, which would mean that most people today would have been too tall to fit in it, so it has been reconstructed as a mezzanine floor.

 Gray's Almshouses, East Street, Taunton
Gray's Almshouses were paid for by Thomas Gray, who came from Taunton but made his fortune as a merchant in London.  He was a member of the Merchant Taylor's Livery Company.  Building commenced in 1635 with dwellings for 10 women, a chapel and a schoolroom. Due to legal problems and the English Civil War the six dwellings for men were not completed until 1696 long after Thomas Gray's death. These almhouses are among the oldest surviving brick buildings in Somerset.

 Staple Fitzpaine
 These almshouses were donated in 1643 by Sir William Portman. They were restored in 1970.


The City of Wells has five almshouse buildings.  These currently provide 32 units of accommodation for older people in housing need. 

The earliest of the five almshouses was founded in the 15th century through a legacy provided from the estate of Nicholas Bubwith who was the Bishop of Bath and Wells and Treasurer to King Henry IV,. Bubwith's Almshouse is located next to St Cuthbert's Churchyard and includes a chapel and guildroom. In the early sixteenth century Henry Llewellyn, who was an alderman of the city, left a legacy to build a further set of almshouses, on a separate site in Priest Row, to the north of St Cuthbert's Church.

More almshouses were provided through legacies from Bishop Still and Bishop Wille.   In 1637 more accommodation was built on the Bubwith site through a legacy from Walter Brick, a burgess of the city. The almshouse buildings have been rebuilt many times in their history but are still known as Bubwith’s, Still’s, Brick’s, Willes' and Llewellyn’s.



 Bubwith's Almhouses, Wells

Harper's Almshouses, Chamberlain Street, Wells  
Archibald Harper, who died in 1713 left money to build these almshouses for "five poor men old decayed wool combers of the City of Wells".  They are no longer in use as almshouses.

Llewellyn's Almshouses, Wells

 High Street, Bishops Lydeard
These almshouses were originally built in 1616 by Sir Richard Grobham.  They were restored in 1854 and again in the mid 20th century.

Helyar Almshouse, East Coker
This terrace of 12 almshouses was originally founded in 1640 by Archdeacon William Helyar but due to plague and the English Civil War they were not completed until 1660.  They were largely rebuilt in the early19th century.

Sexey's Hospital was built in around 1630 as almshouses in memory of Hugh Sexey.

Hext Almshouses, West Street, Somerton
 Hext Almshouses, Somerton
Sir Edward Hext was a wealthy landowner, Justice of the Peace and MP, who lived in Low Ham.  He purchased the Manor of Somerton in 1596 and made improvements to the town.  The almshouses were erected in 1626 in his memory. There were originally 8 dwellings for poor men from Somerton, Langport, Low Ham or High Ham. In 1883 the dwellings were remodelled to accommodate 4 instead of 8 residents in larger houses.  In 1983 three new almshouses were built in the garden and women and married couples were allowed to live in them.

Strode Almshouses, Shepton Mallet
This was the best photograph I could get of the Strode's Almshouses in Church Lane, Shepton Mallet.  It shows only the back of them, as the front wasn't publically accessible as far as I could see.  They were built in 1699 and paid for by a charity set up by George Strode of London and William Strode of Barrington in 1627 and supplemented by Edward Strode in 1699. There were originally four dwellings but in 1862 four more were added. 

Wickham Almshouses, Shepton Mallet
In 1868 four more almshouses designed by the Diocesan Architect Benjamin Ferry were built on the north side of St Peter and St Paul's Church. They were paid for by a bequest in 1864 made by Mrs Mary Anne Wickham, widow of Rev William Provis Trelawny Wickham, who had been Rector of Shepton Mallet.  They are known as the Wickham Almshouses.

 Blue House, Frome
Blue House, Frome
An almshouse was founded adjacent to the Town Bridge in around 1465 by William Leversedge.  It was replaced by the current building in 1726, at which time a free school, known as the Bluecoat School, was incorporated into it.  This survived until 1921.  The name derives from the colour of the coats worn by the pupils.  Statues of an almswoman (known locally as Nancy Guy) and a schoolboy (known locally as Billy Ball) adorn the facade.  The building still provides housing for retired people.

