Memorial CXVIII: Almshouses formerly on Tower Hill

Pages 365-372

Memorials of the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the Fraternity of St. John the Baptist in the City of London. Originally published by Harrison, London, 1875.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.



1. These Almshouses originated from the benevolence of Mr. Richard Hills and Alderman Ratcliffe, as the following entries in the Court Records will show:—

"February 3, 1587.

"The last Will & Testament of Mr. Richard Hills, deceased, a loveinge Brother of this Misterie was openly redd, conteyninge a devise of certen Tenements & Gardens in the Warde of Portsoken given by him to the Companie for the performance of certen publique good uses. Mr. Daniel Hills beinge a sutor that he might see the same devise of his Father's made to this Company, he was accordingly called into the Courte, and the Will delivered unto him to be redd, and the Clerk to give him a copie of the same."

"May 7, 1588.

"A survey was made this daye of the Tenements and Gardens above devysed, and a Rental made of the Rentes thereupon."

"February 5, 1588.

"Alderman Ratcliffe offers one hundred load of timber to rebuild the above bequeathed Tenements for the Widows of deceased Almesmen.

"Upon the considerac[i]on that our almshouses are charged with the widdowes of some of oure almesmen, deceased, and by theire residence & continuance there other of our almesmen are disappoynted & keapte oute, suche course should be taken to make some other provision for the said widdowes, and suche other poore which shall hereafter be left destitute and wantinge of reliefe. Whereupon it is called to remembrance that Mr. Richard Hills did before his death make a moc[i]on to the Courte that those Tenements which he purposed to devyse to this Companie situate upon Tower Hill might be employed to receive the widdowes of such deceased almesmen. For the furtherance of which motion and the performance of soe good a worke the right Worshipful Mr. Alderman Ratcliffe beinge charitablie affected to bringe the same to effecte, did voluntarilie offer to the same ende and for further benefitt of this howse to give to the Companie a Hundred Loade of Tymber to be delyvered them uppon his owne charge at the waterside at Readinge soe as they woulde new build the said small Tenements and reserve them rent free for suche widdowes and other poore makinge theire buildinge of the same, from the foundac[i]on to the seconde storie of brick, and for the acceptinge of his offer dothe give the Companie respite of time to be advised hereof betwene this and our Ladie daie, whose offer this assemblie taketh verie thankefullie, and the Maister and Wardens doe promise to goe and survey the Grounde, between this & ye tyme appoynted."

"April 16, 1589.

"At the laste Courte Our Maister & Wardens accompanyed by Mr. Recorder and others of this companie were entreated to goe to the right worll. Mr. Alderman Ratcliff and to give him to understande howe kindlie & thankfully the Companie doe accepte of his charitable & liberall offer of the Hundred loade of Tymber to be given towardes the buildinge of Howses for the Poore: Our Maister at this tyme maketh reporte that the saide Mr. Alderman Ratcliffe upon the declarac[i]on of the thankfulle minde of the Companie and the acceptation of his guifte doth contain his good purpose towards them and perform his promise made unto them to the uttermost."

"June 17, 1589.

"At this Courte Mr. Alderman Ratcliffe assents that the Companie shall at theire pleasure dispose or make Sale of the saide Tymber graunted by him and make theire provision otherwyse for theire building as they shall thinke good.

2. The future progress of the Scheme is thus stated by Ellis:—

"The building was postponed till the year 1592, when, at a Court holden on the 2nd of August 1592, it was ordered that certain Almshouses should be built on Tower Hill upon the Land lately devized to this Company by Mr. Richard Hills, and at a succeeding Court held on the 12th of the same month it was decreed that the said building should be performed with convenient speed, and that the same be committed to the consideration, order, and appointment of three surveyors; Mr. Robert Dowe, Mr. George Sotherton, and Mr. Richard Spencer; and that Mr. Robert Dowe be appointed Treasurer for the Building.

