Bridgwater: Charities for the poor

Pages 241-244

A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1992.

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An almshouse had been established outside the west gate by 1454-5. It was endowed with little or no land, but the town bailiffs undertook repairs, and from 1546 it received a small sum, later 5s., from a tenement and garden given by John Bentley. (fn. 1) In 1551 the almshouse contained four poor men and women who in that year received bedding from a testator. (fn. 2) By 1618 the inmates were four women. (fn. 3) In 1558 the building was extensively repaired, largely through gifts in cash and in kind from townsmen. (fn. 4) The building was 'utterly demolished' during the siege of the town in 1645, but the town receiver was paying the 5s. as a gift to or as rent for the last inmate in 1653-4, and the same sum for a man who was probably her son in 1655. (fn. 5) The site, let on a building lease in 1667, and occupied by a private house within a year, was on the south side of West Street, on the corner of a lane leading to Roper's Lane, opposite the Bell (later White Ball) inn. (fn. 6)

In 1483 Thomasina Hill left £40 to rebuild an almshouse for men, (fn. 7) perhaps referring to the house in West Street. A year earlier a house for 13 poor men and women was projected, but reference in 1498 to a single almshouse in the town suggests that it was not built. (fn. 8)

A second almshouse in the town had been established near the south gate by c. 1603. (fn. 9) The corporation made weekly payments to support the almspeople and maintained the building, partly from the gift of Alexander Jones (mayor 1598, d. 1609), who c. 1603 paid £100 to the town, partly for the repair of the almshouse. Most of the gift was used to buy the rectory estate, but 2s. a week from the gift was still paid to the almspeople together in 1715. (fn. 10) In 1618 there were 12 almsfolk, (fn. 11) and from 1658 they were paid £3 a year, the interest on a sum bequeathed by Bernard Sparke to be lent to tradesmen. (fn. 12) The almshouse was said to have been 'utterly demolished', probably during the siege in 1645, but it was rebuilt in brick in 1693-5, partly paid for by the gift of £300 from Major Matthew Ingram, a native of the town. The gift was augmented in 1699 by £100 given by Mary Brent, which was laid out in the purchase of land in Hamp. The almshouse evidently remained unfinished for some years. (fn. 13) By 1800 Dorothy Holworthy's charity was being distributed to the almsfolk; by 1820 the alms house was let to the churchwardens for use as a parish poorhouse, and both its founder and its original purpose had been forgotten. (fn. 14) The building, which stood outside the south gate, on a narrow site between the road to Taunton and the path to Hamp known as Hamp Ward, (fn. 15) was extended in 1830 by the addition of an engine house, a mortuary, and two rooms for vagrants. The building, proposed to be sold in 1851, (fn. 16) was still standing in 1865 but was then unoccupied, and it had been demolished by 1887. (fn. 17)

By trust deed dated 1952 Ernest John Waddon established the Rose Waddon Rest Home charity in memory of his wife to provide homes for female pensioners of 60 and more resident in the borough for 20 years. Three cottages were replaced by four flats, no. 21 Chilton Street. (fn. 18)

Other charities.

