Friday, 11 May 2012

Book - New book charts Notts' historic almshouses

THE first recorded almshouse was founded by King Athelstan in York in the 10th century AD.

And through a millennium of history, Notts has had more than 50 almshouses in every corner of the county. Some survive, others have disappeared.

But now Open University graduate Elizabeth Anne Earl has documented them all in a book that is sure to fascinate readers and provide an invaluable resource for local history researchers.

Mrs Earl's project began with a scrapbook she compiled on her home village of Kinoulton, in a bid to record the memories of elderly residents before it was too late.

She became hooked on local history and discovered a passion for research. When the opportunity to study almshouses cropped up, it captured her imagination.

Mrs Earl set the parameters – the history of almhouses in Notts from the earliest times to 1919. The result is a book full of quirky facts and important records.

The earliest almshouses were known as hospitals and as far back as King John's reign in the 12th Century, William de Cressy, Lord Hodsock, founded an ancient hospital in the north of the county at Blyth.

Nottingham's first was probably Plumptre Hospital, founded for "widows broken down by age and distressed by poverty" in 1392 at the bottom of Hollowstone by wool trader John Plumptre, who lived on the site of the Flying Horse.

Another ancient group of almhouses was founded by Thomas Willoughby in the early 1500s, in Fisher Gate.

They were still there at the start of the 20th Century when residents received £12 a year (£1,210 today), three tons of coal, and three loaves a week.

The Lambley Almhouses were originally located in Derby Road. But by 1879 they had been replaced by 12 houses designed by Nottingham's celebrated architect Watson Fothergill, which can still be found in Woodborough Road.

The Lambley Almshouses were founded in the 17th Century by Edward and Elizabeth Willoughby – a name that also crops up in Cossall, where George Willoughby established a hospital in 1685.

But perhaps the best known name associated with such charities would be Abel Collins, a wealthy cloth merchant who wanted to leave all his money to help those less fortunate.

The first building was established four years after his death, in 1709, on the corner of Park Street (Friar Lane) and Hounds Gate and stood in all its Georgian splendour until it was demolished to make way for Maid Marian Way.

In 1830 the Collins Trustees built 12 more houses in Carrington Street and they lasted until the mid-1950s but, derelict, they were then sold to the city council, the money being invested in a new development in Derby Road, Beeston.

That has been the fate for many of the city's ancient almshouses such as Labray's Hospital in Chapel Bar, built for poor framework knitters.

The 20th Century additions to the catalogue have fared better, and few with a more celebrated founder than the Dorothy Boot Homes in Wilford, named after the daughter of Sir Jesse Boot and built by the great man himself to accommodate retired employees.

The foundation stone was laid in 1908 by Secretary of War Lord Lucan at a ceremony attended by old soldiers including Crimean War hero Matthew Holland, who rode in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Mrs Earl also has an eye for the human side of the almshouse story, one character she has featured being Jane Dawkins, who lived in the Robert Wilkinson Homes in Chestnut Grove. She lived to the age of 102 and, before her death in 1917, she was Nottingham's oldest resident.

Nottinghamshire Almshouses – From Early Times to 1919, is available from Anne Earl, Lilac Cottage, 80 Main Street, Kinoulton NG12 3EN, priced £9.50 (£10.60 including p&p), or from the Tourist Information Centre, Bookcase at Lowdham, and Waterstones.


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