Bethnal Green: Charities for the Poor

Pages 260-263

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11, Stepney, Bethnal Green. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1998.

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As a hamlet of Stepney parish Bethnal Green was a beneficiary of early Stepney charities, (fn. 1) including Prisca Coburn's (1701) and Dame Sarah Pritchard's (1718), and shared in Fuller's, Bowry's, and Pemel's almshouses, (fn. 2) the last of which, at 'Dog Corner' in 1732, were in Bethnal Green. (fn. 3) Also in Bethnal Green were the nonparochial Fisher's almshouses for widows of ships' commanders, built in 1711 on the western side and southern end of Dog Row. (fn. 4) They were absorbed by Trinity almshouses, which stood just outside the boundaries but took over property within them. (fn. 5)

Bethnal Green's combined annual income from charities averaged £650 in 1818–37, £1,203 in 1861–76, and £5,804 in 1894–1904. Of the last, more than half, £2,961, was spent on education, (fn. 6) £1,359 on almshouses and pensions, £278 distributed in money and £209 in kind, £187 for medical uses, (fn. 7) £113 for church and £302 for nonconformist purposes, and £36 for apprentices. (fn. 8) Bethnal Green Parish Charities was formed by amalgamating the charities of Mary Baker, Robertson, Greenwood, Truss, Fontaneau, Mary Bowry, and Henry Merceron in 1978. (fn. 9) In 1994, together with the Poor's Land charity, they were jointly administered by trustees appointed by Tower Hamlets L.B., the rector, and up to 6 appointed under governing instruments. Reinvestment of capital had doubled income since c. 1979. In 1994 23 pensions and 24 £10 Christmas payments were paid out of the joint charities. (fn. 10)

Almshouse charities.

Parmiter's almshouses commemorated Thomas Parmiter, probably from a Suffolk family; (fn. 11) he or his father was a merchant tailor, who lived in Bethnal Green with his wife Ann in 1651. (fn. 12) The purchasers of the green in 1678 (fn. 13) considered, in a draft agreement of 1681, using the rents to build and maintain four almshouses on the waste. One of the group, apparently acting as treasurer or 'town clerk', was Parmiter, (fn. 14) who by will proved 1682 left lands in Suffolk to be used, after the death of his widow Elizabeth (d. 1702), to build and endow a school and six almshouses 'on the waste of Bethnal Green'. (fn. 15) In 1705 Chancery ordered the lands to be mortgaged to build the school and almshouses, the trustees to be 10 inhabitants of Bethnal Green appointed at the general vestry. In 1720 they leased a site at the eastern end of St. John Street from Elizabeth Carter for 600 years at a peppercorn rent, where a school and almshouses were opened in 1722. Further gifts included a rent charge of £10 from Elizabeth Carter and another payable by the Dyers' Co. and granted in 1720 by William Lee. In 1732 the charity was said to have been founded by the donations of the town clerk and beadle of Bethnal Green. (fn. 16) If the first was Parmiter, the second was probably Lee, churchwarden and overseer in 1703. (fn. 17)

In 1723 the trustees bought 4½ a. of waste at Cambridge Heath, (fn. 18) which by 1786 produced £25 a year of the charity's total revenue of £102 (fn. 19) and in 1819, after building had begun, £225 out of a total income of £338, which included £12 from £400 stock purchased out of savings. By 1863 £928 stock yielded nearly £63 out of a total income of nearly £400. The bulk of the income was always applied to the school. The six almsmen, Anglican parishioners, received £2 10s. a year each in 1732, (fn. 20) £5 by 1763, and £10 by 1809. Coal, worth 15 guineas a year, was also given to the almsmen by 1819.

In 1838 the site in St. John Street was sold to the G.E.R. and land was leased in Gloucester (later Parmiter) Street where a new school and three almshouses on either side, of yellow brick and designed by Sir William Tite, were built in 1839. (fn. 21) In 1891, after the school had again moved, its buildings were adapted for two more almspeople; by 1894 the inmates were 6 married couples and two widowers.

