Smethwick: Charities for the poor

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A, 'Smethwick: Charities for the poor', in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) pp. 141-142. British History Online [accessed 20 May 2024].

A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A. "Smethwick: Charities for the poor", in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) 141-142. British History Online, accessed May 20, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Baugh, G C. Currie, C R J. Johnson D A. "Smethwick: Charities for the poor", A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976). 141-142. British History Online. Web. 20 May 2024,

In this section


The Harborne Parish Lands Charity.

Smethwick enjoys a share of the charity which existed by 1640 when a body of trustees was administering lands granted for charitable uses in Harborne parish. (fn. 1) The trustees subsequently obtained the endowments of two other charities, both founded by members of the Smethwick family of Cowper alias Piddock. Elizabeth Cowper, by will dated 1576, left £40 to buy land, the rent from which was to be distributed as charity twice a year; 20s. was to go to the poor of Harborne parish, while the remainder (fn. 2) was apparently to be distributed without restriction of place. The land so bought was settled in trust in 1591. (fn. 3) About 1786 it was acquired by the parish, and by 1823 the rent was being applied in charitable relief with that of the other parish lands. In 1623 William Cowper, formerly of Smethwick, settled a cottage and ½ a. near Rood End, Oldbury, in Halesowen (Worcs.), in trust for the poor; 6s. 8d. of the income was to be distributed yearly to the poor of the adjacent part of Handsworth parish, and the rest twice yearly to those of Harborne parish, with at least half going to the poor of Smethwick. By c. 1765 the property had apparently passed to the parish lands trustees.

Trust deeds of 1640 and 1668 stipulated that the income of the parish lands was to be used for the relief of the aged or infirm poor of Harborne and Smethwick. (fn. 4) By 1723 the trustees were setting aside £10 a year to apprentice four poor children, two from Smethwick and two from Harborne. (fn. 5) By 1786 they were also maintaining what were in effect alms-houses, as cottage property which they owned was occupied rent-free by paupers; they drew £57 6s. from the rest of the property. (fn. 6) In 1823 there were thirteen cottages used as alms-houses, four in Smethwick and nine in Harborne. Smethwick received £75 14s. from the trustees, and Harborne £67 15s. Out of these sums the cottages were kept in repair and the two poor children of each township were apprenticed. In both places the remainder of the income was given to 'the more respectable description of poor, to whom it would be hurtful to apply for relief at the workhouse', either in weekly payments of 2s. or 3s. or in occasional payments of £1-£4. (fn. 7)

The income of the parish lands was £420 in 1872, £525 in 1895, and £820 in 1914. (fn. 8) In 1872, out of a total expenditure of £344 in Harborne and Smethwick, £270 was given in food or cash. The alms-people seem to have received no relief except rent-free accommodation. A Scheme of 1885, however, authorized payment of stipends to them; thereafter more and more of the charity's income went to support them, while less and less was spent on doles. In 1914, for example, the stipends, fuel, and medical attendance for the alms-people of both townships cost over £200 while only £3 5s. was distributed casually. The system of allowing the trust's cottages to be occupied as alms-houses meant that the number of alms-houses fluctuated. In Smethwick, as already seen, there were four in 1823. In 1842 there were six, in Crockett's Lane; (fn. 9) there were five there in 1851, (fn. 10) four in 1886, and six in 1890. (fn. 11) In 1912 the Smethwick alms-people were moved to new alms-houses in Harborne. (fn. 12)

In 1927 ten alms-houses and a matron's house were built in Cooper's Lane, Smethwick, by members of the Mitchell family in memory of Henry Mitchell; known as the Henry Mitchell Almshouses, they were given to the Harborne Parish Lands Charity. (fn. 13) A Scheme of 1928 required candidates to have lived in the borough for three years or more; they were to be nominated to the parish lands trustees by a descendant of Henry Mitchell, in the first instance by J. E. Mitchell and subsequently by a descendant chosen by Mitchells & Butlers Ltd. By 1930 six more alms-houses had been built for the charity at the expense of five members of the Mitchell family. Under a Scheme of that year the five benefactors and successors appointed by them were empowered to nominate alms-people for the new houses. Under the Schemes of 1928 and 1930 residents of the Mitchell Alms-houses receive the same stipends as residents of the alms-houses in Harborne belonging to the Parish Lands Charity. They also benefit from £900 stock left by Mary Ann Penny, by will proved in 1969, to the parish lands trustees in memory of her husband Joseph. The income was to provide excursions with teas for the residents, matron, and assistant matron of the Mitchell Alms-houses. Any resident unable to join an excursion was to receive a treat of equal value.

