The Geffrye Museum

Pages 128-131

Survey of London: Volume 8, Shoreditch. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1922.

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In this section


Ground landlord.

The London County Council.

Description and date of structure.

Sir Robert Geffrye, by his will dated 10th February, 1703–4, after providing for certain charities in St. Dionis Backchurch, and Landrake and St. Erney in Cornwall, directed that the residue of his real and personal estate should be paid to the Ironmongers' Company to purchase a piece of ground for an almshouse. On 25th March, 1712, the company purchased (fn. 1) of Richard Longford (probably the mortgagee) and Henry Hunt a parcel of ground (fn. 2) in occupation of John Jewkes, 390 feet north to south and 187 feet east to west. The northern boundary is given as ground belonging to Henry Hunt, and the southern is described as "in part a piece of ground belonging to the said Henery Hunt, and in part on a piece of ground granted or intended to be granted by the said Richard Longford and Henery Hunt to or to the use of the Drapers' Company." (fn. 3) About 1715 the almshouses were erected at a cost of £4,500, and on 29th March, 1716, the company purchased of John Jewkes (fn. 4) a further piece of ground immediately to the north, having a frontage to the main road of 20 feet, a width in the rear of 38 feet, and depth of 187 feet. This was afterwards used as a burial ground.

In the year 1908 the Ironmongers' Company applied to the Charity Commissioners for leave to accept an offer made by the trustees of the Peabody Donation Fund for the property. Considerable opposition was raised to the proposal, and in the result the Commissioners refused permission. The company thereupon took the matter to the Court of Chancery, who, after enquiry, made an order allowing the property to be sold. Meanwhile, the matter had been engaging the attention of the London County Council, who decided to make an offer in respect of the premises, and on 13th December, 1910, agreed to purchase the property from the Peabody Trust. The total cost of acquisition was £34,289, of which £6,000 was provided by the Shoreditch Metropolitan Borough Council and £2,000 by voluntary subscription. Thus in a district which is notably lacking in open spaces and old buildings there was permanently saved a particularly interesting example of both.

The almshouses are in a pleasant garden, which has some very fine lime and plane trees 200 years old. A small pond recently occupied the centre, but this has now been filled in and a raised paved platform constructed instead. The buildings consist of two storeys and basement, ranged round three sides of the garden and are constructed of yellow stock-bricks with red-brick dressings. The tiling of the roofs was renewed in 1898, but the original wooden cornice with its modillions is preserved.

The chapel, with its pediment, quoined angles and bell turret, forms a pleasing central feature. Over the central doorway, in a brick niche, stands a replica of the lead statue of the founder (Plate No. 46), the original of which was taken away by the Ironmongers' Company and placed upon the new almshouses at Mottingham.

The design and general arrangement are simple and well balanced, and form an excellent example of the domestic architecture of the period.

The chapel has a small semi-circular sanctuary enclosed by a decorated cast-iron altar rail. The walls have high deal panelling, while the upholstered seating is simple in design (Plate 52). On the east wall, near the southern end, was a monument to the founder and his wife (Plates 53 and 54) brought from St. Dionis Backchurch, when that church was taken down in 1878. It has now been removed to the new almshouses. In other respects, the chapel remains practically the same as when erected.

The monument referred to is in grey mottled marble, and consists of a rectangular panelled slab, flanked by recessed panelled pilasters, with a horizontal moulded cornice and base. On the cornice stands an enriched urn between two hand lamps, connected by festoons of fruit and flowers. The slab rests on a moulded and scalloped shelf of black marble, which also supports two cherubs, one on each side. Below each figure is a bracket formed of carved consoles with a pendant of acanthus leaves, and under the central slab is an oblong panel containing representations of a fur cap, a mace and sword crossed—emblems of the office of Lord Mayor which Geffrye held in 1685–6. The central panel is carved with a representation of drapery bearing the inscription, and an achievement of arms, with a skull on either side. The inscription is recorded on Plate 54, the arms being argent, 6 billets sable, on a chief sable a lion passant or.


The interior of each almshouse consisted of a central staircase opening into a room on either side of both floors, with cupboards behind the stairs and a wash-house and fuel-store in the basement. The staircases have wellturned balustrades and plain panelling to the walls.