By will proved 1553 John Colverd or Colvord devised to the mayor and burgesses the residue of his estate in reversion to pay 40s. a year to the poor. Payments from the estate had begun by 1561 and continued until 1609, (fn. 19) but thereafter seem to have been regarded as part of the general funds of the corporation. Elizabeth Prowse by will proved 1554 devised land in trust, the mayor to receive each year 20s. for the poor. The tenants of the land seem not to have paid the rent from c. 1606. (fn. 20) Robert Blake by deed dated 1592 gave £240, the interest to be partly for poor relief. (fn. 21) Gifts of cash and clothing were made from the endowment in 1605, (fn. 22) and the charity formed part of the poor stock of the corporation in the later 18th century but seems to have been lost in the 19th. (fn. 23) Richard Tapp or Tilley gave by will proved 1599 a sum which was later held by the corporation. The interest on £40 was still distributed each Good Friday and Christmas Eve in 1786, but has not been found later. (fn. 24) Margaret Blake by will dated 1599 gave £10 to the corporation, the interest to provide smocks on All Saints' day for six poor women. The endowment was transferred to the corporation in 1602, but the charity seems to have been lost by 1715. (fn. 25) Christian Shercombe (d. 1613) left £10 for the poor in the hands of the corporation. (fn. 26) From 1787 the corporation used the income to buy cloth for the poor. (fn. 27) In 1839 the charity was transferred to the Bridgwater charity trustees. (fn. 28) By will dated 1633 Richard Castleman gave £300 to the aldermen of the town to be laid out in real property, one third of the income to be for the poor. (fn. 29) The endowment, used from 1787 to buy cloth, was transferred to the Bridgwater charity trustees in 1839. (fn. 30) Richard Holworthy by will dated 1643 gave £50, the interest to be distributed weekly in bread. (fn. 31) The charity was transferred to the Bridgwater charity trustees in 1839. (fn. 32) Admiral Robert Blake (d. 1657) gave £100 to provide food and clothing twice a year. In 1826 the income was used to buy cloth. (fn. 33) Dorothy Holworthy c. 1662 gave £140 10s. to buy land, the rent to be given to the poor. From 1787 it was used by the corporation to buy cloth for the poor. (fn. 34) The charity seems to have been lost between 1826 and 1839. (fn. 35) Dr. William Blake by will dated 1667 gave the interest on £100 already held by the corporation. (fn. 36) From 1787 it was used to buy cloth and in 1839 was transferred to the Bridgwater charity trustees. (fn. 37)

Robert Balch (d. 1705) gave a rent charge of 40s., initially for the new workhouse, but it later passed to the corporation. The charity survived in 1786 but was lost after 1826. (fn. 38) Sir John Bawden gave £40 to the poor before 1715. (fn. 39) The charity was distributed in cloth from 1787 and was transferred to the Bridgwater charity trustees in 1839. (fn. 40) Gilbert Bloyce by will of 1717 gave a rent charge and John Gilbert by will of 1731 gave leasehold properties for weekly bread distributions. Both survived in 1826, the first as a dole until 1939. (fn. 41) Constance Harvey (d. 1718) gave £20 for poor widows, an endowment which was spent on cloth from 1787 and which was transferred to the charity trustees in 1839. (fn. 42) Anne Holworthy (d. 1745) gave the mortgage interest on a house, payment of which had ceased by 1826. (fn. 43) Before 1757 Samuel Darby gave 10s a year for a sermon on Good Friday and £10 to pay interest for the poor; (fn. 44) the £10 had been lost by 1826. (fn. 45) A rent charge of £5 given by one Grabham before 1715 has not been traced further. (fn. 46) Jane Habberfield by will dated 1813 gave a bread dole which by 1936 was used for sermons on Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day at St. Mary's church, a bread distribution, and the general parish poor fund. (fn. 47)

In 1786-7 there were said to be 17 endowed charities for the poor in the parish including 12 with a total capital value of over £780, and three others with a total rent charge income of over £54. (fn. 48) All seem to have been administered by the corporation, which from 1787 paid out annual interest of £30 in cloth for the poor from the endowments of Robert (d. 1657) and William Blake, Richard Castleman, Dorothy Holworthy, Sir John Bawden, Constance Harvey, and Christian Shercombe, together with the interest from the apprentice charity of Benjamin Vaughan (d. 1639) which was shared with Cannington. (fn. 49) The Richard Holworthy and John Gilbert bread charities were also still continued, the latter also providing cloth from surplus income in the first week in December. By 1826 the charity of Mary Brent was no longer paid to the inmates of the south gate almshouse, but instead to 4 or 5 widows not otherwise supported, who received weekly doles of 1s. 6d. (fn. 50) Mary Brent's charity, subject to a Scheme of 1864 and Orders of 1882 and 1900, in the 1960s provided pensions to poor people over 60. (fn. 51) The charity of Robert Blake (d. 1657) was in 1826 used to buy clothing, while those of Gilbert Bloyce and Jane Habberfield, the latter invested in consols and not in the corporation, continued as bread doles. (fn. 52)