The sixteen alms-houses and the matron's house form a rectangle of brick-built bungalows enclosing a lawn. The entrance from Cooper's Lane to the north is by a covered passage between the matron's house and one of the alms-houses; there is a south range of three alms-houses while along the east and west sides are twelve semi-detached alms-houses.

Parkes's Charity.

By deed of 1719 Dorothy Parkes charged her trustees with the payment of £10 a year out of the income from the lands which she gave for the foundation of Smethwick chapel. Payment was not to begin before they had built and furnished the chapel and appointed a minister or before the death of Mary Halfpenny, her servant. Of the £10, 52s. was for a weekly dole of penny-loaves to twelve poor inhabitants of Smethwick attending divine service in the chapel, and 52s. for a similar distribution at Harborne church; £4 10s. was to buy six coats or other garments to be given each year to three poor women from Smethwick and three from Harborne; and 6s. to buy bibles to be given yearly to poor inhabitants of Smethwick chosen by the minister of Smethwick. Any person who had received parish relief within the previous twelve months was disqualified from receiving the bread or garments. (fn. 14) The payments had begun by 1739. (fn. 15) By 1970 the trustees of Dorothy Parkes were paying £5 3s. a year to the parochial church council of Smethwick Old Church and £4 17s. a year to that of St. Peter's, Harborne. (fn. 16)

Dandy's Charity

By will proved in 1910 James Dandy of Bromsgrove (Worcs.) left £1,000 for the poor of Smethwick. (fn. 17) After the deduction of £2 a year for the upkeep of his tomb, the income was to be spent on warm clothes or bedding to be distributed yearly to poor people who had lived in Smethwick for at least six months; anyone who sold or pawned a gift was disqualified for the future. The trust's income in 1964 was £30; £40 was spent on gifts of bedding and clothing.

Hill Crest Home for the Aged.

By deed of 1946 Arthur Mitchell, a director of Mitchells & Butlers, gave Smethwick corporation £5,000 to buy Hill Crest, a large Victorian house on the corner of Little Moor Hill and South Road, as a home for aged poor who had lived in Smethwick for at least ten years. (fn. 18) In 1948 Mitchell gave the corporation £250 Mitchells & Butlers stock to provide comforts for the residents of Hill Crest. The annual income from the endowment in 1963-4 was £95. In 1958 it was decided that the qualifying period of residence in the borough should be reduced from ten to three years.


  • 1. For this para. see, except where otherwise stated, 9th Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 258, pp. 552-6 (1823), ix; V.C.H. Warws. vii. 560-1; B.R.L. 391003; B.R.L. 449574, ff. 39-48.
  • 2. It has apparently been distributed at various times in Handsworth and Birmingham parishes: Gent. Mag. lxiv (2), 713; B.R.L. 449574, f. 80; V.C.H. Warws. vii. 561.
  • 3. Abstract of Returns of Charitable Donations, 1786-8, H.C. 511, pp. 1128-9 (1816), xvi (2).
  • 4. B.R.L. 391003; B.R.L. 449574, ff. 18, 29-30.
  • 5. 9th Rep. Com. Char. 553.
  • 6. Char. Donations, 1786-8, 1128-9.
  • 7. 9th Rep. Com. Char. 554-5.
  • 8. For this para. see, except where otherwise stated, V.C.H. Warws. vii. 561; docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 121A.
  • 9. W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Harborne.
  • 10. H.O. 107/2050 ff. 317v.-318.
  • 11. Kelly's Dir. Birm. (1886; 1890).
  • 12. V.C.H. Warws. vii. 561.
  • 13. For this para. see Char. Com. files; W.P.L. 12727-8, 19248; Char. Com. Schemes, 13 Jan. 1928, 1 Apr. 1930.
  • 14. Hackwood, Smethwick, 53.
  • 15. See p. 123.
  • 16. Ex inf. the secretary to the trustees of Dorothy Parkes (1971).
  • 17. The account of this charity is based on Char. Com. files.
  • 18. The account of this charity is based on Char. Com. files; 'Old Smethwick', 11 Nov. 1950.