What is an Almshouse

Almshouses in England

Almshouses originated in medieval England and were usually part of a monastic presence in the community caring for sick, poor monks. In the 12th and 13th centuries their purpose extended to include lay people, often in separate buildings but administered by the monks and lay brethren. They were more commonly established among the growing affluence of the southern counties surrounding London, then up to Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

The 16th century Reformation and then Dissolution of the Monasteries led to fundamental change. Many hospitals and Almshouses were closed, accounting for nearly half of such institutions. Fortunately, into this gap in welfare provision stepped private benefactors and the Tudor establishment.

The 18th century saw an enormous increase in state provision for the relief of the poor. At the same time there was growth in charities raising money through subscription, with community recognition of both the giver and the gift.

The eighteenth century was a period of lower private donation to the Almshouse cause. It was a period of prosperity and civic pride during which time other facilities were being constructed for specialist (medical) care. Come the Victorian period, evidence suggests that private charities began to regain their previous status, probably by about the start of the reign of Queen Victoria.

By the early 19th century it became difficult to distinguish between public and private care for the poor, with parish authorities increasingly taking over the administration of endowments that were initially privately given.

Almshouse – Definition

This definition of an Almshouse has been approved by the Almshouse Association Board and subscribing members of the Association: “An Almshouse is a unit of residential accommodation which belongs to a charity and is provided exclusively to meet the charity’s purpose, such as the relief of financial need or infirmity and is occupied under a licence by a qualifying beneficiary.

This definition is supported by the general description: “An almshouse charity is a charity for the relief of financial hardship by the provision of housing and associated services or benefits; is subject to the jurisdiction of the Charity Commission; its origin is likely to be a private gift for the relief of poverty; the beneficial class (of persons) or the geographical area from which it (the class) may be drawn, is restricted (under the terms of the Charity Scheme).

Almshouse charities and their trustees are subject to charity law as set out in the Charities Act 2011.

The above definition fits precisely the historically established intent and purpose of the charity called Barlborough Hospital.

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