In 1839 the corporation paid to a new body called the Bridgwater charity trustees the sum of £923 13s. 6d. in the name of 12 charities, including three educational charities. (fn. 53) In 1853 after the trustees refused to disclose their accounts people complained that out of capital of c. £1,200 only £40 went to the poor and implied that the rest, for education, was not distributed. (fn. 54) In fact, in that year the trustees, in the name of eight charities, paid out £66 18s. 8d. to help Dr. Morgan's educational charity to clothe 30 poor boys. (fn. 55) Under a Scheme of 1857 the charities of Robert Blake, Richard Castleman, and Dorothy and Richard Holworthy became part of the endowment of the grammar school, later known as the King James exhibition, to provide exhibitions and scholarships for pupils in need; and the charities of Constance Harvey, Christian Shercombe, William Blake, Sir John Bawden, and Robert Balch became part of the endowment of Dr. Morgan's school. The educational charities thus established were thereafter known as the Bridgwater Municipal Charities, and were in 1989 administered by trustees as the King James exhibition and scholarship endowment, providing assistance for Bridgwater pupils in secondary or higher education. (fn. 56)

From 1839 there is no further trace of the charity of Robert Blake (d. 1592). Under a Scheme of 1898 the sermon charities of Richard Castleman and Samuel Darby, the Benjamin Vaughan apprentice charity, and the bequest of James Hartnell, to the governors of the King James exhibition by will proved 1866, became the United Charities. Hartnell's charity was transferred to the Board of Education in 1904; and the remainder, subject to minor modifications in 1964 and 1976, were in 1989 administered by Sedgemoor district council, which paid small sums to the vicar of Bridgwater in respect of Castleman's and Darby's charities and offered half the income from Vaughan's charity to help a needy Bridgwater child to enter a trade. (fn. 57)

There also remained in 1988 the charities of Robert Blake (d. 1657), John Gilbert, Gilbert Bloyce, and Jane Habberfield. The first two, administered by trustees under a Scheme of 1908, provided food and clothing for the inhabitants of Bridgwater borough. Bloyce's charity, in the 1930s a rent charge of £5 4s., was administered by the vicar of St. Mary's in place of bread doles on Sunday mornings. Habberfield's charity, a bread dole worth £3 9s. 6d. and a poor fund worth 9s. 6d., together with a small sermon charity, were also considered part of the charity income of St. Mary's church. It was administered by the vicar and churchwardens with part of the gift of James Cook, who by will of 1912 gave capital sums to the three parishes of St. Mary, St. John the Baptist, and Holy Trinity for distributions of meat and bread on Christmas Day. At Christmas 1964 the charities of Bloyce, Habberfield, and Cook were distributed at St. Mary's in vouchers worth 3s. each. (fn. 58)

By will proved 1848 Jane Axford gave investments, the income to be given on 1 January in money, provisions, or clothing to the poor of St. Mary's parish. The income was under £5 in 1966. Before 1896 Mary Ann Smith by will endowed pensions for poor widows or spinsters born in the parish; under a Scheme of 1964 the endowment became known as Towell's Charity Trust. (fn. 59) By indenture of 1898 Mary Katherine Lovell-Marshall gave £30 a year for pensions for poor people of 70 and over in the parishes of St. Mary and Holy Trinity. The trustees were empowered to pay rent or give assistance in kind. (fn. 60) Mrs. L. M. Mansfield before 1932 gave an income of between £25 and £50 for pensions for people who had lived in Bridgwater for 10 years and were unable to support themselves. 'Poor distressed persons' in Bridgwater shared the income from the Manchip Trust, established by will of 1936 and administered under a Scheme of 1970. The Emma Pearce Memorial Fund was founded by will of 1942 for distributions to the needy widows and spinsters of St. Mary's and neighbouring parishes. (fn. 61) Miss L. M. Tamlin (d. 1942) by will gave £10,000 for the use of poor residents of the borough. The income was £1,480 in 1988 and 38 pensioners each received £40 in 1989. (fn. 62)