3. "In the beginning of the year 1593, 14 almshouses were erected on the Wardens' side and finished for the dwelling and relief of poor Widows of Merchantaylors or otherwise as the Company upon further consideration should be induced to receive.

4. "And on the 23rd of June, Mr. Robert Dowe delivered to the Court a Book of the charges of the Building, by which account it appeared that the particular charges of the same, amounted to the sum of 400l. 16s. 1d.

5. "The Revenue of the Company being unequal to maintain the Objects of their Charity without further aid, Mr. Richd. Proctor the then Master, pledged at his own cost to maintain in perpetuity one widow's place, and Mr. Robert Hawes bound himself in like manner to provide for another.

6. "On the 26th of February 1594 the number of the members were nine who had promised each to support a widow. The Court still continuing their charitable care of supplying their new erected Almshouses with fourteen poor widows, soon found to their great satisfaction the List of names increased to twelve, and which are as follow:—

Mr. Richard Procter, Master.

Mr. Alderman Ratcliffe.

Mr. Alderman Lee.

Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Offley.

Mr. Robt. Dowe.

Mr. Robt. Hawes.

Mr. Leonard Halliday.

Mr. Roger Abdey.

Mr. Richd. Venables.

Mr. Robt. Humpson.

Mr. Gregory Smith.

7. "An Order was immediately made for the settling of the widows by their several Founders.

"Mr. Procter, the Master, being the first to choose, selected the nethermoste house below, called the sign of the Rose, and the Residue chose theirs according to their Seniority.

8. "In every house two of the said widows were to be placed and to hold and use the whole house between them without severance, that either might take equal benefit of the rooms however they should agree otherwise, for the placing of their beds and for the lodgings.

9. "On the 8th of June 1594 it was reported that Mr. Gerard Gore and Mr. Warden Craven had both signified their intention of maintaining one poor widow.

"The whole number of fourteen being now complete, measures were ordered to be taken to render the same perpetual.

10. "This produced a Resolution on the 9th of December 1595, to purchase certain Tenements in Finch Lane producing a rental of 20l. per annum for the sum of 330l., which by a subscription collected from Mr. John Robinson, William Offley, Robert Dowe, Robert Hawes, Richard Venables, and Mr. Craven, each of whom gave 56l. for the purchase, to pay the sum of 3l. 9s. 4d. annually to each of the six poor widows.

11. "The Tenements were agreed to be assured to Mr. Robert Hawes, who promised immediately to make his will of the same and devise the same to the Company, and to be bound in a bond in a reasonable sum not to revoke his said will. The 6l. over, was to pay the charge of assurance to Mr. Hawes.

12. "Mr. Dowe, to increase the allowance to his almswoman, afterwards gave the sum of 10l. 13s. 4d. to make up the additional sum of Ten shillings and Eightpence, which with the former allowance of 3l. 9s. 4d. would make the sum of Ten shillings and Eightpence to his alms widow. And it was promised by the Court that Mr. Dowes' almswoman should be paid as follows:—

"The first of every month Six shillings and Eightpence, and that the other poor widows should be paid their pensions of 1s. 4d. per week, amounting in the year to 3l. 9s. 4d. (viz.) The first day of the Eleventh Month, Five Shillings and Eightpence, and the First day of the Twelfth Month, Seven shillings."

13. The subsequent proceedings of the Company are thus described by the Charity Commissioners of 1827:—

"It appears by an agreement entered into between the Company and Mr. Robert Dowe, a member of the Court, in the year 1610, that two of the almswomen were always to be chosen from the parish of St. Botolph without Aldgate, in the manner therein particularly stated, and this agreement has been strictly observed from that time to the present day.

14. "In the year 1637 the Company determined upon building 12 additional Almshouses for the accommodation of 12 more poor widows, which was accordingly done, partly with money subscribed for that purpose, and partly at the corporate charge.