The London County Council having secured the garden and buildings for the public, threw open the garden in July, 1912, as a public park, and decided to utilise the buildings as a furniture museum.

By internal alterations, which consisted chiefly in removing the upper floor and making in the division walls doorways connecting the separate houses, a series of galleries was formed in the eastern block, leaving the external aspect of the buildings unaltered. In these galleries have been placed groups of different types of furniture.

An open covered way was constructed on the east side of the chapel to obviate the necessity of disturbing the latter and afford connection between the north and south galleries. The north and south wings were not altered, and are used as residences for the staff and for storage.

The buildings were opened to the public on 2nd April, 1914, under the title of the Geffrye Museum.

The monuments in the burial ground at the north-west corner of the premises include three belonging to the 18th century.

The first is an altar tomb with panelled sides. The top has a coat of arms, now undecipherable, (fn. 5) on a shield carved in a sunk circular panel, and on the south side is the following:—

In Memory of
Member of the Court of the Worshipful
Company of Ironmongers
And a munificent benefactor to that corporation

An upright stone against the western boundary wall has a shaped head carved with a representation of a skull, and bears the following inscription:—

Here lyeth the body
the wife of MR JOHN COOK
Citizen & Ironmonger
she departed this life
December 22, 1747.

The remainder of the inscription is beneath the soil. (fn. 7)

On a small stone slab built in the same boundary wall is the following inscription:—

DIED NOV. 19TH 1792

There is also an upright headstone with an inscription in memory of Mrs. Maria Chapman (d. 1840), for many years matron of the almshouses, and, abutting against the Betton memorial, and enclosed in the same iron railing, is the tomb of Sir Robert and Lady Geffrye, bearing an inscription recording the fact that the bodies were removed thither from St. Dionis Backchurch when that building was demolished in 1878.

In the Council's collection are:—

General view of almshouses, looking north (photograph).

(fn. 9) Do. do. north-east do.

(fn. 9) Exterior of chapel (photograph).

(fn. 9) Interior of chapel do.

(fn. 9) Monument of Geffrye in chapel (photograph).

(fn. 9) Do. do. (measured drawing).

(fn. 9) Detail of external elevation of chapel (measured drawing).

(fn. 9) Ground floor plan of almshouses do.

(fn. 9) Elevations and plans of first floor and basement of almshouses (measured drawing).

(fn. 9) Plan and details of interior of chapel (measured drawing). Section through chapel do.

(fn. 9) Joinery details (measured drawing). Statue, in niche, of Sir Robt. Geffrye (photograph).

(fn. 9) Portrait of Geffrye, by Kneller, in Council room, Bridewell Hospital (photograph). General view of tombs in burial ground (photograph) Inscription on founder's tomb (measured drawing).


  • 1. Midd. Reg. Memls., 1712, V. 3.
  • 2. For early history of the property, see p. 47.
  • 3. This refers to the site of Harwar's Almshouses, erected in 1713 on a piece of ground 198 feet by 82 feet, extending from the Geffrye Almshouses southward over a portion of the site of Harwar Street, only the southern portion of which was then in existence as a "passage to Thomas Street." (See plan LXI. in Ware's Account of Charities of Shoreditch.)
  • 4. Middx. Reg. Memls., 1716, I. 4. As the northern boundary of the first piece was said to be land of Hunt, it would seem that it had passed from Hunt to Jewkes in the interval.
  • 5. According to Ellis, History of Shoreditch, p. 114, Argent, 2 pales sable, each charged with 3 cross croslets fitchy or.
  • 6. "Last Sunday night was interr'd at Sir Robert Jefferies Hospital in Kingsland Road the "body of Thomas Betton, Esq., of Hoxton Square; he was a rich batchelor of about £1,200 per "annum." (Parker's London News, 25th December, 1724). It will be noticed that the date on the tombstone is incorrect. Betton's portrait is in the possession of the Ironmongers' Company.
  • 7. According to Ellis this continues:— "in the 73rd year of her age / And near unto both ye body / of Mrs. Mary Gregory/ her daughter; who died / August the 31st 1746 / in the 30th year of her age."
  • 8. Chaplain of the almshouses.
  • 9. Reproduced here.