Further bequests included £500 stock left by the treasurer Peter Renvoize (d. 1841). In 1870 the G.E.R. bought much of the Cambridge Heath property, the proceeds being invested until in 1893 part was used to purchase a freehold estate in Lewisham (Kent). (fn. 22) In 1884 a Charity Commission Scheme allotted 2/3 of the income to the school and ⅓ to the almshouses. (fn. 23) By 1894 the gross income was £3,505, of which £1,262 was for the almshouses. (fn. 24)

In 1913, under Schemes of the Charity Commissioners and the Board of Education, (fn. 25) the school became a separate foundation. (fn. 26) The almshouses were combined with the Widows' fund into Parmiter's Almshouse and Pension charity. (fn. 27) Its assets were the almshouse site, ⅓ of Parmiter's income, and the Widows' fund. (fn. 28) Parmiter's Estate was set up to administer the assets of the two charities. (fn. 29)

Thomas Henry Rippin by will dated 1927 left £500 to Parmiter's school and £600 to the almshouse charity. (fn. 30) The almshouses were bombed in 1945 and their site was sold in 1959 to the L.C.C., the proceeds augmenting the pensions. (fn. 31) In 1952 the almshouse trust absorbed Bethnal Green Philanthropic Pension society (below). The estate and almshouse charities were registered in 1961 and 1963 respectively and, although amended in 1993 and 1992, continued to provide pensions and annuities. (fn. 32)

Spitalfields almshouses, (fn. 33) adjoining the early Parmiter's almshouses, owed their existence to William Lee, the dyer and benefactor of Parmiter's. In accordance with an agreement with the Dyers' Co., which held mortgaged property in Thames Street from him, Lee by will dated 1720 left £300 for his nephew John Ham to build 6 almshouses for the company. Ham leased land in St. John Street from Elizabeth Carter on the same terms as Parmiter's in 1721, building the almshouses and assigning the trust to the Dyers' Co. In 1732 the inmates were 6 dyers' widows, each of whom received 6s. a quarter, together with 6s. for coal at Christmas, financed by Dyers' Co. subscriptions. (fn. 34) Another 4 almshouses had been built and endowed with an estate in Leytonstone (Essex) by 1739 by John Peck, a trustee for the new Bethnal Green parish in 1743, for the widows of freemen of the company who had lived in Bethnal Green. By 1795, however, the almshouses had 'no farther connection' with the parish. (fn. 35) They closed with Parmiter's in 1838 and moved to Islington in 1840–1. (fn. 36)

George Crump almshouses were founded after Miss Mary Edith Crump, by will proved 1925, left money for a house to accommodate one or two old people resident in St. Matthew's parish. No. 61 Hereford Street was bought under a Scheme of 1933 and used as an almshouse until compulsorily purchased by the G.L.C. in 1966. Administered with Mary Bowry's charity from 1933, the proceeds were distributed as pensions, from 1978 as part of Bethnal Green parish charities. (fn. 37) In 1994 the income of Crump's charity, £903, was distributed to two pensioners and £18, the income from Bowry's charity, was paid to a seaman's widow. (fn. 38)

Distributive charities.

The Poor's Land or Green Lands (fn. 39) was the name given to the charity and its endowment formally founded in 1690 but originating in the purchase of 11 ½ a. of waste in the centre of the hamlet from the lady of the manor in 1678. Although the primary object was to restrict building, a secondary motive was the 'yearly relief of the poor'. The 11½ a. were turned into three closes and let as farmland on 21-year leases from 1678. At first the profits augmented the contributions of the original purchasers but after Parmiter's bequest made the suggested building of almshouses unnecessary, (fn. 40) it was decided to spend the rent money on coal and doles. From 1685 the first yearly distribution of coal and £12 in money was made to 24 poor families. That application was established by deed of 1690. Trustees were to be co-opted and building on the land was forbidden. Income was £38 in 1768, although £42 was spent on coal for 65 people, (fn. 41) and £59 by 1820. (fn. 42) In 1822 Joseph Merceron accused a fellow trustee, who was a supporter of the rector, of being the sole supplier of coal. Some stock was sold in 1831 to finance repairs to the fencing around the Poor's Land. In 1825 and 1849 part of the land was sold to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the money invested. (fn. 43) By 1834 the total income was £154, of which £19 was dividends. By 1857 the income of £172 was distributed in coal and pensions to some 100 recipients, mostly residing around the green. (fn. 44) In 1868 £2,000 from the sale of the northern close for Bethnal Green Museum was invested, (fn. 45) enabling payments to be made to 190 recipients.