Anne Scrimshaw

15. "The number of almswomen was thus increased to 26, and the allowances made to them have been from time to time augmented as the rents of the estate left for their support have increased.

16. "In the year 1767, the Company rebuilt the Almshouses on Tower Hill at an expense of 2,000l., the whole of which was borne by the Company, no funds whatever having been bequeathed or subscribed for that purpose." These are represented in the drawing, and a portrait of a celebrated inmate of the former houses is also given.

17. The transfer of the houses to Lee—where the Company as the Trustees of Boone's Charity already had Almshouses— was made in 1825, the first stone being laid by Mr. Alderman Ansley (after the annual visitation to that Charity on the 7th July), and the building completed in 1826. The change was made in consequence of the dilapidated state and confined situation of the old houses. The new ones were increased to 30, and erected at a total cost of 11,293l. 19s. 0d. The site of the old houses was sold in 1863 and 1869 to the Blackwall Railway Company for a goods station.

18. The estates contributing to the Almshouse funds are 15 in number—viz. Reynold Barker, Candish, Dandy, Dowe, Ducie, Gray, Hawes and others, Hyde, Jenkinson, Parker, Shipham, Sutton, Wooller, Woolley, and Roberts, the Company bearing all excess of expenditure out of their corporate funds.

19. Admission to the Almshouses, which had previously been confined to the widows of the age of 54 years and upwards, was extended to the daughters of liverymen or freemen of the Com pany by an Order of Court of 11th, upon the recommendation of the Charity Committee of 9th May 1871, contained in the following words, viz.:—

"The Clerk reported the result of his examination of the Company's books in accordance with the instructions of this Committee, as to the eligibility of the daughters of Liverymen or Freemen for admission to the Company's Almshouses at Lee." "Whereupon it was Resolved that it be recommended to the Court to elect the daughters, in default of widows, of Liverymen and Freemen for admission to the Company's Almshouses at Lee."

20. The applicants are elected, subject to the pleasure of the Court, for life. Each has these advantages: A house free of rent and taxes, medical attendance and coals free of charge, and the sum of 35l. 1s. 0d. per annum in money, with additional allowances to the sick and infirm, besides both annual and triennial gifts of clothing.


"1st. That the Almswomen be under the care and management of a Matron, who shall dwell in one of the Almshouses to be appropriated for that purpose, and that the Almshouses and Grounds be under the care and control of the Matron or a Superintendent (if appointed) who shall be a married man.

"2nd. That neither the Matron or Superintendent shall absent themselves from the Almshouses without the consent of the Master and Wardens of the Company.

"3rd. That the Matron or Superintendent shall lock the small Gate at 8 o'clock at night from Michaelmas-day to Lady-day, and at 9 o'clock from Lady-day to Michaelmas-day; and the large Gate at 10 o'clock every night throughout the year, and shall open both Gates not later than 7 o'clock every morning, and that no person except the Matron and Superintendent shall be allowed to have a key of either of the Gates, and every Almswoman, except under special circumstances, shall be at home before the small Gate is locked for the night.

"4th. That no Almswoman shall sleep away from her house without the consent in writing of the Master and Wardens. or the Clerk of the Company, except for one night only, and then not without the permission of the Matron, and previously depositing the key of her house with the Matron.

"5th. That no Almswoman shall have leave of absence from her house for more than eight weeks altogether in any one year, nor for more than a fortnight at any one time, and that after an absence for one week or upwards, no second leave of absence shall be granted until after the expiration of one month at least, except under special circumstances.

"6th. That no Almswoman shall permit any person, except it be her Sister, Daughter, Niece, Son, or Grandchild (such Son or male Grandchild being under 14 years of age), or a female friend, under special circumstances, to sleep in her house under any pretence whatever, nor in such excepted cases without first obtaining the consent in writing of the Master and Wardens for that purpose, and that after any person shall have been upon a visit at such Almshouse for one week or upwards, no further permission shall be granted to the same Almswoman until after the expiration of one month at least, except under special circumstances.

