A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 11, Telford. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.
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CHARITIES FOR THE POOR.
Preston hospital was founded under the will, proved 1716, of Catherine, Lady Herbert, daughter of the 1st earl of Bradford, the bequest being a thanksgiving for her rescue when lost on the Alps. She left £6,000 to her brother Lord Torrington and other trustees to build and endow almshouses in Shropshire for 12 women and 12 girls. (fn. 1) The numbers of widows and girls were each soon increased to 20. In 1719 Torrington's estate was added to her legacy, with an additional £1,000 to build a hall in the middle of the almshouses. The money was largely invested in South Sea annuities, sold in 1730 to buy an estate mainly in Preston, to which land in Hortonwood was added in 1750. In 1802 Lord Mountrath, whose mother was a Newport, left £4,000 with the intention of increasing each widow's pension to £30 a year. From 1827 the number of widows was increased to 26 and in 1830 each received £18 a year, 2 tons of coal, and bedding and furniture, with £5 allowed for funeral expenses. Twenty of the widows also received £4 half-yearly from Lord Mountrath's gift. The widows, selected by trustees nominated by the Bridgemans, were women formerly of good station but in reduced circumstances. Each usually occupied a linked parlour-bedroom in the west wing and had her own small garden.
Girls were lodged in dormitories in the east wing, clothed, and educated from the ages of 7 to 14, the older girls being taught dairying, with the expectation of going into service. (fn. 2) By 1880 the ages had risen to 10 and 16. No girls boarded in the hospital after 1952. (fn. 3)
The original building, by an unknown architect but in the style of Gibbs, faces south forming three sides of a quadrangle, with a hall in the centre of the north wing. It was apparently complete by c. 1726, (fn. 4) and is of red brick with stone dressings. The hall, formerly used as a schoolroom and for Sunday services, has giant pilasters, two large arched windows, and a grand doorway facing the courtyard. It is outset from, and taller than, the two bays between it and the angles of the wings. The first three bays of each wing are closed, the remaining nine bays being open on the ground floor in loggias with elliptical arches.
The building was designed to house 20 widows and 20 girls but in 1799, when there were 20 widows, only 13 girls were resident. (fn. 5) In 1807 plans were put forward not only to subdivide the hall, and to provide a sick room by division of the steward's room, but also to provide places for eight more girls. (fn. 6) In 1809 temporary places were being provided for them at Lady Bradford's instigation but some of the girls already slept three to a bed, which was thought 'not wholesome'. (fn. 7) In 1827 the two side wings were carried forward to a design by J. H. Haycock (fn. 8) of outward-curving quadrants of three bays, originally of one storey only, later raised to two, and two storeyed pavilions. The additions provided eight apartments for eight more widows, although by 1830 only six more were resident.
Two lodges were built south of the hospital in 1831, one to house the first resident male servant, a gardener, felt to be necessary because a night emergency would oblige one of the girls to walk a considerable distance to get help. There were also fears of robbery, especially when the widows had been paid their pensions. (fn. 9) In the same year 58 cwt. of iron railings were bought from the Coalbrookdale Co. (fn. 10) Separating the main building from the avenue of trees that approaches from the lodges are fine wrought-iron gates by Robert Bakewell (fl. 1707-55). (fn. 11) An infirmary block built in 1893 was the last major alteration. (fn. 12)
Preston shared in a charity established by will of Andrew Charlton of Apley, proved 1617. (fn. 13)