The Almshouses of Richmond – [Local History Notes: 2]
Queen Elizabeth’s Almshouses
Founded by Sir George Wright in 1600, these were to house eight poor aged women. They were built in Petersham Road, a few hundred yards south of Ferry Hill (now Bridge Street). They were known originally as the ‘Lower Almshouses’ and the name ‘Queen Elizabeth’s’ came into being when extra ones were built. By 1767, they were almost derelict and so were rebuilt in The Vineyard. Rebuilding took place twice more – in 1857 and 1955.
Bishop Duppa’s Almshouses
Brian Duppa was Bishop of Chichester, and then Salisbury. He had been Chaplain to Charles I and tutor to the future Charles II and had remained at Richmond Palace with him until the Civil War. Deprived of the See of Salisbury during Oliver Cromwell’s time, Bishop Duppa lived in Richmond – in a house now occupied by the Old Town Hall. After the Restoration in 1660, he was made Bishop of Winchester in 1661, but continued to live in Richmond. He founded the almshouses that bear his name in 1661 for 10 unmarried, Protestant women over the age of fifty. They were built on Richmond Hill at the corner of Friars Stile Road and remained there until 1852 when, in a bad state of repair, they were demolished and rebuilt in The Vineyard, next to Queen Elizabeth’s Almshouses. The land there was provided by the owner of Downe House who wanted to extend his garden into the original site.
In 1695, almshouses for 10 single or married women who belonged to the Church of England were founded in The Vineyard by Humphrey Michel, who lived in the house at the corner of The Green and Duke Street. Humphrey died in 1696 and the building was finished by his nephew, John, who also increased the endowment. The almshouses were rebuilt in 1811 and six additional ones were erected in 1858. They face Queen Elizabeth’s and Bishop Duppa’s almshouses.
Nine of the eleven almshouses in Worple Way, Sheen Road, were founded in 1757 for nine poor, single, Protestant women by the Miss Rebecca and Miss Susanna Houblon. They were the daughters of Sir John and Lady Houblon and descendents of a Huguenot family who fled to this country c.1567 during the Alva persecutions. Their father, Sir John, was the first Governor of the Bank of England in 1694 and Lord Mayor of London in 1696. When he died in 1712, his widow and two daughters came to live in Ellerker House on Richmond Hill, probably to be near their first cousin, Lady Palmerston (of Temple Grove, East Sheen), the great grandmother of Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister of England.
The Richmond and Twickenham Times for 30th August 1930 has an article and pictures of the almshouses which states that “in her will Rebecca gave two acres of land lying in Richmond Field, in a shott there called Church Shott”. The original rules provided that the inmates should be “none but those brought up and instructed in the Protestant religion, and who shall have lived virtuous, sober and honest lives”. A sum of £9 was laid aside to purchase 9 substantial stuff gowns of a brown colour of the value of 20s each, to be given to each inmate at Easter.
Under an order of the Charity Commissioners dated 14th July 1857, the Trustees built two additional almshouses at a cost of £195. In 1877, a portion of the land belonging to the charity was let on a building lease and 73 houses were erected – the road was called Houblon Road. In 1758 the charity trustees paid each inmate 13s a month; by 1909 they amount had increased to £2, a new dress and free medical attention. In December 1909, a tragic fire occurred at no. 6 which caused the death of Miss Lucy Townsend. In 1907 Lady Alice Archer Houblon wrote a book entitled The Houblon Family in which she describes the almshouses. She writes:
The road to London passes scarcely fifty yards from the wrought iron gate which leads into the high-walled, peaceful sanctuary within where one can
imagine oneself in the past and conjure up a vision of the two little old ladies, Mistress Rebecca and Mistress Susannna, tripping across the
quadrangle to read a chapter of the Bible to the white-capped inmates of the tiny houses. They would have walked down the green lane on their
own land all the way as they owned many acres on Richmond Hill.
This same lane is the one now called Houblon Road. The almshouses, although modernised inside, are unchanged externally.
William Hickey, who died in 1727, left his property in trust to provide pensions for 6 men and 10 women. Hickey owned several important and valuable properties on Richmond Hill, including The Wick. By the start of the 19th century, the trust had to decide what to do with the large amount of income. So in 1834 it decided to build and endow 20 almshouses for 10 men and 10 women, plus a chapel, and two gate lodge cottages – one for a porter, the other for a nurse – in Sheen Road. Since then another 29 dwellings have been built on land behind the original almshouses.
Church Estate Almshouses
Richmond Church Charity Estates is thought to have been created in 1375, making it one of the oldest charities in the country. However, the provision of almshouses did not occur until 1844.
Until 1828 the sole purpose of the charity had been to support the parish church, St. Mary Magdalene, but then a deed of gift was discovered, dated 1558, which at the time was assumed to be the founding document of the charity. The deed, made by Thomas Denys, said that he settled the property upon trust “to the use of the poore of the parish, and the repairing and susteyning of the parish church.” Based on that information the terms of the Church Estate were formally changed in 1828, by a local Act of Parliament, to incorporate the terms of Denys’s gift. Subsequently, to support “the poore” of Richmond, almshouses on the Sheen Road were built in 1843. Initially built for five men and five women belonging to the Church of England; these have been added to over the years.
The second twist came in this tale in 1992 when, after extensive research, local historian John Cloake demonstrated that the Denys bequest of 1558 had nothing to do with the Church Estate. The property Denys had purported to settle upon trust never reached the charity therefore the 1828 Act of Parliament had been made in error; the charity should have been left unchanged. Richmond Church Charity Estates, rather than having been founded in 1558, is thought to have originated from the endowment made by Merton Priory in 1375, “for the maintenance of the Chapel in Shene and its manse.”
In 2004 the Church Estate almshouses were transferred to another charity, Richmond Charities Almshouses, which by then owned the five other Richmond almshouses. Richmond Church Charity Estates continues as a separate charity which works wholly for the benefit of the parish church, thus returning to its original 1375 purpose.
More information on Richmond’s almshouses and other historic buildings in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is available from the Local Studies Library & Archive.