 Everys Almshouses, Broadway
These almshouses in Broadway Road were built in the late 16th/early 17th century and restored in 1958.  In 1588 Alexander Every left £100 in his will to build 7 one up, one down almshouses for poor men.  These have since been converted into 4 larger dwellings.

These almshouses were built in 1624 and restored in the 19th and 20th centuries.

 Quirke's Almshouse, Minehead
These almshouses in Market House Lane in Minehead were built by local merchant Robert Quirke in 1630.  There were originally 11 dwellings.  In the 1780s they were used as the parish poor house. In 1861 78 people in 13 households were living in them in what must have been very crowded conditions. They were modernised in 1986

 Plaque detailing Robert Quirke's Bequest, Minehead

These almshouses for three men were built in St Andrew's Street in 1821.  They were extensively modernised in 1981.  The bell from an earlier set of almshouses elsewhere in the village is mounted on the roof.
These almshouses in Lime Street were built in the mid 19th century to replace earlier ones, which were located at The Gavel and which were demolished in 1869.

Woolston, Bicknoller
The Bartholomew Thomas almshouses at Woolston were founded under a bequest by Lucy Thomas who died in 1902. She gave £3,000 for four almshouses for poor protestants of 55 years or over of good character and who were unable to work. Six cottages were demolished to make way for the almshouses, which were completed in 1905.

 Harvey's Almshouses, Chard
These almshouses were founded by an Exeter merchant called Richard Harvey in 1663.  He was born in Chard.  The original almshouses were demolished in the 19th century and replaced by the present building in 1841-42.

 Richard Huish Homes, Taunton
 Huish's Almshouses were originally founded in Great Magdalene Lane to the north of Hammet Street by Richard Huish.  He came from Somerset but made his money in London. He financed their upkeep with rents from properties in Blackfriars in London.  The almshouses were rebuilt on their current site in Magdalene Street in 1866 when the houses in Blackfriars were sold for a good profit and demolished to make way for the new terminus station of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. Residents of the homes were originally required to attend church regularly.

Cook's Almshouses, Splatt Lane, Spaxton 

This former almshouse in The Square, Axbridge is now a teashop, which is appropriately called the Almshouse Teashop.  It was built by the Guild Merchant, who owned Axbridge, in around 1450.  It originally housed 24 poor men. Women were allowed to live there from the early 17th century.  It ceased to be used as an almshouse in 1838 when the Axbridge Union Workhouse opened a short distance away.  It became a brewery and then became derelict. It was restored in the 1980s.

St Margaret's Almshouses, Taunton
These almshouses were originally built as a leper hospital in the 12th century.  By the 15th century they were in a ruinous state.  They were rebuilt as almshouses by Abbot Bere of Glastonbury Abbey in the early 16th century. They were used as almshouses from 1612-1938.  They were then used as offices for Somerset Rural Community Council and the Somerset Guild of Craftsmen. They were empty by the late 1980s and the thatched roof was destroyed by fire in the 1990s.  They were restored by the Somerset Building Preservation Trust and are once again in use as social housing.  There are currently 4 houses in the complex.

 Reconstructed almshouse at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton
A row of almshouses was built on the corner of St James Street and Canon Street in Taunton around 1500.  They were demolished in 1897 but the oak timbers from some of them were saved and have been used to reconstruct one almshouse at the Museum of Somerset.

 St James Close Almshouses, Taunton
These almshouses were built in 1845 but extensively reconstructed in 1969.  They are located on the edge of St James's Churchyard.

Chubb's Almshouses, Court Barton, Crewkerne
Plaque on Chubb's Almshouses, Crewkerne
Blue plaque on Chubb's Almshouses, Crewkerne

These almshouses were founded in 1604 by Matthew and Margaret Chubb "for the perpetual relief of 8 poor people, who should be inhabitants of the town of Crewkerne and Misterton."


  1. Very Good! Thank you for the overview of what Alms houses were.

  2. There are some stunning Almshouses around the country thank you for sharing. I live in a Almshouse in Ilton.