  • 1. S.R.S. lx, nos. 785, 850; Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 163, 298; S.R.O., D/B/bw 645-6, 1533, 1540, 1591, 1607, 2291. The suggestion that it was originally a hospital of St. Giles (Knowles and Hadcock, Med. Religious Hos. 346) cannot be sustained.
  • 2. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1678.
  • 3. Ibid. 1607.
  • 4. Ibid. 1768.
  • 5. Ibid. 1516, 1617, 1619-22.
  • 6. Ibid. 1263, 1269, 1686; D/B/bw C.L. 41, 44; ibid. T/PH/bw (map c. 1806); T/PH/law (no. 414 on plan).
  • 7. S.R.S. xvi. 247.
  • 8. Ibid. 364; lxx, no. 1011; S.R.O., D/B/bw 1390.
  • 9. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1600, 1724.
  • 10. Ibid. 1516, 1527, 1617, 1620-23, 1724, 1937, 2083, 2291; D/P/bw. m 2/1/1 (11 Apr. 1609).
  • 11. Ibid. D/B/bw 1610.
  • 12. Ibid. 1527.
  • 13. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1656-7, 207; S.R.O., D/B/bw 570, 1526-7, 1639; Char. Don. pp. 1086-7; 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 428; Bridgwater Times, 2 Oct. 1853.
  • 14. S.R.O., T/PH/law; Char. Don. pp. 1086-7.
  • 15. S.R.O., D/B/bw C.L. 106.
  • 16. Ibid. D/P/bw. m 9/1/1.
  • 17. Squibbs, Bridgwater, pl. 20; O.S. Map 1/500, Som. L. 15. 11 (1887 edn.).
  • 18. Char. Com. reg.; inf. from Mr. Peter Butterworth, clerk to the trust.
  • 19. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1201, 1540, 1549, 1591, 1594, 1597, 1605, 1766, 2291.
  • 20. Ibid. 1678, 1747.
  • 21. Ibid. 1527.
  • 22. Ibid. 1882.
  • 23. Below, this section.
  • 24. Som. Wills, ed. Brown, v. 68; S.R.O., D/B/bw 2381.
  • 25. S.R.O., D/B/bw 905, 1527, 2014, 2291, 2319.
  • 26. Ibid. 1527, 1857.
  • 27. 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 422.
  • 28. S.R.O., D/B/bw 2408; below, this section.
  • 29. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527.
  • 30. Ibid. 2408; 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 422; below, this section.
  • 31. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527.
  • 32. Ibid. 2408; below, this section.
  • 33. 15th Rep. Com. Char. pp. 429-30.
  • 34. Ibid. p. 422.
  • 35. Ibid.; S.R.O., D/B/bw 2408.
  • 36. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527; Som. Wills, ed. Brown, ii. 102.
  • 37. 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 422; S.R.O., D/B/bw 2408.
  • 38. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527, 2164; Char. Don. pp. 1086-7; 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 425.
  • 39. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527.
  • 40. 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 422; S.R.O., D/B/bw 2408.
  • 41. 15th Rep. Com. Char. pp. 426-7, 429; S.R.O., D/P/bw. m 17/3/1; Som. Co. Herald, 19 Aug. 1939; 5 Apr. 1947.
  • 42. 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 422; S.R.O., D/B/bw 2408.
  • 43. S.R.O., D/B/bw 2381; 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 431.
  • 44. Char. Don. pp. 1086-7; S.R.O., D/B/bw 1522, 1735.
  • 45. 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 425.
  • 46. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527.
  • 47. 15th Rep. Com. Char. p. 430; S.R.O., D/P/bw. m 17/3/1.
  • 48. Char. Don. pp. 1086-7.
  • 49. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527, 1784; above, Cannington, charities.
  • 50. 15th Rep. Com. Char. pp. 425-8.
  • 51. Char. Com. reg.
  • 52. 15th Rep. Com. Char. pp. 429-30.
  • 53. S.R.O., D/B/bw 1527, 2408.
  • 54. Bridgwater Times, 2 Oct. 1853.
  • 55. S.R.O., Q/RSc 3/2.
  • 56. Som. C.C., Educ. Dept., educational foundations and trusts, file S 11; Bridgwater Chars. (publ. F. G. Dowty, 1857).
  • 57. S.R.O., D/P/bw. m 17/5/1-2; Char. Com. reg.
  • 58. Char. Com. reg.; S.R.O., D/P/bw. m 4/4/2, 17/2/1, 17/3/1, 17/7/1-2.
  • 59. Char. Com. reg.
  • 60. S.R.O., D/P/bw. m 17/5/2; Char. Com. reg.
  • 61. Char. Com. reg.
  • 62. Inf. from Mr. D. F. Heal, clerk to the trustees.