"7th. That no Hawkers or Beggars shall be admitted, nor shall any Almswoman be permitted to have any person on a visit at her house whom the Matron or Superintendent may consider objectionable, without the express sanction of the Master and Wardens.

"8th. That no Visitor to the Almshouses shall be permitted to walk on the Lawn, or perambulate the grounds without permission of the Matron or Superintendent, and that no smoking be allowed on the premises.

"9th. That no Almswoman shall make any alteration in her house, nor in any way disfigure or injure any of the walls, fences, or trees, belonging to the Almshouses or grounds.

"10th. That no carpet, rug, or mat shall be shaken or beaten, nor any ashes, soil, dust, or filth, be cast or laid in or upon the Garden or Grounds belonging to the Almshouses, other than the places appointed for that purpose.

"11th. That each Almswoman shall keep her house, yard, and premises, clean and wholesome, and carefully preserve the walls, timbers, boards, glass windows, and all fixtures, fittings, and things, belonging to their respective Houses.

"12th. That no fowls, ducks, or any other species of poultry, rabbits, pigs, or dogs, shall be kept in any of the Almshouses, or on any part of the grounds belonging thereto.

"13th. That the Matron and Superintendent shall, at all proper and seasonable times, visit the several Houses of the Almswomen, to see that the same are kept clean, and in good order and condition.

"14th. That the Almswomen shall, once at least, every Sunday, attend Divine Service at the Parish Church at Lee; and also, once at least, every week, on any of the days appointed for that purpose, attend prayers in the Chapel of Boone's Almshouses, unless prevented by sickness, or other reasonable cause.

"15th. That the said Almswomen shall live peacably, and in good charity one with another, and behave themselves orderly and kindly one towards another, as becomes good Christians, and aid and assist each other in case of sickness or other affliction.

"16th. That in case any Almswoman shall marry, she shall become disqualified to hold the Almshouse, and forthwith deliver up possession of her House, and her pension or allowance shall thereupon immediately cease.

"17th. That upon the death of any Almswoman, the Gown given to her by the Company, and the Coals provided for her use, and remaining unconsumed, shall be left for the benefit of such person as shall be elected in her place, upon pain of her surviving relatives or friends losing such portion of her Pension or allowance as shall be payable at the time of her decease, and the expenses of her burial shall be defrayed by her relatives or friends before the goods belonging to the deceased are removed.

"18th. That in case any Almswoman shall at any time quarrel, use blasphemous or offensive words, become intoxicated, commit an assault, or otherwise misbehave herself, she shall be reported to the Master and Wardens, and be liable to expulsion.

"19th. That each of the Almswomen shall take especial care to prevent accidents by fire, in the Almshouses, and shall retire to bed at a reasonable hour at night, except in cases of necessity or emergency.

"20th. That for the better observance of the foregoing Rules and Orders, the same be Printed; and in order that no person may plead ignorance of the same, a Copy thereof shall be suspended in a conspicuous port of the Sitting Room of each House; and in case any Almswoman shall destroy, deface, or in any manner wilfully injure any of the said Rules and Orders, or suffer the same to be destroyed, defaced, or wilfully injured, she shall be reported to the Master and Wardens, and be liable to expulsion.

"21st. That the Matron shall keep in a book provided for that purpose, a true and impartial account of all offences committed by the Almswomen, or other persons infringing the Rules and Orders herein contained, and that such book shall be forwarded to the Hall for inspection by the Master and Wardens, on the first Wednesday in every month, and at such other times as they may direct.

"22nd. That any Almswoman breaking any of the foregoing Rules and Orders, shall be reported to the Master and Wardens, and be liable to be expelled from the Almshouses.

"By Order of the Court, "Samuel Fisher, "Clerk to the Company."

"Merchant Taylors' Hall, "London, 26th March 1868."