Religious houses: Almshouses

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Religious houses: Almshouses', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 154-156. British History Online [accessed 13 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Religious houses: Almshouses", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 154-156. British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Religious houses: Almshouses", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 154-156. British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024,


Brigham's Alms-House was founded by Christopher Brigham, merchant, sheriff of the town in 1495, and mayor in 1504 and 1505. It is mentioned in 1556, as being inhabited by poor religious women. According to Speed's plan, this place consisted of several houses, and occupied all or most of that space between High Friar Chare and High Friar Lane, which at the west end turns northwards, at a right angle, into High Friar Chare. Mr. Fenwick, town's surveyor, informed Mr. Brand, that within his remembrance there was an old building there, over the door of which was a stone with a Latin inscription. (fn. 1)

Elizabeth Nykson, widow, founded an alms-house about the beginning of the sixteenth century, (fn. 2) for the use of the poor of the parish of All Saints. Four women, who lived in it, were allowed 20s. a year for coals. In Bourne's time, the poor inmates had eight chaldrons of coals, and 12s. a year; but it was then "going fast to ruins." It stood at the foot of Pilgrim Street, opposite to the west stairs of All Saints.

William Copland, pulley-maker, bequeathed by will, dated August 21, 1584, the sum of 4d. to the poor of Stock Bridge Alms-house. No other particulars are known respecting this establishment.

Formerly there was a small descent, by stone steps, from St. Nicholas' Church-yard into the Low Bridge; and at the foot of these steps stood an Alms-house for two or three poor women. In St. Nicholas' register of 1579, and some subsequent years, this hospital is mentioned; but its founder is unknown. The house remained in Brand's time, but there was no allowance.

Ward's Alms-house was founded, in the reign of king Edward IV. by John Ward, a rich merchant of Newcastle, for twelve poor men, and the like number of poor women. The founder was sheriff of the town in 1445, and mayor in 1448 and 1450. Among the disbursements in an old parish-book in All Saints vestry, dated 1642, occurs the following entry:—"Alms-house in Manor Chaire 3s." In an old deed, dated in 1475, it is styled, "John Wardes almous house standyng in Cowgate nye the Frer Augustyns lately edified and bilded by the said John Warde." Its scite was at the bottom of a garden, near Davison's hospital, in the street now called the Manor Chare. The following particulars respecting this house are cited by Bourne from the Milbank MS.:—"The chief alms-house in the town is Ward's, near the Manour: the mills at Pandon Gate should give them, as I remember, twenty shillings per annum to buy them coals, but old Mr. Brandling pulled off the lead, on purpose to expell the poor people, which he did. The mills are now fallen into one Homer's hands, and so are lost for ever. I have seen the writings and know it." Bourne tells us, that this alms-house was situated at the bottom of a garden belonging, in his time, to Mr. Waters, where old persons had informed him they remembered the ruins of such a building.

The Alms-house opposite the south end of Rosemary Lane, which has been rebuilt by the corporation, and appropriated to the brethren of St. Mary's Hospital, is marked as a large pile in Bourne's plan of Newcastle. "Seven poor persons," he tells us, reside in it, who have a small allowance from the town at Christmas. In 1645, it contained ten poor widows, who were allowed 10s. and two chaldrons of coals yearly. (fn. 3)

These are all the religious and charitable foundations which claim any regard from their antiquity. Some other ancient benevolent institutions, for relieving the miseries of human life, may have passed away during the revolution of ages. However, the number and extent of the religious establishments in Newcastle seem, in some measure, to have perpetuated its fame for sanctity during the era of the Saxons and the Danes. Patents were made out for founding two other religious houses: one 37 king Edward III. in honour of the nativity and resurrection of our Lord, which was repealed; and another, 5 king Henry IV. in honour of St. John Baptist and St. John Evangelist, which latter was also repealed, or otherwise proved abortive.

Before closing this department of the work, it may not be irrelevant to repeat what was said in a former edition on the nature and character of monastic communi ties, which are too often viewed with the vain and supercilious egotism of sectarian feeling.

