Almshouses, in the shape of early ‘hospitals’, have been a feature of Shropshire from the twelfth century, but the majority of the nearly 40 surviving almshouses were founded in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, and the most recent in 1955. Founded by comparatively wealthy benefactors, they usually provided for the ‘deserving’ poor who had fallen on hard times. They certainly only met a small proportion on the overall needs of the county, their combined provision in the last half of the nineteenth century accounting for only some 230 homes. In Bridgnorth, for example, two pairs of almshouses at the end of the 1800s provided for 20 people at a time when the Workhouse catered for around 120.
The history of the almshouses is often intriguing: the personalities of the founders, the sometimes diminished enthusiasm of his or her descendants when faced with repair bills, the greater or lesser efforts of Trustees to manage the buildings down the decades, the degree of social control to which the residents were subjected, and the ways which those residents found to evade the rules and regulations. At Clun, for example, the inhabitants were required to be able to say the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments to qualify for admission and after acceptance were supposed to pray three times a day in their own rooms, to attend the almshouse chapel at 9 o’clock in the morning and 3 o’clock in the afternoon each day and to go to the parish church every Sunday. They had to ask if they wished to go into the town, and permission would not be given during prayer times. The impression is that church-going was not popular. According to A. Goldring, a clergyman who appears to have known the almshouses well, the residents demanded to be taken to church in a wagon as they claimed to be too infirm for the mile walk, yet, he said, they would cheerfully follow the hounds for three or four miles, hitching up their almshouse gowns and jumping fences.
The buildings are often of architectural merit, and now add extra character to their surroundings. An Introduction surveys the architectural trends and also looks at the provision of almshouses across the county and how it compared with other parts of the UK, whilst the Gazetteer looks at each group of almshouses in detail, more so in some cases than in others due to the different survival rate of historical documents.
Sylvia Watts studied History at Oxford before entering on a career in teaching. In 1995 she gained a doctorate from Wolverhampton University for a thesis on four small Shropshire towns (Shifnal, Wellington, Wem and Whitchurch) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As an expert in mediaeval Latin and sixteenth-century documents, she was well placed to undertake much of the research necessary to write this book. She has written a book on Shifnal and has had several articles published in Local Population Studies, Midland History and the Transactions of the Shropshire Historical and Archaeological Society.
Paperback | 144 pages | 171 x 246 mm | 2010
50 colour and 15 b&w images