Between 1889 and 1890 the Charity Commission drew up three schemes as disputes raged over the direction of the charity and especially over whether any of the Poor's Land should be sold as sites for admittedly worthy causes. Under the last Scheme, established in 1891 by a suit in Chancery, there were to be 12 trustees, representing the four wards and chosen from residents or local businessmen; they could sell a small part and grant the rest to the L.C.C. for a recreation ground, the income to be applied as pensions or in other ways for the poor. Most of the land was conveyed in 1893 to the L.C.C. (fn. 46) and by 1896 the resulting stock yielded £307 a year, paid in 20 weekly pensions. The charity was registered in 1961 and in 1994 an income of £277 was applied in £20 pensions. (fn. 47)

John George Fabry, carver of Bloomsbury, by will proved 1794 left dividends for six old weavers and six weavers' widows of Christ Church, Spitalfields, and Bethnal Green parishes, with preference for any named Fabry or Ovington. In 1797 Chancery settled an endowment of £548 on the charity, to be administered by the churchwardens of the parishes. In 1799 each recipient received 7s. 1¾d. (fn. 48) Bethnal Green's share of the dividends was £7 14s. 1d. in 1819 and £8 4s. 7d. in 1857 (fn. 49) but no distribution was made in 1890–4.

The Bread charity originated in subscriptions raised before 1817 to provide bread for children of the Parochial Charity school who attended St. Matthew's church. By 1817 the fund consisted of £120 in consols and £50 in annuities. In 1818 one of the three trustees, George Seaman Inman, gave £66 13s. 4d. consols to provide £2 a year for a sermon by the rector in aid of the charity. Benefactions were received throughout the 19th century, including £200 from Joseph Merceron (1840) and £388 from other members of his family. The income reached £38 in 1857 (fn. 50) and £88 by 1893. In 1933 it was merged in Greencoat and other Bethnal Green Educational charities. (fn. 51)

Bethnal Green Philanthropic Pension society (fn. 52) was founded by subscribers in 1822 to make weekly grants to the aged. Its income was £478 in 1870, distributed in weekly half crowns to 41 pensioners. (fn. 53) The fund was augmented in 1874 by the bequest of William Cluff of £500 consols and by 1894 consisted of £4,235 in government securities. The society purchased property in Hackney in 1906 and in Islington in 1914, which was sold during the 1930s and 1940s. Responsibility for the fund was allotted by a Scheme of 1952 to the trustees of Parmiter's Almshouse and Pension charity.

Margaret Vaughan by will proved 1836 left the interest on £6,000 for clothing and other needs of unemployed mechanics and weavers in Spitalfields. In 1843 Chancery decreed that Miss Vaughan's Spitalfields charity was to benefit the parishes of Christ Church Spitalfields, Mile End New Town, St. Leonard Shoreditch, and Bethnal Green. In 1893 Bethnal Green received £47 which was distributed in money, coal, food, clothing, and blankets throughout the civil parish. The charity, registered in 1971, had an income of £799 in 1992. (fn. 54)

James George Greenwood by will proved 1837 left money to apprentice pupils of the Parochial Charity school and the interest on £1,300 stock to provide coal before Christmas for the poor in the western half of Bethnal Green. The coal charity received £39 a year in 1861 and £36, given in coal to 61 people, in 1893. The apprenticing part, called Greenwood's gift, was merged with other educational charities in 1933. (fn. 55) The coal portion was jointly administered with Mary Baker's charity from 1978. (fn. 56) Its income of £64 was distributed in £10 doles in 1994. (fn. 57)

George Fournier by will proved 1841 left the dividends on £4,447 as doles of £10–£15 to industrious parishioners, to be paid by the minister and officers of St. Matthew's parish. The yield was £133 in 1861 and £119, distributed to 12 people by the vestry, in 1894.

Alexander Truss by will proved 1851 left the dividends from the residue of his personal estate to be distributed in charity, one third in £5 doles to widows in St. Matthew's parish yearly. In 1864 Bethnal Green was allocated £11,207 stock, which by 1894 yielded £45 a year, paid to unrelieved elderly widows. A Scheme of 1884 vested the Bethnal Green portion in the rector and three other trustees. From 1978 it was administered with the other Bethnal Green Parish charities. (fn. 58) In 1994 the £82 income was distributed in £10 pensions. (fn. 59)