"It is usual to exult with unmingled feelings of triumph over the venerable ruins of our monastries, without considering whether something may not be advanced in favour of these institutions, during the barbarous ages in which they flourished. But a calm and candid enquirer will ask, where the precious remains of classical learning, and the divine monuments of ancient taste, could have been safely lodged amidst the ferocious ravages of the feudal ages, except in sanctuaries like these, consecrated by the superstition of the times. The frequency of wars, and the licentious cruelty with which they were conducted, left neither the hamlet of the peasant, nor the castle of the baron, free from depredation; but the church and the monastry generally remained inviolate. There the valuable books of ancient times were safe, and at the revival of learning were produced from their dormitories.

"The monks were also the sole depositaries of learning, and the only instructors of youth; and among them were several great men, whose names will be always remembered with pleasure by the lovers of science. At a time also when the modern languages of Europe were yet unformed and barbarous, performing the offices of devotion in Latin was of infinite service to the interests of learning, being a kind of universal tongue in which men of talents conversed and corresponded with each other.

"The muses also, with their attendant arts, took refuge in the peaceful gloom of the convent. Statuary carved a Madona or a crucifix; Painting illuminated a missal; Eloquence made the panegyric of a saint; and History composed a legend. Thus they breathed, and were ready, at any happier period, to emerge from obscurity, with all their native charms and undiminished lustre.

"The monks, by the extensive intercourse they maintained, led the way in every improvement of politeness or literature, and imported among their neighbours the manufactures, the knowledge, and the taste of foreign parts. They tempered the rigour of monarchy, checked the excessive regard paid to birth, and kept in fashion the exercise of hospitality. Let Protestants, likewise, consider, that the most eminent reformers sprung from the bosom of the church, and even of the convent. It was not the laity who began to think. We do not advocate the cause of monastic institutions, nor deny that many of the ecclesiastics disgraced their profession; but we cannot relish the indiscriminating abuse generally heaped on the whole order, even by their reverend successors, who have not the courage to exercise those high and respectable virtues so frequently found in the cells of the cloister."

The houses of the several ancient noblemen and opulent merchants who resided in Newcastle, will be more properly noticed in the account of the streets wherein they were situated.


  • 1. The late Mr. R. Spearman says, "The remains of Brigham's Alms-houses I well recollect. They were a row of old, ruinous, thatched cottages, extending from High Friar Chare, or Street, just below Pilgrim Street Gate, to a good house, then occupied by Michael Pearson, of East Matfen, Esq. and extending to a lane or alley leading beyond his house and the said alms-houses round about to Friar Street. Several decent houses are now built on the scite of the alms-houses, and two very good ones on that where Mr. Pearson's formerly stood."
  • 2. In the fragment of a deed preserved in All Saints vestry, Elizabeth Nykson, widow, grants to Roger Dent, Esq. and other feoffees, her two tenements, with an alms-house adjoining, in Pilgrim Street, which feoffees, after her death, were to deliver up the above property to the church-wardens of All Saints, to the use of the poor, on condition of an annual dirge and soul mass being performed in that church. Roger Dent was sheriff of Newcastle A. D. 1510, and mayor A. D. 1515.—There are several entries concerning this alms-house in the old parish-books in All Saints vestry, A. D. 1630, 1634, 1642, 1666.
  • 3. In a note from the late R. Spearman's MSS. copied into the Newcastle Magazine, vol. iii. p. 38, it is said, "St. Mary's Alms-house, in Westgate Street, was obtained by old Mrs. Vernell, of Bingfield Comb, in exchange for an old house of hers in the Pudding Chare, now used as the alms-house; and the said Mrs. Vernell afterwards built a good house, wherein she lived some years, and died therein. After her death, Mrs. Alice Dixon, widow of Mr. John Dixon Brown, lived there many years." From the above account, it appears that the old house in the Pudding Chare, on the scite of which the corporation built the present hospital, was an alms-house long before Mrs. Vernell's time.