The Widows' fund originated in the bequest of Jemima Margaret Thomas by will proved 1854 of £200 consols to the trustees of Parmiter's charity, the income to go to widows forced to leave the almshouses on the death of their husbands. Additions were made of £100 stock by Henry Merceron's will in 1864 and of £100 consols by Jane Thomas's will in 1892. Three widows benefited in 1894. A Scheme of 1913 merged the fund with Parmiter's Almshouse charity. (fn. 60)

George Robertson in 1862 vested property in Mile End Old Town in the rector and others, to use half for St. Matthew's National school (fn. 61) and half for parishioners at the rector's discretion. The second part was governed by an instrument of 1897 and registered in 1966 as the Eleemosynary charity of George Robertson; money was distributed annually among parishioners chosen by the rector but payments were no longer made in 1994. (fn. 62)

Nehemiah Robson by will proved 1863 left the dividends from £100 consols to be distributed in money, bread, coal, or clothing in St. Matthew's parish on St. Thomas's day by the rector and churchwardens. Dividends of £2 9s. 4d. were paid out in 1864 but were irregular.

Robert Leverington by will proved 1865 left the dividends from £1,333 6s. 8d. stock to 40 'honest and industrious' poor of St. Matthew's parish, chosen at the vestry. The rector and parish officers were to distribute the money in winter. In 1894 £36 13s. 4d. was distributed in £1 pensions.

Mrs. Esther Doe by will proved 1871 left annuities of up to £10 for unmarried women, with preference for those living in Bethnal Green and Whitechapel. The income was £236 in 1991. (fn. 63)

Mary Baker by will proved 1872 left £5,000 annuities to the rector and parish officers of Bethnal Green in trust to distribute the dividends in £5 yearly doles to industrious parishioners who had not received parish relief for two years. The income was £137 10s. in 1894 and £250 in 1992. (fn. 64) From 1978 it was administered with other Bethnal Green Parish charities. (fn. 65)

The Hastelow Pension fund was founded by the will proved 1892 of Henry Hastelow. He left a house in Clapton to be sold, the proceeds to be paid by Bethnal Green Philanthropic Pension society to 8 pensioners in weekly doles of 2s. 6d. The society paid out £346 received from trustees in 1892.

Louisa Fontaneau (d. 1893) left £1,495 for an annual distribution in bread and coal for the parishioners of St. Matthew's. Income was £41 in 1894. From 1978 it was administered with other Bethnal Green parish charities. (fn. 66) In 1994 the income was £192, distributed in £10 doles. (fn. 67)

Jane Wood by will proved 1904 left money to relieve poor members of Approach Road Methodist chapel. Governed by a scheme of 1980, its income in 1993 was £10. (fn. 68)

The Alfred Ewin trust, governed by a deed of 1910, provided assistance to 'deserving persons' in Bethnal Green M.B. It was registered in 1961. (fn. 69)

Miss Emily Searley Long by will proved 1912 founded a charity for women and children of St. Matthew's parish. It was registered in 1966 and amended in 1989 but had lapsed by 1994. (fn. 70)

Nathan Dell's charity, governed by a Scheme of 1951 and registered in 1966, provided money for the poor of the Congregational chapel in Bethnal Green Road. The income in 1994 was £31,379. (fn. 71)

Bethnal Green Old People's Trust fund was instituted in 1970 to relieve aged residents in the former Bethnal Green M.B. The income in 1992 was £2,011. (fn. 72)

The Immigrant Welfare and Legal Advisory Services was set up in 1988 and registered in 1991 to advance education and relieve poverty among immigrants and refugees, especially through legal and other advice. The income was £21,389 in 1994. (fn. 73)


  • 1. Section based on Endowed Chars. Lond. (1897), 3–68.
  • 2. Above, Stepney, charities.
  • 3. Co. of Par. Clerks, New Remarks of Lond. (1732), 196.
  • 4. Ibid.; Lysons, Environs, ii. 36.
  • 5. G.L.R.O., C93/1530–1, 1533–4.
  • 6. Above, educ.
  • 7. Probably Queen Adelaide's char., above, pub. svces.
  • 8. L.C.C. Lond. Statistics, xvi. 62.
  • 9. G.L.R.O., P72/MTW/232/1.
  • 10. Inf. from clerk to trustees, Bethnal Green Par. Chars.
  • 11. Ship-Money Ret. for Suff. 1639–40, ed. V. B. Redstone (1904), 31, 187, 200, 212; W. A. Copinger, County of Suff. iv. (1904), 290.
  • 12. P.R.O., C 7/323/121.
  • 13. Above, Bethnal Green village; below, distributive chars., Poor's Land.
  • 14. G.L.R.O., A/PLC/VI/2, nos. 11, 15, 20; Co. of Par. Clerks, New Remarks of Lond. 195.
  • 15. P.R.O., PROB 11/369 (P.C.C. 48 Cottle), ff. 371–2v. Acct. of Parmiter's char. based on M. J. Fletcher, Hist. Parmiter's Foundation (1971); 1st Rep. Com. Char. for Educ. of Poor, H.C. 83, pp. 196–7, App. pp. 322–5 (1819), x–A.
  • 16. Co. of Par. Clerks, New Remarks of Lond. 195.
  • 17. P.R.O., C 5/588/64.
  • 18. M.L.R. 1723/1/14–15.
  • 19. Abstract of Ret. of Char. Donations for Poor, 1786–8, H.C. 511, pp. 776–7 (1816), xvi.
  • 20. Co. of Par. Clerks, New Remarks of Lond. 195.
  • 21. Illus. in Fletcher, Parmiter's Foundation, 18.
  • 22. G.L.R.O., Acc. 1844/A1/2.
  • 23. Ibid. Acc. 1844/A1/3.
  • 24. L.C.C. Lond. Statistics, xvi. 67.
  • 25. G.L.R.O., Acc. 1844/A1/7/1–3.
  • 26. Char. Com. no. 312704.
  • 27. Ibid. no. 215087.
  • 28. G.L.R.O., Acc. 1844/A1/8/1–2.
  • 29. Char. Com. no. 215086.
  • 30. G.L.R.O., C10/8.
  • 31. Ibid. Acc. 1844. Notes accompanying rec. deposited 1983.
  • 32. Char. Com. nos. 215086–7.
  • 33. Para. based on 6th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 12, p. 253 (1822), ix.
  • 34. Co. of Par. Clerks, New Remarks of Lond. 196.
  • 35. Lysons, Environs, ii. 36.
  • 36. V.C.H. Mdx. viii. 42.
  • 37. G.L.R.O., P72/MTW/225–30.
  • 38. Inf. from clerk to trustees, Bethnal Green Par. Chars.
  • 39. Acct. of Poor's Land based on Allgood, Hist. Bethnal Green, 290–336; Robinson and Chesshyre, The Green, 6–10; above, estates.
  • 40. Above.
  • 41. G.L.R.O., A/PLC/IV/1.
  • 42. Charitable Donations I, H.C. 28, p. 79 (1820), vi.
  • 43. Above, list of churches (St. John).
  • 44. G.L.R.O., A/FWA/C/B2/1.
  • 45. Above, building 1837–1875.
  • 46. Above, pub. svces. (open spaces).
  • 47. Char. Com. no. 241422; inf from clerk to trustees, Bethnal Green Par. Chars.
  • 48. Vestry mins. 1782–1813, p. 237.
  • 49. G.L.R.O., A/FWA/C/B2/1.
  • 50. Ibid.
  • 51. Ibid. P72/MTW/234/5; Char. Com. no. 312296. Above, educ.
  • 52. G.L.R.O., Acc. 1844/E1–9.
  • 53. Ibid. A/FWA/C/B2/1.
  • 54. Char. Com. no. 262480.
  • 55. Ibid. no. 312296; above, educ.
  • 56. G.L.R.O., P72/MTW/208.
  • 57. Inf. from clerk to trustees, Bethnal Green Par. Chars.
  • 58. G.L.R.O., P72/MTW/212/1.
  • 59. Inf. from clerk to trustees, Bethnal Green Par. Chars.
  • 60. G.L.R.O., Acc. 1844/A1/8/1–2; above, almshouse charities.
  • 61. Above, educ. (pub. schs.).
  • 62. Char. Com. no. 248002.
  • 63. Ibid. no. 207627.
  • 64. Ibid. no. 210858.
  • 65. G.L.R.O., P72/MTW/217–21.
  • 66. Ibid. 222/1; 232/1.
  • 67. Inf. from clerk to trustees, Bethnal Green Par. Chars.
  • 68. Char. Com. no. 247943.
  • 69. Ibid. no. 222058.
  • 70. Ibid. no. 248758.
  • 71. Ibid. no. 249214.
  • 72. Ibid. no. 261607.
  • 73. Ibid. no. 1001435.